Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Smoke by Dan Vyelta

In England, the reign of Smoke has lasted 300 years.  It is a portrayal of sin; whenever someone has a sinful thought or deed, smoke pours from every orifice on their body.  The rich and powerful don't smoke, or so one would think.  They send their children at a young age to boarding schools where they are punished and manipulated until they can control their tendency to smoke.

Boarding school is where Charlie and Thomas meet.  One is the son of a powerful aristocratic family, the other a scholarship student whose family was wrecked when his father got into a bar brawl and killed a man.  Unlike in every way, somehow they become best friends.  They unite against the brutality of the head boy, Julius.  Charlie is a good boy and sure that the way society is set up is the best.  Thomas has a dark streak he fights against.  Slowly, they start to realize that perhaps Smoke is not the way the world is supposed to work.  Things they see on a class visit to London (The Great Smoke) make them question why the lower classes must be consumed in sin and smoke while the upper classes rise above all the poverty and crime.  Rumors they hear about how England was before the Smoke and how other countries still exist without it make them more curious and determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Over break, they visit the country estate of a wealthy family where they hope to pick up some answers.  They meet the daughter of the family and both boys develop a fascination for her.  They start to discover that the family is the centerpiece of a resistance to the Smoke society; the father driven mad by his studies, the mother drawn into a vast conspiracy to bring down Smoke.  Unfortunately, it turns out Julius is the mother's first son although he has been raised by his father elsewhere.  When he comes for a visit, he pits himself against the two boys and his half-sister and violence ensues.  When the three flee, Julius sets himself as their punisher and starts to track them.  Can the three elude Julius and the forces of Smoke long enough to discover the truth

Smoke is a fascinating novel.  Vyelta creates a Dicksonian-like environment of downtrodden poor against privileged rich.  His world building is first rate and the reader is transported to the vile underground where crime and poverty mix to create an atmosphere of fear but one where people can still be kind and generous.  The tension between the three main characters is intriguing, and the reader is torn between supporting the simple kindness of Charlie or the darker interesting personality of Thomas.  There is political intrigue and the eternal battle between good and evil.  This book is recommended for readers of fantasy.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Narrows by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch has retired and it's not sitting well.  Police work is what he knows and what he does best.  When the wife of an old friend calls him he is ready to listen.  Her husband has recently died and she wants Harry to look into it.  Harry knew him from his years in the police force and the friend's work on The Poet serial killer case.  At first Harry believes the death was natural but as he looks into it, he starts to realize that something is amiss.

Rachel Bolling, FBI agent, is also at loose ends.  After her work on The Poet case and the scandal that attached to her that rose from that case, she has been marking time in North Dakota.  When she gets a call to join a team in Nevada that has recently unearthed six male bodies, she knows The Poet has reemerged.  He has left clues that point directly to Rachel and it is clear that he regards their relationship as unfinished.

As Harry works his case, he finds his friend made a mysterious trip to Las Vega before he died.  That and other things takes Harry directly to the burial site where he finds a huge FBI contingent working the case and definitely not pleased to see him.  He is assigned to Rachel to babysit and as the two compare notes, it becomes clear that the two cases have merged and that Harry's friend was perhaps the first victim in this current run of deaths attributable to The Poet.

This was Connelly's fourteenth novel and the tenth in the Harry Bosch series.  Readers will be happy to observe Bosch working a case, this time as a retired detective who has recently discovered he has a daughter and questioning what the rest of his life should consist of.  The tension between Walling and Bosch is interesting and the climax of the novel is stunning.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

World, Chase Me Down

Years before the famous Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932, there was a famous kidnapping case in Omaha, Nebraska.  Pat Crowe and an accomplice kidnapped the sixteen year old son of the man at the head of the meat industry in Nebraska, Edward Cudahy, in 1900.  Edward Cudahy, Jr. was returned home unharmed after the payment of the first successful ransom attempt in the United States.

Crowe had worked for Cudahy but been fired.  He attempted to open and run a butcher shop but that had also been forced closed by Cudahy.  After the crime, Crowe was quickly identified and soon became the most wanted man in America.  Harried from city to town to the open spaces, he was never able to stay in one place for long.  Even when he went overseas, the first thing he saw was a wanted poster with his name on it.  During his flight, he robbed banks and trains, at first with his accomplice.  That man was killed out West and after that Crowe traveled alone.

