Friday, February 27, 2015

The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas

Love of the theatre brought them together.  There was Devil Wix, handsome and charming and full of ambition to own the best magical show in London.  Carlo Bonomi was his magical act partner, an ill-tempered dwarf who Devil met when he saw Carlo using his skills to pickpocket in a crowd.  Jason Button is Devil's childhood friend and rival.  Heinrich Bayer is a scientist and inventor, fascinated with the art of automata; his favorite a lifesize dancing doll.  Then there is Eliza Dunlop.  She isn't content with the staid life of a lady in Victorian England.  She starts as an artists' model but when she meets the men she sees a way to fulfill her dreams of being an actress.  Together they start as acts at the Palmyra Theatre.

Devil isn't content to be just an act.  The owner is mercenary and grasping and Devil is determined to take the Palmyra from him and make it what it should be, rather than just another second-rate theatre.  He finds a way to oust the owner and then the group becomes the new owners and the Palmyra becomes the premier theatre destination for magical acts.  Over the years, players come and go but the group remains the driving force behind the theatre's success.

But nature abhors a stasis and fissures start to work below the theatre's veneer.  All of the men are in love with Eliza in various ways, but she can give her favors to only one.  The resulting tension starts to show up other ways in which the troupe is at odds and the everyday jealousies and slights of theatre life start to loom large.  Can the group overcome the tensions and rivalries to continue the tradition of excellence that makes the Palmyra the premiere theatre?

Rosie Thomas has written a historical fiction that explores life in Victorian England.  The love of theatre and showmanship is contrasted with the social rigidity of that society and the group's tensions and disagreements propel the action over the years.  The characters are unforgettable and the reader is swept along with a birds-eye view of the backstage life of a theatre.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Booksie's Shelves, February 24, 2015

After not much winter this year, cold weather, snow and ice has hit North Carolina.  School was out two days last week and again today for a surprise snowstorm.  More is called for later this week with more snow days possible.  Although any day is a good reading day, snow days are especially good for reading.  Here in the South, you take your life in your hand if you attempt to drive anywhere so the day is spent huddled under blankets, reading and traveling in the mind.

Here's the most recent additions to Booksie's shelves:

1.  Corsican Justice, Bluette Matthey, mystery, sent by author
2.  Abbuzzo Intrigue, Bluette Matthey, mystery, sent by author
3.  Lamb, Bonnie Nadzam, literary fiction, Paperbackswap
4.  On Your Case, Lisa Green, nonfiction, sent by publisher
5.  Where They Found Her, Kimberly McCreight, mystery, sent for book tour
6.  Chinese Turkestan, Ryan Pyle, nonfiction/photography, sent by publisher
7.  The Turnip Princess, Franz Von Schonwerth, literary fiction, sent by publisher
8.  Night Is The Hunter, Steven Gore, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  Forgiving Maximo Rothman, A.J. Sidransky, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  Just You Wait, Jane Tesh, mystery, sent by publisher
11.  The Daddy Diaries, Joshua Braff, literary fiction, sent by publisher
12.  Dark City Lights, Lawrence Block, anthology, sent by publisher
13.  Small Mercies, Eddie Joyce, literary fiction, sent by publisher
14.  Prince Of Thrones, Mark Lawrence, fantasy, Paperbackswap
15.  False Tongues, Kate Charles, mystery, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading these days:

1.  The Innovators, Walter Issacson, Kindle
2.  Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter, paperback
3.  A Clash Of Kings, George R. R. Martin, hardback
4.  Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas, hardback
5.  The Rise And Fall Of Great Powers, Tom Rachman, paperback
6.  The Illusionists, Rosie Thomas, paperback
7.  The Black Country, Alex Grecian, paperback
8.  Mrs. Poe, Lynn Cullen, paperback
9.  Love By The Book, Melissa Pimentel, paperback
10.  The Orchid Affair, Lauren Willig, hardback
11.  Principles Of Navigation, Lynn Sloan, paperback
12.  Rescue, Anita Shreve, hardback
13.  What The Fly Saw,  Frankie Bailey, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

Patrick Fort just wants to know.  As a young man with Asperger's Syndrome, he has a total focus and perseverance when he has a question.  And he has one of the biggest questions of all:  what is death and what causes it?  He has been obsessed with the question since his father died when he was younger and has tried various methods to satisfy his curiosity.

