Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood

It's the early 1900's and Coney Island is at its peak as an entertainment destination.  Unusuals, as they call themselves, are those individuals whose lives will never be mainstream due to their bodies, and who are on exhibit everywhere in circuses and sideshows.  Entire villages of tribesmen from other cultures have been brought over to America to edify those who come to visit.  Every center must have a curiosity cabinet and Coney Island has Magruder's.  Inside it's halls, strange and amazing artifacts from all over the world have been collected and are on exhibit.

Kitty Hayward has come to America with her mother to meet her brother who has come ahead of them.  The Haywards are a wealthy English family and surely nothing bad can happen to them.  But the women arrive to find the brother has died and then they are separated themselves.  Kitty finds herself adrift in a park on Coney Island.  She is found there by Archie, a con man, and taken to Magruder's.

There she meets the regulars.  Zeph is a black man with no legs, cut off in a farming accident.  P-Ray is a young Arab boy who can only say one word but is considered family.  Doc Timur is an eccentric inventor who lives in his upstairs lab and creates wonders.  Rosalind is a gender fluid individual who delights in dressing half-male, half-female and shocking everyone.  Spencer is the son of an influential Senator and is not sure why he has come to Magruder's.  He brings Nasan who instead of falling in love with Spencer, longs to become part of Magruder's where her burning desire for knowledge and education is not sneered at.

Calamity strikes when the plague strikes Coney Island.  Those with power and money decide the best way to treat the outbreak is to quarantine the island, regardless of all those who are now trapped there with no way to make money or get food or medicine.  The collection of individuals at Magruder's must work together to survive the outbreak and help each other.  Can they survive?

H. P. Wood has written an engaging historical fantasy that mixes true facts with flights of fancy, creating a world that is captivating and interesting.  The addition of history facts educates the reader as the book delights one's whimsy.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers and those captivated by carnivals and curiosity collections.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Man In The Monster by Martha Elliott

In the early 1980's, Michael Ross stalked, raped and killed eight women in Connecticut.  In 2005, he was put to death by lethal injection, the last person to be executed in that state.  In between, for the last ten years of his life, journalist Martha Elliott interviewed him through weekly phone calls, letters and in person to determine what made this man do these horrible acts.

Ross was an intelligent person who graduated college and seemed ready to have a successful career.  Instead, his compulsions led him to stalk and kill women as his personal life imploded.  His childhood was a bleak one, with a mother who was a monster herself and emotionally abused him.  It left him unable to have a sustaining personal relationship and his mental illness led him into a compulsion to control and punish women he didn't know.

Ross was in jail for more than two decades.  He asked for the death penalty to be carried out, and Elliott was curious why he would do that.  Once in prison, he had received medication that controlled his mental compulsions and he felt free from the monster that he felt co-inhabited his body with the 'true' Michael.  He felt that his death was the only thing he could offer the families of his victims, but Elliott wondered if it also wasn't a suicide using the state as a vehicle.   She interviewed not only Ross but those victim families who would talk to her.  Over the years she found herself in a friendship with this tormented man who had brought pain to everyone he knew.

Ross is a journalist who worked on newspapers for many years.  She also ran a newspaper and taught at both the university and high school level.  She was curious as to what made a man into someone who could do such horrible things and after years of work, discovered the man in the monster.  This book is recommended for readers of true crime and those interested in the inner workings of the mind.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Griffin has come to Cape Cod for a wedding.  He came early, leaving his wife, Joy, to catch up to him when she didn't immediately fall in with his plans.  Griffin is a college professor and son of college professors.  His family came to the Cape every summer but it wasn't necessarily a good time.  His parents enjoyed looking at the negative side of everything; the places they would rent quickly categorized as either 'can't afford them" or "wouldn't have it as a gift".  They certainly weren't child-centered.  Griffin was pretty much on his own to find friends or play alone while his parents drank cocktails and talked among themselves.

Griffin is at a crossroads.  In his earlier years, he was a screenwriter in Hollywood.  Now that his own child is grown and his marriage to Joy grown stale, he wonders how his life would have been different if he had made different decisions along the way.  He doesn't know what he wants, only that something seems to be missing.  Should he throw everything away and start over?  Should he learn to accept what he has and be grateful for it?

Richard Russo is one of our premier American authors.  He outlines the decisions and contradictions that characterize people, showing us truths about ourselves.  He seems a wise man, able to show us what makes life really worthwhile as he gently skewers the posturings we all use to hide our inner angst.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and for anyone getting older and wondering what life is really all about.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Under The Harrow by Flynn Berry

It's a weekend like any other.   Nora leaves her job in London and takes the train out to the small village where her sister lives to spend the weekend.  As she walks up to the house, she imagines the relaxing weekend the two of them will have.  They are best friends and she looks forward to all her time spent with Rachel.