Years later, he walked into a police station and gave himself up.  His trial was a sensation.  His lawyer portrayed Crowe as a modern-day Robin Hood and Cudahy as a man determined to retain his wealth and power by ruthlessly stealing money from his workers and doing everything he could to destroy any competition.  Crowe was set free by a jury that was influenced by this tactic and the massive support Crowe enjoyed with the public.

Andrew Hilleman, in this debut novel, follows the life and crimes of Pat Crowe and his travels throughout the world after his crime.  Crowe was one of the most famous criminals of his time yet almost no one knows about him today.  This is a work of fiction built around the facts of the crime and what is known of Crowe's life and displays a sympathetic portrayal of the man that does gloss over his subsequent life of crime.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Brick by Conrad Jones

Liverpool is in the midst of a gang war between two rival gangs, each determined to control the flood of drugs into the city.  When one gang steals a shipment of drugs from the other, it sets the scene for a war.

Bryn is a fourteen year old boy, trying to concentrate on his education and find a way to escape the life of poverty his family lives.  He idolizes his two older brothers and worries about his parents who seem resigned to their lives.  He is a good kid.  One day while taking his dog for a walk in the local park, he has an encounter with a man who seems to take exception with his dog.  The two have words and Bryn moves on, never thinking the encounter might escalate beyond words.

But escalate it does.  The man is a member of one of the drug gangs.  He calls in reinforcements and soon a younger, stronger man arrives to teach Bryn a lesson.  He chases him down in the park and starts to attack him, brutually beating him.  During the fight, Bryn reaches out, finds a brick and hits the man, instantly killing him.  Far from being relieved, Bryn is horrified at what has happened and scared by the violence he has encountered.  The disastrous situation becomes even worse as it turns out the dead man is the son of the leader of one of the drug gangs.  Now Bryn and his entire family are in the sights of the gang as the leader is determined to get revenge.

DI Braddick leads the Liverpool Major Investigation Team.  They are investigating the conflict between the two gangs and the murders that have occurred when the incident with Bryn happens.  Now they must also try to protect him and his family while unraveling the intricacies of the drug rivalry and the betrayals and brutality their war brings to them and the city itself.

Conrad Jones has written a gritty police procedural that is not for the faint-hearted.  He portrays the inhumanity found in the drug world in which any man's life is considered fodder in an intricate game of betrayal and torture as each group attempts to reign supreme.  Jones's own life has been affected by the violence of organized groups and his experiences play out in his books.  The betrayals and violence come fast and hard, taking the reader on a heartstopping tour of man's inhumanity when the respect for life has disappeared.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

It seems like a normal encounter played out over and over.  Lady Daniels is an aspiring writer, living in Southern California.  She wants to hire a nanny to watch her two year old son while she writes.  She is newly separated from her husband and determined to have success in this new arena.  S is a recently graduated college student who is looking for a live-in nanny job for a while until she decides what to do.  They quickly come to an agreement and S moves into the guest house.

But below the normal surface, each woman has secrets to hide.  Lady has never resolved her feelings about her older son.  Seth is eighteen and is mute.  He spoke one word as a toddler then never again tried and over the years lost the ability to do so.  He is now an angry teen, still attached to his stepfather who has moved out at Lady's request and trying to define his own life.  Lady is also trying to find her first love, Seth's father.  She tells herself it is to find him closure but it is unsure if that is the truth.

S also has her own secrets.  She has come to Los Angeles after a disastrous art project left her scorned in her prior city.  Her real name is Esther but she is determined to cast off all ties to her past and reinvent herself.  She comes to Lady's house in the midst of another art plan; she has deliberately made herself unattractive as she slips into an alternate persona.  She is intrigued with Seth and they are drawn together.  But even more, she is drawn to Lady when she realizes that Lady is one of a group of women made famous by the art of Kit Daniels.  Lady hides the evidence of her former self as she feels taken advantage of by Kit, who has ended up being her sister-in-law.