Now he may have the answer.  He has been admitted to college and to an anatomy class.  Although the rest of his classmates are all headed to medical degrees, Patrick has no interest in that.  He is just interested in the dissection they will be doing of a human corpse for his research.  He is sure that the answer has to be somewhere in the work they will be doing over the next few months.

In some ways, Patrick is the ideal candidate for this work.  He is unemotional and none of the dissection bothers him. His work is clean and methodical and he is even in the running for the semester's top prize.   In others, he is definitely the odd duck.  His literal way of looking at the world confuses his lab partners, and of course, he has no concept of teamwork. 

But as the weeks go by, Patrick becomes consumed with what he is sure has occurred.  Part of the work includes making a diagnosis of what killed the subjects.  Most are easy to diagnose as either cancer or heart disease makes up the majority of cases.  But No. 19, Patrick's body, is not easy to diagnose.  When Patrick decides 19 has been murdered, the groundwork is laid for a colossal  disaster.

Belinda Bauer is one of the best of the younger generation of mystery writers.  Her books are dark yet touch the reader as they explore the inner thoughts of those individuals who just don't fit in the mainstream.  Patrick's actions seem inevitable and the reader cheers him on even as things go awry.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Rough Country by John Sandford

Detective Virgil Flowers has been called to the lake country of Minnesota.  Unfortunately, it's not to indulge in his love, fishing, but to investigate a murder.  One of the fancier resorts in the area has reported a guest missing who went out in a kayak the evening before to watch the eagles and never returned.  She is found shot and killed and the case is beyond the resources of the local police.

Virgil starts his investigation and finds lots of suspects.  The resort is a female only one, and it turns out that it has a reputation for being a gathering place for lesbians.  Is the victim's sexuality the driving force behind the hate that killed her?  Or was it her plan to buy the resort herself as a retreat from running a competitive marketing agency?  Was it her interest in a local country band with a singer who is ready to do anything to make it big?

Suspects are plentiful.  The victim had a relationship with the singer, Wendy, and that didn't set well with Wendy's current lover.  There was a former lover of Wendy's who also had her eye on the resort as an investment opportunity.  There were employees of the marketing firm who knew that the owner was planning a massive layoff and that some of them would lose a job that would be hard to replace.  Then there is the singer's family.  They have a local reputation.  The mother ran off years ago with a lover, leaving her husband and children behind.  The father raised the children and is very protective of them.  Plans to help his daughter leave the country behind for a show business career don't set well with him.  Can Virgil sort through all the suspects and find the killer before more people are targeted?

This is the third Virgil Flowers mystery Sandford has written.  Readers who love his Lucas Davenport mysteries will also enjoy Flowers.  He is not as intense and driven as Davenport, who is his boss.  Instead this former preacher's kid is charming and open and always ready for a romantic encounter.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai

The house, or mansion, has set in the country long enough that it seems to have always been there.  It was built by a tycoon for his wife who died a mysterious death there.  Over the years, it has been various things; a refuge for those fleeing scandal, an artists' colony, and a treasure to be guarded.

In The Hundred Year House, Rebecca Makkai peels back the layers of history that surround the house, excavating the secrets and connections that make up it's life.  She starts with it's most recent history, where the wealthy owner currently in residence is the granddaughter of the man who built it.  She lives her life as lady of the manor, rarely interacting with the people of the surrounding town.  She has given the coach house to her daughter and son-in-law.  She is a professor in the local college; he is writing a biography of a poet who lived there during the artist colony days.  The couple is joined by another one, who are the offspring of the owner's second husband, and the dynamic of the two couples propel this part of the story.

Going back a generation, we learn the story of the artists who lived there making art.  There were poets and painters, dancers and sculptors, all living and loving together.  They had a good run of things for a decade or more, until the owning family decides to take the house back. 

