Sunday, July 31, 2016

Delivering Virtue by Brian Kindall

The year is 1854 and as usual, Didier Rain is broke and desperate for work.  He doesn't understand how such a cultured man could have such bad luck or why he can't write the perfect poem that will make his fame and fortune.  No matter, something always turns up and that holds true in this case.  Rain is hired by a religious group to deliver a baby who is the chosen bride of a religious sect called the Church Of Restructured Truth.  Rain is not sure about his ability to travel hundreds of miles with a baby, but the money is good so he's game.

The road ahead is perilous, going through forests, mountains, deserts and populated with all kinds of wild animals.  There are also unfriendly Indians, hard men who live on stealing from travelers and many other dangers.  But Rain and Virtue press on.

This is an interesting tale that combines history, magic realism, violence, satire and just plain enjoyment for the reader.  Rain is one of the worst villains yet has a heart of gold.  He tries to do the right thing and it's hardly his fault if it all goes badly, is it?  Readers must be able to suspend disbelief in time as the baby becomes a woman by the end of the trip which covers only a few months, but their suspension of belief is rewarded with a fascinating, ribald tale that entertains and illustrates. It received the Editor's Choice award from the Historical Novel Society.   This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in an entertaining tale.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell

The year is 1965 and twelve year old Alek Dunahew has been sent to spend the summer with his grandmother, Alma DeGeer Dunahew in the small rural town, West Table, Missouri.  Tucked in the Ozarks, West Table is the kind of small rural town where everyone knows everyone and its hard to keep a secret.  Life is often hard and jobs are scarce.  There is food enough but it's plain food, vegetables from the garden and meat from animals you raised yourself or spent time hunting and fishing.

Alma isn't a kind, cuddly grandmother.  She is a small, rangy woman, full of old grievances and sure that those around her are no better than they should be.  Alma has spent time in the mental hospital a few times, once for several years.  The mother of three boys, she is the only one left in West Table and her boys are long gone.  She is stuck in the past and determined to make sure Alek knows about the great wrong done to their family.

Alma's mind is focused on 1929.  That was when her beloved sister, Ruby, was one of the forty-two people killed in a dance hall explosion and fire.  That kind of tragedy in a small town is overwhelming.  Everyone knew someone and most had a relative who died.  What caused the fire?  Was it an accident?  Were the mobsters who visited town after dark involved or the preacher who stood outside predicting hellfire for those who spent their evenings dancing and flirting?  Was it something darker?  Over the summer, Alma tells the story slowly to Alek, letting him in on the town's secrets she knows and the way she believes the fire happened.  Is she right or has grief unhinged her on this subject?  Each reader must make their own determination.

Daniel Woodrell is considered one of the South's greatest writers.  He has won awards such as the 2014 Heartland Award in fiction and had a book made into a movie.  He coined the phrase 'country noir' to describe the kind of stories he tells, of small town America where life is not rosy and no one's secrets are that hidden.  The unwinding of Alma's secrets leaves an impression in a reader's mind that won't soon be forgotten.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Blood Symmetry by Kate Rhodes

Dr. Alice Quentin is a forensic psychologist in London.  She has just started a new job, heading up a department in a top drawer psychological consulting firm.  That would be challenging enough but she is immediately drawn away by the police to consult on a baffling case.

Dr. Clare Riodan and her twelve year old son, Mikey, have been kidnapped while on a morning run.  Mikey managed to escape but the trauma of the ordeal has left him mute.  The police desperately need to know what he knows in order to try to find his mother.  As the case progresses, it turns out that Dr. Riodan, an expert in blood diseases such as hemophilia and leukemia, is only the latest in a series of abductions.  Several other blood disease doctors have also been abducted; two have been found dead.

Adding to the tension, Alice and the commanding officer of the investigation are involved in a personal relationship.  Burns wants a commitment but Alice is leery.   She doesn't let herself get involved with others.