But when she enters the house, time stops and will never be free and easy again.  For Nora walks into the scene of a brutal murder, her sister lying broken and bloodied on the stairs.  The police come and take her away.  She moves into the local hotel and waits for the police to find her killer.

But the days turn into weeks and there doesn't seem to be any progress.  Nora gives up her apartment and job to stay in the village and look for Rachel's killer herself.  She wonders if the murder has anything to do with the attack on Rachel when she was just a teenager.  She wonders if every man she sees is the one who did this horrific thing.  As the days go by and the investigation continues, Nora wonders if she ever really knew Rachel at all, as Rachel's secrets are uncovered and brought out into the light.

This debut novel by Flynn Berry is an impressive start.  The mood is broody and menacing.  The book is told in first person, setting up the reader to wonder how honest Nora is and fighting through the miasma of grief and lack of knowledge that Nora fights.  This is an extremely wise choice for a mystery novel and it gives an immediacy that is very effective.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Storm Runners by T. Jefferson Parker

Matt Stromsoe is putting his life back together.  Two years ago, he was happily married with a child.  Then, his work as a policeman put him in direct confrontation with his best friend growing up.  Mike Tavarez had gone in a different direction than Mike, rising to become the head of one of Southern California's most vicious gangs.  Matt's wife had earlier been Mike's girlfriend so there was also a personal rivalry between the two.  When things blew up, so did Matt's life.  A bomb meant for him instead killed his wife and child and left him scarred physically and mentally.

Now he is trying to put his life back together.  No longer able to do police work, he tries to start over by joining a private investigation firm.  His first assignment seems like a simple one.  A local television weather lady, Frankie Hatfield, has come to the firm about a stalker she has picked up.  When Matt takes on the case, he sees that more is going on than a crazed fan.  Frankie is a scientist first and a weather reporter second.  She is working on a method to enhance rainfall, one that will make her rich while improving lives.  But there are those who don't want her to succeed.  Before all is done, Matt will be battling a large corporation with ties to his enemy, Mike.  Who will win this latest confrontation?

T. Jefferson Parker is an established name in the genre of thriller mysteries.  His characters are simple men whose sense of truth and justice makes it impossible for them to let injustices stand without working to fix the situation.  This novel is his fourteenth in an impressive career and readers will enjoy learning more about weather as well as watching the interplay between good and evil.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, August 20, 2016

Things have changed at our house.  Our children were born far apart; the eldest in his senior year in high school when the youngest was born.  I barely remember taking our first child to college; it almost seems like we drove past the University of North Carolina and opened the door and pushed him out.  We were consumed with a three month old.  This past week we took our younger child to the University of South Carolina.  There were so many events in this process and everything was extremely well organized.  Now, after thirty-six years of daily supervision of a child, the house is empty and I have only myself to please.  Both children are readers and I'm happy they share this love of mine.  This week has been a revelation of what this next stage in my life will be, or at least until my husband retires.  That will be another life milestone of change.  Here's what's come through the door since I last wrote:

1.  House Of The Rising Sun, James Lee Burke, mystery, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book
2.  Wonder Women, Sam Maggs, nonfiction, sent by publisher
3.  News Of The World, Paulette Jiles, historical fiction, sent for book tour
4.  Mercury, Margot Livesey, literary fiction, sent by publisher
5.  California's Deadliest Women, David Kulczyk, nonfiction, sent by publisher
6.  Catalyst Moon, Lauren Garcia, fantasy, sent by publisher
7.  Eleven Days, Lea Carpenter, literary fiction, purchased
8.  Dear Thief, Samantha Harvey, literary fiction, purchased
9.  Everyone Loves You Back, Louie Cronin, literary fiction, sent by publisher
10.  The Shadow Of The Crescent Moon, Fatima Bhutto, literary fiction, purchased
11.  Clear To Lift, Anne Wilson, thriller, sent by publisher
12,  Drawing Dead, Andrew Vachss, mystery, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book
13.  Peacekeeping, Mischa Berlinski, literary fiction, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book
14.  The Dollhouse, Fiona Davis, mystery, sent by publisher
15.  In A Strange City, Laura Lippman, mystery, sent by publisher
16.  Rogue Lawyer, John Grishman, mystery, from bring one-take one shelf at gym
17.  The Fisherman, Chigozie Obioma, literary fiction, purchased
18.  The Table Of Less Valued Knights, Marie Phillips, literary fiction, purchased
19.  The Illuminations, Andrew O'Hagan, literary fiction, purchased
20.  Home Field, Hannah Gersen, mystery, sent by publisher
21.  The Tourist, Robert Dickinson, thriller, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
2.  The Man In The Monster, Martha Elliot, Kindle
3.  The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
4.  Under The Harrow
, Flynn Barry, paperback
5.  The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn, audio
The Storm-Runners, T. Jefferson Parker, hardback
7.  Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet, H.P. Wood, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Friday, August 19, 2016

