Monday, July 31, 2017

Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte

Friends in college, they have moved in different directions in the years following.  Cory is determined to make the nonprofit at which she works successful even if it kills her.  Will makes his living on the Internet with programming and other gigs.  After years of no relationships due to his introversion, he is now in a relationship with the smart, beautiful and determined Vanya.  Hendrik moved into a post-graduate research gig but it's just ended when the grant was cut in half and is at loose ends.  Linda is the girl every man wanted but she just used them for fun and wasted relationships like she wasted her talent.

Now each has ended up in San Francisco and they are working on making dreams come true.  Will has the money and he agrees to take in Linda when she is involved in a car wreck and can't work.  Later Hendrik ends up there also as he is at loose ends.  Cory, who has never lost track, drops in and out of their lives.  None of them are making much progress at achieving their goals but maybe this month will be different?

Tony Tulathimutte is a graduate of Stanford and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.  His work has appears in Salon, The New Yorker online and other publications.  As a member of the Millenial Generation, he is poised to explain their issues and dreams as few other writers are.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in the new generation ready to take over as the mainstream of American culture.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Last Empire by Gore Vidal

The Last Empire is a collection of Gore Vidal's essays from 1992 through 2006.  Vidal is a man of letters, best known for his acidic wit and his disdain for the establishment positions of American superiority and the assumption that American culture was better than that of the rest of the world.  He came from an influential family, growing up in Washington, D.C. and going to the best schools.  His family were in politics and business.  His father was the founder of the TWA airline, and his mother was married for a time to the man who was also Jackie Kennedy's stepfather.  Gore knew everyone who was anyone and he refused to let anyone put him or his life choices down.  He was widely known as one of the first gay men to be actively out, although the truth was probably that he was bisexual.  He wrote many novels, most based on historical events such as Burr and Lincoln.    Many knew him best as the sparring partner of William F. Buckley in the first Crossfire debates.

This book is divided into four parts, each covering a specific number of years.  The first covers topics such as  pieces on Charles Lindbergh, the critic Edmund Wilson, Mark Twain and Sinatra.  Part two becomes more political, covering topics such as wiretapping in the Oval Office and the Gore political family.  The third part becomes more political with Vidal hitting his themes of the country steadily losing the freedoms the founders wanted us to have and the danger of the military and big corporations taking over the country and the legal systems.  The last part continues this theme while spending a lot of time covering the President Clinton scandal and impeachment and calling for the populace to take back their country.

Vidal took no gruff from anyone.  His putdowns and feuds were legendary.  One rival was the author John Updike.  A quote from his piece, "Anyway, I hoped that he would make some self-mocking play on his own self-consciousness as opposed to Socrate's examined life.  Hope quickly extinguished.  There is no real examination of the self, as opposed to an unremitting self-consciousness that tells us why he was--is--different--but not too much different--from others and what makes him the way he is--always is, as he doesn't much change in his own story, a small-town Philocetes whose wound turns out to be an unpretty skin condition called psoriasis."  Another quote, "For Updike, fags and dykes are comical figures who like their own sex and so cannot be taken seriously when they apply for the same legal rights under the Constitution that fun-loving, wife-swapping exurbanites enjoy."

Vidal is not for everyone.  Yet his love for his country and his dismay at how business and the military are taking over the rights we were given by the founding fathers shines through.  Those reading this book will find themselves educated about past events and individuals and will emerge with a new appreciation for Gore Vidal.  This book is recommended for history readers and those interested in the arts and how they intersect with government and world history.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

Eilis is an eighteen year old girl, newly arrived in London from Ireland, there to study acting.  Stephen is an established actor who is nearing forty.  They meet one night in a pub and Eilis goes home with Stephen and sleeps with him; her first time ever.  She expects that it will be a one time thing and he does also.  But they are drawn to each other and keep running into each other.  Each time they meet, they end up together for another night.

As the weeks and months go by, they fall deeply in love.  But these are not two dewy-eyed lovers.  Each is deeply flawed and battered by their prior family lives.  They have been touched by abuse, drug addictions, poverty, loss of other loves and despair of ever having their careers take off.  Yet they cannot stay apart and they confide in each other and slowly start to mend each others' souls.

