Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mercury by Margot Livesey

Donald and Viv Stevenson are a typical American family.  Donald is an optometrist, having moved his family back to Boston when his father's Parkinson's disease grew to be more than his mother could handle alone.  Viv gave up a lucrative job in mutual funds to partner with her oldest friend, Claudia, in running a stable and riding academy.  They have two children and a satisfying life.  Or do they?

As with all families, things happen to upset the normalcy the family strives for.  Donald's father worsens and finally dies, leaving him in grief he cannot shake.  Viv seems to fare better, her passion reawakened when a customer brings a horse to board.  This horse, Mercury, is a magnificent animal and Viv is fascinated and enthralled with him.  Soon, her childhood fantasies of being a competitive rider are reawakened and she spends her days riding Mercury, taking care of him and putting him at the center of her world.  Before they know it, Donald and Viv have become roommates rather than lovers, passing in their house to assign tasks and discuss the children.  They don't take time for themselves as a couple and they become more and more remote from each other.  Finally, a crisis occurs and the pair realize how far apart they have grown and how difficult it is to put a marriage back together once it drifts apart.

Livesey is an accomplished novelist, with books such as The House On Fortune Street, Eva Moves The Furniture and The Flight Of Gemma Hardy.  Her work has appeared widely in publications such as The New Yorker, Vogue and The Atlantic and she has won several writing grants and awards.  In this novel, she explores the difficulty of staying connected to another person and how easily love can become a convenience rather than a necessity.  She explores how we really never know another person and the impossibility of getting into someone else's mind and knowing what they will do from one minute to the next.  We even fool ourselves about our own proclivities and how we fall short from the idealized version of ourselves we carry.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers and those interested in family relationships.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Last Days Of Magic by Mark Tompkins

The year 1391.  The place, Ireland.  The cause: a battle to control Ireland and all its riches.  On one side is the English King, Richard and his army funded by the Vatican.  Richard wants the lands; the Vatican wants all the monasteries.  On the other side are the ancient families of Ireland allied with the Sidhe.  The Sidhe are the folks of the Middle Earth, the fairies, witches, goblins and other magical creatures.  Chief among them is Aisling, a human goddess, who with her twin, controls the magic passed down through the centuries and who binds the humans and Sidhe together.

There are other players.  Liam is Aisling's protector and a mighty warrior.  Jordan is an assassin hired by the Vatican.  He wants fame and fortune, or at least that is what he thinks until his study of magic makes him question everything he has ever learned or thought he knew.  There is a witches' coven in the highest reaches of the French monarchy, determined to control England through witchcraft.  The battle rages, the Irish overwhelmingly outnumbered but determined to make a last stand for their country and way of life.  Can they be successful against the forces who want to stamp out magic?

This is a debut novel and it is difficult to believe that such a marvelous, magical story could be a first attempt.  The reader is drawn quickly into the conflict between the sides and into the stories of the main characters.  There is magic, whimsy, battles, betrayals, pain and love.  There is defeat yet a hope of eventual success.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, September 23, 2016

September 23rd  and at least on the calendar, fall has arrived.  It's hard to tell here in North Carolina where the temperatures are still hitting 90 with high humidity.  Still, we had a cloudy rainy day yesterday and I pulled out the crock pot and made a pork roast while spending the day reading and watching tv.  Monday I hope to make the first soup of autumn.  The new fall tv shows are arriving and it's always fun to check them out and guess which ones will make it.  Then of course, there's football, the perfect sport.   All of these are reasons I love fall the best of all.  Here's the books that have made it through the door lately:

1.  A House Without Windows, Nadia Hashimi, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2.  Thursday's Children, Nicci French, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  Friday On My Mind, Nicci French, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  Escape Clause, John Sandford, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  The Family Plot, Cherie Priest, fantasy/thriller, sent by publisher
6.  Finders Keepers, Stephen King, horror, boomerang book (I gave this to my son, but he already had it so I took it home)
7.  Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King, horror, boomerang book
8.  Einstein's Beach House, Jacob Appel, anthology, sent by author
9.  The Fortress, Danielle Trussoni, memoir, sent by publisher
10.  A Shattered Empire, Mitchell Hogan, fantasy, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Last Days Of Magic, Mark Thompkins, hardback
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem,  Kindle
3.  The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
4.  The American Girl
, Kate Horseley, paperback
5.  The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn, audio
Old Man River, Paul Schneider, paperback
7.  Mr. Splitfoot, Smantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

8.  H Is For Hawk, Helen McDonald, paperback

Happy Reading!