It becomes apparent that the abductions and murders are somehow tied to a governmental/medical scandal of the 1980's.  The government purchased blood from abroad to make up a deficit and that blood had not been adequately tested as HIV and other diseases like Hepatitis C were not mainstream issues yet.  Thousands of patients were given this tainted blood and developed fatal diseases.  An investigation into the matter ended up with the government refusing to take responsibility and the victims getting only a nominal monetary settlement.  Alice believes that the killers are somehow tied to this scandal.  Can she and Burns solve the case before Clare is the next death?

This is the fourth novel in the Alice Quentin series.  Kate Rhodes does extensive research for each novel and this one is especially near to her.  Her own husband was one of the victims of this scandal, receiving blood that gave him hepatitis C.  Readers will learn about this medical subject along with an intriguing mystery.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Don't Look Behind You by Ann Rule

Ann Rule was one of the most famous authors in true crime.  She gained fame when she published her book, The Stranger Beside Me, about her life during the time she worked with and knew the infamous serial killer, Ted Bundy.  She started as a police officer but when she failed an eye test and had to leave the police, she turned to writing.  She wrote multiple true-crime books, typically writing two books a year.  One would focus on a single case while the other would be a compilation of various true crime cases centered around a theme.  Don't Look Behind You is one of the latter.  It focuses on cases that were solved or investigated many years after someone went missing.

The first case is that of Joe Tarricone.  Joe was an extrovert, a salesman who could sell anything and was a wanderer, always off to a new location and the next big deal.  After many years of marriage and seven children, his long-suffering wife refused to move with him on his constant search for adventure and wealth.  They divorced and the family stayed in New Mexico while Joe took off to Alaska and Washington.  The family was surprised when they didn't hear from him and that surprise turned to uneasiness and then fear as the separation grew longer.  They began to search for him and found that he had fallen in love with a young woman although she insisted she had no idea where he was or what had happened to him.  Decades went by without a clue then an ominous discovery finally led to the unraveling of the mystery.

The other large case is that of Robert Hansen and his wife Joann.  Hansen was known in his area as one of the meanest men around.  His wife Joann turned from a beautiful, vivacious woman to a terrified individual after marrying Hansen.  He beat both she and their children, beating a child from her first marriage so severely that Joann gave up custody of the child to her ex-husband to save his life.  After years of punishment, she decided to divorce and found the strength to leave.  Unfortunately, that was the last anyone saw of Joann.  She vanished and although the entire town suspected that Robert had killed her, he was never brought to justice.  He was even considered a leading suspect in the Green River killings but police never managed to tie him successfully to a crime.

What makes Rule so successful is that the reader feels that she is a true advocate for those who find themselves confronted with evil.  She spent her life around law enforcement, studying the procedures and getting to know those who solved various crimes.  Her empathy for the victims and the innocent bystanders make her books stand out.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Q&A With Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott's last book, The Fever, took the literary world by storm when it was released. It won The International Thrillers Award and the Strand Critics Award.  It was also chosen as one of the best books of the year by Amazon, the Los Angeles Time, National Public Radio and the Boston Globe.   Her newest novel, You Will Know Me, has just been released and buzz is everywhere.

I'll be reading and reviewing this book in the near future.  Until then, here's an interview with Abbott:

What was the inspiration for You Will Know Me?
I’ve always been interested in families of prodigies. How power operates in those families, how ambition does. Then, during the London Olympics four years ago, I saw this video of the parents of American gymnast Aly Raisman watching their daughter’s uneven bar routine and it kind of blew me away. They were so invested in it, so connected to her. They moved as she moved. They knew every beat of the performance. The footage went viral and the response to it was tricky. Some people found it funny, others found it problematic and there was some finger pointing. I think we all struggle with how invested parents should be in their children’s development, but with exceptionally talented children, all that is thrown into high relief.
I could just feel the book taking shape after that. How does that kind of intense focus on a child’s talent affect a marriage, for instance? What about siblings? And families in general fascinate me—the place of the greatest darkness and the greatest light.

