Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Booksie's Shelves, September 30, 2015

September is almost gone, although summer is still hanging on in North Carolina with temperatures still in the eighties and humid atmospheres.  I had the bliss of visiting my grandkids last week.  This week I have the inevitable cold as I always return from a grandkid trip sick.  But it has been raining here for days and continuing rain, so it's a good week to sit and read.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  The Three, Sarah Lotz, thriller, gift from friend
2.  A Specter Of Justice, Mark de Castrique, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  Half In Love With Death, Emily Ross, thriller, sent by publisher
4.  The Death And Life Of Mal Evans, Peter Lee, sent by author
5.  Home Fires, Julie Summers, historical fiction, sent by publisher
6.  Girl In The Woods, Aspen Matis, memoir, sent for book tour
7.  Power Surge, Ben Bova, political thriller, sent by publisher
8.  Trouble On The Thames, Victor Bridges, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  A Crucible Of Souls, Mitchell Hogan, fantasy, sent by publisher
10.  Purity, Jonathan Franzen, literary fiction, purchased
11.  The Indifferent Stars Above, Daniel Brown, nonfiction, sent for book tour
12.  After You, Jojo Moyes, literary fiction, sent by publisher
13.  Twister, Genanne Walsh, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm currently reading:

1.  The Path Of The Storm, James Maxwell, Kindle Fire
2.  A Brave Man Seven Stories Tall, Will Chancellor, Kindle
3.  The Devil In The Marshalsea, Antonia Hodgson, paperback
4.  Our Times, A.N. Wilson, paperback
5.  The Moral Lives Of Animals, Dale Peterson, hardback
6.  Pig Island, Mo Hayden, Kindle Fire
7.  Mystery Walk, Robert McCammon, Kindle Fire
8.  The New World, Andrew Motion, paperback
9.  A Line Of Blood, Ben McPherson, paperback

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Slade House by David Mitchell

Something's going on at Slade House.  The first thing is its location.  An English manor house with extensive grounds just doesn't belong in a busy commercial district, down at the heels and crowded for space.  It's almost impossible to find although one would think such a large structure would stand out.  When located, the only way in is through a small iron door that won't open for just anyone.

Then there are the consequences.  Every nine years, someone decides they really, really need to go explore Slade House.  Every nine years, that person is never heard from again.  No bodies are found, no communications from far-flung places.  Just a disappearance that is never solved.

David Mitchell has created a new vision of the haunted house story as only he can.  This work will remind readers of his recent novel, Bone Clocks, and shares much of its storyline and its intricate plotting that reveals hidden connections.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those looking for an atmospheric Halloween read.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

When The Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson Jr.

Eight NBA championships.  Six MVP awards. These are just two of the statistics that tell the story of the rivalry between Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson, Jr (Magic Johnson). Their relationship, starting with their college careers, is often credited with saving the NBA, which was riddled with drug issues and low attendance when the two entered it.  They battled each other for titles, for the best statistics and always kept an eye on what each other was doing.  They started as enemies but over the years developed a friendship that became close.

This book, written with extensive background help from Bird and Johnson, covers all aspects of the two men's careers.  It talks about the similarities in their upbringing as each came from large families where money was scarce and a work ethic was a given.  It follows their college recruitment stories and then covers their college careers and relationships with their college coaches.

Once the two entered the NBA the same year, they quickly had impacts on their teams.  Each was a team leader; Bird more by example and setting high expectations; Johnson more by his positive personality and desire to build everyone up.  Regardless of who they were playing, each had one goal every year.  They wanted to get back to the NBA championship and they wanted to play each other.

The championship series the two played together are covered extensively, with almost a play by play action.  The team relationships and strategies that the fan usually never sees are explored.  More than anything, the incredible drive and passion each player had is explained.  Raw talent is never enough.  In every field, the stars are not just full of talent.  They are driven to work more, to practice more, to constantly find new ways to shine at their chosen field.  Bird and Magic both did that.  They were touted as opposites, Magic was outgoing, Bird introverted; Magic was Showtime while Bird was old school fundamentals, one was black and one was white.  Yet they were more alike than different in their love of the game and their determination to excel.  They made each other better by their constant striving to outdo each other.  Many sports writers feel that this was one of Michael Jordan's only weaknesses; that there was no one consistent player for him to strive against during his time as basketball's greatest player.