Going back another generation, we learn the secrets of the family that built the house and the story behind the mysterious death of the woman the house was built for.  Violet has left little mark on history, except as the subject of a striking portrait and as the rumor of a ghost that haunts the house over the years.

Makkai has created a fascinating book that uses surprising connections to tie together the generations of the house.  Characters play their part on the stage and withdraw, sometimes to reappear in different guises.  The secrets of one incarnation serve as the treasure hunt for the next, as the stories are all laid bare over time.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Forgetting Place by John Burley

Dr. Lise Shields has been a psychiatrist for five years at the state correctional facility where perpetrators of the state's most heinous crimes have been committed.  Her job is stressful and grueling but she has come to think of the hospital as a sanctuary where the staff is like family.  She is totally committed to her patients and helping them where she can, although the truth is that most will never leave or get better in a conventional sense.

When she gets a new patient named Jason, something is different.  For some reason, he is there without the normal paperwork.  Her boss is reluctant to talk about Jason or explain why he isn't like the other patients.  He is there for killing his lover but as Lise gets to know him she comes to believe that he is not guilty of the crime but is either falsely accused or covering for someone else.

Lise is determined to help Jason but her efforts prove useless.  Soon she is faced with the choice of remaining in a professional relationship and just chalking him up as one of the patients who can't be helped, or putting her career and everything she has worked so hard for on the line.  What will she choose?

John Burley has written a fascinating thriller.  It looks at the world of the colliding fields of medicine and law and explored what happens when the perpetrator of a crime is mentally ill.  Burley is a physician himself, serving as an emergency room physician while writing as a second career.  His insight into the field adds realism to his portrayal.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Principles Of Navigation by Lynn Sloan

Alice and Rolly Becotte are young professionals, married and living in the Midwest where they'd moved after college for Rolly's job.  He is an art professor at the local college while working on his sculpture on the side.  She is a reporter on a small local paper which means she covers farm news, local festivals and events and everything else that comes along.

Rolly is about to break out in his career and is very focused on his work.  He has a show lined up and his sabbatical will take them to Norway for a year.  Alice is focused not on her career but on her dream of having a family.  More than anything, she wants to be pregnant with their first baby.

As the months roll by, the difference in focus and motivation starts to create fissures in their relationship.  Rolly feels that Alice is tying him down and sees a family as the beginning of the end of his artistic vision and work.  Alice resents Rolly for not wanting what she does and not being willing to commit to a family.  Soon each is caught up in strategies to get what they want and the anger and resentment start to crack the solidness of their marriage.

Lynn Sloan has written a hauntingly beautiful tale of what happens to relationships even when both parties are in love but the pair are not focused on the same goals.  The reader is caught between the two protagonists, able to see each's point of view and heartsick at the choices they make as time rolls on.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction as well as women's literature and anyone interested in marriage and what makes it succeed or fail.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Love By The Book by Melissa Pimentel

How can it be so hard to find a man to date and have great sex with when you don't want any attachments?  That's the dilemma Lauren Cunningham has.  She has left her home and family in Maine to live life as a carefree single woman in her dream job in London.  Lauren thought the whole single London scene would be full of dreamy Englishmen and variety would be the spice of life.  Alas, while she has met a few men, none fit her criteria for long-term sex partners.

So Lauren decides to take a systematic approach.  She decides that she will spend the next year devoting each month to a different dating advice manual.  She goes from being celibate for a month to the advice of a high priced call girl.  She tries being aloof from men and being totally available.  She enters the world of online dating.  She visits old loves and meets new ones.  But, nothing seems to work or at least not for long.  Will Lauren ever meet the man of her dreams?