We That Are Left by Clare Clark

Ellinghurst is one of those English country estates that seem like they are of another world.  It is a place of great beauty, architectural wonders and treasures from around the world.  It is the ancestral home of one of England's great families, the Melvilles.  At the start of World War I, it seems a place of permanency and tradition that won't change.  This generation's family has three children.  Theo, the heir, is one of those young men whose very bearing shouts privilege and that great things are destined for him.  Phyllis is interested in study and is determined to find a way to escape a woman's lot and spend her days in work and scholarship.  Jessica, the baby, is sure that there are lots of men who will give her a great time before marrying her and providing a comparable life to the one she was raised with.

Ellinghurst at first seems imperious to the war.  The house's life moves on with house parties and weekend hunts.  One common visit is the wife's best friend and her young son.  Oscar is the same age as Jessica and he and she are commonly left out by the rest of the children being so much younger.  Oscar is terribly shy; most people never see his great intellect due to his inability to speak out and participate in groups.

But war changes everything.  An entire generation of young men are consumed by it and Theo is soon one of them.  Phyllis escapes to become a nurse and serve the hundreds of young men scarred and deformed by battle.  Oscar gets a place at Cambridge where he studies physics while even Jessica finds a way to escape to London and get a job.  There are rumblings of changes in society; changes to the social structure that will make it impossible to retain great family estates.  Throughout the changes to society are echoed in the lives of these four young people and their relationships with each other over the years.

This novel, like others of Clare Clark's work, has garnered praise.  It was a 2015 Washington Post Notable Fiction Book and a New York Times Editor's Choice.  Her former novels, The Great Stink and The Strange Lands, were both Orange (now Bailey's) Prize nominees.  It portrays a time and place that has largely vanished and gives the reader an insight into the landed gentry and their way of life.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in family relationships.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The North Water by Ian McGuire

Ian McGuire uses the setting of the whaling industry to explore the dynamics of good vs evil.  The novel is set in England in the mid-1800's as the industry is starting to end as the whales were hunted out of existence and alternative fuels were developed.  It follows a ship to the far North and documents the tragedies that overcame it.

There are no heroes in this novel, only men of differing amounts of evil.  The protagonist, Patrick Sumner, the ship's surgeon, has returned from a military career in India.  He was discharged involuntarily and his reputation shattered after an agreement between men in his company went awry and he was left to take the consequences.  Unable to find work back in England, he agrees to become the ship's doctor on the whaling ship Volunteer.

He is contrasted by a man of pure evil, Henry Drax, a harpooner.  Drax has no lofty ambition or goals.  His only thoughts are to get whatever he wants at the moment whether that is a woman, drink, or money.  He will do anything to get what he wants.  Violence is his second nature and he is not bound by any qualms of morality.  This often gives him an edge in situations.

The ship sets sail.  After a promising start things start to go awry.  The ship is trapped in the frigid waters of the Artic long after it should have left.  The crew become surly and unsure of what the captain's plans are.  When a crime occurs onboard, it leads to open rebellion and the acrimony between Sumner and Drax comes to a head.  Which man will be successful?

The North Water has been long-listed for the 2016 Mann Booker prize.  It has been recommended by writers such as Hilary Mantel, Martin Amis and Ron Rash.  McGuire grew up in Hull, England and studied at the University of Manchester and the University of Virginia.  He is widely regarded as a rising star in British writing.  Readers will be swept up in the drama of whaling and the age-old fight between good and evil.  This book is recommended for readers of historical and literary fiction.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

The Manderly Resort is the newest luxury hotel, only days away from its opening.  It's been built by a millionaire, Charles Destin,  who is determined to spare nothing in luxury and security.  That command is carried out by a legion of employees.  There is Henri, the chef, who is a master at his job but tempermental. Franklin oversees general details but is lazy and a prankster.   There are Jules and Justin, former caterers who came to work at the hotel when their catering firm collasped.   There are maids and sous chefs and gardeners and security employees.  Overseeing it all is Tessa, an architect at heart who put that aside to run massive projects like the opening of the Manderly.  Then there is Brian, a man from her past who shows up on this most deadly day.