Over the years, their rivalry started to turn into a friendship.  By the time Magic's HIV diagnosis caused his early retirement, Bird was one of the first people who was told.  They grew to make commercials together, go to awards shows together and keep each other updated on their lives.  Each asked that the other be a major speaker at their retirement ceremony, and Magic even had Bird present him when he became a Hall Of Fame recipient.

I've been reading sports biographies lately.  I've always been a sports fan so I remember most of the games and secondary individuals discussed.  Just the other night I was watching a NBA championship game between the Chicago Bulls and the Seattle team from 1996.  My son commented that he doesn't know anyone else who can get so worked up about a twenty year old game even making comments to the players about their performances.  I love sports and the personality components it demonstrates.  This book is recommended for other sports fans who will be entranced at this inside look at one of the greatest rivalries in NBA history.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Little Woman In Blue by Jeannine Atkins

Everyone knows the story of Louisa May Alcott.  Most girls read and internalized the story of Little Women, the fictionalized account of the four Alcott sisters.  While Louisa was famous and remains so, little is known of the other sisters.  Jeannine Atkins remedies this oversight with this account of the youngest daughter's life.  Abigail May Alcott, known as May, also had hopes and dreams.

In the famous book, May's name is rearranged as Amy, the vain little sister who burns Jo's stories in the fire in a temper.  While May did have strong ideas, she loved her sister and was appalled at her portrayal in the book.  May was an artist and struggled to be able to paint and exhibit, ideas that were revolutionary in her lifetime.  There was a charming boy next door who was friends with the family, but May did not marry him.  They did have famous family friends such as the Hawthornes and Emersons, but that did not help the family out of poverty.  Instead, the girls struggled to help support the family.

The novel follows May as she, after years of struggle and poverty, manages to get to Europe.  It details how she had to fight to get painting and anatomy lessons, how certain topics were forbidden for women and how it was unimaginable for a woman to be both an artist and a wife and mother.  She ends up in France where she is just in time for the start of the Impressionist period, and other artists such as Turner of England. 

Atkins has shone a light on another inspiring figure for women.  May Alcott was just as determined as her older sister Louisa to live a meaningful life.  The strictures that encased women were things she fought against her own life, finally carving out a life that satisfied her instead of society.  Along the way, Atkins portrays the family life and obligations that stifled women.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those looking for inspiring women stories. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

This Is The Water by Yannick Murphy

Annie is caught up in the life of the mother of a dedicated youth athlete.  Her children's sport is swimming but parents of children in competitive soccer or football or dance or any other sport will relate.  There are daily practices for several hours.  There are tons of meets, often involving travel and hotel stays.  Your friends are the other team parents since you are spending the majority of your time with them and you all have the children and their progress in common.

But Annie has other issues to consider.  She has been dealing with the death of her only brother and trying to work through her grief.  She has been dealing with the fact that Thomas, her husband, seems to have retreated from her and feels like a stranger these days.  She starts what is supposed to be an innocent flirtation with one of the swim dads but it rapidly spirals into something Annie isn't sure she wants or knows how to handle.

Then there are outside pressures.  There have been a series of serial murders in the area.  They are all women who have been attacked and taken at rest stops.  When one of the girls on the swim team becomes a victim, all the parents are forced to realize the dangers their girls face in their innocent lives.  Who is this killer and how does he manage to continue in the midst of their area's daily life?  Why hasn't he been caught yet?