As the summer progresses, the two women are drawn to each other and soon have a friendship that brings them ever closer.  But a friendship cannot survive on deceit and lies and that is what each is feeding the other.  The summer starts to spiral out of control to a climatic end that will change everything in everyone's lives going forward.

Edan Lepucki shot to prominence in the literary world with the publication of her debut novel, California.  Her work has appeared in various magazines and she is an instructor in the UCLA Extension program.   This is her second novel and it explores the worlds of friendship and of duplicity and the corrosive effect of secrets on relationships.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, May 24, 2017

It's hard to believe it's already the end of May.  Graduations are happening all over.  In our house, it's a week of recuperation.  My daughter had all four wisdom teeth out yesterday.  This will be a quiet week with lots of reading time.  She just finished a very successful freshman year at college so I'm really proud of her.  Like my son, she is also a reader.  So glad to have two readers to carry on the tradition!  Here's what's come through the door recently:

1.  The Glorious Heresies, Lisa McInerney, literary fiction, purchased
2.  Before We Visit The Goddess, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, literary fiction, sent by publisher
3.  Hum If You Don't Know The Words, Bianca Marais, literary fiction, sent by publisher
4.  Agrathias, Conor Nicholl, fantasy, sent by author
5.  At Hawthorne Time, Melissa Harrison, literary fiction, purchased
6.  Reunion, Carl Brookins, mystery, sent by publisher
7.  Deadmen Walking, Sherrilyn Kenyon, fantasy, sent by publisher
8.  A Canticle For Leibowitz, Walter Miller, fantasy, purchased
9.  The Prey Of Gods, Nicky Drayden, fantasy, sent by publisher
10.  White Fur, Jardine Libaire, literary fiction, sent for book tour
11,  The Last Train, Michael Pronko, mystery, sent by author
12.  The Separatists, Lis Wiehl, thriller, sent by publisher
13.  Touch, Courtney Maum, literary fiction, sent by publisher
14.  The Scribe Of Siena, Melodie Winawer, historical fiction, sent by publisher
15.  Mad, Chloe Esposito, literary fiction, sent by publisher
16.  Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel, sci/fi/fantasy, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book
17.  Everybody's Fool, Richard Russo, literary fiction, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book
18.  Mothering Sunday, Graham Swift, literary fiction, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book
19.  In The Name Of The Family, Sarah Dunant, historical fiction, sent by Curled Up
20.  Waking Gods, Sylvain Neuvel, sci/fi/fantasy, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book
21.  The Old Man, Thomas Perry, mystery, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  World Chase Me Down, Andrew Hillerman, paperback

2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

4. The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride, paperback
5.  Perfect Prey, Laura Salters, Kindle Fire
6.  Gone Without A Trace, Mary Torjussen, Kindle Fire
7.  The Narrows, Michael Connelly, hardback
8.  Woman No. 17, Eden Luposki, hardback
9.  A Dark So Deadly, Stuart MacBride, Kindle Fire
10.  Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback
11.  Smoke, Dan Vyleta,  Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Killing Room by Richard Montanari

Detectives Jessica Balzano and Kevin Byrne have a good partnership in the Philadelphia Police Department despite their differences.  Outside of the obvious gender difference, Byrne is a veteran, old of the oldest detectives still working, while Jessica is much younger.  Jessica is happily married with kids, while Byrne lives alone, his daughter already grown and gone.  Yet the respect they have for each other makes them a good pair to investigate the grisly crimes they encounter.

Jessica gets the call.  A voice she doesn't recognize predicts deaths; one for each of seven churches.  She is tempted to ignore the call as a crank call when the report comes in.  A man has been found in the basement of a deserted church.  His death is gruesome and has ritual aspects.  As she and Byrne investigate, more deaths occur.  Each murder is committed in the basement of a deserted, abandoned church and each victim has a criminal record.  As the deaths pile up, can the detectives uncover the killer before the plan is complete?

Richard Montanri has written several criminal series.  This is the sixth novel in the Balzano/Byrne series.  The connection between two widely disparate individuals who have found a way to work effectively as partners is compelling.  The reader is taken inside the world of investigations and watches the race against time as the crime is investigated.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Conspiracy Club by Jonathan Kellerman

When Dr. Jeremy Carrier is befriended by Dr. Arthur Chess, it seems a normal course of events.  Both are doctors at the same hospital.  Jeremy is a psychologist and Chess is a pathologist.  They share a love of reading and soon start to have discussions about life and philosophy.  Carrier is reeling from the kidnapping and murder of his girlfriend a few months before and isn't really letting anyone into his circle, but he is intrigued by Dr. Chess.

