Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey

"You were going to work your way into my marriage and you were going to call its new three-way shape holy," writes the unnamed narrator of Dear Thief.  The book, written as an ongoing letter to the narrator's best friend, Nina, discusses the period in which Nina shows up on the narrator's doorstep and works her way into her friend's life and marriage and motherhood.  The narrator is married with a small child who adores Nina and nicknames her Butterfly.

Nina is the ultimate narcissist.  She lives for the moment, taking whatever she wants with no apologies and no regrets.  She moves into the house and is good to the child, when the fancy takes her.  She also takes drugs and her only concession to the child's presence is to lock them up when she isn't partaking.  She takes whatever food she wants, goes about her day with no regard for the household routine and contributes very little.  She ultimately takes the narrator's husband, openly and with no expression of regrets, just an expectation that the narrator will adapt to new circumstances.  Then when she has created chaos, she disappears.  The novel is written eighteen years later after her disappearance.

The narrator talks about her life was changed by Nina.  She discusses her reactions to the upheaval and how her longing for Nina's friendship allows her to move in and destroy all the narrator holds dear.  She fantasizes that no one has heard from Nina since because she murdered and buried her.  Instead of that powerful retaliation, she has instead led a life since Nina of steadily diminished expectations and rewards.

Samantha Harvey is considered one of her generation's upcoming authors.  Her novels have been nominated for both Orange and Man Booker prizes and she was a nominee in the Guardian First Book Award.  She delves into the human soul and documents our longing for connection, even if that connection is unhealthy.  Readers will turn the final page of Dear Thief with many thoughts about their own friendships and the part they play in their lives and how trusting others opens us to possible devastation.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Never Look Down by Warren C. Easley

Kelly Spence is hurt and angry.  Her beloved father was killed in a climbing accident and Spence is now a teenager on the run from foster care.  She takes out her anger at society by climbing to rooftops and painting tags on places that it seems impossible to reach.  Although her crime is mostly irritating, that doesn't mean she wouldn't be prosecuted if she was discovered.  Worse, she would be sent back into the foster care system she escaped.

Cal Claxton is a former prosecutor who lives in Portland where Kelly is tagging buildings.  Claxton is now in private practice and also devotes a lot of time to pro bono work with the homeless.  His path unknowingly intersects that of Kelly when she witnesses a murder on the street while she is on a rooftop above.  The murderer sees Kelly but has no way of reaching her.  That doesn't mean he isn't looking for her.  Cal gets pulled into the case when it turns out the woman murdered is the fiancee of one of his best friends.

Cal and the murderer are both looking for Kelly, one for good, one for evil purposes.  But Kelly fears both of them and is determined to hide from both.  She tries to find the man she saw commit the crime, figuring she can turn him in if she can only determine his identity.  Can Cal find Kelly before her dangerous game turns disastrous?

This is the third novel is Easley's series about Cal Claxton.  Cal is a sympathetic character with his emphasis on helping those who cannot help themselves.  He has retreated to Portland after the loss of his wife and while on the dating scene, the book is not filled with unlikely sexual encounters like so many detective novels seem to be.  Readers will be interested in the case and in Claxton and will be interested to read more about his work.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson

Fans of Brandon Sanderson and his Cosmere universe will be excited by this anthology which goes far to explain Sanderson's thinking and planning for his writing as one of science fiction/fantasy's premier authors.  The book is a collection of riches.  There are nine novellas and short stories, a graphic novel excerpt as well as illustrations of each selection.

Some of these selections have been published at Tor over the years.  There is an all-new novella from the Stormlight world as well as a Mistborn novella that has never been in print before.  Collected here together, they are a treasure trove for Sanderson fans.

My personal favorite was the first selection, The Emperor's Soul, which is taken from the world of Sanderson's first novel, Elantris.  In it, the Emperor has been attacked and his mind left a void.  If word of his condition leaks, there will be pandemonium and dire consequences.  The emperor's advisers decide to take a gamble.  They reach into the dungeons and bring up a witch named Shai.  She has been imprisoned for forging a national treasure.  The advisers make a bargain with Shai.  If she can restore the emperor she can have her freedom.  She is given three months.  Neither side trusts the other and each schemes to accomplish their own goals within this massive task.  This novella won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 2013.