This is Eimear McBride's second novel.  Her first, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, won the Bailey's Fiction Prize as well as the Goldsmith's Prize.  This novel was also nominated as a Bailey's Fiction for the 2017 year as well as shortlisted for the Goldsmith's Prize.  McBride captures exactly the overwhelming nature of love, especially first love.  She explores its power to break a person and to mend them and bring them to a healthy life.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

It's the kind of place one dreams about when longing to get away.  Porto Vergogna is a small fishing village in Italy.  There are a handful of houses, a place for the fisherman to cast off from and return to daily and a hotel, the Adequate View.  Pasquale is the new owner of the hotel, his father having recently died.  He has returned from school in Florence to take over the family business and he is full of plans to make this decrepit hotel a tourist attraction.  His dream is to attract American tourists as everyone knows that is the measure of success.

It is a miracle when the boat approaches.  An American tourist!  Not only an American, but an American movie actresss!  Dee Moray is in Italy as a cast member in the blockbuster Cleopatra, a movie that is making headlines even before it is finished as the press can't get enough of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and their on-again, off-again love affair that is just starting.  Dee has been sent here by one of the movie administrators.  She is very ill and is waiting there for her lover to come and help her through the illness.

Thus starts a novel that is a delight to read.  It moves across time from 1962 to the present, across continents from Italy to America to London.  Along the way are famous actors, Italian dreamers, and the men and women who come to Hollywood to try to make dreams come true.  It is about love and dreams and how we sometimes settle or find the fulfillment of our dreams in unexpected ways.  Above all, we are entranced with the characters we meet and the adventures they take us on.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Everyone wants to be Ani FaNelli.  She works on a glamorous New York magazine and lives the life of a New York professional.  She is engaged to be married to a man who comes from old money and who works on Wall Street.  Her clothes are exquisite.  She has come far from the days when she was Tiffani LaNelli, a scholarship student at a prestigious school that was her ticket out of a middle class world to the one she envied and was determined to be a part of.  Surely she is the luckiest girl alive.

But Ani has a secret most people have no idea of.  Her time at that prestigious school included a horrific event that changed lives and marred its reputation.  Ani was right in the middle of it and now a television producer is making a documentary about it and wants Ani to be a part of it.  She is torn.  Should she just continue as she is, envied by others who don't know anything about her true self or should she take the chance at vindication and validation the documentary offers?

Jessica Knoll has written a chilling novel.  Ani is that perfect girl that most women would give anything to be.  The fact that she has to deny everything about herself in order to be that perfect woman is a trade off that she has been willing to make but that now tugs at her more and more insistently.  Knoll has worked as an editor at top women's magazines herself and knows the subject she writes about.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Extreme Prey by John Sandford

Lucas Davenport has left the police but he definitely hasn't lost his skills or his contacts.  A man can only be retired so long and he didn't retire because he stopped loving what he did; he retired because he couldn't stand the bureaucracy any more.  Lucas has been building a cabin and that has taken lots of time but the cabin is almost done when he gets the call.

The governor is an old friend and is thinking about running for President.  He is doing the Iowa rounds where his real hope is to make enough of a showing that he is considered for Vice President when all is said and done.  The front runner is a woman and there are rumors that someone is going to try to do her harm.  Time to call in Lucas.

Lucas takes the nebulous rumors and starts to investigate.  The issue seems to start with some of the disgruntled farm movements and some of them are fairly radical.  The governor remembers seeing a woman with white hair, a bit heavy-set and her son, a tall man with striking gray eyes.  They gave him a whiff of wildness, a shiver that all was not well.

Lucas and various law enforcement agencies take on the task of finding the people who want to do harm.  The kicker?  They have three days before the candidates go to the Iowa State Fair, a venue with thousands of people and an assassin's dream location.  Everything is convinced that if something is going to happen, it will happen there.  Can they find the radicals before the deadline?

This is the twenty-sixth Prey novel featuring Lucas Davenport.  I've loved this series and Lucas but this one felt a bit tired, a bit too pat.  The way everything fell into place so quickly just didn't seem realistic and having worked in state government, I know things don't work that quickly; it takes a long time to get everyone focused and moving in the same direction.  I think the series may be working itself to an end which is a shame.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, July 15, 2017

