Saturday, March 31, 2018

Small Mercies by Eddie Joyce

On 9-11, America woke to a day of destruction and loss.  We all lost something that day but the Amendola family of Staten Island lost more that most.  Their youngest son, Bobby, who had followed in his father's footsteps as a fireman, went into the Towers but never came home.

Now, years later, time has moved on and the family struggles to do the same.  The father, Michael, is long retired and spends a lot of time with his buddies at the local pub.  His wife, Gail, is the family glue and now struggles to keep everything the same as it was when they lost Bobby.  His wife, Tina, has come to tell Gail that she has finally met someone she thinks she may have a future with and Gail struggles both with the news and the responsibility to tell her other sons.

Peter, the golden boy of the family, works as a lawyer in a large firm.  He has pulled away from his family and roots but now he is facing challenges in his own life that could bring him back to those who loved him first.  Franky is the middle boy, the one who never quite seemed to grow up and get a firm start in life, and the one who feels the most responsibility for Bobby's death.  How will he handle the news that Tina and Bobby's children will be moving on in life with another man?

Eddie Joyce has written a thoughtful exploration of an Italian-Irish family that delves into the questions of what really makes a family and the validity of family memories and relationships.  The reader meets each character, learns their backstory and comes to know them intimately.  This book is fueled by a tragedy, but most families have a tragedy in their story and it is how we face and handle them that defines us.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

In a confrontation that echoes the country's issues with immigration, two families in California face off.  Delany and Kyra Mossbacher are nice people, liberal and well-off and have all the recommended opinions.  They live in an expensive development.  Delany has family money so doesn't work.  He spends his time hiking the surrounding countryside and writing a series of nature columns.  Kyra is a driven realtor.  Together they have built a life that works for them.

Candido and America Rincon are not so lucky.  They are an unlikely couple to start with; Candido is thirty-three while America is seventeen.  Candido was married to her sister but when she left him, he wooed and won America and brought her with him over the border to build a life there.  They arrive completely broke; their only hope to work hard and build a life.  But work is hard to find.  They are reduced to living outside, camping in the country without adequate sanitation which in turn makes finding a job even harder.

The two families meet when Delaney hits Candido with his car by accident one day.  Rather than calling police or taking him to the doctor, Candido is easily bought off with twenty dollars although his injuries are so severe that he can barely move for days.  Delaney is troubled but knows in his heart it wasn't his problem and his friend insists it might have been a scam anyhow.  As the weeks go by, Delaney starts to change his liberal views as the immigrants start to affect his easy life.  Graffiti is found, thefts occur, the residents' daily routines are changed by the influx of men standing around waiting for work and soon the development gates and walls itself in.  As time goes on, more and more happens until attitudes change and confrontations occur.

Although this book was written in 1996, it still rings true more than twenty years ago.  It is the classic story of immigration and how it affects both those who come to another country and those who are already residents.  This book focuses on Hispanic immigration in the West but it could easily be written about any of the other ethnic groups that have come to our country and the difficulties they encounter as they try to make a life here.  It holds a mirror up in which those of us already here as citizens can see ourselves as we make decisions about how we will welcome these newcomers.  This book is recommended for readers of current affairs literature.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, March 24, 2018

It's the dregs of winter and I'm tired of cold and miserable weather.  We are supposed to get our final shot of rain, sleet or snow tonight into tomorrow and I'm hoping for rain.  In other news, my basketball team lost in the March Madness but we did manage to beat our arch-rivals twice this year so we had a pretty successful season.  I always hate seeing the seniors move on and end their college careers.  I don't follow any summer sports, so sports are done until August when football starts back up.  I had planned to attend the book festival in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend.  But when I realised it was going to be cold and rainy I decided I just wasn't into stomping around in the mess and stayed home.  Maybe I'll make it there next year.  Here's the books that have come through the door lately:

1.  The Lemonade Year, Amy Willoughby-Burle, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2.  The High Tide Club, Mary Kay Williams, women's literature, sent by publisher
3.  Jenna's Case, Andy Siegel, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  Nelly's Case, Andy Siegel, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  Elton's Case, Andy Siegel, mystery, sent by publisher
6.  Falling, Dawn Davis, historical fiction, sent by publisher
7.  The Shadow Land, Elizabeth Kostova, historical fiction, sent by publisher
8.  Text Me When You Get Home, Kayleen Schaefer, Dutton, sent by publisher
9.  Beside The Syrian Sea, James Wolff, thriller, sent by publisher
10.  The Night Market, Jonathan Moore, mystery, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book for review
11.  See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt, mystery, sent by Curled Up for review
12.  The Half-Drowned King, Linnea Harsuyker, historical fiction, sent by Curled Up for review
13.  Creatures Of Will And Temper, Molly Tanzer, fantasy, sent by Curled Up for review
14.  Persons Unknown, Susie Steiner, mystery, sent by Curled Up for review
15.  Gallic Noir, Pascal Garnier, mystery, sent by publisher
16.  The Bad Daughter, Joy Fielding, mystery, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Tortilla Curtain, T.C. Boyle, Kindle Fire
2.  Strangler, Cory Mitchell, Kindle
3.  You, Caroline Kepnes, paper
4.  The Jury Returns, Louis Nizer, hardback
5.  Small Mercies, Eddie Joyce, paperback
6.  The Woman In The Window, A.J. Finn, Kindle Fire