Yannick Murphy has captured the life of a sport team parent's and made it recognizable to anyone who has lived this life with their own children.  The time and commitment it takes, the minutiae that overwhelms everything else, and the overpowering urge to protect and promote one's child are very well done.  The cadence of the words is short and compelling, pulling the reader along.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Hummingbird by Stephen Kiernan

Deborah Birch is a hospice nurse.  Not many people are suited for such a grueling profession, but Deborah knows that helping someone end their life is a gift given to few.  Her latest case, Barclay Reed, is a former professor.  He is ending his life alone without family or friends, his career a victim of an academic scandal.  He is bitter and combative but Deborah is determined to make his passing as easy and meaningful as it can be.

Reed isn't the only person Deborah is providing succor to.  Her husband Michael has recently returned from his third tour in Iraq and while he is back physically, he is definitely not the same man who went to war.  He is distant with Deborah and barely managing to control the massive anger that his actions left him with.  Although he went to war as a mechanic, his skill with a rifle is noted and he returns as a former sniper with thirty-one kills.  Those lives haunt him. 

As Deborah tries to help Michael and Barclay, Barclay starts to open up a bit to her.  He shares a story from World War II that few know.  It is about the only Japanese pilot to ever fly over and drop a bomb in the United States.  The existence of this story is at the root of the scandal that ended Reed's career.  As he and Deborah discuss it, Reed shares what he's learned about how to end war and find peace, lessons that Deborah wants to share with Michael.

Stephen Kiernan has written a hauntingly beautiful novel that explores the meaning of war and what it does to the men and women who go to fight.  The ability to turn away from the violence afterwards and live a life without it is at the root of those who are healed as opposed to those who mentally and emotionally never make it home.  The reader is left with questions about the best way to help a loved one's struggles and how to truly give what another person needs in their life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Booksie's Shelves, September 13, 2015

It feels like the back of the summer heat and humidity has been broken.  While it's still hotter than I'd like, it isn't overpowering.  Fall is on its way and football is back. In the fall, football takes a lot of my reading time, but I've still managed to read some great books.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  Shotgun Lovesongs, Nicholas Butler, literary fiction, purchased
2.  A Line Of Blood, Ben McPherson, mystery, sent for book tour
3.  San Miguel, T.C. Boyle, literary fiction, purchased
4.  Everything She Forgot, Lisa Ballantyne, mystery, sent for book tour
5.  Kings Of The Earth, Jon Clinch, literary fiction, purchased
6.  Slade House, David Mitchell, literary fiction, contest win
7.  Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert, nonfiction, contest win
8.  The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes, mystery, purchased
9.  The Lake House, Kate Morton, literary fiction, contest win
10.  The Last September, Nina de Lamont, literary fiction, sent by publisher
11.  The Hummingbird, Stephen Kiernan, literary fiction, sent for book tour
12.  The Unyielding Future, Brian O'Grady, medical thriller, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Path Of The Storm, James Maxwell, Kindle Fire
2.  When The Game Was Ours, Larry Bird/Magic Johnson, audio
3.  A Brave Man Seven Stories Tall, Will Chancellor, Kindle
4.  Dragon Heart, Cecelia Holland, hardback
5.  The Devil In The Marshalsea, Antonia Hodgson, paperback
6.  Meet Me In Atlantis, Mark Adams, paperback
7.  The Moral Lives Of Animals, Dale Peterson, hardback
8.  Mystery Walk, Robert McCammon, Kindle Fire
9.  This Is The Water, Yannick Murphy, paperback
10.  The Hummingbird, Stephen Kiernan, hardback
11.  Thorn Jack, Katherine Harbour, audio

 Happy Reading!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland

Things are in flux at Castle Ocean.  The ruling family is devastated by the death of the king in battle.  The ruler of the Empire he was in war with is determined to rule the kingdom and sends one of his brothers to marry the grieving widow.  She manages to put off the wedding until all of her five children are there to attend the ceremony.  The eldest son, Luka, is considered the new King by the inhabitants of the kingdom but the ruler of the Empire plans to put an end to that.