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Middlesteins by Janie Attenberg

The Middlesteins explores the life of a Jewish family in the suburbs of Chicago.  Richard and Edie Middlestein have lived there for more than thirty years.  Richard is a pharmacist; Edie a lawyer.  They have two children, Benny and Robin.  The family looks happy from the outside but things are not good and the couple split up.  The cause seems to be Edie's out of control eating.  She is massively obese and it is affecting her health.  The marriage hasn't been good for years and Richard has finally had enough.

Even though the children are grown they are affected by the breakup.  Benny is married himself with two children.  He married Rachelle, the kind of woman who lives to control her world and make everything perfect.  She is furious at Richard and determined that she can turn Edie's eating problem around by helping her make better eating choices and exercise.  She cuts Richard off entirely from their family.  Robin is a teacher but not really doing well.  She drinks too much and has never had a lasting relationship.  She has just met someone new and wonders if it could work out.

Edie is furious.  She hasn't loved Richard for years and her constant picking and nagging is as much a factor as her obesity.  She isn't sure why she eats so much but at the end of the day is determined to live her life as she wants, even if that means eating everything in sight.  Her success as a lawyer seems diametrically opposed to her lack of control in her personal life.

Attenberg has written a saga of a family that has dissolved.  Everyone seems surprised when older couples divorce but once the children are grown, why would someone stay if there is no joy in their daily life?  She explores the role of personal responsibility, of what parents owe their children and children owe their parents and whether love can be found even as we age.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in family relationships.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Girls by Emma Cline

Northern California in the late 1960's.  It's summer and fourteen year old Evie Boyd is at loose ends.  Her parents have split up and she's had a fight with her best friend.  What will fill the endless days of summer?  Bored, she goes to a park one day and there she is.  Suzanne.  Older than Evie and a different kind of person than she has ever met.  Suzanne could care less what anyone thinks about her.  She looks a bit dirty, a bit dangerous.  Evie can't tear her eyes away.

Several days later, they meet again in a convenience store and start to talk.  Soon, Evie is totally enthralled with Suzanne and goes with home with her.  Home is the ranch where a group of other girls also live.  No one works, they just scam and scavenge for everything they eat.  They all circle around Russell, a mesmerizing figure who controls everything at the ranch while pretending to espouse love and freedom.

As the weeks go by, Evie finds it difficult to remain in society, wanting the ranch and what she finds there over everything else.  Even as the atmosphere turns darker and she is drawn into actions she never thought she'd perform, she can't break away.  She is glued to Suzanne as if their souls have been stitched together.  How will the summer end?

No one who was alive in the 60's will ever forget the Manson murders and the girls who surrounded him, willing to do anything he said, even steal and kill.  Even today the case is fascinating and every move of Manson and the girls, now grown old in jail, makes the news.  But the focus has always been on Manson.  In The Girls, Emma Cline focuses on the dynamic of the girls and what drew them from their homes and what kept them together even as everything fell apart.  Readers will be immersed in a culture that is foreign to them but Cline makes it believable and unforgettable.  This book is recommended for mystery and young adult readers.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Skin by Mo Hayder

There seems to be a spate of suicides in the Bristol area.  Each is a young person, none of whom seemed likely candidates.  Their friends and families are all surprised.  Each has vertical knife marks on their forearms and are found near bodies of water, quarries and underwater caves.  Each is missing a lock of hair.

The police and coroner call each case suicide but Detective Jack Caffery is not sure.  Something about the cases bother him; he feels a subterranean pull of evil that makes him wonder if there is a hunter who is responsible.  Rescue diver Flea Marley also sees things that make her wonder.  The two don't discuss the case however.  Caffery isn't sure yet and is working in the dark, not even telling his supervisors what he is doing.  Flea is involved in a major family crisis that no one can help with and that keeps her to herself until she can find a way forward.  Is someone targeting vulnerable individuals?  Can Caffery and Marley find the killer before he finds them?

Mo Hayder has written a series of thrilling novels and mystery readers will be delighted to find another Jack Caffery novel.  Flea Marley is a more recent addition to the storyline and it is unclear if she will be a recurring character or maybe become a love interest for Caffery.  The writing is brooding and mysterious and fans will eagerly read to discover more clues about what makes Caffery tick.  This book is recommended for mystery writers.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

In this novel set during the end of the American military presence in the Vietnam war, the narrator is a man of many faces.  He is half-French, half Vietnamese.  He is the bastard of a native Vietnamese woman and a white priest, a child whose very existence is forbidden.  He grows to be a man who fits everywhere and nowhere, someone who can smile and help someone while plotting their defeat.