7.  Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead, Kindle

8.  Land Of The Living, Nicci French, hardback
9.  The Abomination, Jonathan Holt, Kindle Fire

10.  Good Me, Bad Me, Ali Land, hardback
11,  The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers, various, paperback

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Crime On The Fens by Joy Ellis

Detective Inspector Nikki Galena is determined to rid her Scottish town of drug dealers.  She despises them and will walk the thinnest of lines, sometimes lying or deceiving, in order to charge them for their crimes.  She isn't necessarily liked and she doesn't care about that.  Drugs ruined her marriage and motherhood and she won't rest until she does all she can to destroy those who peddle them.

But the authorities are tired of Nikki.  Tired of her balancing act with the law and tired of her reputation with her co-workers.  After running off another Detective Sergent, the word comes down:  she better find a way to work with the replacement or next time it will be her transferring out.  DS Joe Easter comes with his own baggage and secrets but he sees something in Nikki that others don't: her fierce determination and willingness to do anything to make her world and that of those around her better.

There's plenty to do.  There has been a spate of petty crimes, all by kids in hideous rubber masks, and the crimes are escalating.  There are of course drug dealers and in fact, talk of a massive shipment that would supply the area for weeks.  Then everything else is put on hold when a young college girl goes missing and it appears to be a kidnapping.  When a second girl is taken and killed, the town is about to explode.  Can Nikki and Joe catch the criminals before everything falls apart?

This is the first book in what is currently an eight-novel series.  The author, lives in the same Lincolnshire Fen district that the books are based in.  Her partner was a police officer so the books run true on police procedure and politics.  Nikki is headstrong and willful but the reader cannot help but cheer her on while Joe Easter's secrets make him a formidable yet gentle police man himself.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Prelude To Foundation by Issac Asimov

When Hari Seldon, a young mathematician, comes from his Outworld home to a mathematics conference on Trantor, the capital planet in the Galactic Empire, he has no idea his entire life is about to change.  He has developed a mathematical theoretical concept that he calls psychohistory, which is an exploration of the idea that there could be a way to predict the future using math and statistical analysis.  His talk seems well received and he is proud of his exposure. 

But the next day, he starts to realize that his life has changed, unalterably, forever.  He is whisked away to talk to no less a personage than Emperor Cleon I.  Cleon has been quick to see that Seldon may be the answer to his prayers.  With over forty billion people and hundreds of worlds to oversee, the Empire is too unwieldy to handle efficiently.  There is always the possibility of entropy, of falling apart due to inability to handle everything.  Surely, psychohistory is the answer to this dilemma.  Cleon and his right-hand man, the shadowy Eto Demerzel, want Hari to develop his theoretical idea as quickly as possible so that it can be used to control the Empire and historical outcomes.

No matter how much Hari tries to explain that his ideas are just that, ideas, Cleon seems determined to make sure those ideas become practical, workable tools.  Hari leaves with his head reeling.  When he is approached by a journalist, Chetter Hummin, who offers to help him flee, he accepts and together the two escape.  Hummin's first thought of a safe place to stow Hari is the famous University which has autonomy and from which even the Emperor would be loath to remove him.  Although Hummin has to return to his own life, he leaves Hari and provides a helper.  Dors Verabili is a female historian and together the two start their journey toward making Hari's ideas a reality.  But can they do it before Hari is captured and forced to work for those who want to the power of his ideas for themselves?

This book explains the beginning of the Foundation world, the epic science fiction location that actually beat out Tolkein's Lord Of The Rings trilogy to win the Hugo Award in 1966 for the best all-time series.  It outlines the famous rules of robots and the idea that things will inevitably, without guidance, fall apart over time.  Asimov based the series on Gibbon's History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire and students of history will see the impetus that work gives the series.  What makes Asimov's series enduring is his ability to make likeable characters, create a brisk pace of events that could takes decades, and his overarching world building.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

It is 1893 and in England there is a movement towards science and discovery.  The work of Darwin and his compatriots is discussed by educated people everywhere and medicine is starting to make huge advances.  Women are starting to break free of the strictures that have kept them bound, destined only for housework and a life where even their clothes restrict their daily movements.