That intrigue deepens when Chess invites him out to dinner one night.  They go to an exquisite dining club where all the other participants at the dinner are older people who have been very successful in their lives.  The talk once again turns to philosophy; specifically, the origin of evil and how it should be handled.

Soon afterward, Dr. Chess leaves on an extended vacation.  Jeremy starts to get postcards from him from all over the world.  At the same time, he gets strange interoffice mail.  These mailing start to lead him in the direction of a series of murders, always women and always murdered with surgical precision.  The final mailing outlines the case of a murderer who was caught decades ago but whose crimes seem to be related.  Can Jeremy solve the case before his new girlfriend is affected?

Fans of Jonathan Kellerman will be interested to read this stand-alone novel that does not focus on his main protagonist, Alex Delaware.  Both main characters are in the medical field and use their experience and skills in psychology to delve into the motivations of criminals.  The mystery unfolds at a slow pace and there is an unexpected twist at the end.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Buried Book by D.M. Pulley

When nine-year old Jasper Leary's mom tells him to pack up as they are going to visit his uncle Leo on his farm, Jasper is excited.  He likes his cousin Wayne and all the animals on the farm.  His excitement turns to worry when his mother leaves, telling him to be good and that she'll see him soon.

As days and then weeks go by, no one wants to talk about his mom.  He helps out on the farm and enjoys visits with his dad on the weekends but wants to know what is happening, where his mother is, and when he will return to Detroit and his life.  He starts to learn things about his mother as she was growing up.  She is the black sheep of the family and brought them disgrace and misery with her running around and her bad reputation.  Apparently she even burned down the family home.  Desperate to learn more about her, Jasper explores the ruins of the house and finds a book.  He is excited to discover that it is his mother's diary.

He starts to read it and soon finds that she was mixed up in bad things.  Jasper is determined to find the answers for himself and soon his journey takes him deep in the world of crime, bootlegging, drugs and a nearby Indian reservation.  Along the way he realizes that there are few, if any, grownups he can trust, and he becomes more and more determined to find out where his mother is and if she is ever coming back.  Can Jasper find his answers before evil finds him?

D.M. Pulley has written an interesting mystery about rural life in the 1950's.  Jasper is more naive than a child today would be.  His unquestioning acceptance of the adults in his life and his determination to find the answers that are being kept from him make him a memorable character.  The gradual revealing of the mystery and the realistic ending make this a satisfying read.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Overlook by Michael Connelly

The call comes in one evening.  A body has been found at The Overlook, a place where tourists can stop and look out at the lights of the city.  When Detective Harry Bosch gets to the scene he finds that the victim is Stanley Kent, a doctor and that he has been shot in the back of the head, execution style.  When they go to his house, further terror is discovered.  His wife is found in the bedroom, naked and tied up.

She tells a story of two intruders breaking in and forcing her to strip, tying her up, then taking pictures.  When the detectives hear that, they check and find that the pictures were sent to her husband along with instructions to meet them at the overlook.  But what did they want?  There wasn't a demand for money.  Instead the criminals wanted something far more dangerous.  For Dr. Kent worked with nuclear medicine and was around radioactive substances daily.  They want him to bring cesium and from that a dirty bomb can be created.

The case has suddenly gotten much bigger.  The FBI is called in and they try to take control and push the LAPD to the side.  Harry has another issue.  His former lover, FBI Agent Rachel Walling, is also assigned to the case and she hasn't forgiven Harry for their breakup.  Harry isn't about to be pushed aside.  While the FBI considers the terrorist threat the most critical, Harry is determined to solve the murder that took the life of Dr. Kent.  Can he solve the case while fighting off the federal agency?