Fans of Jill Mansell will enjoy this light romantic romp as it is written in the same breezy style with the same self-effacing humor.  It allows those who are already in long-term relationships to reminisce while giving hope to those still on the hunt for a romantic relationship.  It is a particularly appropriate read here in the days leading up to Valentine's Day when we question what love is and why we want someone else to spend our days with.  This book is recommended for readers of chick lit and those interested in a light, interesting read.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Booksie's Shelves, February 6, 2015

Lots of exciting books have arrived.  Now if I could just tear myself away from Netflix, Amazon Prime and my DVR, I'd get a lot more reading done.  I've been fascinated by both Blue Bloods and Grey's Anatomy recently and my reading has suffered.  I've read three books so far in February and have about a dozen started in various formats and on various devices.  Here's what's come in recently:

1.  Life From Scratch, Sasha Martin, memoir, sent for book tour
2.  Fiercombe Manor, Kate Riordan, historical fiction, sent for book tour
3.  Noise, Brett Garcia Rose, mystery/horror, sent by publisher
4.  The World Before Us, Aislinn Hunter, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  World Gone By, Dennis Lehane, mystery, sent for book tour
6.  Shady Cross, James Hankins, mystery, sent for book tour
7.  The Stranger, Harlen Coben, mystery, sent by publisher
8.  The Death Of Fidel Perez, literary fiction, gift from friend
9.  Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon, literary fiction, purchased
10.  Ram-2050, Joan Roughgarden, sci-fi, sent by publisher
11.  Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman, anthology, sent by publisher
12.  Behind Closed Doors, Elizabeth Haynes, mystery, sent for book tour

Here's what I'm currently reading:

1.  The Innovators, Walter Issacson, Kindle
2.  Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter, paperback
3.  A Clash Of Kings, George R. R. Martin, hardback
4.  Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas, hardback
5.  The Rise And Fall Of Great Powers, Tom Rachman, paperback
6.  The Illusionists, Rosie Thomas, paperback
7.  The Black Country, Alex Grecian, paperback
8.  Mrs. Poe, Lynn Cullen, paperback
9.  Love By The Book, Melissa Pimentel, paperback
10.  The Orchid Affair, Lauren Willig, hardback
11.  Principles Of Navigation, Lynn Sloan, paperback
12.  Rescue, Anita Shreve, hardback
13.  Rubbernecker, Belinda Bauer, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Those Rosy Hours At Mazandaran by Marion Grace Woolley

As the Shah's eldest daughter, Afshar has advantages.  She is granted deference and obedience from those around her.  She is showered with gifts and luxurious clothes.  But there are also disadvantages.  The harem is full of the Shah's wives, each vying for his attention for themselves and their children, each plotting and scheming to get rid of other wives and their progeny who might be favored over their own children.  Add to that the political alliances in court and Afshar's world is a delicate, dangerous one.

But she never doubts the Shah's love.  After a trip, he returns with one of her greatest wishes; a circus.  Everyone is enthralled with the elephants, tigers, jugglers and acrobats but no one more than Afshar.  She longs for the freedom the circus performers have and the easy camaraderie that they share in their tents.

The star of the circus is the chief magician, Vachon. Vachon can create illusions that are miraculous.  There is an air of mystery about him as well as he always hides behind a mask.  That covers his deformity, the horrible face that he was born with and that sent him out into the world to make his own way as a child.  Vachon and Afshar become secret friends as they come to realize that they share dark interests that neither can pursue alone.

Woolley has written a dark historical novel that is full of intrigue, cruelty and revenge.  It poses the question about what one would do for love and whether love is possible or whether it will always be haunted by the spectre of betrayal.  This book is written for readers of historical fiction, fantasy and horror. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Grown Ups by Robin Antalek

When you're fifteen, you think what you know will last forever.  That's the way it was for a group of friends growing up in the Northeast, with mothers who stayed at home and fathers who took the train to the city to work each day, leaving the kids to form their own families with each other.  Together they explored friendship, sex, drinking, loyalty, betrayals and family secrets.  With all they've gone through, surely nothing can ever change?

There's Suzie who starts a relationship with Sam that summer while her family implodes.  When they move away suddenly at the end of the summer, she throws out a bomb that can explode the entire neighborhood.  Sam, ever protective of those he loves, works quickly to avoid the consequences her act could have.  Sam never feels sure of where he fits in.  His big brother, Michael, is the one who has it all together, off at college and studying to be a doctor.  Bella, Suzi's best friend, is heartbroken when Suzi leaves, but knows it could give her a chance with Sam who she has had a secret crush on.