You are known for writing shockingly accurate portrayals of teen angst and an uncanny ability to get inside the heads of teen girls. Why are you so drawn to this subject matter?
In some ways because teen girls are still so often dismissed or condescended to. But every woman I know is haunted in some ways by their teen years, by the choices they made then and the way they crafted their identity and developed their sense of self.
And, as a writer, it’s such rich terrain. Everything is in such high relief during those years. All the big emotions of life seem to storm through us every day. When I remember myself at that age, it was like my nerve endings were all exposed. It’s when you’re both at your most curious (and, potentially, risk-taking) and also at your most vulnerable—especially to disillusionment. And when you’re a mom, like the main character in You Will Know Me, you’re in some ways living through it all again through your daughter, which is incredibly complicated.

You Will Know Me is a bit of a departure in that it focuses more on the parents’ perspective. Why did you choose to shift gears in this way?
My last book, The Fever, had three viewpoints, one of whom was the father of two teens, and I really loved it. Exploring the gap between how parents view their teens and how teens view themselves, and vice versa. But it seemed thrillingly different in the case of You Will Know Me. Katie, the protagonist, is so close to her daughter, Devon, because of the way the family has circled itself around Devon’s extraordinary talent. And that closeness fascinates me.
At what point does your child become a stranger to you? Because all children need to break apart from you to become themselves, but is it slower to happen in the case of a prodigy? A case when the parent, like Katie, is so tied up in her daughter’s everyday life?

What research did you do into the world of uber-competitive youth gymnastics when writing You Will Know Me?
Gymnast memoirs were a huge help. I read almost every one I could get my hands on. Both the flag-waving sports ones and the tougher ones too, the exposés. The one that had the biggest impact for me was Nadia Comaneci’s Letters to a Young Gymnast, which is a brilliant book on many levels (foremost her strong voice), and is such a keen distillation of what seems a pure, fire-hardened ambition. I also talked to former gymnasts and had one of them read the manuscript.
And, I confess, watching a lot of YouTube, and diving into online chat rooms, especially those devoted to parents of gymnasts. But the book’s title comes from Nadia, who tells her reader, “I don’t know you, but you will know me.” What could be more enticing to a reader?

What did you learn about this world that surprised you?
Everything! I became very fixated on the mental control and struggles the gymnasts faced. How much it is a head game. And then the sport’s impact on girls’ developing bodies. It is not a universal experience, but for many girls it halts their adolescence in certain ways, or it threatens to, and this prospect fascinated me and worked its way into the novel. Your body is both your greatest gift and your worst enemy. Maybe we all feel that, in a way.

Have any gymnasts or parents of youth athletes read and responded to You Will Know Me yet?
I’ve had a few early gymnast readers who’ve been very supportive. In particular, they’ve responded to the parent-booster culture in the book, the way parents invest in a gym and insert themselves into gym politics. The hothouse environment that the parent viewing area can take on. Or, “gym drama,” as it’s called. Which seems to have all the hallmarks of a great reality TV show, or a Shakespearean play.

After being so close to this world while researching and writing You Will Know Me, will you view the Olympics in Rio this year through a different lens?
I love watching gymnastics and this book reflects a love of, and immense respect for, the sport and the art. But in the end, I think the book is more about family and parent love than gymnastics, so probably my eyes will be more on the families than in past years. More on what it takes for a family to help make an Olympic medalist.

You’re working on TV scripts for your novels Dare Me (for HBO) and The Fever (for TNT). What is it like to adapt your own work for the small screen?
As much as people like to say that TV is the new novel, the two are so very different. By the time you sell it, it’s changed so much from the book—the world has gotten so much larger, you’ve had to create ways to make the story possibilities expand indefinitely—you lose all vanity about your own book. Instead, it’s something entirely new. But the biggest difference is how collaborative it is. Writing a novel, until the last stretch, is utterly solitary. Writing for TV is a cacophony of voices. Sometimes noisy, but never, ever lonely!