This is the thirteenth novel in the Harry Bosch series.  Harry is not a cuddly detective.  He is a hard man, unafraid of anyone and adamant about solving the cases he is assigned.  His personal creed is that everyone matters and no case is more important than another, a bedrock tenet that came from his mother's murder when he was a child.  Readers familiar with Bosch will be interested to read another case and those new to him will be intrigued by his personality and the look into police procedure.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Reserved For The Cat by Mercedes Lackey

Ninette Dupond is a ballerina with the Paris Opera Ballet.  Not a headliner yet, but she is steadily working her way up the ranks.  That is, until she gets a review that puts the star ballerina's nose out of joint.  The star insists that Ninette be fired and the administration does what the star wants.  Ninette finds herself alone with no job and no money.

She casts about for work but finds none.  There seems to be no recourse except to become a woman who lives off men.  But then the stray cat who showed up a while back begins talking to Ninette.  At first she is sure she is crazy but the cat insists he has a way out of her predicament.  Soon she is on a train to a destination she knows nothing of with a ticket the cat has stolen.  Next is a channel crossing and she ends up in Blackpool, England.

The cat has plans.  He is in fact an Elemental Spirit who has taken on the task of protecting Ninette.  He knows that there is a music hall in Blackpool that is run by an Elemental Master and he feels that Ninette would be a success working there and safe with that much power around her.  He comes up with the idea of Ninette impersonating a fairly well-known Russian ballerina named Nina Tchereslavsky.  Since no one in Blackpool is that interested in Russian ballet, it seems logical that Ninette is Nina.  When the owner sees Ninette dance, he sees how good she is and decides she is just the person to help him move forward with a new form of entertainment he has been planning.  Things go well, with Ninette becoming a star attraction.  Then trouble starts to occur.  The real Nina Tchereslavsky finds out about her imposter and is determined to put things straight.  Even worse, it turns out that she is also an Elemental and an evil one.  Now Ninette is her sworn enemy and she is determined to destroy her.

This is the fifth novel in Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series.  Each novel retells a familiar fairy tale, in this case it is that of the cat that manages to outwit all of his enemies.  Lackey is well known in the fantasy world, having written over one hundred and fifty novels.  This was my first read of a book by her, and I was interested to see what her writing was like.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Under Cover Of The Night by Diane Fanning

Jocelyn and Wesley Earnest seemed like a typical couple.  Both were professionals, athletic and well-liked by those around them.  Jocelyn was a manager at a finance company and Wesley was a school administrator.  They loved to go fishing and camping and hang out with friends.  From the outside, they seemed to have a good life.  But trouble was brewing under the surface and in the early 2000's, they separated and later filed for divorce.  Jocelyn stayed in the family home in Forest, Virginia, while Wesley got possession of the million dollar home they were building on Smith Mountain Lake, although he actually was living at the Virginia coast near the high school he worked at.

Then in December of 2007, tragedy struck.  Jocelyn was looking forward to leaving town and spending the holidays with her family.  When her friends and work couldn't contact her, one of her friends went to her house and made a horrific discovery.  Jocelyn was lying on the floor dead, the victim of a gunshot wound.  When the police arrived, they noted a suicide note.  But the investigation quickly showed that this was not a suicide but a murder.  The prime suspect and the person arrested was Wesley Earnest.

The book follows Earnest's trial.  It ended in a mistrial through a mistake made in the juror room.  The prosecutors in Bedford County, Virginia, retried.  The evidence showed that Wesley was a self-centered man, determined to have his own way.  He resented the fact that Jocelyn was moving on and that she was in much better financial shape than he was.  He had a new relationship but couldn't get past the fact that Jocelyn had moved on.  The evidence hinged on things like a fingerprint on the false suicide note, lies that Wesley had told everyone around him, a suspicious borrowing of a friend's vehicle, and the manipulations of those around him that he continued even from the jail.  Wesley was convicted and given life without parole.  He is currently serving that sentence.

