Monday, January 30, 2017

Darkside by Belinda Bauer

Shipcott is a small, rural village where everyone knows everyone and everyone knows everyone's business.  There's little crime and that's just how they like it.  Constable Jonas Holly is the village policeman.  He grew up in Shipcott so all are comfortable with him.  Jonas planned a big police career, but when his wife, Lucy, developed multiple scoliosis, he moved back to the village where the demands would not be as great and he could watch after Lucy.

All this is thrown in disarray when a body is discovered.  Margaret Priddy was elderly and paralyzed, confined to her bed, not even able to speak.  She is suffocated one night.  That means the big guns in law enforcement are called in and that means DCI John Marvel.  Marvel is a brutish, arrogant detective who delights in showing everyone he's the boss, especially his subordinates.  He doesn't want to be in Shipcott, especially in the middle of a blizzard which lasts for days.  He takes an immediate dislike to Holly for not being subservient.  Far from using Holly's local expertise, he instead gives him a series of menial tasks, making it apparent to all that he's not considered useful.  As the days go by, more murders occur in the village, all of elderly men and women.  Apparently, Shipcott has a serial killer.

Someone in the village expects Jonas to solve the crimes.  He starts to get taunting notes, holding him accountable for finding the killer and saving the village.  Jonas is caught in a vise.  On one hand, his whole life is about protecting and saving those around him.  On the other, he is being kept on the outside by a man who knows nothing about the village or its inhabitants and who doesn't want Jonas' insights.  Can the killer be found?

Belinda Bauer is writing some of the most suspenseful novels around today.  She was written seven crime novels which have won some of the mystery field's highest prizes, such as the Crime Writer's Association Gold Dagger Award, the Old Peculier Crime Novel, and the CWA Dagger in the Library award.  Her books feature the small rural Wales she knows so well and the effect crime has in such places where everyone thinks they know everyone else, but in reality secrets are kept and often explode into violence.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, January 26, 2017

Somehow it is already the end of January in this new year of 2017.  I've been doing the usual things for this time of year.  That includes watching a ton of NFL football and college basketball, going to the gym, reading and watching tv.  I'm about to start a round of bookish trips with a visit to the book fair in Savannah in February and to Charlottesville in March.  In reading news, I've taken a step back and I'm reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens.  I'm really enjoying the slow pace which makes me remember why I like Victorian literature as well as steampunk fiction.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  Losing The Light, Andrea Dunlop, literary fiction, sent by author
2.  Human Acts, Han Kang, literary fiction, sent by Amazon Vine program
3.  A Star-Reckoner's Lot, Darrell Drake, fantasy, sent by author
4.  Alif The Unseen, G. Willow Wilson, literary fiction, purchased
5.  Dead Clever, Scarlett Thomas, mystery, purchased
6.  World, Chase Me Down, Andrew Hilleman, Western, sent by Amazon Vine
7.  After You're Dead, Cary Allen Stone, mystery, sent by author
8.  The Unseeing, Anna Mazzola, literary fiction, sent by publisher
9.  The Beauty Of The End, Debbie Howells, mystery, sent by Amazon Vine
10.  The Dangerous Ladies Affair, Marcia Muller/Bill Pronzini, mystery, sent by publisher
11.  The Outsider, Anthony Franze, legal thriller, sent for book tour
12.  A Naked Singularity, Sergio De La Pana, mystery, purchased
13.  My Husband's Wife, Jane Corry, suspense, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Bleak House, Charles Dickens, hardback
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

4. Dancing With The Tiger, Lili Wright, hardback

5.  Hanging Hill, Mo Hayder, hardback
6.  Death Of A River Guide, Richard Flanagan, Kindle Fire
7.  The Stress Of Her Regard, Tim Powers, audio
8.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback

9.  Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell, paperback
10.  Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback

11.  Dark Side, Belinda Bauer, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Just Try To Stop Me by Gregg Olsen

Brenda Nevins has a goal.  She wants to be remembered as the most prolific female serial killer of all time.  She made a good start as her murder of her husband and baby daughter gained her notoriety.  But being in prison seriously cramps her style.  She takes care of that detail by using her ability to psychologically manipulate others and her astounding beauty to turn prison staff into her willing accomplices to help her escape.