Cora Seaborne is one of the women who are interested in more than a marriage.  She has just been widowed and is not full of grief.  Her husband was a cruel, domineering, physically and emotionally abusive man and his death feels like an opening of the prison gates.  Still in her early thirties, Cora decides to get out of the London house which seems like a prison.  Determined to emulate the women naturalists she admires, she decides to visit the Essex countryside with its waterways and wild vistas.  She is accompanied by her eleven year old son, Francis, and his nanny and her friend, Martha.

Cora revels in the Cornish countryside.  She walks for hours every day, unafraid.  She deserts her London fashions and dresses in men's clothes.  She talks to anyone she wants and soon meets many of the Cornish country people.  There is a rumor going around that a mythological creature, The Essex Serpent, has returned to sow destruction and she is determined to get to the bottom of the myth.  Is it a creature that has never been discovered and might she be the one to do so? 

Her friends in London worry about her and introduce her to the local vicar and his family. Stella and William Ransome are a young couple with three children who love the countryside and their lives.  Stella is a fragile woman, beautiful and warm while William is deeply committed to his religion and to improving the lives of the people around them.  He is concerned about the talk of the Serpent and how the rumors are changing the people and making them scared and more prone to falling back into ancient way. 

When Cora and William meet, they soon become best of friends.  Both are interested in the same things and both are addicted to long walks.  They talk about everything and anything, although Cora has no time for religion and they disagree vehemently about this. It becomes obvious to everyone around them that there is more than friendship growing between them although they themselves seem not to realize it.  How will it end?

This novel is a lush exploration of the time period and highly lauded.  It was nominated for the Bailey's Women's Prize in Literature.  It was an NPR and Kirkus Best Book, a New York Times Notable Book Of The Year and the winner of the British Book Awards Fiction Book.  The characters are finely drawn, the issues of social justice, women's emancipation and forbidden love are explored in ways that keep the reader turning pages.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Possession by A. S. Byatt

It's a routine day for Roland Mitchell, a scholar who works for a foundation in London that studies the life and works of the Victorian poet, Randolph Henry Ash.  Roland is considered average, at work and in his personal life, where he shares a run-down flat with his only girlfriend, Vera.  But things are about to change.  As he reads in a book to discover the fact that his boss has sent him to retrieve, a letter falls out.  It's an undiscovered letter from Ash and it is addressed to a woman who he's met at a luncheon.  It appears that he was struck by the woman and wants to strike up a friendship.

Roland, almost without thought, decides to keep the letter.  As he researches the luncheon, it appears that the woman must be Christabel LaMotte, another Victorian poet who is known mostly for her poems full of fairy tales and classic legends, and for being an example of one of the first lesbian poets.  Roland goes to see an expert on LaMotte, Maud Bailey, who is actually related slightly to LaMotte, and who is fascinated also.  They visit LaMotte's grave and while on a walk, rescue a woman who has gotten into trouble.  She turns out to be the wife of the local squire and the home where LaMotte ended her life as a spinster aunt.  While having tea with the couple, Roland and Maud are given permission to go see Christabel's old room and they discover a treasure--a thick sheave of letters that makes it clear that Christabel and Roland were definitely friends, if not more.

This is news that can turn the academic world on its head and make careers.  As the two research further, they develop a passion for the letters and the story they portray.  Yet, it's difficult to keep such a momentous secret in the academic world.  Soon others have figured out their secret and the letters become involved in a tug-of-war between various academics. 

A.S. Byatt won the Booker Prize for this novel and it is easy to see why.  On the surface, it is a novel about the love stories between Ash and LaMotte and between Roland and Maud.  But underneath, it leaves the reader swooning with the lush language, the references to legends and fairy-tales, illustrated by poetry from the two authors, and the slow love story that builds yet may not end in happiness.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben

Detective Napolean Dumas, known as "Nap", is stuck in the past.  In his senior year in high school, a tragedy occurred.  While he was out of town playing hockey one Friday night, his twin brother was killed by a train.  Killed along with him was the police chief's daughter, Diana.  It was unclear what happened and how the accident occurred.  Nap's girlfriend, Maura, disappeared the same night.  His first love, he was stunned to find her gone and her mother was of no help at all, just saying she had transferred to another school.

Now, fifteen years later, Nap has an okay life.  He grew close to the police chief after their joint tragedy and ended up joining the police force himself.  It's a sleepy little town and the job isn't that taxing.  He still lives in his boyhood home; in fact, he still sleeps in the bedroom he shared with his brother Leo.  Not much happens in his life, but when your stuck in the mud, nothing is okay.

