Monday, August 28, 2017

Broken Homes And Gardens by Rebecca Kelley

Joanna is sure she has life figured out.  Love and marriage are not for her.  Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce and having lived with a mother who went through an endless succession of men, she is sure that's not for her.  Men are fine, sure, nice to have around, but something serious?  Not for her.

When she meets Malcolm at a party, she is attracted but that's all.  They kiss but he is off the next day for an overseas job that will last two years.  The two write while he is gone, but Joanna meets another man and moves in with him.  She never stops thinking about Malcolm though or writing to him.

When Malcolm returns they settle into a strange relationship.  There is no denying the attraction they have for each other, but Joanna is adamant that they are just friends.  Friends last, lovers don't.  They each drift into and out of relationships but are always in each other's lives.  Will Joanna ever admit to the love she feels for Malcolm?

This debut novel is charming.  It will ring true with many Millenials.  Joanna and Malcolm don't settle for the established norms of life, education then a settled job then marriage and children.  They make their own way in life and that includes living their own definitions of love.  Both characters are well-drawn and endearing even when the reader wants to shake them to make them see how much they mean to each other.  This book is recommended for readers of romance and character studies.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

A sudden moment of violence on an Idaho mountaintop reverberates through the years.   Will and Jenny have two little girls, May and June.  Afterwards, their lives will never be the same and we follow their stories for decades.

Will is cursed with a family history of early dementia and death in the early fifties if his life follows that of his father and grandfather.  He and Jenny moved to Idaho from the plains as they couldn't think of anywhere more different than the environment in which they grew up.  After the violence, the couple divorce.  Will later marries his piano teacher, Ann.

Jenny spends the following decades in prison.  She is as appalled by her actions as everyone else, and doesn't speak to others.  She spends five years living by herself and spends her days scrubbing floors.  She is convinced she doesn't deserve to have anything go her way again in her life, even things as small as food choices or work assignments.  Years later, she develops a friend, her cellmate Elizabeth.

Ann lives with Will for the rest of his life.  He doesn't speak about the tragedy and she is left to ferret out clues to figure out what happened that day.  Her imaginings are sometimes on point, sometimes just that; figments of her imagination.  Will is the love of her life and there is nothing she won't do if she thinks it will bring him a moment of happiness.

A winner of the O'Henry Award in 2015, this startlingly beautiful novel is Ruskovich's debut.  The language is haunting and beautiful.  A small example: 'Outside, the coyotes' howls bore tunnels through the frozen silence.  The ravens in the trees anticipate the spring, when they will nudge their weakest from their nests, this act already in their hearts, as if already committed.  The garter snakes, deep in the ground, hibernate alert.  Bodies cold, unmoving; minds twitching, hot.  So many secret, coiled wills, a million centers spiraling out, colliding into a clap of silence that is this very moment in the house, the beautiful oblivion in which they love each other.'  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.v

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Lacy Eye by Jessica Treadway

Three years ago, Hanna had a wonderful life.  A loving husband, two girls and a job she loved.  Then things went awry.  The older daughter, Iris, was doing fine, married with Hanna's first grandchild.  Dawn, the younger daughter, had always been awkward.  But Hanna was optimistic when she went off to college that she would finally find herself and make new friends in her new environment.  When Dawn comes home, her parents are thrilled.  That is, until they meet the boyfriend she is bringing home with her.  Rud is good-looking but there is something sketchy about him and they definitely don't like the way Dawn idolizes him.

After a heated argument, the couple stalk off.  Hanna and Joe, her husband, agree that he is not the right man for Dawn.  But that is their last agreement.  That night, they are savagely attacked in their bedroom.  Joe is killed and Hanna survives, although she is left for dead.  The police quickly hone in on Rud and he is found guilty and sent to jail.  Town sentiment is that Dawn was also involved but Hanna will hear nothing of it.

Three years later, Hanna has put her life back together as best she can.  After several operations, she is back at work although still damaged so that strangers stare at her.  She still doesn't remember much about the night of the attack but she is fine with that.  She has a good relationship with Iris, although Iris believes the talk that Dawn was involved and refuses to have anything to do with her.  Dawn moved away and has been living out west.

Then another nightmare.  Rud has won the right to an appeal and his case will be retried.  At the same time, Dawn calls Hanna and asks if she can come home. Hanna agrees immediately as she still believes in Dawn even though Dawn still believes that Rud was innocent of the charges and hopes to reunite with him.  But as Dawn moves in, Hanna starts to remember more and more about that night.  Will she survive her memories?

Jessica Treadway has written a haunting tale about parents and their children.  We all want the best for our children and hesitate to identify characteristics and deficits that may cause them trouble.  Those who say anything negative about a child are quickly cut off so that the parent can remain in denial and hope that things will turn around.  This book is recommended for suspense readers and those who wonder about someone close to them.