Diane Fanning is considered one of the premier true crime authors currently working.  She has covered cases like that of Tommy Lynn Sells, a serial killer who killed across the country for more than two decades and who was brought to justice by the testimony of a ten-year old girl who survived an attack.  She and her work has been featured on such shows as 48 Hours, Deadly Women, 20/20, Court TV and the Discovery Channel along with various network news shows.  She is also the author of several fiction series, including one that focuses on the work of the women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee during WWII.   This book is recommended for readers of true crime.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith

Alex-Li Tandem is a bundle of contradictions.  He is a Chinese man on his father's side and Jewish on his mother's.  He lives in London and makes his living finding and selling autographs.  His best friends are all guys he met at a ball game the last day of his father's life, when he was twelve.  Mark grew up to be a rabbi and he feels it is his mission to bring Alex into the fold.  Joseph was the person who first collected autographs and shared his love with Alex, then went into the insurance field when he was grown.  Adam lives for religion; he doesn't work but spends his days smoking dope and interacting with philosophy and religion.  His sister, Esther, is Alex's girlfriend and has been for a decade.  Alex lives in London as do all his friends.

Alex's obsession is the actress Kitty Alexander, an almost forgotten star of the forties.  She has been a recluse for years and Alex has tried to get her autograph for most of his life, writing her almost every week since he was thirteen.  She is his Moby Dick, his obsession.  He knows it is unlikely that he will ever find her autograph but hope springs eternal.

At a huge autograph show in New York, things start to happen.  He is on the outs with Esther, having cheated on her with a woman from the autograph world.  At the show, he meets and hangs out with a beautiful woman famous for her time in porn movies.  He broods over the fact that Adam and Mark both expect him to have a Kaddish ceremony for his father on the thirteenth anniversary of his death, coming up in the next week.  Unbelievably, right before he leaves London he receives an autograph in the mail from Kitty Alexander and when he realizes she is right there in New York, he vows to find a way to meet her.  Can Alex straighten out his tangled relationships and obligations?

The Autograph Man is Zadie Smith's second novel, written after the success of her first, White Teeth.  It explores the concepts of friendship, of familial obligations and the difficulty of finding one's life work and dedicating the time and energy to make it a success.  Readers will find themselves drawn to Alex as he bumbles through life as his kindness and desire to make the world better for all the people he knows shines through.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell

Bitter Lemons is Lawrence Durrell's account of his time on Cyprus between 1953 and 1956.  Durrell is best known for his literary success The Alexandria Quartet, but he was also a man about town, a government representative and someone who loved to get to the heart of a country.  He wanted to know the average citizens of the places he lived and met these simple folks with an understanding that made him popular and loved wherever he went.

The first half of the book covers Durrell's purchase and renovation of a villa in the Cyprus hills.  Readers will delight in the recounting of how a purchase is made and all the characters involved in the sale of a property.  The character descriptions of the various people he meets in the village and of those who came to do the work needed to make his house habitable are intriguing.  His love for the people of Cyprus shines through as well as his love of the island himself.  The descriptions of the gorgeous views and all the plant life available are stunning and the reader feels as if they were there also looking at hills covered with flowers, smelling the scents of lemons and wild flowers.

The second half of the book is more serious.  Durrell becomes the press advisor for the government when it becomes apparent that he will need more money to stay on the island.  This was the critical time in which the British were starting to realize that they would probably be helping Cyprus become a free nation.  The issue at hand, however, was the fact that the island was inhabited by large contingents of Greek and Turkish citizens and each wanted different things in a free Cyprus.  Durrell covers the failing efforts of the British administration to resolve things.  As government negotiations failed, armed resistance started up.  Soon family was fighting against family, young men were leaving school to fight as freedom fighters, and people started to die as bombs and assassinations occurred.  Durrell knew it was time to move on when one of his oldest friends there, a teacher, was killed one evening.

The Durrell family is undergoing a renaissance with the recent PBS adaption of their lives.  Gerald, the biologist, has a series of books about the animals he loved so dearly and most of those have been reissued.  Many were aware of Lawrence's master series which has been called the best exploration of modern love and an intriguing portrait of the Egyptian and Middle East cultures.  Readers of those volumes will enjoy this look at another portion of Durrell's life, and those new to him will enjoy getting to know him and being exposed to his luminous, marvelous prose.  This book is recommended to memoir readers and those interested in Durrell's life and adventures.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Losing The Light by Andrea Dunlop

Brooke Thompson is an ordinary girl from an ordinary small city in California.  She longs for something more, something better.  College is her first taste of getting away but she doesn't really fit in.  She watches the other girls in envy, especially the tall, blonde, athletic girls that are always in the midst of every social occasion and who seem to know how to fit in effortlessly.  She knows she won't be part of their circles.  Brooke drifts through her year but when she gets involved in a scandal, the college offers her a year abroad in France.