Each story is intricate and shows evidence of the careful planning behind it as well as revealing another slice of the universe Sanderson has created.  His first well-known trilogy was the Mistborn novels.  Sanderson was chosen to finish Robert Jordan's Wheel Of Time series when he was unable to do so.  He is currently working on the Stormlight Archives world.  One of the most fascinating facts is that Sanderson had started planning and populating these worlds that make up the Cosmere universe as early as his high school days.  The complex interconnected universe is an example of the best fantasy writing to be found today.  This book is recommended for Sanderson fans as well as fantasy/science fiction writers.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Orphan Mother by Robert Hicks

Franklin, Tennessee, 1867.  Home to one of the most ferocious and deadly battles in the Civil War, those who are left are trying to start their lives again, usually in vastly different situations.  The local plantation is now populated by the widow of the man who owned it and she has made her life's work overseeing a vast cemetery of soldier and trying to connect them with families left behind.  Her former life companion and slave, Mariah Reddick, is now a freed woman and discovering what that status means.  Mariah is the town's midwife and brings new life into the world.  Her only son, Theopolis, is the town cobbler and determined to live his life as a free man who is equal to those around him.  A former sharpshooter on the Northern side of the war, George Tole, has washed up in Franklin and is trying to determine if there is a role for him in postwar America.

When Theopolis is murdered giving a political speech, things change for all concerned.  Mariah is determined to discover who is responsible and find a way to hold them accountable.  George, who has met Mariah and thinks she may be his key to a new life, is determined to bring the responsible men to justice and his kind of justice is deadly.  The actions of these people bring about changes in the life of Franklin and all those who live there.

Robert Hicks is renowned as a chronicler of American history, specially stories about the South after the Civil War.  A former novel, The Widow Of The South, is the story of the woman who remained at the plantation in Franklin.  His research is impeccable and his ability to portray the characters he creates brings the era to life for readers.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those worried about the status of race in today's America.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

What is life like in the womb?  How much sensibility and intelligence does a baby have before birth and how does it interpret it's world?  This is the premise of Ian McEwan's newest novel, a tour de force that uses a fetus as the main narrator.  This is a fetus with high intelligence, its viewpoints focused and widened by it's mother listening to podcasts and radio discussions.

What a mother she is.  Trudy, twenty-eight and married to the poet John, is not having a standard pregnancy.  She and John have split shortly after conception.  John thinks it is a trial separation, perhaps a pregnant woman's whim.  He expects to return home after the baby's birth.  But that is not likely to happen.  For Trudy has taken up with the odious Claude, a weaselly banal individual who brings out the worst in Trudy.  Who covets the London townhouse Trudy is living in although it still belongs to John and that even dilapidated is worth millions.  Who cares nothing about the baby and indeed seems to wish it harm.  Who is actually John's younger brother, desperate to steal John's inheritance.

Claude and Trudy have incessant sex and drink like maniacs, neither actions those of someone worrying about the health of a baby.  Indeed, the baby hears them making plans for giving him away soon after birth.  But there are even more odious plans ahead.  For Claude is determined to best John in all ways and steal the inheritance he feels should be his.  How can this be accomplished?  There is only one way to get John out of the way forever and Claude and Trudy are more than ready to take the final step necessary to remove John from the earth.  Horrified, the baby can do nothing as he hears the two plotting the murder of his father.  Is there any way to stop these two?

Ian McEwan has written a wonderful jewel of a novel, one that plays off the age-old rivalry of brothers and more specifically, Hamlet, that brooding work of murder and revenge.  But this is far from a melancholy, angst-filled work.  Instead, the language sparkles as the narrator finds his humanity and makes plans to survive and foil the odious pair.  Readers will not be able to resist this baby and it's take on the world and human relationships.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang

The Wangs had it all.  Head of a cosmetic empire and living the good life in Los Angeles, Charles Wang had fulfilled all of the dreams he had when he arrived in the United States as an immigrant.  He built an empire and became fabulously wealthy.  There are three children.  Saina, his oldest daughter, is a successful artist, currently taking a break and living in New England.  Andrew is in college and full of dreams.  Gracie is his baby and already has a style blog that is seen by thousands every day.  His second wife, Barbra, is devoted to him.