Monday, August 21, 2017

My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni

Tracy Crosswhite has been waiting for twenty years to get this call.  A grave has been found and all indications are that her sister's body lies within it.  Her sister Sarah disappeared twenty years ago after a shooting competition they both competed in.  Tracy left with her boyfriend to go to dinner and Sarah left in Tracy's truck.  The truck was found on a remote road but no sign of Sarah was ever found.  The entire town searched for weeks with no result.  A man was tried and convicted and has remained in prison for years but he refused to tell anyone where Sarah's body could be found.  Tracy changed her life afterward.  She gave up a career as a teacher to become a police officer and is now a homicide detective.

Tracy doesn't believe that the man in jail for Sarah's murder is the real criminal.  She has investigated the case for years and believes that Edward House was falsely convicted due to his reputation and being an ex-con.  When the body reveals new clues, she is more convinced than ever that she is correct.  At Sarah's funeral, she meets up again with a childhood friend who has returned to their small town and is a lawyer.  Together the two plan a way to free House and start the investigation again to find the real killer.  But plans like this are full of pitfalls and as the case progresses, secrets that have remained hidden for decades start to emerge.  Will Tracy regret her decision?

Robert Dugoni is the author of several popular mystery series.  This novel is the first in the Tracy Crosswhite series.  He has won numerous awards for his work.  His exploration of the fallout from a murder, not only in the family but in the entire town and his twists of the original investigation make this novel a page-turner.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Welcome To Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson

They meet at Berkeley one fall.  D'aron is white and from the rural South, Braggsville, Georgia to be exact.  He has escaped to what he expects will be his new life.  His roommate, Louis, is Malaysian and a stand-up comic in his spare time.  He is local and has family nearby.  Candice is a typical corn-fed Midwestern blonde girl, who never met a liberal cause she didn't love.  Charlie is an inner-city black man who escaped because of his athletic ability but who has shed that life now that he has made it to college.  They find something in each other and before long, are inseparable.  They call themselves '4 Little Indians'.

Their lives change when they take an Alternative History class.  Their professor is talking one day about historical reenactments when D'aron volunteers that his town has an annual Civil War reenactment.  That spurs a lively discussion and eventually the four plan a class project.  They will go to D'aron's town and recreate a slave lynching during the reenactment.  They don't really consider what will happen.

The time comes and the four travel to the South.  D'aron is half nervous about how they will perceive his town and background and half pleased that they have all come home with him to visit.  He takes them around local landmarks and his family has a huge barbecue cookout where they meet half the town; not hard when the town has 712 citizens.  But somehow D'aron's parents realize that he is up to something and his father forbids him to participate.  Charlie has also had second thoughts when he gets to the South and thinks about the history of black people.  They decide to pull out of the plan but Candice and Louis decide to go on.  When the day ends in tragedy, no one objective could be surprised.

This book has received terrific feedback.  It was longlisted for both the 2015 National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.  It was named one of the Best Books of 2015 by such organizations as NPR, The Washington Post, Time and the Huffington Post.  Johnson explores the state of race relations in modern America, a timely topic as has been recently demonstrated by events.  He also explores the foibles of the liberal movement in colleges and how young people can be swayed into actions that affect them their entire life while those who influence them remain untouched.  It explores the way people can bond together from disparate backgrounds.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in how we can all live together.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

In this debut book, Caitlin Hamilton Summie uses the medium of the short story to explore the important junction points of lives.  There is the man who waits in the hospital for his son to be born.  A young girl from a middle-class background finds herself living in Alphabet City in New York, adrift from all she knows about life and relationships.  A woman remembers a snowstorm and how shepherding schoolchildren to safety allowed her to find her adult strength and know she was up to the task of parenting.  A grandfather dies and sisters discover the fault line in their sisterhood and the resentment when a family member grows in a way that is unanticipated.  A woman decides to write down her family's history and finds the story of the sister who was written out of the family memories.  One story picks up on a story related earlier, of sisters who have drifted apart but who are redefining what they mean to each other.

The character definitions are clear; the reader can picture the individuals who are portrayed and recognize their characteristics in other people they have known.  The descriptions are luminous, taking the reader to the place in which the story is set.  One example, 'My father grabbed me by the hand, and we jogged across the yard.  The night air was cold.  Subzero temperatures slapped me awake.  Our boots crunched the snow as we ran.  I will remember this always, this jog to the barn in the middle of the night with only the light of the stars.'

Caitlin earned her MFA With Distinction from Colorado State University.  Since then her stories have been published in various places but the reader will be glad to find them collected into one book.    Her deft writing explores what family means, how we love and how we let others down but as we keep trying to connect, find each other again and again.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in how we all relate to each other.

Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

Everyone knows the story.  A royal couple, after years of longing, have a beautiful baby girl.  All their subjects and the fairies and woodland creatures come to celebrate the birth.  But one evil fairy, miffed that her invitation didn't come, storms the party and curses the baby to prick her finger and fall asleep forever.

In this imaginative retelling, Robin McKinley gives an alternative story.  When the evil fairy, Pernicia, casts her spell, a fairy named Katriona is there.  She won the lottery in her distant, small village to come to the name day of the new infant.  She takes the baby in that moment of the curse and returns with it to her village.  The trip takes weeks and the two are helped along their journey by the wild animals they encounter; the female badgers and rabbits and foxes providing the milk a baby must have.

The baby, Briar-Rose, is raised by Kat and her mother.  They give a story about it being the baby of a distant cousin who needs a home.  Rosie grows up in the village with no idea about the royal blood she carries in her veins.  Instead, she becomes a horse vet as she has the ability to talk with all the animals she encounters.  It's a good life, surrounded by love and joy but has the ruse worked?  Will Rosie escape the curse laid on the babe twenty-one years ago?

This is a joyful book, full of spells and coincidences that turn out to push the story along.  Rosie is no wilting sheltered princess.  Instead she is a woman who knows her own mind and knows how to fight when it is needed.  Robin McKinley has written several fairy tale retelling novels.  She has won the Newberry Award for young adult fiction along with other awards.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Paul has always been there for Claire.  He is a successful architect and she has never had to work.  Instead she has led the typical successful suburban life with tennis and shopping.  He came into her life back in college where she was still reeling from the disappearance of her sister, Julie, a few years before.  Julie was never found and her loss tore Claire's family apart.  Her parents divorced and her sister Lydia escaped into drugs and terrible men.  But Paul took her away from all that and gave her a wonderful life.

Then tragedy strikes again.  On the way from a restaurant to their car, the couple is attacked in an alley.  Claire survives but Paul is knifed and loses his life while trying to save her.  In the days after, Claire is reeling and unable to fathom how she will ever move on.  Then she opens a computer file on Paul's computer and life will never be the same.  Apparently her wonderful husband hid lots of secrets and none of them are good.  Soon Claire is pushed into the fight of her life as she attempts to solve the mystery of what Paul was up to and to put her shattered family back together.

Karin Slaughter is one of the stars on the mystery/thriller scene these days.  Her plots are compelling and she can make the most unusual events seem inevitable.  Claire isn't an ordinary heroine; when the reader meets her she is dependent and spoiled, thinking only of herself.  Watching her rise above her decades old stupor to do something to help others is empowering and the reader is firmly on Claire's side.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Shame by Salman Rushdie

In his third novel, Salman Rushdie explores the history and political manuverings of Pakistan at the time of its creation in the partitioning of it from India.  He does so through the lives of several Pakistani families.  Omar Khayyam Shakil is an obese doctor who was born of three reclusive sisters (no one ever knew which was the biological mother) and raised in seclusion until he rebelled and fought his way out of his background.  Raza Hyder is a soldier whose two daughters bring him nothing but confusion and shame while Iskander Harappa is a politician and playboy who is friends with both the others.

The theme of the novel is shame and how it affects the people and country of Pakistan and how religion influences every act and relationship.  As Rushdie writes, 'We who have grown up on a diet of honour and shame can still grasp what must seem unthinkable to peoples living in the aftermath of the death of God and of tragedy; that men will sacrifice their dearest love on the implacable altars of their pride.  Between shame and shamelessness lies the axis upon which we turn; meteorological conditions at both these poles are of the most extreme, ferocious type.  Shamelessness, shame: the roots of violence.'

The families history intertwines.  Iskander Harappa is a notorious playboy who is accompanied on his debachuery by Shakil.  When Harappa decides to put his wild ways away, he becomes the country's ruler and employs Hyder to maintain order.  Hyder has two daughters.  The oldest, Sufiya, is simple, her life forever changed by a fever she survived when she was a toddler.  Shakil meets Sufiya and becomes obsessed with her.  He offers Hyder a marriage contract.  The family is appalled that this obese, debauched man thirty years older wants to marry their daughter, but in the end, decide that he is her only chance at a marriage and having someone to provide for her. They hide the fact that this simple girl is also capable of murderous impulses.   Hyder eventually overthrows Harappa and becomes the ruler himself.  All these events are mirrored in the history of the country and the eruptions of violence and shame that go into making a country.

