Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Booksie's Shelves, October 27, 2015

Somehow October is almost at the end, having raced by.  Summer has finally departed and the leaves are turning and putting on their annual show.  I've been fairly quiet the last month with a cold that took a couple of weeks to shake and some oral surgery.  All the college applications for my senior daughter are in and now we wait to find out where she will go next year.  Regardless of season, reading goes on.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  Wait For Signs, Craig Johnson, anthology, sent by publisher
2.  Give Us This Day, Tom Avitabile, suspense, sent by publisher
3.  Host, Robin Cook, suspense, sent by publisher
4.  Front Runner, Felix Francis, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  An Apprentice To Elves, Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, fantasy, sent by publisher
6..  After Alice, Gregory Maguire, fantasy, sent for book tour
7.  Life And Other Near-Death Experiences, Camille Pagan, literary fiction, sent for book tour
8.  Warrior Of Fate, Debra Mullins, fantasy, sent by publisher
9.  A Banquet Of Consequences, Elizabeth George, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  Delivering Virtue, Brian Kindall, historical fiction, sent by author
11.  Welcome To Braggsville, T. Geronimo Johnson, literary fiction, sent by publisher
12.  Robot Universe, Ana Matronic, nonfiction, 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.  A Dangerous Age, Ellen Gilchrist, paperback
4.  Our Times, A.N. Wilson, hardback
5.  The Moral Lives Of Animals, Dale Peterson, hardback
6.  Pig Island, Mo Hayden, Kindle Fire
7.  Mystery Walk, Robert McCammon, Kindle Fire
8.  Thorn Jack, Katherine Harbour, audio

Read and be safe!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Plus One by Christopher Noxon

Alex Sherman-Zicklin and his wife Figgy married in Los Angeles and have been living a comfortable life with their two children.  Alex works in advertising for a nonprofit and Figgy has written treatments for several proposed series.  Then everything changes.  Figgy's latest idea is scooped up, made into a TV series, then against all odds, actually wins the Emmy.   The family is catapulted into a new lifestyle of riches and everything changes.

Suddenly, Figgy is working all the time, coming home only to collapse and rest up enough to go back.  Alex is left with all the tasks necessary to run a family and household and soon it just doesn't make sense for him to also work.  He joins the fellowship of the Plus Ones; those men whose successful wives make the money and who they rotate around like a moon around the earth.

The novel is written with a light hand, and there are many laugh out loud moments.  The Hollywood lifestyle is skewered with its depiction of an ultimate consumer culture and the liberal sensibilities that only the rich can afford.  Yet, Noxon is not just going for a cheap laugh.  His book details the ebb and flow of a long-term marriage and the constant rebalancing that any successful relationship takes to maintain.

This is a debut novel.  Christopher Noxon is not a debut author though.  He has written for publications such as Salon, GQ and the New Yorker.  He is also married to a top Hollywood writer/producer so he knows the territory he writes so entertainingly about.  The reader will be charmed by Alex and spend the novel rooting for him to win out and have a happy life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and humorous takes on life.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is what an individual is called in Nigeria when they have lived abroad in the United States and have returned to live again in their homeland.  Ifemelu is an Americanah.  She and her first love, Obinze, are determined to leave Nigeria for the opportunities found elsewhere.  Ifemelu is able to emigrate to the United States as she has an aunt already there.  Obinze is not able to get a visa in post 9-11 America, so he ends up instead in England.

Although they plan to make a life together, events conspire to move the two apart.  Ifemelu is consumed with finding a way to become an American citizen, taking any job she can find.  She is constantly exhausted and it becomes easier and easier to neglect Obinze's letters.  Soon it is too embarrassing to try to reestablish contact and the relationship lapses.  Ifemelu finds success in the United States.  She manages to get a college education and writes a popular blog about race.

Race is a defining characteristic of life in the United States.  It is the biggest surprise for Ifemelu.  When she was living in Nigeria, no one thought about being black.  She became 'black' when she moved to the States, the first time she thought of herself in that way and realised that others were thinking of her skin color and judging her because of it.