But it all goes awry.  Determined to expand in a contracting economy, Wang loses his fortune, shaking his belief in his acumen as a businessman.  With all his accounts frozen and the house and cars foreclosed, he loads the family into an old car he had given the nanny decades ago and heads for the refuge of Saina's house.  Along the way, the reader learns that the happy, successful picture the family projected was never anything more than a facade.

Saina is in New England in disgrace; her last show getting so much bad press and feedback that she has fled the New York art scene.  Andrew wants nothing to do with the family fortune; his dream is to be a stand-up comedian.  Gracie feels disconnected from everyone else in the family.  Barbra, who named herself after Streisand when she immigrated, made a decision to come to America and woe and marry Wang when she heard about the accident that killed his first wife.

Together this unlikely family heads cross-country.  As the miles pile up, they start to get reacquainted with each other as individuals and rediscover the family feelings they thought were well behind them.  Charles has one last plan to regain the family's fortune and it may be their biggest adventure yet.

This is a debut novel for Jade Chang.  It has received much praise with authors such as Jami Attenberg writing blurbs praising it.  It is an Amazon Best Book of 2016 and a Barnes and Nobles Fall 2016 Discover Book.  Chang delves into the Chinese-American immigrant experience and uses it to portray the timelessness of family loyalty.  This book is recommended for readers interested in family dynamics and the immigrant experience.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, November 10, 2016

What a busy fall!  The Presidential elections have come and gone so hopefully the country can concentrate on something else for a while.  I've noticed that fall tv shows are having a harder time catching on this year as their schedules have been interrupted over and over with debates, election coverage, primaries and fall sports.  One of the new shows, Conviction, has already been cancelled although I think only three or four episodes have actually been able to air.

Things are busy here also.  Our elderly dog has had to have foot surgery for the third time.  She has a benign tumor under a footpad that is impossible to completely remove so it returns again and again.  She is a real trooper but going under gets more problematic every time.  I've been getting books from a Facebook round robin which is always fun, and I've gotten several review books that I'm excited about.  I've been Christmas shopping and making plans to see Broadway plays.  We've got A Gentleman's Guide To Murder coming up right after Thanksgiving and then An American In Paris right after the Christmas holidays.  Theatre is my happy place so I'm excited for both.

Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  Cold Sassy Tree, Olive Ann Burns, historical/Southern fiction, sent from FB round robin
2.  4321, Paul Auster, literary fiction, won on Shelf Awareness
3.  Enough, Bill McKibben, nonfiction, sent from FB round robin
4.  Arcanum Unbounded, Brandon Sanderson, fantasy anthology, sent by publisher
5.  The Furies Bog, Deborah Jackson, fantasy, sent by author
6.  The Princess Bride, William Goldman, fantasy/adventure, sent from FB round robin
7.  Make Your Home Among Strangers, Jennine Capo Crucet, literary fiction, Vine review book
8.  Ashes, Steven Manchester, literary fiction, sent by publisher
9.  The Years That Followed, Catherine Dunne, historical fiction, sent by publisher
10.  The Darkness Of Evil, Alan Jacobson, mystery, Vine review book
11.  A Trick Of The Light, Louise Penny, mystery, sent from FB round robin
12.  Chocolate Jesus, Stephan Jaramillo, humor, sent from a friend
13.  Bitter Moon, Alexandra Sokoloff, mystery, sent for book tour
14.  Bury The Living, Jodi McIsaac, time travel/historical fiction, sent by publisher
15.  Fair And Tender Ladies, Lee Smith, Southern fiction, sent from FB round robin
16.  Gregg Olsen, Just Try To Stop Me, mystery, Vine review book
17.  The Fortunes, Peter Ho Davies, literary fiction, Vine review book
18.  Killing Jane, Stacy Green, mystery, sent by publisher
19.  The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride, literary fiction, Vine review book

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Orphan Mother, Robert Hicks, paperback
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

4.  Dear Thief, Samantha Harvey, paperback
5.  Confession Of A Serial Killer, Katherine Ramsland, Kindle Fire
6.  Nutshell, Ian McEwan, Kindle Fire
7.  Something Blue, Emma Jameson,  Kindle Fire
8.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback

9.  Arcanum Unbounded, Brandon Sanderson, hardback
9.  Hidden, Kendra Elliot, audio
10.  The Wangs vs. The World, Jade Chang, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Land Of The Living by Nicci French

Abbie Devereaux wakes without knowing where she is.  What she does know is that she cannot see as there is a hood over her head.  She cannot move as she is tied hand and foot and with a wire around her neck.  She doesn't know how she got to this place or what will happen.  Until her captor takes the time to tell her what he plans to do and how she will never know anything else until her death.