This novel was written after Midnight's Children, which explored the history of India in the same fashion.  The author was influenced to write this book after reading about an 'honor killing'; a man who knifed his own daughter to death to avenge  what he saw as a blot on the family honor.  Rushdie is a master of allegory, creating individuals who portray the forces that sweep nations and influence its history.  The language is poetic even when writing of tragic, horrible events.  This book is recommended for literary readers.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, August 8, 2017

August is well underway.  College kids are returning to their campuses and younger kids are starting another year of school.  That has to mean fall is coming, right?  I can't wait for football, cooler temperatures and a slower schedule.  A new kitty has been showing up at our house in the past few weeks.  Our reigning cat, Queen Lulu, seems to think the new one is okay so we may take it in.  Our neighborhood seems to be one where animals get dropped off.  This one is between houses so I'll have to ask the neighbors if anyone has actually claimed it before I load it up and take it to the vet.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  The Wife Between Us, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, thriller, won online
2.  Charlatans, Robin Cook, medical mystery, sent by publisher
3.  The Room Of White Fire, T. Jefferson Parker, thriller, sent by publisher
4.  Delia's Crossing, V.C. Andrews, women's fiction, sent by publisher
5.  Gone To Dust, Matt Goldman, mystery, sent by publisher
6.  Pretty Ugly, Sean Hillen, fantasy/sci fi, sent by publisher
7.  Kindle's End, Robin McKinley, fantasy/sci/fi, purchased
8.  The Lucky Ones, Mark Edwards, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  Hope And Change Are Highly Overrated, Tom Starita, literary fiction, sent by author
10.  Only, Parker Sinclair, fantasy, sent by publisher
11.  The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers, Hollis Robbins/Henry Louis Gates, Jr., nonfiction, 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.  Pretty Girls, Karin Slaughter, paperback
4.  My Sister's Grave, Robert Dugoni, audio
5.  The Golden House, Salman Rushdie, Kindle Fire
6.  Lacy Eye, Jessica Treadway, paperback
7.  Shame, Salman Rushdie, paperback
8.  To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts, Caitlin Hamilton Summie, paperback
9.  Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman, hardback

10.  The Jury Returns, Louis Nizer, hardback

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Treatment by Mo Hayder

Detective Jack Caffery is called in once the couple is discovered.  A man and his wife, imprisoned in their house for days, beaten and left to die of hunger and dehydration.  Even worse, they have a young son and he is no where to be found.  As the police search for the boy, they find nothing and have to wait until the parents are able to talk.  By the time they find him, he is dead.

Caffery has an incident in his own past that makes working on cases like this even more painful than for the other officers.  His older brother, Ewan, was abducted when he was nine and never found.  The police suspected a neighbor but no proof was found and the man was never arrested.  Jack grew up in the house across the tracks from the probably abductor and killer of his brother.  He will never be able to give up the case until he finds out the truth about what happened that day years ago.

Caffery's pain seems to give him an insight into the kind of mind that could commit such crimes.  That's a good thing as everyone is convinced that this type of killer will strike again.  Caffery finds a related older case that no one else connected until now and it sends him on the trail of what he suspects is the next family to fall under the killer's eye.  Can he discover the identity before it is too late?

This is the second in the Jack Caffery novels.  Readers will be fascinated by the character of Jack and his need to find a way to put to bed the truths that have haunted him his entire life.  Jack's insights and abilities to go the extra mile to discover what has happened makes for a riveting novel.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem

They call her the Red Queen.  Her name is Rose Zimmer and she rules all she surveys in 1930's Queens, New York.  Rose is a dedicated Communist and almost no one lives up to her ideals.  Fanatically zealous, she is determined to make changes in the way the country is run and the fact that she antagonizes all those she meets doesn't seem to sink in.  Rose has one child, Miriam, before her husband flees her to Germany to live out his life.

Miriam grows up and flees Rose as quickly as she can, escaping to Greenwich Village and the bohemian lifestyle she finds there.  These two women are magnets to various men.  There is Douglas, Rose's married cop who is also black, not that she cares about either his race or marriage.  Lenny is a coin and stamp savant who is always around and idolizes Miriam, but she marries a folk singer from Ireland.  Cicero is Douglas' son, raised in a house where he always knew his father loved another woman.  Sergius is Miriam's son, raised by strangers in a boarding school after his parents disappear.

The novel ranges from the 1930's to the present.  Along the way, various social movements come and go.  There is the fierce raging of Communism in Rose's life.  Lenny is obsessed with getting a major league ballpark in the city.  Miriam and her husband are involved in the ideals of the hippie movement along with its antiwar focus.  They go to South America where the Sandinisitas are rebels and idealized.  Finally, the cycle swings and Sergius is involved in the Occupy movement.

Lethem explores the ideals of those focused on making a change in the lives around them and more importantly, how love works in lives.  Rose is unable to articulate her love and pushes people away.  Miriam is sure she knows exactly how to handle life and men which leads to her demise.  Lenny and Cicero are caught in Rose's web, unable to break away from her magnetism even as she appalls them.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.