Not content with an escape, Brenda ups the ante.  She kills her prison accomplice, a move that brings all levels of law enforcement after her.  But she has plans.  She starts streaming bizarre messages through YouTube to the world, talking of her plans and hinting at more mayhem.  This is accomplished when she and her partner kidnap four teenage girls and threaten to kill them on line for everyone to see.

While all law enforcement is on alert, those in the Washington area where she has made her escape are particularly focused on the case.  One team works on it while facing other life challenges.  Kendell Stark is a sheriff's detective while Birdy Waterman is a forensic pathologist. Kendell is caught up in a power struggle with an overbearing FBI detective.   Birdy is dealing with the terminal illness of her mother so their collaboration is disjointed.  Still, when it counts they come together to try to stop this criminal.  Will they be successful?

Gregg Olsen is a successful true crime writer who is now writing a mystery series.  I discovered him back in his true crime days so was interested to read his fiction.  This is the fifth book in the Stark/Waterman series.  I was disappointed in this title.  The action seemed rushed and the characters were one-dimensional and flat.  There was a successful twist at the end of the novel and the partnership of Stark and Waterman will continue.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Bonbon Me grew up on a farm in Dickens, California, a city adjoining Los Angeles.  He is raised by his sociology professor father, his mother long gone.  His father is consumed with theories about racial discrimination and spends his time writing about the subject and conducting experiments on Bonbon when not spending time in the Dum Dum Intellectual Society, which he founded.  Bonbon grows up unsure what to do.  He raises the best produce around, surfs, and tries to decide how a man should live.

When Dickens is subsumed by L.A., completely wiped off the map, Bonbon has had enough.  He makes it his mission to return Dickens to its former status, as lowly as that had been.  But how to get attention to a poor, inner-city area that no one is particularly interested in?

Almost by accident, Bonbon hits on a plan.  As a birthday present for his best friend, Hominy Jenkins, he turns his on-again, off-again girlfriend's city bus into a replica of the old time buses Hominy would have ridden as a child when he was a minor character on the TV show, The Little Rascals.  Hominy is consumed by the past and the racial humiliations he and other black men have endured.  He declares that he is Bonbon's slave and shows up every day to do whatever work he decides needs doing.

When the bus incident turns out to have a surprising result, Bonbon realizes he has hit on a plan.  The threat of overt segregation causes the bus's riders to up their behavior and pull together to rail against the threat.  Spurred on, Bonbon, with the help of the local principal, creates a totally false 'exclusive' school which is across the street from the local school where students are mired in failure.  Once again, it unites the students and spurs them to improved academic performance.  The ploys land Bonbon in front of the Supreme Court as he is arrested on various charges and the case is sent ever higher.

This work of satire has garnered much praise.  It was the 2016 winner of the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and one of the 10 Best Books of 2015 of the New York Times Book Review.  Beatty has written extensively about the black experience and how differently white and black society experiences it.  The novel's biting satire and depiction of how prejudice seeps into every institution and encounter spotlights it into a blinding light.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in a diverse society.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

In twenty-first century Shanghai, nanotechnology has been fully integrated into society.  People are organized into cultural gatherings where they live, work and rarely interact with those from other 'claves'.  There are scientific claves, Victorian ones from the English that conquered and was a big part of the country for so long, those that hark back to ancient Chinese traditions, etc.  John Percival Hackworth is a nanotech engineer.  He has worked on various products and come to the attention of both one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the Victorian clave and Doctor X, a man who works on the criminal side of the Chinese claves.

Hackworth is hired to create an interactive book or primer, that can be used to provide an education that goes beyond the structured education most children are given.  It's called A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.  Although developed for the granddaughter of the wealthy man who hires Hackworth, Hackworth creates a second version for his own daughter, Fiona.  This version is then stolen when Hackworth is mugged on the street and it makes its way to a young girl in the poorest clave, Nell.  Nell's life would be expected to be poor and limited but as she interacts with the primer and learns its lessons, she finds a pathway to a richer, more interesting and exciting life than she had ever had the opportunity to even imagine.  There are other intriguing characters such as Miranda, the actress that acts the parts of the primer, Doctor X, who has a vision to help his society move forward and others.

