Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy


The reader meets Sarah Brown the night before the execution of her famous father, John Brown.  He is to be hanged for his role in the infamous Harper's Ferry insurrection that played a part in starting the Civil War.  Sarah and her family are cared for during this ordeal by the Hill family.  Both the Browns and the Hills are abolitionists, determined to end the curse of slavery.  Sarah helps in her own way, drawing the maps that help escaped slaves make their way to Canada.

Eden Anderson lives one hundred and fifty years later.  She lives in New Charlestown, near Harper's Ferry with her husband.  They have come to the town to make a new start.  Eden gives up a high-pressure job and tries to reconcile herself to the reality that she may never have a child of her own.  Years of fertility issues have almost ruined her marriage and Eden is at loose ends. 

The two women are connected over the years by several factors.  Both have to reconcile themselves to not being mothers.  The house that Eden is living in is the old Hill house, home to Sarah's greatest friends.  They are also connected by their journey to find meaning and connection in life and to build things that impact the world.

Sarah McCoy has researched the life of Sarah Brown extensively.  After the war, she and her family migrated west, ending up in California.  The reader is introduced to this real-life heroine while seeing how her life might have played out in a modern setting as exemplified by Eden.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

The Great Santini is Pat Conroy's novel about growing up in a Marine fighter pilot's household.  Conroy grew up in such a household, he and his six siblings moving frequently following his father from military post to military post. 

Bull Meecham is the epitome of a Marine fighter pilot.  He is the best flyer, the loudest voiced, the biggest drinker, the quickest to start and finish a fight.  He rules his squadron and his family by sheer force of personality and by his willingness to use his fists whenever he is crossed.  He brooks no resistance from his lovely Southern wife, Lillian, and his four children. 

Ben is the oldest, a son who strives to be good at whatever he does.  He gets good grades, serves as an alter boy, is the best point guard his high school has ever seen.  Mary Ann is his closest sibling, a daughter with little social life due to the constant moves who finds refuge in her books.  Matt and Karen are young and follow their older siblings. 

Ben is caught in limbo.  His father wants him to be a tough, Yankee Marine and someday be a fighter pilot.  He doesn't even consider another future for his son.  His mother wants him to be a Southern gentleman and spends her time trying to mold him into that.  He loves his father and hates him in equal parts.  He admires Bull's accomplishments and knows he can go to him in any emergency for help, but hates the way Bull is quick with his fists to his wife and family, and quick to humiliate his children to enforce his rules.  The book covers Ben's senior year in a new town.  He makes some friends with the local boys, mainly through sports, and with the son of their maid, who introduces Ben to the countryside and the local fishing.  Throughout the year, Ben tries to discover what he wants out of life and how to carve out space for himself when living with a larger than life figure.

I avoided this book for years, even though Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors.  I was afraid of the emotions he would uncover and how I would react to the story.  I can't think of anyone who writes better about the South and what it means to be born and grow up there.  His strength is writing about dysfunctional families and how they love each other through the tears.  Bull Meecham is like many of the fathers I knew growing up, and like my father in ways.  My father was the high school principal and few would cross him, although his was a quiet strength rather than an extroverted one like Meecham.  His word was law and his family did what he laid down first before considering what they wanted themselves.  Conroy knows and writes better about the father-son dynamic than any other writer I know.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Feast For Crows by George R. R. Martin

In the fourth book of the Game Of Thrones series, the war for the throne is about over.  King Joffrey is dead as is Robb Stark.  King's Landing and the kingdom is now ruled by ten year old Tommen and Queen Cersei is serving as the effective ruler until his majority.  Although she has always considered herself a cunning manipulator of others, she immediately starts to make bad decisions.  Only the fact that so many of her foes are displaced or dead allows her reign to continue.

On the Wall, with the ascension of Jon Snow as commander, the war against the Wildlings is over for the moment although that against the Others is just starting.  Jon sends Samwell on a mission and to get reinforcements for the wall.  Elsewhere, traveling bands of soldiers turned thieves after the war rove the land, laying waste and havoc wherever they go.