The other son, Jeon, goes to escort his twin sister, Tirza, from a convent where she has been staying to Castle Ocean.  Tirza is a problem to her mother.  Small in size, she cannot talk and her squeaks and shrill noises can be offputting.  As Jeon and Tirza sail home, the ships capsize and the two are separated.  Tirza is stranded in a pool with the cause of the destruction, a massive red dragon.  Amazingly, the dragon can understand Tirza and she spends her time with it telling stories.

Soon enough, she flees the dragon and Jeon, who also managed to survive, finds her and brings her home.  The family is reunited but there is a big obstacle in the way of their happiness.  The Empire must be defeated in its plans to take over.  Can they find a way to defeat the invaders?

Cecelia Holland is known for her historical fiction.  This book takes her into the realm of fantasy and readers will be interested to see what she does with this genre.  The castle itself seems to be alive and doing what it can to overthrow the interlopers.  The siblings work together and each does what they can to further the family's fortunes.  In the background looms the spectre of the dragon and what it plans to do.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Another Life by Andrew Vachss

The two year old son of a Saudi prince has been kidnapped.  The average citizen knows nothing about it.  The prince and his government have made sure that the story doesn't hit any press.  There hasn't been a ransom demand and the investigation into the crime is going nowhere.  The Saudis use their influence to pull in the CIA.

The CIA knows the only man who might have a chance at finding the boy.  Burke lives in the murky underground where anything is possible and nothing surprises him.  Burke is a criminal but one thing is certain: no child will ever be harmed by him.  But Burke has no interest in working with any government agency.

But everyone has his price.  Burke's is simple; his love for his chosen family.  His father has been wounded in a caper and the government offers top notch secret care for him.  In addition, all of Burke's collection of criminals he has cultivated over the years will have their records wiped clean.  A chance at another life; a new life for all of his family. 

Burke cannot resist the lure of doing this for the ones he loves.  But he will have to go to places he's never been in order to secure the child's life.  He will have to touch his own emotions and lay them bare for anyone to see.  Burke has spent his life covering up but now he will have to reveal his own story. 

Anyone who has read one of the Burke novels knows the lure of this construct.  Burke is unrepentant about his criminality but also has a loyalty rarely seen for those he considers his family.  Each member has their own fascinating backstory and most readers will have read many of their adventures over the years.  This book is recommended for suspense and thriller readers.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Hidden Relic by James Maxwell

Things continue to get worse for the heroes in the Everman series.  The Emperor's armies are now under the control of the Primate, the leader of the territory that produces essence.  Essence fuels all the magic in the various areas and so the Primate has historically been neutral.  But this Primate is power-mad, determined to unite all the lands under his rule.  He has learned a new way to use essence to control men and bend them to his rule.  He is willing to use any strategy or man to further his goals.

Milo and Ella stand against him.  Milo is the military head of the resistance and Ella is an enchantress.  As the primate cuts off the flow of essence, the war must be fought without the magic that has always enhanced the military. Things don't look good, but Milo is a master strategist and the resistance starts to make headway.

Meanwhile, Ella has returned to the desert and Prince Ilathor who also hopes to conquer the Primate and put an end to his evil.  She helps him march towards the Primate's stronghold from one direction while Milo moves from the other.  Each also finds love, Ella with the Prince and Milo rediscovers a former love he let slip away.  There is also countermagic occurring. A mysterious figure is determined to put an end to the Primate and his power before he can discover the most ancient and powerful relic in existence, and use it to further his conquests.  Ella's former love interest, Killian, helps this mysterious man in his attempts to neutralize the ancient magic that could end them all.

This is the second book in the Everman series.  Readers who enjoyed the first volume will find the same ingredients and enjoyment in this one.  The story moves at the right pace with much military battle strategy and love interests that aren't yet resolved.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Secret Wisdom Of The Earth by Christopher Scotton

Kevin is fourteen when he and his mother go to visit his grandfather in Medgar, Kentucky.  They are reeling from a family tragedy.  His three year old brother has been horribly killed in an accident in front of them.  His father lashes out at Kevin, blaming him for the tragedy.  His mother is just gone, lost somewhere in the mists of her mind.  That leaves Kevin to handle his heartbreak and rejection himself. 