This is the fourth novel Neal Stephenson produced.  It explores the fields of nanotechnology and the implications on society when anything can be produced cheaply and well and there is no reason for most people to work, an issue that American society is just now starting to grapple with.  It considers the role of education and how it can constrict as much as free students.  It talks about the reality that people tend to congregate with those like them and whether those who are unlike can ever truly integrate with each other.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction/fantasy.

Friday, January 13, 2017

His Bloody Project by Graeme McCrae Burnet

In 1869 in the small farming community of Culduire in Scotland, a horrendous murder occurs. Town Constable Lachlan Mackenzie, his fifteen year old daughter and his three year old son are brutally slaughtered in their home.  There is no doubt about the culprit.  It is seventeen year old Roderick McCrae.  What would lead someone so young to such an act?

The book is set after the crime, while Roderick is waiting in prison for his trial.  There are transcripts of interviews with the neighbors and inhabitants of Culduire.  There are findings by medical doctors as well as those who study the minds of prisoners.  There is an accounting of the trial.  Most prominently, there is the memoir of Roderick himself.

Roderick is a lonely boy.  His mother died in childbirth a year or so ago, leaving Roderick and his siblings with his dour father.  He is considered highly intelligent at his school, with the master coming to visit his father and plead for more education for Roderick, a plea his father turns down.  He has few friends as the others his age regard him as strange and set apart.

According to Roderick, the crime grew out of the prosecution of his family by Lachlan Mackenzie.  The enmity between the two families begins when Roderick is caring for sheep.  One of Mackenzie's is injured and Roderick kills it to end its suffering.  Mackenzie is incensed and wants punishment for Roderick as well as financial compensation.  The compensation is awarded but no legal punishment.  As a result, Mackenzie runs for town constable and is successful.  He becomes the voice of the factor of the land and is responsible for enforcing rules and regulations.  He soon starts to micromanage the town and the inhabitants quickly learn that it doesn't pay to cross him.  He singles out the McCrae family with punishment and humiliation.  Finally, Roderick can take no more and murders Mackenzie with the murder of his children done only to prevent them giving a warning.

But is this an accurate account?  There emerges at the trial a suggestion that Roderick's interest in the daughter and her rejection played a role.  Is Roderick insane?  Some neighbors believe so while others find him kind and gentle.  What do the doctors that examine him and his state of mind believe?  
This book was nominated for the 2016 Man Booker Prize.  It tells a compelling story through the use of documents such as memoirs, interviews, trial transcripts and medical conclusion reports.  The mean life of a Scottish farmer is portrayed and the helplessness one felt if they had a grievance against those in authority.  The reader is left to make up their own mind about what happened at the Mackenzie croft that bloody day.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and mystery readers.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Father's Day by Simon Van Booy

Harvey is a girl just living her life as little girls do.  When she is six, one day she is told her parents have both died in a car accident.  The family was small and there aren't grandparents to step in.  Harvey's only living relative is an uncle who had not been in contact with his brother since they were children.  Jason, the uncle, cut off contact when he went to prison for blinding a man in a bar fight.  Jason had been his brother's protector against their father who was an abusive alcoholic.  He didn't want his brother's chance at a good life done in by an ex-con with no prospects.

Now, years later, Jason ekes out a living by cruising thrift shops and finding things he can resell on Ebay and Craigslist.  He is not the typical kind of person who would be considered to raise a small girl, but the social worker, Wanda, sees something in him that makes her want to put the two together.  Jason flatly refuses but Wanda brings Harvey over to introduce her.  Before he knows it, Jason agrees and the court grants him temporary custody.  That later gets changed to a permanent basis and Jason becomes the only parent Harvey will know.

Simon Van Booy has written a charming tale of how the relationship between these two unlikely individuals works out over the years.  Jason knows nothing about raising a child but his heart is in the right place and soon there is nothing he wouldn't do for Harvey.  Harvey learns self-sufficiency and caring from Jason and grows into an accomplished woman.  

Van Booy has written several anthologies and novels, including Everything Beautiful Began After.  In this work, he explores the nature of parental love and the bond that grows between members of a family.  Harvey gets what she needs, a parent, but Jason also gets what he needed, a life work that gives him scope to work out his own issues and realize that he has worth even with his background.  Readers will cheer for Jason as he takes steps from being an isolated, separate individual to someone who can offer and receive friendship and love.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in family relationships and how people can change.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo

When the Norwegian Ambassador to Thailand is discovered murdered, those high in government want the case solved.  They want the best policeman they can find and that, most agree, is Harry Hole.  For the Ambassador wasn't just murdered, he was murdered in compromising circumstances in a hotel known for prostitution.  This needs a quick solution so that it can be swept under the rug and forgotten as soon as possible.