Miraculously Abbie manages to escape.  She is taken to the hospital, dehydrated, bruised and with huge memory gaps.  The police come and take her story.  She tells them of the five women's name her captor kept repeating and that those women are others he has kidnapped in the past and killed.  Things take a turn she didn't expect though.  It turns out that no one realized she was missing.  She had just quit a job and broken up with her longtime boyfriend so no one knew she had dropped out of her normal routines.  Since she can't remember how she ended up captured and the police can't find any evidence of where she was held, the decision is that Abbie has made up the entire story either seeking attention or because she is having a breakdown.

She is released from the hospital, determined to find out what happened in the missing days leading to her capture and prove the police and doctors wrong.  That determination becomes even more important when it becomes clear that the man who took her now considers her an even bigger threat and is actively looking for her to silence her.  How ironic that the only one who believes her is the one who wants to put an end to her.  Can Abbie find her captor before he finds her?

Fans are familiar with the work of Nicci French, a husband/wife writing team composed of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French.  They write novels of psychological suspense, both a series about a psychologist named Freida Klein and stand-alone novels.  This is one of the stand alone novels and readers will find lots of twists and turns in Abbie's story.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, November 7, 2016

All That Man Is by David Szalay

In this Booker longlisted novel, David Szalay gives the reader a glimpse into the lives of nine different men to represent the state of maleness in our time.  Some are young, some at the end of their lives.  Some are fabulously rich while others are barely making ends meet.  Some are in great physical condition while others are facing the limitations of age and the inevitability of death.  They interact with women, some in love that is unrequited, some facing the possibility of new life with a woman.

What binds these men and these stories together is the reaching out for connection and often, the impossibility of doing so.  A couple who is truly connected is rare and blessed.  Too many either miss the connection, straining towards each other but always missing, or the links are tattered and frayed by age.  The couple has forgotten the joy of total connection and has let the relationship go limp with disinterest.

David Szalay is considered one of the new stars of literature.  He was chosen as one of Granta's Best Of Young British Novelists in 2013.  His novels have reaped critical acclaim.  Prior novels have won the Betty Trask Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.  This anthology has won the 2016 Paris Review Plimpton Prize for Fiction as well as the Man Booker longlist for 2016.  It is recommended for readers interested in anthologies and the state of men's relationships in contemporary life.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Buried Prey by John Sandford

Old crimes often come to light years after anyone expects them to.  That's the case with the two small bodies that have been brought to light when demolition uncovers their final burial place under the basement of an abandoned building.  Lucas Davenport, although not with the Minneapolis Police Department any longer, still goes to the site when he hears about it.  These are the bodies of the two young sisters who were his first murder case and his work on the case had propelled him from the uniformed division to the detective bureau.

The first case had been declared solved when a street person had been killed during pursuit.  Lucas, who had been instrumental in finding him, had his doubts, but the supervising officer had been about to get a promotion and was ready to put the case in the books as solved.  Lucas, knowing he was the rookie and probably didn't know as much as the more senior officers, had eventually let it go.  Now he is determined to find out if they all made a mistake back then.

Lucas suspected a shadowy man back then.  He suspected that the clues they had to the homeless man had come from tips, and that those tips seemed very convenient, coming whenever the investigation seemed to be moving away from the transient.  There was another man around the fringes of the case named John Fell, and although that was obviously a pseudonym, Lucas is convinced that finding Fell will also mean finding the murderer.  Can he succeed now where he once failed?

This is a fascinating read for fans of Lucas Davenport.  The curtain is drawn and the reader sees behind the scenes at Lucas' first case.  They see the drive and determination that propelled him to the heights of success he later reached, and they see that the same drive and determination make him a deadly enemy to have.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.