Friday, December 29, 2017

Lockdown by Laurie R. King

It's Career Day at Guadalupe Middle School and tensions are running high.  Things have happened that make the school less than a restful place.  Last year, a girl was shot outside of school but she was a student and the cousin of the boy who shot her goes to the school also.  That trial is now going on.  A new sixth-grader, the daughter of the local car dealer, disappeared and no word has been heard of her.  Was she killed somewhere or did she run away?

There is a new principal who is trying to turn the school around.  Linda comes from the Midwest, a strange match with her mainly Hispanic students, but seems to be making progress in helping the school.  Her husband Gordon is English and a bit of a mystery.  He helps out along with Tio, the janitor and Coach, a retired educator who has come back to help out.  Olivia is the local policewoman who watches over the town which means she is worried about the school as well.  Together they all try to help the students who have issues and keep things simmering under the surface instead of breaking out.

The students have shifting alliances and moods.  There is Brendan who is broodingly handsome and a basketball star but who is obviously troubled and seems to be ready to blow.  Sophia is the sister of the girl who was killed last year and is just starting to emerge from a cloud of grief.  Her best friend, Mina, has come to the area with her Iranian parents who are always worried about her security.  Nick was the missing girl's best friend and he has been lost without her and has started a viral campaign against her father.  All while these kids are supposed to be getting an education.  Will the school blow before Career Day is ended?

Laurie R. King has written many well-received mysteries.  Her series about Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell has been a major best seller.  She has four novels in a series featuring a female detective, Kate Martinelli.  This book is a stand alone but her ability to set a tense atmosphere and move the action along to a chilling climax is well demonstrated.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Now We Are Dead by Stuart MacBride

Detective Chief Inspector Roberta Steele, who has been the terror of the police force for years, has been demoted down to a Detective Sergeant.  This occurred when she planted evidence against Jack Wallace who she knew was guilty of rape but could not prove her case.  Now she has a new team and her caseload consists of bringing to justice shoplifters and other petty criminals.  Her main sidekick is Tufty, a young policeman who is interested in physics and finding a girlfriend.

But Steele has not given up putting Wallace away.  Right now he has the upper hand, filing complaints against her whenever she encounters him and the administration is on his side and has forbidden her to be anywhere near him.  But the rapes are continuing and she knows, just knows, that he is behind them all. 

Otherwise, her cases are varied.  An old lady is being terrorized by a loan shark after she borrowed money to get her pet dog to the vet.  A toddler is left for several days in an apartment when his mother overdoses on drugs.  Two other young children are found in a thieve's den where they are being trained to become thieves themselves.  It often seems that there is no way to stem the rising tide of crime but Steele is determined not to give up.  But can she make a difference before Wallace comes to take everything she holds dear?

Roberta Steele is one of the most memorable characters in crime fiction.  Although she is obnoxious and loud, a heart of gold beats underneath the rough exterior.  MacBride's ability to mix violent crime and a bit of humor that a policeman must have in order to survive is unparalleled and the reason his star shines so brightly in this genre.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Borne by Jeff Vandermeer

Rachel and Wick live in the City, although living is a very different proposition from what it was six years ago when the Company failed.  Now everyone must be considered an enemy and a residence must be hidden and provided with plenty of traps to catch would-be intruders.  There are no government services, no money and no civilization as most would consider it.  There are only power factions and a demand that everyone pick a side.  Rachel is a scavenger and brings home to Wick the food and technology she finds.  Wick is a scientist and can still create protein and items that help people survive, like medicine bugs or items that fight.

The Company was a biotech one, and when it got out of control, bad things happened.  They engineered bits of life and when those lives got too big to handle, they were released.  The biggest is Mord, a bear-like being that is stories high, huge yet able to fly.   He is psychotic from what was done to him and spends his days looking for anything to kill.  He is the defining element of this world.  There is also The Magician, a woman who knows enough secrets that she is sure she can defeat Mord and restore society, with her as ruler of course.

One day while scavenging, Rachel comes across Mord sleeping and crawls up on his fur.  Most scavengers would never have the courage to do that and Mord tends to have interesting things stuck in his fur.  That's the case this day as Rachel finds a small anemone-like item with beautiful colors.  She sticks it in her bag and takes it home.  For some reason she doesn't share it with Wick but keeps it.  As the days go by, it starts to grow and soon she is finding it in places she didn't leave it.  Finally, one day it speaks and she realises it is a sentient being.  As the days, weeks and months go by, Rachel thinks of Borne, which is the name she gives it, as her child and she nurtures and teaches him.  Wick is adamantly opposed as he believes Borne is a monster that Rachel hasn't seen the truth of.  Who is correct and what will happen if Rachel has brought in an entity that could destroy the world they tentatively inhabit?