But something is very wrong.  Someone is determined that the Manderly will never open; that its name will conjure up images of horror instead of luxury and a resort from all daily cares.  That someone has employed a team of killers who are stalking the hotel floor by floor, killing everyone they encounter.  The hotel is so large that no one sees or finds the bodies as the killers make their way throughout the building.  There are secret elevators and security cameras everywhere but none of that makes a difference.  Who, if anyone, will survive?

Gina Wohlsdorf has written a stunning debut novel.  The writing is terse and cuts between scenes like a camera on automatic shutter speed.  The reader is not sure where to pay attention or even who is telling the story.  The tension builds quickly with one after the other falling prey to the killers.  Along with the suspense and horror, a love story unfolds.  That shouldn't work in this setting, but does.  This book screams out for a transfer to movie.  It is recommended for thriller and horror readers.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Monster's Daughter by Michelle Pretorius

In 1901 during the Boer War, a doctor at a British war camp in South Africa experiments on Boer prisoners, hoping to create a master race.  He creates many sad births of children who die soon after, most horribly deformed.  But he does create two children who survive.  Tessa and Ben both manage to escape the camp by various means.  Tessa is raised by a loving family while Ben survives a harsh orphanage.  They meet in school and become friends.

Fast forward to 1910.  Alet Berg is a young police officer, sent to a remote village after her shining debut ends in disgrace.  Anyone else would have been fired but she is the daughter of one of the most powerful police officers in the country and is given a chance to redeem herself.  The small village doesn't suit Alet at all, who longs for action.  Instead she is in a place where an occasional car wreck or lost cattle makes up the daily routine.

Then there is a murder.  An elderly woman, Theresa, has been found killed and burned.  Alet is excited to try to solve the case but nothing makes sense.  She can't find out anything about Theresa's background, at least nothing that makes sense.  Alet is friends with Theresa's daughter, Tillie, but even Tillie knows almost nothing about her mother.  As Alet doggedly digs into the past, she uncovers evidence of a serial killer who seems to have been killing for decades; a case her father never managed to solve.  Is there a connection between the serial killer and what has happened to Theresa?  Could Theresa be someone else entirely, connected to Tessa?

Michelle Pretorius's debut novel is making waves and it should.  It is an interesting mix of South African politics, police procedural and science fiction.  It highlights the fact that whenever there is a power differential, those on the side with power will do anything to try to retain it, but that over time, power will shift and those who performed systematic crimes will be brought to justice.  It is a complex story, told through the filter of racism and politics, that will enthrall the reader and that highlights Pretorius's debut as an exciting new author.  This book is recommended for readers of mysteries as well as those of historical fiction.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, August 1, 2016

Busy, busy month!  After returning from a trip to Boston, we were home for two weeks, then off for a week at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  It is a beautiful place for a family vacation.   The beaches are wide and inviting and not overcrowded.  There is plenty of shopping and restaurants but the traffic is not that bad.  We'll be back.  On the way back, I got caught in an hour and a half delay on the interstate and my car's air conditioner decided not to work while I was stopped.  So after getting blown off by the dealer (this same thing happened last summer and I reported it then also), we went out and bought a new Hyundai Sonata Sport!  It's a lovely color and has all the technology anyone could want.  Of course, we're still getting ready for our daughter's move to University of South Carolina in two and a half weeks.  I read four books at the beach and have finished a book every day since I came back.  I just don't go out much in this heat and humidity.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  Some Luck, Jane Smiley, literary fiction, purchased
2.  Early Warning, Jane Smiley, literary fiction, purchased
3.  Golden Age, Jane Smiley, literary fiction, purchased
4.  Dancing With The Tiger, Lili Wright, thriller, sent by publisher
5.  Harmony, Carolyn Parkhurst, literary fiction, sent by publisher
6.  The Hike, Drew Magary, fantasy, sent by publisher
7.  With Love From The Inside, Angela Pisel, literary fiction, sent by publisher
8.  The Sixth Idea, P.J. Tracy, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  A Red Dotted Line, Simon Gervais, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  The Judas Game, Ethan Cross, thriller, sent by publisher
11.  Carousel Court, Joe McGinniss, Jr., literary fiction, sent by publisher
12.  Madame Presidentess, historical fiction, sent by publisher
13.  The City Baker's Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller, women's lit, sent by publisher
14.  My Name Is Leon, Kit De Waal, literary fiction, sent by publisher
15.  How To Party With An Infant, Kaui Hart Hemmings, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
2.  The Man In The Monster, Martha Elliot, Kindle
3.  The Monster's Daughter, Michelle Pretorius, hardback
4.  The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
5.  Under The Harrow
, Flynn Barry, paperback
6.  The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn, audio
7.  We That Are Left, Clare Clark, hardback

8.  The Storm-Runners, T. Jefferson Parker, hardback
9.  Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet, H.P. Wood, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!