It's been a busy July.  We just got back from a trip to the beach.  Super hot but the beach is always beautiful.  DH and I are headed out this weekend to see the touring production of "The King And I" so I've very excited about that.  I read a lot at the beach and since I don't do summer, I've been staying inside and reading quite a bit.  In a overworked moment while loading the car to leave, I left my Kindle Fire behind at the beach but will retrieve it when my neighbors go there eventually.  It is a loss as I was in the middle of several books on it.  I also bought seven books at Audible this morning in their $4.95 sale.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  Follow Me Down, Shelby Foote, nonfiction, sent by a friend
2.  Mister Monkey, Francine Prose, literary fiction, sent by a friend
3.  Shadow Man, Alan Drew, mystery, sent by a friend
4.  Athenian Blue, Pol Koutsakis, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  Anatomy Of A Scandal, Sarah Vaughan, mystery, won online
6.  All We Shall Know, Donal Ryan, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7.  The Hawkweed Prophecy, Irena Brignull, fantasy, sent by publisher
8.  In The Shadow Of The Gods, Rachel Dunne, fantasy, purchased
9.  A Hundred Thousand Worlds, Bob Proehl, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Bear And The Nightengale, Katherine Arden, Kindle Fire
2.  Zodiac, Neal Stephenson, Kindle Fire
3.  Luckiest Girl Alive, Jessica Kroll, paperback
4.  My Sister's Grave, Robert Dugoni, audio
5.  The Golden House, Salman Rushdie, Kindle Fire
6.  The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride, paperback
7.  The Last Empire, Gore Vidal, paperback
8.  Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walters, paperback
9.  Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman, hardback

Happy Reading!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Blind Eye by Jane Gorman

Adam Kaminski, former teacher turned policeman, is on a cultural exchange with a group of other Americans to Poland.  They are touring the country, learning about the people, customs, government and other institutions and sharing their own experiences.  Adam is pleased to have been chosen when someone dropped out.  His own family had immigrated from Poland at the start of World War II, and he knows there is still family there although his branch has lost track years before.

He is pleased when circumstances allow him to meet a relative.  He stops to help a man who seems in need of assistance and it turns out to be his own cousin, Lukasz Kaminski.  Their grandfathers were brothers, but Lukasz's branch of the family stayed behind.  He is now a respected journalist but Adam is meeting him at the worst juncture of his life.  His daughter, Basia, has committed suicide a few weeks before.  Lukasz insists that it cannot be suicide and then is attacked and his apartment broken into.  Is all this coincidence?

He asks Adam for help in unraveling the mystery.  Basia had just started a job in government and Lukasz believes she uncovered something that caused her death.  Adam is hesitant but when he sees how his cousin is ignored and pushed away at every turn, he cannot help but want to help.  As the two men start to get answers their own lives start to be in danger.  The tour guide, Sylvia, is also drawn in as she and Adam are starting a romance.

This is the first novel in the Adam Kaminski series.  It gives a good overview of Poland and its current situation as it tries to recover from the war and then the stifling rule of Communism.  It seems a bit unlikely that Adam and Lukasz are able to make so much progress in a few short days, but overall the plot is satisfactory and readers will get not only a mystery but a history lesson.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr

Out in the desert, a young would-be monk labors.  He is on a mission for his monastery, a week of fasting and privation that all initiates must go through.  As he works to create a shelter for the coming night, he sees a traveler approaching.  No one travels the desert so he is filled with fear.  The man approaches.  He is a skinny old man, barely dressed and ready to fight anyone who he sees.  He threatens the young man, then after a while, helps him by marking a stone to finish his shelter.  After he leaves, the initiate removes the stone he has marked and finishes his shelter.  Removing the stone creates a landslide and steps are revealed.

What has been buried is the entrance to a bomb shelter, for this is the age after the world has gone through nuclear annihilation.  Few people remain and those that do mistrust each other.  Roaming tribes kill everything in their path and intellectuals are disdained as they were the ones who created the bombs that ruined civilization.  As the initiate explores, he finds a box with fragments of writing.  Even more amazing, the fragments carry the name of Leibowitz, who is the man for whom the monastery exists.  For these monks are charged with preserving what little writing and knowledge exists.  They bury barrels of writing material in remote places and copy the words of existing manuscripts, even when they have no idea what the words mean.

What follows is a bleak exhibit of humanity.  The reader sees the world through the eyes of time.  Over the centuries, men start to value knowledge again.  They rediscover the natural principles that underlie all progress, and painstakingly, over centuries, civilization rebuilds to the point that sophisticated machines and computers once again exist.  Yet, every time progress is made, it is accompanied by the human nature that cannot help but tear it down again.