But Medgar is a place where healing can happen.  His grandfather is one of the town's leading citizens, a veterinarian who grew up and raised his family there.  Kevin meets a friend, Buzzy Fink, and his acceptance and that of his grandfather starts to raise the gloom and guilt that has entrapped him.  Soon Kevin is doing the things a teenager in Medgar does, fishing, camping out, accompanying his grandfather on his work trips. 

Medgar is a poor place and mining has been the main economic engine.  As the mines play out, the town dwindles and poverty is a very real thing there.  Families all know each other and each other's families as most have lived there for decades.  Now, a new kind of mining has come; one that rips the tops off of mountains to allow for mining from above.  The fact that it destroys the mountains and forests and ruins the streams doesn't seem to count for much to the mine owners.

As the summer progresses, Kevin sees good and evil.  A man is killed in town and the secret of who the murderer is affects he and Buzzy.  In the story's climax, Kevin, Buzzy and his grandfather go on a camping trip miles back in the forest that will test every bit of grit they possess.

I've had this book for quite a while.  It got wonderful buzz and I was hesitant to read it, fearing it wouldn't live up to its promise.  I even got to meet and talk with the author at an event, finding him intelligent and charming.  I was so pleased to read this and find that it was as wonderful as everyone had talked about.   It had the same feel as To Kill A Mockingbird and it took the reader on a journey that explored both the physical landscape of rural Kentucky and the emotional landscape of a teenage boy finding his way to maturity after a horrific event.  This will be one of my top books for 2015.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction, those interested in environmental science and anyone interested in a wonderful read.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick

Granite Point is an old New England town, its roots stretching back to the earliest settlers.  It's the kind of small town where if you weren't born there you will forever be an outsider.  Family and tradition are valued above all else and there is no family more ancient or honored than the Sparrow Sisters.  Their ancestors were founding fathers of the town but the three Sparrow sisters who live there now are the last of the family.

Sorrell is the eldest, a brunette.  She and Nettie, a blonde, were old enough to be aware when their mother died in childbirth.  They raised the baby, Patience, who had fiery red hair.  The sisters are closer than most siblings having never lived apart from each other.  None has ever married as they have not been lucky in love.

What they are lucky at is growing things.  The sisters run a nursery and roadside stand as well as doing floral arrangements.  Their gardens are fabled for their abundance and the vitality of their plants.  Patience goes even further.  She has inherited the skills of an early ancestor who was a healer and the town comes to her for potions and ointments to soothe aches and pains.

That kind of unregulated medicine strikes the new doctor in town, Henry Carlyle.  Henry has come to Granite Point to recuperate from a war injury that left him unable to handle the stress and frantic pace of a city emergency room.  He is not pleased to see that many of the townspeople regard him as a last resort instead of a first stop when something goes wrong with their health.  He decides to meet this unlicensed healer and set her straight as to the law and her place.  Unfortunately for him, he is immediately struck by Patience's beauty and wild nature and soon the two are involved in a tumultuous affair.  Instead of resenting her, Henry finds himself happier than he could ever imagine.

That happiness is put in jeopardy when one of Patience's clients is found dead and the autopsy reveals an overdose of a poison that is grown in her garden.  The whispers start to circulate and the rumors of her ancestor, the first healer who was tried as a witch, are revived.  Soon Patience finds herself arrested for manslaughter.  How will things turn out?  Will the town rally behind her or unite to bring her down?

Ellen Herrick has written a fascinating novel that explores several interesting themes.  There is the theme of belonging to a place and the inbred societies that tend to be established in small towns where everyone knows everyone else and their business.  There is the theme of family and what one will do to support those in their hearts.  Alternative medicine and natural remedies are discussed and their efficiency explored.  This book seems to be the start of a series as it focuses on Patience.  Sorrel and Nettie's stories remain to be told.  This book is recommended for readers of modern women's fiction.