As the years go by, the issues continue to emerge.  Sam and Michael's mother left their father the day that Suzi's family left the neighborhood and is now living in New England with a partner raising goats.  Their father has raised them and is starting to find ways to live without his wife.  Michael is now a doctor, always tired and pressured.  In a surprising move, he has started a relationship with Suzi, who he ran into at college.  Bella, after her broken relationship with Sam, is working as a teacher and living with a poet.  Sam is drifting, never able to commit to a job or a relationship.

Antalek has written a novel about what it means to have a group of friends who are friends for life, and how families can both destroy and save us.  The characters spend their teens and early twenties searching for the loves and careers that will sustain them for the rest of their lives.  Readers will find at least one character they can relate to as there are so many different ways of adjusting to all that life can bring.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in reading about family relationships.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Last Breath by Kimberly Belle

Gia Andrews hasn't been home to Tennessee in years.  She tells everyone it's because she is out saving the world as a humanitarian aid worker, moving from disaster to disaster, saving lives and bringing relief.  That is all true, but the bigger truth is that she hasn't been home because she feels she has no home after the disaster that struck her own family.

Gia, as the youngest sibling, was the only one left at home when her stepmother was brutally murdered.  To complete the horror, her beloved father, the kindly town pharmacist, is arrested, tried and convicted of the crime.  He has been in jail for the last sixteen years, alone and still protesting his innocence.  Neither Gia nor her older sister or brother has visited or written him, believing in the facts laid out at the trial.

Now her father is headed home, not on parole but with a death sentence.  He is in the last stages of cancer and her uncle, the family head, makes it clear that all three siblings are expected to be there.  Gia reluctantly goes home and sees her father again.  It is the hardest thing she has ever done.

But then, she meets an author who is writing a book about the case and who believes her father was falsely convicted, just as he has always insisted.  Gia starts to look into the case and things just don't add up as she uncovers family secrets.  Along the way, she meets the new guy in town, who is running the local bar and restaurant, Jake, who believes in her and her attempts to finally uncover the truth.

Kimberly Belle has written a story of family loyalty and betrayal that will strike a chord in most readers.  Are there truly acts that are unforgivable, or do we owe those in our family unwavering support?  Can one live with the truth and continue to move on with the burden of family secrets revealed?  Readers will be interested in finding out Belle's answers to these questions.  This book is recommended for readers of family sagas and those interested in redemption and family dynamic.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

There are an estimated 40,000 bodies in the United States that are unidentified, with 4000 new cases added annually.  These are runaways, murder victims taken out of state, homeless individuals, or those who dropped out so long ago that no one notices when they aren't in the area anymore.  While the police attempt to identify them so that their cases can be closed and their families notified, often the case goes cold if the identification is not easily made.
Deborah Halber, a science writer, provides a spotlight into the world of online sleuthing.  Individuals pore over missing person files and files of unidentified bodies, hoping to find a commonality that will allow them to make a match and provide a name to the remains.  She outlines both the process, the individuals involved and some famous cases that have been solved.  Several cases such as The Tent Girl and The Lady On The Dunes are followed throughout the book. 
Some of the online sleuths are former law enforcement, determined to solve a cold case that still haunts them.  Others have a missing person in their own family that they are determined to find.  Yet others are compelled to do this work for no identifiable reason other than the thrill of the chase and the ability to bring closure to others.  The sleuths help each other, but also are adversaries as they race to make an identification.  A star today is a scapegoat tomorrow, and those in leadership positions at famous websites like The Doe Network are not immune from interpersonal conflicts.
Halber has written a fascinating look at a world that most of us don't even know exist.  I know I was surprised to see a famous online sleuth profiled who lived within twenty miles of my house, yet I had never heard of her or the cases in my area she had worked on.  Halber outlines the issues, the individuals involved and famous cases that were solved with the help of the sleuths.  This book is recommended for readers of true crime and those interested in how the Internet changes every task it is involved in.