Sansa and Arya are still alive, but no one knows where they are.  Jaime Lancaster is sent off to resecure the Tully lands, while Brienne travels searching for the Stark girls.  Stannis is up North regrouping for another attempt at the throne while the Iron Men are rampaging on the coast. 

Martin tells the reader in the afterward that so many of the main characters are missing because he realized that his fourth book was too massive and he split it in two.  There were several ways to do this.  He could have split it by time, following all characters sequentially.  Instead he chose to split it by characters.  Some characters are in this fourth book, while the others will be in the fifth with both books covering the same timeframe.  I'm not sure if this was the best choice but it is how he chose to handle things.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers and those interested in the Game Of Thrones series.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Turnip Princess And Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth

Most people are familiar with the Brothers Grimm and the fairy tales they collected and made available.  Others have heard of Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Perrault and their work.  Far fewer have ever heard of Franz Xaver von Schonwerth, although he is a contemporary of the others.  He traveled the rural areas of Bavaria in the 1850's, collecting oral versions of fairy tales told by the people from one generation to the next.  His work, however, was lost, so he never gained the fame of the other individuals who worked in this field.

Jump ahead to 2009.  A researcher, Erika Eichenseer, was astonished to find thirty boxes of von Schonwerth's source material, buried in the archives of a German municipality.  There were over five hundred previously unknown fairy tales.  Now, Maria Tatar, who chairs the program in mythology and folklore at Harvard, has been hired by Penguin Classics to translate these newly discovered tales.  The result is The Turnip Princess.

Readers of these tales will notice several things.  First, they tend to be very short stories, starting and ending abruptly in comparison with a Grimm fairy tale.  The emphasis is much less on princesses and other female protagonists, with males being the focus of the tale just as often as a female.  The tales are dark and violent and have not been rewritten for current sensibilities.  Readers interested in fairy tales and the evolution of the oral tradition will find a treasure trove of new material in this anthology. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Booksie's Shelves, April 21, 2015

It's been a busy couple of weeks!  We've been to Georgia for Easter, then my daughter went back to Atlanta this past weekend for a choir trip.  I got to spend the night in Charlotte and have a great steak dinner out with my husband, which was fun!  This weekend is keeping the grandkids while their parents attend a wedding.  With all that, reading can take a hit but I'm in there trying!  Here's the books that came through the door lately:

1.  The View From Lazy Point, Carl Safina, nonfiction, from Paperbackswap
2.  Voyage Of The Basilisk, Marie Brenner, fantasy, sent by publisher
3.  The Mapmaker's Children, Sarah McCoy, historical fiction, sent for book tour
4.  Find The Good, Heather Lende, nonfiction, won in contest
5.  Rule Of Capture, Ona Russell, mystery, sent by author
6.  The Witch With No Name, Kim Harrison, fantasy, sent by publisher
7.  The Mark On Eve, Joel Fox, time travel, sent by publisher
8.  Find Momo Coast To Coast, Andrew Knapp, nonfiction, sent by publisher
9.  Dean Smith, More Than A Coach, Charlotte observer, biography, birthday gift
10.  The Sussex Downs Murder, John Bude, mystery, sent by publisher
11.  The Cave, Michela Montgomery, dystopian, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm currently reading:

1.  The Innovators, Walter Issacson, Kindle
2.  Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter, paperback
3.  A Feast For Crows, George R. R. Martin, hardback
4.  Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas, hardback
5.  The Rise And Fall Of Great Powers, Tom Rachman, paperback
6.  Killer, Come Hither, Louis Begley, paperback
7.  The Black Country, Alex Grecian, paperback
8.  All I Have In This World, Michael Parker, paperback
9. The Strangler Vine, MJ Carter, Kindle Fire
10.  The Orchid Affair, Lauren Willig, hardback
11. Michael Jordan, A Life, Roland Lazenby, hardback
12.  Rescue, Anita Shreve, hardback

 Happy Reading!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Read Bottom Up by Neel Shah & Skye Chatham

Read Bottom Up is the recounting of a modern love story.  Madeline is in the publishing industry while Elliot is a chef.  They meet in the city where they both live and have some friends in common.  As is common in this digital age, the courtship progresses with the use of text messages, Instagram and emails.  What the reader sees, that the couple does not, is what each individual is thinking behind the electronic messages they are sending.