Jeff Vandermeer is one of the shining stars of the sci fi/fantasy world and his novels tend to be dsytopian.  He writes of the fine line between the wonders of science and the horrors that can be released when humans err on their knowledge of the consequences they can unleash.  His Southern trilogy is considered a modern masterpiece, and this novel continues his themes and his readability.  This book is recommended for sci fi/fantasy readers.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Mothering Sunday is the third Sunday before Easter.  It was originally a day on which individuals visited their original or 'mother' church.  Over the years, it became a day on which domestic servants were freed from service to go visit their families or do whatever pleased them.

The year is 1924 and we follow the day of Jane Fairchild on Mothering Day.  She is twenty-two and a maid in the home of the Nivens.  They are kind to her, even encouraging her desire to read and educate herself.  On this Mothering Day, the Nivens are off to lunch with their friends whose son and daughter are to be married in two weeks.

But Jane has other plans.  She has been involved in an affair with the son who is about to be married and whose house is next to that of the Nivens for seven years.  Today all the families involved are off at lunch and the two have his house to themselves.  The novel opens in the moments when they are through with sex and lying naked in his bed.  But he has other plans; he must meet his fiance for their own lunch.  Will this be his last time with Jane?  They have taught each other everything about sex over the years.  Is that all to come to an end?

The novel is told from the viewpoint of Jane decades later when she is an established and celebrated author.  She looks back at her first lover and at her life in those days and sees how far she has come in life since then.  Graham Swift has written nine novels and has been a successful author, winning both the Guardian Fiction Prize and the Booker.  This novel is intricate and delves into the lifestyle common in England in the days surrounding World War I where great families have large homes and there is an entire class of people 'in service' to them.  Is Jane being exploited or is she taking charge of her own life?  The reader must determine this and other questions about Jane as her life is slowly unfolded for examination.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Forgotten Violets by Martin Niewood

Meadow Noone is eighteen and unsure of what is happening.  Along with two friends, she was imprisoned in a cellar where unspeakable horror was the daily ration.  When the three escape, their only thought is to get far away.  As they run, they are captured by soldiers and taken to the nearby town of Thornbridge, where they are charged with a crime they know nothing of.

Desperate to free herself and banish the criminal acts attributed to her, the three align themselves with the ruling class of the town and go on a mission to help the townspeople.  When they return, they enjoy a brief minute of acclaim but more things are brewing.  There is a war with a neighboring town, and an internal group of terrorists whose loyalty could go to either side.  Meadow allows herself to become addicted to a strange fruit and those whose help she relies on seem to know more about her life and strange powers than she does herself.  Can Meadow discover the secrets of her own life and find a way forward?

This is a first novel by this author.  The story needed more explanation and the book should probably be longer in order for the author to build the world out so that the reader understands the setting and the plot.  The action is confusing as it seems like a montage of scenes that flash by with little explanation.  It appears that this may be the first of a series and if so, perhaps more explanation and fuller developed characters will come in the next book.  This book was written for the young adult fantasy market and its readers will come from those genres.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

In an established neighborhood in New York City, a new family moves into a fabulous mansion.  They are the Goldens who are immigrants from abroad, maybe India, maybe the Middle East, the residents are not quite sure.  The father, Nero, is an obviously successful and powerful man even if his story is shrouded in mystery.  He has moved here with his three sons.  Petya is a brilliant man who is crippled by his insecurities and is rarely seen outside the house.  Apu is an artist and quickly makes his mark in artistic circles, knowing and loving everyone and anyone.  D is the youngest son, a half-brother to Petya and Apu.  He is racked by doubts about his identity and what course his life should take.

Rene is a resident of the neighborhood.  He is a young would-be filmmaker who has grown up there.  He is fascinated by the Golden family and decides to make a movie about them.  When his own parents are killed in an accident, he is invited into the Golden house and soon learns many of their secrets.  When Nero meets and marries an enigmatic Russian immigrant, Vasilia, Rene is right there and sees the same things about her that worry the sons.  

As the years go by, more secrets and tragedies unfold, not only for the family but in the country.  Those who live in this Greenwich Village neighborhood are typically liberal and they bemoan the direction the country is taking after the administration of President Obama.  Some are blase about the election; others see the conservative candidate as a madman who has evil intentions.  The Golden family also starts to unwind as ill events happen to them and their innate inclinations lead them on to tragedy. 

Salman Rushdie is one of today's most prominent novelists and any new novel by him is a joy.  This parable documents the path America is taking as seen through the eyes of the New York intelligentsia.  There are references to Greek mythology and topics such as sexual identity, the autistic spectrum, the film industry, the tragedy of wealth and the ability to reinvent oneself are explored.  Some have called this novel a modern Bonfire Of The Vanities and it was an Amazon Best Book of September 2017.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

In The Woods by Tana French

Twenty years ago in a Dublin suburb a tragedy occurred.  Three children, aged twelve, went into the neighboring woods where they played daily and didn't return.  Two were boys, one a girl.  When the search reached the woods, one boy, Adam Ryan, was found, terrorized with shoes full of blood and unable to speak.  The two other children were never found and Adam never regained his memory of what happened that day.