Ifemelu's success starts to be less important to her as she starts to be drawn back to Nigeria.  She has various relationships with American men, both black and white, over the years, but her heart remains in Nigeria and she eventually returns after thirteen years abroad.  There, she sees Obinze again and must decide if she will pick up their relationship once again.

Americanah won lots of awards.  It was an Orange Prize (now Bailey's) nominee.  It was a New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year award winner, as well as a Goodreads winner, an NPR 'Great Reads' Book and a Washington Post Notable Book.  It was winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.  Readers will find themselves in a life they have probably never imagined before, that of the immigrant experience.  One of the most striking ideas is one that Americans probably never think about; that race is something that is only important in countries with many races.  It doesn't exist in the countries where everyone is the same race, although humans will always find something to separate themselves from each other.  It explores not only the immigrant experience but the lure of going back home.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tales Of A Hamptons Sailor by Nick Catalano

This is an anthology of pieces about sailing.  Much of the book concerns a sailing trip the author took through the Middle East and the various stressful encounters he had with pirates, officials who wanted bribes and military vessels from countries who were not friendly to the United States.  Another set of stories involve sailing around the Hamptons.  Many of these stories focus on those interested in the sailing life.  They are portrayed as rich men who are really just interested in a place to get drunk and chase women.  The most touching story in this section is one about the author and his father when they went fishing and capsized and had to be rescued.  Another story focuses on a Mexican resort in the midst of college spring break with all that entails.

Nick Catalano grew up in the Hamptons, son of a local family  He spent time on boats crewing on charter boats, fishing, playing jazz in local clubs and meeting the famous visitors to the area.  These stories are veiled autobiographical sketches, where he uses the fictional character Joe Pisano.  Those interested in sailing and the antics of the rich and famous will enjoy the stories.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Vanished by Elizabeth Heiter

Eighteen years ago, Evelyn Baine was a twelve year old girl, living with her grandparents in a small town after fleeing her single mother's unsafe household.  Evelyn's world changed forever when The Nursey Rhyme kidnaper made her best friend, Cassie, his third victim.  None of his victims were ever found; all that remained were the rewritten nursery rhymes the kidnapper left behind to taunt the families.

Her experience changed Evelyn and set the course of her life.  Now she is one of the FBI's most highly regarded profilers.  When she hears that new victims of the Nursery Rhyme predator are being taken, she gets herself assigned to the case over the reservations of her boss.  Evelyn is determined to find the criminal this time around.  What made him start up again after so much time?  What really happened eighteen years ago?  Was Evelyn herself one of his targets all those years ago?

Potential suspects start to emerge.  There is the town pariah, a young man who was convicted elsewhere of child molestation and who returned home to live with his parents after his jail sentence was served.  There is a man in a neighboring town who has an unsettling match to Evelyn's profile and a determination to insert himself into the investigation.  There are other men who match the profile in various ways.  Evelyn must find the answer to which man is the criminal as more girls are kidnapped.  Can she overcome her past to find the solution?

This is the second in Elizabeth Heiter's Evelyn Baine series.  Fans of the TV show Criminal Minds will find this an attractive reading option.  The case is intriguing while giving readers a view into Evelyn's mind and background.  She must overcome her past while racing the clock to save the latest victims.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown

Mention the Donner Party and most people know the name.  They immediately think of the cannibalism that the name has come to represent.  But Daniel James Brown thought there was more to the story and set out to give a full account of what happened and how this tragedy occurred.

It was 1846 and promises of land and a wonderful life were being publicized to the American populace.  Settlers in many states loaded up wagons and set off in groups to make the long trek to California, usually thousands of miles.  Travel was much different than today.  There were no accurate maps, no laid out roads, no grocery stores and hotels along the way.  Travelers had to carry everything they would need for a months-long trip with them.  They had to trust to sketchy maps and guidebooks that were often written by individuals who had never even made the journey.  The travelers expected that they would run into problems.  They expected hostile Indian attacks, predator animals, horrific weather and sickness and possible injury.

In that environment, days could make a trip a life or death affair.  Such was the fate of the group that became known as the Donner Party.  They left the jumping off point three weeks later than recommended and those twenty-one days doomed their expedition.  Most people have heard of the Donners, but they were just one family that were in the group that made up the party.  Another major family were the Graves, with their nine children, including Sarah, a twenty-year old woman who had married her sweetheart right before the trip.