Hole dutifully heads to Thailand.  He is determined not to drink on this trip as his propensity to falling into a drunken stupor for weeks or months is his biggest failing.  He quickly determines two things.  First, in addition to being associated with prostitution, it appears that the Ambassador may be involved in child prostitution, something that Thailand is known for.  Second, the entire case may be a setup and the Ambassador blameless.

Hole digs deeper into the case.  He works with the local Thailand police and soon meets government figures, high-stakes financiers and developers, and the Ambassador's family.  The wife seems stunned with grief but is that true?  The daughter is a bit mysterious and quickly develops a crush on Harry.  Will he solve the case in time and more importantly, will he find a solution that pleases his superiors back in Norway?

This is the second novel in the immensely successful Harry Hole series.  The seeds of the Hole personality and Harry's tormented life and visionary crime solving is featured.  It is impossible not to want Harry on your side while realizing that he has many issues of his own.  The reader feels for Harry and wants him to succeed but more importantly wishes he could find a way to be happy, although happiness and his chosen career are at odds.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, January 7, 2017

It's a snowy day in North Carolina.  We don't get that much snow, as a rule, so when we get eight inches you know you'll be snowed in for a bit as we don't have the snow removal equipment other places do.  It's a good weekend to be snowed in.  It's NFL wildcard weekend, my favorite weekend of the season with four games on in two days.  I'm about to put on a crockpot of apples, carrots and pork chops and plan on reading and watching tv for most of the next two days.  I haven't posted since Christmas and of course I got books for Christmas.  I only really trust my son to buy me books so he gave me some and then I got gift cards that I used.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough, mystery, sent by publicist
2.  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler, literary fiction, purchased
3.  The Remnants, Robert Hill, literary fiction, purchased
4.  Jackaby, William Ritter, fantasy, gift
5.  Birds, Beasts And Relatives, Gerald Durrell, memoir, gift
6.  Menagerie Manor, Gerald Durrell, memoir, gift
7.  The Translation Of The Bones, Francesca Kay, literary fiction, purchased
8.  Jerusalem, Alan Moore, literary fiction, gift
9.  The Rising, Heather Graham/Jon Land, thriller, sent by publicist
10.  The Other Widow, Susan Crawford, mystery, sent by publicist
11.  Kenmore Square, Carol June Stover, mystery, sent by author
12.  The Nix, Nathan Hill, literary fiction, purchased
13.  The Sellout, Paul Beatty, literary fiction, purchased
14.  A Spool Of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler, literary fiction, purchased
15.  Back When We Were Grownups, Anne Tyler, literary fiction, purchased

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson, paperback
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

4. Cockroaches, Jo Nesbo, paperback
5.  Father Hood, Simon Van Booy, paperback
6.  His Bloody Project, Graeme McCrae Burnet, Kindle Fire
7.  The Stress Of Her Regard, Tim Powers, audio
8.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback

9.  Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell, paperback
10.  Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback

Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Forrests by Emily Perkins

Dorothy Forrest is born into a large family.  The father comes from a wealthy family but has never been a success himself.  When Dorothy is seven, he impulsively moves the family from America to Auckland, New Zealand, where he can ignore the family and work on his get-rich schemes in peace.  This leaves the family in perilous financial trouble and there is little money to spare to raise the five children.  Sometimes the father is gone for months leaving their mother to make do as best she can.  Yet she also finds the kindness to basically take in another child, Daniel, who lives close but is basically raising himself, the only ambitious individual in a house of drug addicts.

The children grow up, as children do.  They survive their parent's upbringing, from moving to living on a commune while the father goes to America for a while, to other moves.  The children grow up tightly bonded although they aren't that attached to their parents.  Perkins follows the children over the years as they find jobs, marry or have relationships, have children, divorce, and even face death.  The one constant over the years is Dorothy's feelings for Daniel, which he sometimes reciprocates and sometimes ignores.  Finally, old age comes to the children and they themselves leave behind children for another era.