She goes to France, determined to remake herself and become the person who gets the kind of life she's imagined.  She is surprised to find one of the other students is a girl from her college, Sophie, who was always one of the golden girls.  Sophie is bright and beautiful and popular and Brooke can't believe it when she is singled out by Sophie to be her best friend in France.  But the friendship seems real and soon the two girls are totally entwined.  They are determined to become as French as they can and ignore all the other American students in their program, spending their time together and plotting a future where they leave their pasts and live forever in France.

They meet a French friend, Veronique, through the program and soon they are part of her circle.  She is an actress and is surrounded with other friends in the arts.  There are artists, writers, sculptors and the girls feel that they can fit right in.  They meet Veronique's cousin and are fascinated by Alex who is a successful photographer.  Soon the two become three as they spend more and more time with Alex at his grandmother's house and then at his villa at the beach.  Alex has everything they ever wanted and he seems willing to share it all with them.  Can two ever truly become three?  As the two girls are drawn deeper into Alex's life, it all rushes to a tragedy that will tear their lives apart.

Andrea Dunlop has written a novel that will touch the memories and hearts of readers.  We each remember that first friendship that seemed would never change, one in which two people trust each other without reserve and share everything.  We all remember the first obsessive love we have, where every minute is consumed with the wonder of that person wanting us in return and the heady stuff of sexual obsession.  For most of us, these are pleasant memories but for a few, they are disastrous.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay Andrews

Summer is coming and most are ready for vacation days and breezy, family meals.  Mary Kay Andrews, beloved author of southern charm novels, has created a cookbook for just such scenarios.  As a resident of Atlanta, Georgia, Andrews knows a thing or two about the topic and has created a book that is gorgeous to look at and full of recipes that feature fresh ingredients.

The book is organized by time of year with chapters such as Summer Solstice Dinner, Lazy Weekend Brunch, After A Day At The Beach and Souper Supper.  Each chapter contains recipes for a full meal.  For example, the Summer Solstice Dinner has recipes for James T's Secret Iced Tea, Zucchini Vichyssoise, Beyond The Grave Chicken Salad, Tomato Pie, Ritualistic Pimento Cheese and Trailer Trash Dessert.  Each recipe has a short blurb from Andrews explaining how she uses the dish or cooking tricks she uses preparing it.  One of the first dishes I'll be trying is Corn And Crab Chowder.   This one looks delicious.

Very few of the soups I make hew closely to a written recipe—especially when we’re at the beach, where I might not have all the ingredients my recipe calls for on hand. This corn and crab chowder is a good example. Sometimes I leave the potatoes out if I don’t have any. Sometimes I substitute cream or whole milk for the half-and-half, and sometimes I use frozen corn—I like the kind that comes frozen in a tube—but in the summer, I prefer to use fresh corn. I do always use crab; usually claw meat, since in a soup you really can’t distinguish lump from claw. And I love the deep flavor the shot of sherry adds at the end. If you like a thicker chowder, whisk 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons half-and-half and stir it into the soup at the end, before adding the sherry. Simmer for 5 minutes to thicken.
1 Tbsp. olive oil, plus extra as needed
2 slices bacon
2 large shallots, minced
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
6 small red potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 cups fresh corn kernels (about 8 ears)
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
1 lb. crabmeat, picked over
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 tsp. sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped chives for garnish
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat, add the bacon, and cook for 8 minutes, or until crisp. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain, and reserve the drippings in the pot. Chop the bacon.
2. Sauté the shallots and bell pepper in the bacon drippings for 3 minutes, or until tender, adding more oil if there aren’t enough drippings. Add the potatoes and sauté for 5 minutes.
3. Stir in the corn, broth, and half-and-half and simmer over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender. Stir in the crabmeat and cook 5 minutes longer. Remove from the heat, stir in the sherry and salt and season with the pepper to taste. Garnish with the bacon and chives. Serve.

With Mother's Day coming up, this would be a great selection for the cook on your list.  Any cook would be excited to read and use these recipes by one of the South's greatest treasures.