Most people don't know any of the particulars.  They don't know that there were several camps in the party who were snowed in.  They don't know that a group left the camp and walked for weeks in the midst of winter to find help.  These men and women walked over mountains, almost barefoot and naked, lying out in the snow and icy temperatures for nights on end.  Those behind in the cabins were no better off.  They were the weaker individuals and were slowly starving.  Each group separately made the decision that most people believe they would never make.  They decided to eat human flesh in order to survive.

Daniel James Brown has written a marvelous history of this event.  He made the trip himself and can write about the sights and sounds and difficulties the travelers experienced so that the reader feels that they are actually there.  He has researched the events around the tragedy and also tells the reader what happened after the events that these individuals will forever be known for.  Most of us have no way to visualize how difficult travel was in this age, and how a moment's decision could be the difference between life and death for entire families.  The reader will finish the book with much more empathy for how the West was populated and what early settlers endured to gain a better life for their families.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Treasure Island and Emma by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver

Today's post is about two more books in the popular Babylit series by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver.  This series of board books helps babies and toddlers expand their vocabularies with words and accompanying pictures.  Adams is the author while Oliver's bright, colorful illustrations demonstrate the concepts or items named.

Treasure Island is a shapes primer.  Readers will learn about squares, stars, hearts, triangles, ovals, rectangles, crosses, diamonds, circles and crescents.  My favorites are crosses and diamonds.  The crosses illustration is a treasure map with crosses indicating the treasure.  The diamond is illustrated with a large colorful parrot whose body is composed of a diamond.

Emma is an emotions primer.  Emotions covered are those of being excited, surprised, happy, sad, bored, angry, scared, amused, tired and loved.  Each emotion is illustrated with an appropriate color and gives the name of a character from the novel.  My favorite is scared where Miss Bates is faced with a spider.  Children often don't have words for what they are feeling and this gives them the vocabulary necessary to express themselves.

This entire series is a delight.  Children learn words for the items surrounding them while getting an early exposure to the classics of literature.  The illustrations are bright and colorful, making these books a child will reach for again and again.  These are the perfect books to buy if you have a small child, or if you are looking for an appropriate gift for one.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The New World by Andrew Morton

Picking up Jim Hawkin's story after Treasure Island, Andrew Morton imagines an epic journey across the American South.  Jim and his companion, a woman named Netty, take sail with a cargo full of silver.  Their dreams of riches disappears when their boat is caught in a storm and capsized.  Miraculously, both Jim and Netty survive the shipwreck, but their relief is short-lived.  They are captured by a band of Indians, who mercilessly slaughter the other survivors and take the two hostage. In the Indian's village, Jim and Netty are imprisoned and watch helplessly as other prisoners are murdered periodically in gruesome fashion.  When their captors' guard is done, the two manage to escape and to steal the tribe's most prized possession.

Jim and Netty take off across Texas, hoping to make their way to the nearest port and find a ship back to England.  Their trip extends across several years.  In the process, they travel across deserts and impenetrable forest, and take river trips.  They live for a time with a tribe of friendly Indians, travel with a troupe of traveling entertainers, and take up with another young couple off to make their fortune.  Yet they are constantly haunted by the specter of the Indian chief whose treasure they stole and who has devoted his life to following them and retrieving his treasure.  Wherever they go and whomever they are with, their goal remains the same: to get back home to their own families.

Andrew Morton was the poet laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009.  His background is evident in the language that describes the frontier of the Southern United States in the mid 1840's.  The historical accuracy and insight into the plight of the Native Americans as they are pushed from their land by the explorers and settlers is keen.  Yet the reader will be delighted by the various adventures Jim and Netty encounter.  Their implacable foe, Black Cloud, is a figure that will remain in readers' minds.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in books with a literary hook.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne

Margaret Holloway is driving home.  Her mind is not on her drive, though.  She is consumed with thoughts about her teaching job, her family and all the things she needs to get done.  The weather is bad.  Before she knows it, Margaret is caught up in a huge pileup on the roadway.  It's one of the largest accidents ever seen in England.  