Emily Perkins has won several literary prizes such as the Best First Book of the New Zealand Book Award and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.  The Forrests was nominated for the Orange Prize in 2013.  It shows the ebb and flow of a family, how relationships within the family sustain a person throughout their life and how love can bloom and survive even with years of separation.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 Year In Review

2016 has come and gone and like most bloggers, I like to stop for a minute and take stock of my blog and reading.  I started this blog in 2008, mainly for my own purposes of documenting my reading.  Eight years later, I'm thrilled that others read about my reactions to what I've read, and I hope it helps someone find a great book to read.

It's been a busy year in our house.  Last year was senior year for our daughter with all the 'lasts' that brings.  We had a busy summer, going to Massachusetts for a technology/science conference and then a week at the beach.  I bought a new car and so did Rex.  There were multiple trips to Columbia, South Carolina for admitted students weekends and orientation and then in August our daughter started college at the University of South Carolina.  I love USC and it is a warm, caring place that is perfect for walking and learning to adult.

This year I read 112 books, far from my original goal of 150.  I'm disappointed, but I did accomplish some of my reading goals.  I went back and re-read and then read the last book in the George R. R. Martin epic Game Of Throne series.  I started listening to more books, mostly on long car trips and my daily visits to the gym.  I got sidetracked a bit as I discovered and fell into the world of podcasts, starting with Serial and then Undiscovered, then branching out to others.  I weeded my collection and gave away over five hundred books.  I discovered some great new authors.  I reviewed every book I read.

Of the books I read, these were the best:

1.  The Incantations by Susan Barker
2.  Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
3.  The Small Backs Of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch
4.  The Last Days Of Magic by Mark Thompkins
5.  A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin
6.  Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson

These were all great books:

1.  Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
2.  Nutshell by Ian McEwan
3.  The Everman series by James Maxwell
4.  The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
5.  The North Water by Ian McGuire
6.  Lexicon by Max Barry
7.  The Fireman by Joe Hill
8.  The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell
9.  Free Men by Katy Simpson Smith
10.  The House of Rumour by Jake Arnott
11.  A Crucible Of Souls by Mitchell Hogan
12.  The Road To Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
13.  Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

For 2017, my reading goals are:

1.  I still need to hit 150 books so I'll keep that goal.
2.  I want to read at least three books by William Vollman
3.  Three books by Salman Rushdie
4.  I want to read the Wolf Hall series by Hiliary Mantell
5.  Ten books from the Man Booker and Bailey's Women Fiction lists, either past years or current

Happy Reading!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Captured by Neil Cross

Kenny Drummond gets the news no one expects to hear.  He has stage four terminal brain cancer and has only weeks to live without treatment, maybe a few months with horrific treatments.  Kenny opts to not do treatment and sets about putting his life in order.  He is single with no children.  His marriage had dissolved after a stillborn baby but he is still good friends with his ex-wife.  He lives in a remote cottage where he makes a living painting portraits.  He has no close friends or any relatives.
As he prepares, he decides this is the time to make amends to anyone he wronged.  He can think of only a few and most insist his sins were minor and nothing to worry about.  But then there is Callie Barton.  Back when he was a young child, shunned at school because of his strange father and motherless home, only Callie had treated him kindly.  He never told her how much that meant and decides this is the time.

He goes to his one friend, an ex-cop and asks her to help him locate Callie.  What she turns up instead is troubling.  Callie disappeared several years before and has never been found.  Her husband, Jonathan Reese, was the main suspect.  Kenny determines to find out what happened to Callie and get her justice.

In order to do this, he kidnaps Jonathan and takes him to his cottage.  He imprisons him there, telling him that he will let him go when he tells him what happened to Callie.  Jonathan is adamant that he had nothing to do with Callie's disappearance but Kenny is not convinced.  Is he right or is the cancer in his brain making him read the situation wrong?

This book is chilling.  The reader finds himself cheering Kenny on, even as an impartial view shows that he is doing a horrific crime.  The devolution of the men's relationship mimics the devolution of Kenny's health and sanity.  Neil Cross is a screenwriter who wrote for the Dr. Who and Spooks television series in England before writing the tremendously successful Luther series.  One of his novels has been long-listed for the Booker Prize.  This novel is recommended for mystery readers.