Both Madeline and Elliot copy their messages and the other's responses to their best friends.  They ask their friends to interpret the meaning of various phases and how committed they think the person is to the relationship.  Nothing is kept back from their friends and every date and word is parsed and mined for data.

While each person in the relationship believes the other is committed, the reader hears about the other people each is pursuing on the side and gets a real feel for how tenuous the relationship is.  Both seem more interested in appearing cool and with-it than looking for ways to increase their intimacy.  Rather than jumping headlong into promises, each person attempts to position themselves so that they appear unconcerned.  As one might expect, the entire affair follows an expected trajectory; initial interest, deepening commitment, then stalling, then distancing, then ending.  The reader is taken along for the entire ride and knows more about the entire relationship than either of the participants.

Neel Shah and Skye Chatham have written a breezy, interesting story that delves into love and relationships in the digital age.  Interestingly, one author lives in Los Angeles while the other is located in New York and they collaborated using the same mechanisms as the couple in the book use for their courting.  When everything is out for the world to parse, it is difficult to build a committed connection to another person.  Intimacy and love grows in an atmosphere where the couple is in a bubble where the other person is everything.  One can't be cool and contained and falling head over heels in love at the same time.  While interesting, the reader turns the last page sorry for the participants and the state of love which is forced to grow under a microscope these days.  This book is recommended for readers of fiction that explores relationships and that attempts to explain the mysteries of love.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Careless In Red by Elizabeth George

After the tragedy in which his pregnant wife was shot and killed on their doorstep, Detective Superintendent Thomas Lynley of Scotland Yard is lost.  The unimaginable crime has him questioning his career choice.  He has always been unconventional.  Lynley is also a titled peer; an earl who put aside his royal duties in order to pursue the career he loves and is good at, catching criminals.   Now he isn't sure what is true and where his life should lead.

Lynley takes off walking the wild trails of England, specifically in Cornwall.  One day he finds the body of a teenager who appears to have had an accident while climbing.  Lynley goes for help at the home of a local resident, a vet named Daidre Trahair.  She admits to knowing the youth and together they call the local police. 

The local police are woefully understaffed, and they request help from Scotland Yard.  Lynley's subordinate, Barbara Havers, is seconded to the investigation.  The local police in charge also ask for Lynley's help even though he tells them that he has left the police department.  Still, he gets pulled in as the witness who found the body and soon finds himself working on the case.

The youth, Santos Kerne, appears to have had several individuals who might have wanted him dead.  His parents are stuck in a tumultuous marriage that has repercussions on those around them, and might have led to a motive.  Santos himself has romantic entanglements that has left  several people with significant grudges against him.  The police will have to carefully work through all the motives and evidence to find the killer.

The death of Helen Lynley was one of the most heartrending literary deaths I can remember.  I had to put the series aside for several years, too crushed to read more about this man and his tragedy.  I'm slowly working back into the series and this is Lynley's first case after Helen's death.  Elizabeth George writes the type of involved, complex mysteries that keeps the reader engaged until the last page.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Roadside Crosses by Jeffrey Deaver

They are, unfortunately, a common sight.  Roadside crosses, covered with flowers and stuffed animals, that mark the spot where a loved one has met death.  Some are temporary while others are maintained carefully and lovingly for years.  Each tell the story of dreams crushed and lives snuffed out.

But in the Monterey Peninsula, these crosses have taken a more sinister turn.  After a teenage wreck in which several popular girls are killed, the community's ire and scorn are heaped upon the teen driver, a gamer outcast named Travis.  No one can understand what a guy like that was doing driving the car of one of the most popular girls, or how he's been allowed to walk free after the wreck.  Sentiment is against him and the readers of the area's most popular blog have plenty to say about Travis and his family.  He is despised, scorned and ridiculed. 

Then new roadside crosses start to appear.  These are different from the usual memorials though.  They don't give the names and dates of those who have died.  Instead, they predict death and give the names of those who have used the blog to heap scorn on Travis.  After their cross is planted, the individuals named are murdered.  A huge manhunt for Travis is started, but he has disappeared.