Margaret is trapped in her car.  She starts to panic as she smells and sees flames.  Just when it seems that she is doomed, a stranger arrives and breaks her window and pulls her to safety.  Margaret is fine, or so she thinks.

As the days go by, her emotions become more and more out of control.  She starts to have flashbacks of another fire she was in, maybe years ago.  She knows she has a blank spot in her childhood, a time period she knows nothing about although she has a vague memory of being in the hospital.  What happened to her all those years ago and why can't she remember?  As the days go by, Margaret starts to remember more and more pieces of what happened all those years ago.

Lisa Ballantyne has written a compelling mystery that grips the reader and doesn't let go until the end when all the pieces are tied together into a satisfying resolution.  The story is told through the eyes of different individuals: Margaret, her husband, her father, the stranger who saved her, a reporter who knows her mystery and a gang member who will commit any crime to further his family's fortunes.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Line Of Blood by Ben McPherson

When their cat goes astray, Alex Mercer consoles his eleven year old son, Max, but to no avail.  The boy searches and comes to get his father as he finds the cat in the neighbor's yard.  Father and son climb the fence to retrieve the cat but before they can, the cat disappears into the neighbor's house through an open back door.  Uneasy, they follow it in and make a gruesome discovery.  The neighbor, Bryce, is in his bath dead.  There is also an electric iron in the bath and it appears that he has committed suicide.

Alex is appalled and worried about the effects of such an event on Max.  When his wife, Millicent, comes home, they worry about what has happened and find a child psychiatrist to talk with Max.  Alex is wracked with guilt over allowing his son to see such a horrific sight.  But the horror is only starting.

Soon the police come to take statements.  It becomes apparent that they believe that the death may not be a suicide, but a murder.  They are suspicious of Alex but he isn't worried, hardly knowing the man.  Still, as the days unfold, Mercer family secrets start to emerge and it begins to seem possible that the family is involved in the death.  Alex and Millicent's marriage has been in trouble for a while.  They are fighting to stay together and to keep a family intact for Max.  But as time goes by and revelation follows revelation, it becomes more apparent that things will never be the same again.

Ben McPherson has written a taut, mesmerizing mystery.  It's story unfolds in a way that keeps the reader turning pages, horrified to see what comes next but unable to turn away from the tragedy.  Readers will question how well we ever know anyone, even those closest to us.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Devil In The Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

The Marshalsea.  It sounds like a hauntingly beautiful coastal location.  But in London in 1727, it had a more ominous meaning.  The Marshalsea was the debtors prison and any who were sentenced there were lucky to escape with their lives.  Prisoners not only had to come up with the money they owned, but while in the prison had to pay rent, purchase their food, etc.  Those who didn't even had the money to do that were thrown into the common area where disease and crime was rampant and bodies were carted out of the wards daily.  Even death did not free the prisoner.  Their family had to pay to get the body to bury it.

This is the place where Thomas Hawkins finds himself.  He could have stayed in the country and been a parson, following his father's footsteps.  But the lure of wine, women and song was too strong and Tom moved to London.  His gambling debts piled up and soon he was slated to prison.  Tom made one last night at the gaming tables to try to win enough money to relieve his debts and unlikely as it may seem, actually did so.  But it was to no avail as he was mugged and relieved of his winnings and when he woke up from the beating he received, it was in the Marshalsea.

Once there, his friend Charles who worked for a powerful man, came to visit and try to find ways to get Tom released.  Tom is left to make the acquaintance of those around him, where no man could be trusted.  The worst of them all is Samuel Fleet, who everyone agrees is a man who would do anything.  Tom is horrified to find he must share a room with Fleet.  As the days pass, the jail is in a state of unrest as a recent prisoner with influence was found dead and most say murdered.  Tom is offered the chance to work his way out of the Marshalsea by finding the murderer of Captain Charles Roberts, an unlikely task when he doesn't have allies or trusted sources of information.  He is even more downhearted when he is assigned a partner in his investigation, who turns out to be Fleet.  Can the two find the murderer and win release?

Antonia Hodgson has written a well-researched historical mystery.  The Marshalsea was a real place and many of the characters are actual historical figures.  The reader will be appalled at the conditions encountered there and will not figure out the mystery ahead of its revelation.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.