You recently joined the writing staff of David Simon’s (“The Wire”) new HBO drama “The Deuce.” How does that work differ from writing a novel? How did your career in fiction inform your work in the writers’ room? When can we see “The Deuce?”
Different in every way. I’d say apples and oranges, but maybe it’s more like apples and a large, cunning mountain lion! As collaborative as developing your work for TV is, being on staff for a show in production is a thousand times more so. You’re there to help in every way you can to bring the showrunners’ ideas to life. I think there are so many crime novelists writing for TV now because we bring a certain facility with plotting, but in the end what’s most exciting in the writers’ room is how different everyone is, how differently we see the world, and yet how we all value the same things: character, story, meaning.
And “The Deuce,” which stars James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, will be on HBO next year. I’ve seen the pilot, and it’s incredible.

Do you have time to work on another book with all of your TV project in the works? What’s next and when from Megan Abbott?

Somehow, I do! I have a new novel in the works called Give Me Your Hand, which will come out in 2018, I think. It’s about two ambitious female scientists who share a secret from their past. Very Hitchcock-inspired, this one.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Bat by Jo Nesbo

Fans of Jo Nesbo and his flawed detective, Oslo Police Inspector Harry Hole, will be thrilled to read this first entry in the series.  Harry is sent to Australia to help investigate the murder of a Norwegian woman there.  Unsaid is the fact that the police in Oslo are sending Harry to evaluate his fitness as he has just been involved in a major scandal.  Is he worth retrieving for his brilliant mind and ability to close cases others can't or is he just too much of a risk?

Hole is told by the Australian police that he is there to observe and just add an international flavor to the investigation.  He is paired with an Australian detective, Andrew Kensington, who is also considered to be a detective who works outside the system.  Andrew is one of the first Aboriginal detectives and introduces Harry to the non-tourist Sydney, one of boxers, prostitutes, circus performers, alcoholic natives and other characters living on the fringe.

As the case progresses, Harry realizes that this murder is not a stand-alone but one in a series of murders of blonde women.  There appears to be a serial killer at work, one who has gone unnoticed and undetected for his string of murders.  Harry and Andrew set to work, although in unconventional ways.  Along the way, we discover more of Harry's backstory and are dismayed to see him starting the pattern of resorting to an alcoholic spree that threatens to end his career.

Those who read the Harry Hole books are seldom content with reading just one.  Harry is one of the most interesting detective characters in the genre, a flawed man with a talent for detection but none for making his own life a success.  Readers cheer for him while knowing that despair and drink are probably in the works.  This first novel in the series outlines the broad strokes of the series that are later refined as Harry emerges as a character.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

At sixteen, Tessa Cartwright's life is irrevocably changed.  She is found in a field with a recently killed girl and the bones of several others.  Around them is a field full of black eyed susans and the girls are forever after known as the Susans.  The police soon arrest a man and Tessa's testimony helps put him on death row.

So much was taken from her that night.  Her ability to trust others.  Her sight for many months as her brain refused to see anything more.  Even her best friend as they fought bitterly over the trial and the part each played in it.

Now it is eighteen years later.  The man on death row is about to be executed.  Tessa has carved out a life for herself as a builder of other's ideas.  She has a daughter of her own who she loves fiercely.  And she wonders if the killer is not safely on death row but still stalking her.  There are signs that he is still on the prowl and interested in her and her daughter.

Desperate to determine if her earlier testimony was right, she turns to the lawyers fighting to exonerate the man about to die for the Black Susan murders.  She agrees after all these years to undergo hypnosis and to reveal her drawings created right after her rescue.  Will this give the lawyers enough ammunition to stop the execution?  If the wrong man is imprisoned, will this make him determined to finish the job he didn't complete all those years ago?

Julia Heaberlin has written a fast-paced, thrilling story of a long-ago crime and the fallout of that act.  Tessa is a believable heroine, determined to do what is right but unable to even trust her own memory.  The reader is drawn along cheering for Tessa and determined to find out what happened all those years ago.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Throw Away Girls by Jennifer Vaughn

Someone is stalking the sex clubs of Los Angeles.  The ones that test the edges, where pain and pleasure are intertwined.  Three women have been found dead in these clubs, a message that calls them Throw Away Girls left in their blood.