Adam's parents reinvented his life.  He was sent off to boarding school and his name became Rob instead of Adam.  He never told any of his new acquaintances where he came from and his parents moved so that he never saw the neighborhood again.  After a while of drifting, he becomes a policeman and after a couple of years is promoted to the Murder Squad.  Most people think he is English as he has the accent from his years of living there and looks the part. 

Now disaster has struck the same neighborhood again.  A twelve year old girl's body has been found.  It was left on an archaeological dig as a group frantically tries to dig up and preserve the past before a motorway is laid down.  Katherine Devlin is the daughter of a man heading up a group protesting the motorway.  She is a dancer and good enough that she is about to leave to attend the prestigious dance school in London.  Her body is found on an old alter.  Who would kill such a young girl?

Rob Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox have a multitude of possibilities.  Was she the victim of a sex crime?  Was it someone who wanted to cripple her father's fight against the motorway?  Was there family discord?  Was this an adolescent fight that got out of hand?  Was one of the money men behind the road involved?  The detectives talked to everyone but nothing seems to break.  Items that seemed like possibilities ended in dead ends.  Can they find the killer?

In The Woods was Tana French's debut novel, and it launched her career as one of the mystery genre's brightest stars.  The characters of the detectives are fully explored with their own insecurities and foibles ruthlessly exposed.  The mystery is complex and the killer, when found, is a chilling individual the reader will not soon forget.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

It's post-Arthurian Britain and things are not going well.  Britons and Saxtons are vying to rule the land and there is an uneasy truce between the two factions.  Travelers must beware if they go beyond the confines of their own village as it is not easy to tell which group another traveler is from and whether they mean harm.

Yet travel is what the elderly couple Axl and Beatrice are determined to do.  They are not valued in their own village; in fact they are singled out for poor treatment.  They are not allowed even a candle at night to light their way in the communal dwellings.  They decide to go visit their son.

They set out and believe they know the way.  Yet they, like everyone else, can't really remember things.  Things that happened only the other day are lost in mist.  Even important things are difficult if not impossible to hold on to.  They really don't know exactly where their son is or why they haven't seen him in so long or if they quarreled.

As they travel, they meet others.  Some are monks who still offer hospitality to travelers.  They meet an old knight in rusty armor who claims to be Sir Gawain, friend of King Arthur and part of the Round Table.  He has outlived all his fellow knights of that time but continues to roam the countryside to do the things he believes Arthur taxed him with.  They meet a warrior from another part of the country who seems to have a secret mission and about whom dreadful stories are told of his fighting prowess.  They also meet a young boy who travels with them and the warrior as his village has thrust him out of its protection.  Together all these individuals grope their way towards their destiny through the blackness of their missing memories.  Will they be able to realize their goals?

Ishiguro is a celebrated novelist.  He won the Booker Prize in 1989 for The Remains Of The Day and this year (2017) he won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his work.  He explores the effects of memory and forgetfulness as a major theme and how we relate to each other through our own understanding of the world we inhabit.   Readers will find these themes expressed in The Buried Giant and will finish the novel sure that they have been reading the work of a master.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, December 1, 2017

How in the heck did it get to be December 1st?  This year has sped by and now we're in the busy holiday season.  Our Thanksgiving was nontraditional, to say the least.  We decided to skip the cooking this year and go to a big hotel buffet.  The only problem was that by the time we got there, a family member was sick and couldn't go inside.  So we cancelled and went back home.  Since I hadn't planned on cooking, there was nothing to cook so my husband made a frozen pizza for his lunch and later we had bacon and eggs for supper.  Hopefully, our Christmas will be a bit more traditional.  I did complete a reading goal this year.  I read Moby Dick and loved it!  Hopefully in the coming year I'll get to more of the classics and chunksters on my own shelves.  I've been transistioning to electronic ARC's this year so there are fewer books coming in the door but here's what's come lately:

1.  Home Field, Hannah Gersen, literary fiction, purchased
2.  Peregrine Island, Diane B. Saxton, literary fiction, sent by publisher
3.  The Italian Party, Christina Lynch, literary fiction, won in a contest
4.  The Bitch Is Back, Cathi Hanauer, essays, sent by publisher
5.  Forgotten Violets, Martin Niewood, fantasy, sent for book tour
6.  All The Birds In The Sky, Charlie Jane Anders, fantasy, purchased
7.  The Missing, C.L. Taylor, suspense, sent by publisher
8.  This Far Isn't Far Enough, Lynn Sloan, anthology, sent by publisher
9.  The Man In The Crooked Hat, Harry Dolan, mystery, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Career Of Evil, Robert Galbraith, audio
2.  The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro, paper
3.  You, Caroline Kepnes, paper
4.  The Jury Returns, Louis Nizer, hardback
5.  The Redeemer, Jo Nesbo, paper
6.  The Golden House, Salman Rushdie, Kindle Fire
7.  The Riverman, Alex Gray, Kindle Fire
8.  Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead, Kindle
9.  The Abomination, Jonathan Holt, Kindle Fire
10.  Delia's Shadow, Jamie Lee Moyer, hardback

Happy Reading!