CBI kinetic expert Kathryn Dance heads up the murder investigation.  She is helped by Deputy Michael O'Neil and local computer expert Jonathan Boling.  Together they try to track Travis through the world of online gaming to determine his next moves and stop the trail of death marked by crosses.

Kathryn Dance is Jeffry Deaver's alternate mystery sleuth.  This is the third novel to feature Dance and readers will be interested in her use of the science of kinetics to unravel suspect duplicity.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight

The residents of Ridgedale have woken up to a startling news story.  A body has been found by the Ellis Bridge, near the woods where students go to party and adjacent to the local college campus.  As the story unfolds, it becomes more shocking.  The body is a baby, probably a newborn, although the police aren't releasing much information.  The town, which prides itself on its low crime rate and great educational opportunities, becomes a beehive of rumors. 

Is this another sad case of a teenager who has delivered a baby her parents don't know about and an attempt to hide the result?  Is it the case of a mother and baby who have been killed and the mother's body is yet to be discovered?  Is it related to the town's last criminal death which happened eighteen years before in the same location and was written off as the result of teenage partying and a drunken accident?

The residents react differently, depending on their backgrounds.  Molly is a new reporter, starting over in a new career and town after she and her husband's second baby is stillborn.  Brenda is the queen bee, with the perfect family and married to the police chief.  Her daughter Hannah is also a perfect teenager, who spends her spare time tutoring. One of her assignments is Sandy, who has dropped out of high school to get a job.  Sandy's mom, Jenna, is the girl everyone talked about in high school.  She has brought Sandy back to Ridgedale where she hopes they can get out of poverty.  When the Wall Street finance firms cut back and Stella lost her job and shortly thereafter her husband, she decided to get out of the workforce and try a life of stay-at-home mom.

The story is assigned to Molly.  As she digs into the assignment, she starts to uncover secrets that the town and the individuals involved hoped would never surface.  The baby's death serves as a lens that highlights all the things swept under rugs and relegated to whispers.  Can Molly find out whose baby was left in the woods, and does the town want her to?

Kimberly McCreight has written a book that uses a crime to explore the way women live their lives.  Some are career women, some are housewives.  Some are happily married, some divorced and some floating from man to man.  Each must find a way to live in the town society, which likes to highlight positive things and hide negative ones deeply under the surface.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes

Ten years ago, fifteen-year-old Scarlett Rainsford disappeared while on a family vacation in Greece.  It was unclear if she was kidnapped or whether she ran away.  No body was ever found and given the difficulties of coordinating with another country, the case went cold.  The family was of little help and seemed strange.  The father was controlling and the mother seemed childish.  The younger sister was very high strung and seemed to have mental issues. 

It was one of the first cases of Detective Lou Smith's career, and she was frustrated and disappointed when the case wasn't solved or any clues developed that led to any conclusions.  Now, Lou has been promoted and as the head of a team, handles multiple cases.  Yet when she hears that Scarlett has been found, alive and well and back in England, she finds time to get involved in the case.

Scarlett was kidnapped all those years ago.  She was forced into prostitution and spent years in various dingy apartments, forced to please men and turn the money over to the pimps.  She had no friends, as girls came and went, and most were too tired and shell-shocked to try to form friendships.  Scarlett was constantly watched, beat up, and given new names periodically.  After a decade, she managed to get away and make her way back to England.

Lou and her team work with the police on the task force on sex trafficking.  There are other connections.  Scarlett had been working in one of the establishments of the local crime boss.  Was this just the only job someone without papers or an education could get, or was Scarlett involved in his crimes?  There seems to be a rivalry heating up in the underworld, and Scarlett seems to know about this.  Then there is her family.  They don't seem that excited or interested in Scarlett's return.  Why aren't they rushing to her side and her defense?