Jaycee Wilder, a local news correspondent, starts covering the case.  At first she sees it as a vehicle to spur her career upward, but she soon becomes emphatic with the victims.  While they died following a dangerous path, they were more than their sexuality.  They were daughters, mothers, teachers and were felled at the height of their youth and beauty.

Jaycee becomes determined to catch the killer.  She forms an attachment with the lead detective, Barton and hopes to use him to get exclusives and leads to her own investigation.  Barton warns her against trying to investigate.  Her boyfriend, Van, and her cameraman, Ben, also try to dissuade her but Jaycee is adamant.  She is determined to uncover the serial killer who is taking the lives of Los Angeles women.  But as she's been warned, this is a dangerous path.  With her public coverage of the case, she soon is in the killer's focus and he starts a deadly cat and mouse game with her.  Can Jaycee uncover the killer before he makes her his next victim?

Jennifer Vaughn is a well-known newscaster in New England, the recipient of many awards and several Emmy nominations.  She knows the world of a TV reporter inside and out and that expertise is clear in the novel.  Readers will emphasize with Jaycee as she learns to look beyond her own ambition to helping those without a voice.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, July 13, 2016

Summer is here in full swing, with heat and humidity to spare.  It's good weather for staying inside and reading.  We've just returned from a trip up north (Massachusetts) for a week and getting ready for a trip to Hilton Head Island soon.  In between, preparations go on for our college freshman to move out in August.  I'm in the midst of a lot of books and of course, more have arrived.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  The Nest, Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, literary fiction, library
2.  Girl In The Afternoon, Serena Burdick, literary fiction, sent by publisher
3.  The Kraken Sea, E. Catherine Tobler, fantasy, sent by publisher
4.  White Bone, Ridley Pearson, thriller, sent by publisher
5.  Making A Killing, John Hart, mystery, sent by publisher
6.  The Runaway Wife, Elizabeth Birkelund, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, literary fiction, purchased

Here's what I'm currently reading:

1.  The Maid's Version, Daniel Woodrell, Kindle Fire
2.  The Man In The Monster, Martha Elliot, Kindle
3.  A Dance With Dragons, George R. R. Martin, hardback
4.  The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
5.  Throw-Away Girls, Jennifer Vaughn, paperback
6.  The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn, audio

7.  Delivering Virtue, Brian Kindall, paperback

Happy Reading!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

They have lived their lives in anticipation.  There are four Plumb children and each has taken a different path through life.  Leo is the eldest and is a charming, manipulative man who made a fortune early in his career with an online magazine that was a path breaker.  Jack runs an antique store and has recently married his longtime partner, Walker.  Bea is an author who showed great early promise but has produced nothing in years.  Melody is the baby and lives the most conventional life with her family in the suburbs.  She has twins who are about to head off to college and they consume all her energies.

In the background of each life was always 'the nest'.  This is their nickname for the trust that their father left.  It will be paid out when Melody turns forty and they have all planned their lives around the substantial amount each will get then.  No matter what poor decisions they might make, they rested easy in the knowledge that the nest was there to save them.

Then disaster occurs.  An event happens that depletes the nest and each person is now thrown back on their own devices.  They must decide if they will pull together as a family in a new way or each go off on a separate path, alone.  The loss redefines each person, highlighting mistakes yet freeing them from past expectations.

Sweeney has written an engaging tale that follows the life paths of the four siblings.  The family interactions play out along with the typical life choices that define each person's life.  Each individual's character is tested as they must change their life plans to accommodate a new reality.  This book is recommended for family relationship readers.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell

I've wanted to read Bonnie Jo Campbell for several years now.  She is considered one of the strongest voices in new American authors, and documents the poorer side of American society.  The people she writes about are not the soccer moms or the wealthy country club set.  Instead, she writes of those who work blue collar jobs when they can get them, who grab what joy they can find in the world regardless of opinion, and those whose lives often don't work out as they had hoped.