This novel is considered a classic of science fiction.  It demonstrates a fear of learning and an underlying negativity about human nature.  Yet, along with the bleakness, there is always a tendril of hope, someone who risks all in order to learn and spread knowledge.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch is caught up in a sensational trial.  A movie director has killed a star during rough sex and Harry was both the arresting officer and the star witness at his trial.  It has everything needed to draw media attention and the news reporters and television anchors are out in force.  Bosch and the prosecutors believe the defendant has killed other women the same way but only have enough evidence to try him on this case.

Terry McCaleb couldn't be more opposite in his life choices.  A former FBI profiler, he retired when his health took a serious turn and now runs a charter service for weekend fishermen.  He has remarried and has a son and newborn daughter.  His focus is on his job and family or at least until a former colleague on the LAPD asks his help in reviewing a murder case.

McCaleb can't resist.  His skills haven't rusted and he misses his old life more than he allows himself to admit.  As he works on his case, he is surprised to find that his path crosses that of Bosch whom he knew slightly in his former life.  As the cases both continue, the two detectives find that there is more and more overlap between their work and they find themselves at odds.  Who will wrap up their case and how will it affect the other man?

This is the seventh book in the Harry Bosch series and the one that serves as the basis for the third season of the Bosch series on Amazon Prime.  The book follows the police procedural format of the other Bosch cases.  The interplay between the two men and their take on law enforcement adds to the inherent drama of the murder cases being investigated.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

His name is Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, recipient of the Order Of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt.  He left Russia as a young man after an incident with an officer who broke his sister's heart.  He returned with the fall of the Tsar to arrange the safe passage of his grandmother out of the country.  Now in 1922, he has been called to account by a government committee for the crime of authoring a politically questionable poem.  The outcome is house arrest at the Metropole, the famous hotel where he is currently living in an opulent suite.

And there he remains.  The months go by, then the years and soon the decades.  A young man of twenty-two, he comes to manhood within the confines of the hotel and lives his adult life there.  But his early upbringing as a gentleman serves him well.  He makes friends with various staff members.  He has routines that help to define his days.  He makes surprising new friendships that last over the years and that bring love and laughter into his life.  Through his constrained life, the reader sees the constraints that define Russia during the Communist era and the privations that the average person endures.

Amor Towles has created a memorable character whose life serves as an example to us all.  His grace and joy in life is contagious and his ability to never let his circumstances define his essential core is endearing.  The reader is left with the impression that this is a man who anyone would be thrilled to know and to spend time with.  As the last page is turned, the reader is left uplifted and satisfied with the story and how things turn out for Rostov.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Is Dustin Tillman the unluckiest man in the world?  One might think so.  He comes from a horrific childhood.  One morning he and his cousins woke up in their backyard from a camping night and went inside only to find both his and their parents brutally slaughtered.  Dustin's adopted brother, Rusty, who is into Goth and dealing drugs, is the police's first suspect.  When Dustin tells the things Rusty has done to him, Rusty is arrested and sent for trial.  Dustin and his cousin are the main witnesses against him and Rusty is sent to prison for life.

Fast forward to adulthood.  Dustin has reinvented himself and is now a psychologist living a normal family life in the suburbs.  His wife is a lawyer and his two sons are healthy and happy.  Then tragedy strikes again.  His wife gets ill and passes away.  The family can't move beyond their grief and fall apart.  The older son goes off to college and Dustin and his younger son rattle around their house, rarely speaking and never communicating when they do.

Then Dustin hears the news.  Rusty is being released after an Innocence Project has taken his case.  It turns out that there was never any forensic evidence.  Rusty was convicted in an atmosphere of societal worry about teenage kids and satanic cults, like the Memphis Three.  Now thirty years later, he is coming out of prison and its unsure what he plans to do next.

In Dustin's own city, there is another troubling issue.  One of his patients is a former policeman who has been sent for psychological help.  Yet he is less interested in his own problems than in a case he believes he has found.  Teenage college boys are being found in bodies of water.  The cases seem similar; they go out drinking with their friends, disappear and are found drowned later.  Most of the cases are classified as accidents or suicides.  Yet the patient believes there is a serial killer out there and draws Dustin into his belief system.  Soon Dustin is helping in the 'investigation' and neglecting everything else.

This is a haunting book.  It starts slowly, portraying a normal family.  Tendrils of menace float up occasionally, leaving the reader uneasy.  Then the hits start to come faster and faster as one is drawn into the realization that Dustin has been removed from reality his entire life and that he is the ultimate unreliable narrator.  The book is like a ride down a snowy hill on a sled.  At first nothing much happens and then the reader is riding pell-mell to an inevitable end.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.