As the novel opens, the narrator is a Captain in the South Vietnamese army and the top assistant to the General.  Due to his placement, he is able to escape when the South falls along with the General and his family and the men the narrator picks.  They are relocated to Los Angeles and there they begin to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.  What no one knows is that the narrator has always been a spy for the Communist government of North Vietnam and he continues to report on the refugees while in California.  He lives with his best friend, Bon, who he considers a blood brother.  But that doesn't stop him from letting Bon get caught up in a plot for the South to take back the country.  He and Bon do horrible acts for the General while he plots the General's demise.  It is impossible to nail down the narrator's sympathies and loyalties.  Does he even know the meaning of loyalty?  Or is everything up for grabs, what one does in any situation what seems most expedient at the moment?

This book has won numerous prizes.  It won six major awards, including the Pulitzer, the Edgar award for best first book and the Asian/Pacific American Award For Literature.  It was named a finalist in five competitions such as the PEN/Faulkner award and the ABA Indies Choice.  It was named on the best novels of 2016 of twenty lists, including the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.    Readers will enter the mind of someone who doesn't know himself who he is and what he will do to survive.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, September 12, 2016

22 Dead Little Bodies by Stuart MacBride

Readers who are a fan of Stuart MacBride (and I definitely am) will be thrilled to read this collection of stories about the travails of DS Logan McRae and the worst boss in the world, DCI Roberta Steele.  The book starts with a novella about a murder case that happens during the election in which Scottish voters decide if they will break away from the United Kingdom.  Steele is an adament supporter of separation and she follows the election avidly, interrupting McRae as he goes about his day and his investigation.

Other stories give us a glimpse into a vacation gone very wrong where Steele tries to hide the fact she is working from her wife with limited success and one in which the two police must work together to save their own lives.  There are four stories in all, but one is a novella and one a short novel so the end result is more than three hundred pages of McRae and Steele to savor.  Steele is her normal self, a self that is hard to believe can continue as a police investigator.  She is profane, drinks on the job, bullies her staff and intimidates the criminals she encounters.  McRae is the long-suffering policeman who does his work despite her and has an incredible mind for crime detection.  Together the two can't live with each other or without each other.  Their bond is unbreakable but the reader can't imagine how or why.

Stuart MacBride is one of the premier crime novelists working today.  His DS Logan McRae is an unforgettable police hero, unassuming, brilliant, put upon by the world and always optimistic despite all the horrors the world throws at him.  Fans who follow him only have one quibble; that he can't write faster as the novels are addictive.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, September 3, 2016

September is here and there is hope of summer heat and humidity dissipating in the coming weeks.  Here in North Carolina we've had a fairly brutal summer and fall can't come too soon to suit me.  I spend most super-hot days inside so you'd think I would have read more than ten books in August but Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Acorn TV takes up a lot of reading time.  Here's the books that have come through the door lately:

1.  Echoes Of Family, Barbara Claypole White, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2.  The Sound Of A Wild Snail Eating, Elisabeth Tova Bailey, nonfiction, sent by publisher
3.  The Orphan Mother, Robert Hicks, historical fiction, Vine review book
4.  All That Man Is, David Szalay, literary fiction, Vine review book
5.  The American Girl, Kate Horsley, thriller, sent by publisher
6.  A Gentleman In Moscow, Amor Towles, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7.  Father's Day, Simon Van Booy, literary fiction, Vine review book
8.  Ruby, Cynthia Bond, historical fiction, Vine review book
9.  Mateship With Birds, Carrie Tiffany, literary fiction, purchased
10.  The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater, fantasy, purchased
11.  The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater, fantasy, purchased
12.  Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Maggie Stiefvater, fantasy, purchased
13.  Debt To Pay, Reed Coleman, mystery, sent by publisher
14.  Downfall, J.A. Jance, mystery, sent for book tour
15.  The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro, literary fiction, purchased
16.  The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen, literary fiction, purchased

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem,  Kindle
3.  The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
4.  Moriarty
, Anthony Horowitz, paperback
5.  The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn, audio
Old Man River, Paul Schneider, paperback
7.  Mr. Splitfoot, Smantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

8.  Skin, Mo Hayder, hardback

Happy Reading!