In this anthology of sixteen stories, Campbell explores what it means to be a woman from all sides.  There are stories about a pregnant woman at her shower worrying about how to safeguard her new baby and one about a woman who has been a caretaker to her elderly parents for a decade and who is now exploring life on her own.  One woman thinks a stray dog is her ex-boyfriend come back to try to make things right.  One woman finds love in her sixties long after she thought all chance of romance was over.

In the title story, Campbell makes this statement about the relationship between mothers and daughters:

'You should've had a daughter of your own.  That would've been a bone for you to chew on all your life.  I guarantee, though, you wouldn't win any award for raising a daughter.  Hell, if had a daughter, she'd probably admire me, for my toughness and the way I like to laugh and party, for the way I've never given up, for my knowing how to break horses and grow vegetables and bale hay, and the way I overlook nonsense and small troubles.  If you'd had a daughter, you'd be more forgiving of what people do.  You think I've failed you, Sis?  Well, my ma failed me, too.  She let herself get locked in the nuthouse.  And you would've failed your own daughter if you had one.  That's women's studies.'

Every mother alive recognizes herself in these words.  We all have such high hopes when we have children but we all fail our children in some ways.  If we're tough and raise independent children, we were too unemotional.  If we are totally supportive and involved, we're spoiling our child.  No matter how many things you do, your child will always remember the one you forgot to do.  Yet even when we feel we fail, we are the touchstone for our children and how they view society.  Campbell is a master of exploring this territory of how women fit into the world and their families.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Not Dead Enough by Peter James

There's a serial killer on the loose in Brighton, England.  Socialite Katie Bishop has been found murdered in her home, left to be found in bizarre circumstances.  Her husband, Brian Bishop, owner of a very successful software company, is of course the main suspect.  When his girlfriend is found days later also murdered and in the same bizarre circumstances, the net tightens around him and he is charged with murder.

Detective Roy Grace heads up the investigation.  He is in charge of a team of detectives and his career is headed in the right direction.  He has adjusted to the disappearance of his wife nine years before and has recently been seeing a new woman.  This adjustment is challenged when an old friend returns from holiday and states that he has seen Roy's wife while in Munich.

There are currently eight novels in the Detective Grace series.  This one is the third.  It is a good mix of police procedural and character development with all the safeguards and procedural steps that are followed in an investigation being fully explained.  James is considered one of the foremost crime writers working and one of England's finest.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Lenora Shaw is surprised by the invitation.  She and Clare had been best friends in elementary and high school but haven't seen each other in a decade and have totally lost track of each other.  Lenora tends to be reclusive, staying in her apartment writing crime thrillers and is happy with her life.  But now here's this invitation to Clare's hen or bachelorette party.  Nora doesn't even know who Clare is marrying and she didn't get an invitation to the wedding.  She's tempted to ignore it, but her other high school buddy, Nina, contacts her to say she is also invited and they should go together. Nora reluctantly agrees to go.

The party is being held in winter at a remote house owned by the party's host's aunt.  The house has huge glass windows everywhere and is nestled in the woods.  At night, all those windows make the setting like a stage as those within are easily seen from the outside; their every movement followed.

The other guests are new to Nora and Nina.  Flo, who is giving the party, constantly reminds everyone she is 'Clare's best friend'.  She seems insecure and needy, jealous of any attention the others receive.  Tom is a playwright and successful in the theatre scene.  Melanie is a new mother who has left her baby behind for the first time ever and is miserable.  Then there is Clare, charismatic, witty, yet ruthlessly cruel and determined to have her own way.  The groom's identity is the first surprise to Nora, and there are others.  The house is gloomy, the party participants mismatched and when the phone lines go down, the setting begins to feel malicious.

This is a debut novel that has gotten a ton of buzz.  It is an NPR Best Book Of The Year for 2015, as well as a Shelf Awareness Best Book.  Publishers Weekly named it as a 'Top Ten Mysteries and Thrillers' entry.  It has already been optioned for a major movie release.  Readers will enjoy the quick read, although those who are confirmed mystery readers will find the clues fairly simple and the events easy to predict.  The pace is fast and the foreboding done well.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.