Elizabeth Haynes is a former police intelligence analyst.  This is her fifth novel, and the second one with Detective Lou Smith.  Her former occupation leads authenticity to the novel, giving the reader valuable insight into the real workings of a police investigation.  The book also highlights the horrific world of sex trafficking, a real problem throughout the world, and one that is a top issue for feminists and other women.  This book is recommended for mystery readers who enjoy police procedurals.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Birthdays For The Dead by Stuart MacBride

Scotland has a diabolical serial killer on the loose.  Dubbed The Birthday Boy by the press, he kidnaps young girls right before their thirteenth birthday.  They are never seen again, but each year on their birthday, the grieving parents receive a birthday card.  The card contains a photograph of their daughter bound to a chair.  Each year the girl is shown with signs of more torture, until on the fifth year she is shown dead.

Detective Constable Ash Henderson has been on the case since the start.  He has been demoted due to a mistake in the case that sent his superior officer to jail, and that broke the spirit of the case's forensic officer.  Ash knows more about the killer and the case than anyone, but he has secrets.  No one knows that five years ago his own daughter, Rebecca, was taken, and that Ash and his ex-wife receive the birthday cards each year.  This will be the year her death is shown, and Ash is determined to find the killer.  He has kept Rebecca's capture a secret from the police and everyone else so that he won't be taken off the case.

Things seem to be changing in the investigation.  There are signs the killer is escalating.  Ash gets a new ally in his hunt, a young forensic psychiatrist, Alice MacDonald.  She has demons of her own, but quickly bonds to Henderson.  Together they fight to find the killer before the latest victim is killed.

This is the first novel in the Ash Henderson series.  He is a violent man, but a man whose violence is done in the name of helping those he loves and catching the most evil humans who stalk the land.  Readers who came to know Stuart MacBride from the Detective Logan novels will find Ash a darker man, driven by demons that few can imagine.  MacBride's signature black humor is still to be found and his pacing and twists and turns will prove this is another stellar series.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan

In 1933, Alice's story is a common one.  Young and na├»ve, she fell for the admiration of an older, married man.  Inexperienced at love, she believed him when he said his marriage was a farce and that he would divorce his wife and instead marry Alice.  When she gets pregnant, he vanishes and Alice's reputation is on the line.  Her parents are aghast and worried that she has ruined her entire life.  They concoct a story of a hasty marriage where the bridegroom was killed shortly thereafter in an accident, and shuffle her off to her mother's hometown village to wait out the months till the baby's arrival. 

Alice's mother had a best friend who is now the housekeeper at the local estate, Fiercombe Manor.  She agrees that Alice can stay at the manor until the baby comes and help out around the estate.  But since the estate owners now live overseas, returning to the estate infrequently, there is little to do and Alice has lots of time on her hands.  She becomes interested in the history of the manor and of the beautiful Elizabeth, of whom rumors abound.  Elizabeth had been the mistress thirty years before, and married to the headstrong master, Edward.  Edward had hated the manor, thinking it old and inconvenient and had built a new, huge house nearby where the couple lived.  No one seemed to know what happened to the family and even the new house had disappeared, while the heirs went back to the manor to live.

As Alice delves into Elizabeth's history, she starts to feel a connection between them.  For Elizabeth was pregnant the last summer that there is word about her.  Then nothing.  She finds that the couple had a small daughter, but continued to try to have an heir.  Elizabeth had issues with pregnancy and had lost several babies.  Alice can't help but feel that they are connected by their pregnancies.  When Alice meets the young heir to the estate, Thomas, and they begin a friendship, she finds more of the pieces of the mystery.  What is Elizabeth's story and what will Alice's life story turn out to be?

This book is reminiscent of the superstitions and horrors that used to attend pregnancy.  Girls who became pregnant outside of marriage were scorned and humiliated, forced into early marriages with little chance of success or sent off to have their child, which was then taken from them.  Women who were married and pregnant were also surrounded with mystery, spending the last days in seclusion and sent to asylums for months for treatments when they had postpartum depression.  They were considered suicidal, starved and deprived of their children, and given barbaric treatments such as electric shock.  This book reminds the current generation of the struggles of their ancestors.  Today, when having a child outside of marriage is not considered the end of the world and postpartum depression is recognized and treated effectively, women can only imagine the horrors pregnancy could bring to their ancestors.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.