Then he gets a call that changes everything.  A policeman has been killed in another town and it turns out to be one of Leo's friends.  Nap hadn't kept up with him and was vaguely aware he had also become a policeman, but when his police force was asked for help, he volunteers.  He is shocked when he arrives and finds out there is evidence of someone else involved in the death, and that all signs point to it being Maura. 

This is the first he has heard of Maura in all these years and he is determined to find her this time.  As he investigates the death, things start to happen that indicate the logjam of silence is about to break about the past.  Another friend from high school, a brilliant boy who went off the tracks and is now the town homeless crank, has gone missing.  With the reluctant help of the police chief who just wants to forget the night he lost his daughter, Nap starts to put the pieces together to unearth the truth of what happened all those years ago.

Harlan Coben is one of the mystery genre's shining lights.  A winner of the Edgar, Shamus and Anthony Awards, his books feature tight mysteries that make unseeable twists that leave the reader wanting more.  He has written twenty novels in addition to a series about a detective.  This was one of his standalone novels and readers will find the Coben magic in full force.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Thirst by Jo Nesbo

Detective Harry Hole has left the detective bureau where he is renowned as the man who has captured some of Norway's most horrific killers.  Instead, he has entered a better phase of his life.  He is married to the love of his life and is now teaching other policeman how he did what he did.  His stepson is working towards becoming a policeman also and life is good.

At least, it's good for a while but murder never sleeps.  Two events shatter Harry's world.  His wife is taken to the hospital for what Harry thinks is a routine visit and ends up in an induced coma.  The doctors are not optimistic about her chances or indeed, what is exactly wrong with her.  At the same time, a new killer has erupted.  He is a vampire killer and drains his victims of their blood.

The police commissioner, who has ridden Harry's success into his job, has further ambitions.  He basically blackmails Harry into returning and working on the case which the papers and TV are going nuts about.  Harry hates breaking his promise to his wife to give up the danger and obsession of a major murder case, but in reality, he knows he has missed it and it is what he is meant to do.  He forms a team of former colleagues along with a psychologist who has studied the subject and prepares to go forth to capture the killer, who seems to be one who he captured years before and who escaped from prison.

There isn't another detective in the genre like Harry Hole.  His self-destructiveness which wars with his love of his wife and son keeps the reader on edge and pulling for him.  Those around him often get caught in the destruction that follows him, yet are devoted to him.  Throughout, Hole's basic goodness and willingness to do what is necessary regardless of the price is compelling.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Book Of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates

This novel opens with a crime.  Dr. Gus Voorhees has sacrificed much personally and professionally in order to provide abortion services in a small town.  Without him, women have no choices.  He is gunned down in the driveway upon arrival one morning by Luther Dunphy.  Dunphy is an Evangelical Christian and has associated with a group of intense anti-abortionists within the church.  He is encouraged to his action by their insistence that the only way to stop the killing of babies is by eliminating the doctors that perform the procedures.

But Oates does not stop there.  She follows all the participants for many years afterward, showing how one action can start ripples that affect many.  Luther is arrested and tried, convicted and eventually put to death.  The families are left behind to make what they will of the deaths and to try to forge a new life for themselves.

Dawn Dunphy believes her father is a hero.  Never good in school or popular, she is scorned even more after what her father does.  Her mother retreats into her religion, leaving Dawn to make what she will of her life.  What she decides to do is become a woman boxer and let her fights express the pain and confusion she feels.

Naomi Voorhees is broken by grief.  Her mother cannot cope and gives her children to their grandparents to raise.  Naomi idolizes her father.  After college, she becomes a documentary maker or at least is working towards that.  At first, she wants to make a documentary about her father and what his death meant but she decides to change focus.  While researching the crime, she learns that Dawn is now D. D. Dunphy, Warrior for Jesus and decides to attend a fight.  Her focus changes and she becomes interested in D.D.  At first she is repulsed by her but cannot stay away and suddenly, understanding her life is what Naomi wants to do. 

This is an important, thought-provoking novel.  Oates outlines both sides of an issue that continues to tear America apart.  Each side believes that they have the absolute truth of the issue and that sacrifices are necessary in order to bring success to their side.  Oates writes about the fallout of such viewpoints and in today's divided nation, the insights she provides are useful regardless of the issue that separates people and families.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Bone Music by Christopher Rice

If there was anyone alive who had a better reason for not trusting than Charlotte Rowe, it would be hard to imagine.  She was kidnapped as an infant by a pair of serial killers who chose her mother and their next victim and brought her along.  They raised her as their own for seven years until the FBI discovered them and freed her.  Physically free, she was still imprisoned by other's expectations of her.  The press gave her the name of "The Burning Girl" as she accompanied the woman whenever she burned the clothes and belongings of the victims, although she never had any idea what was going on.  Everyone wanted to see her, to touch her, to know her.  She was a dream girl for marginal sociopaths everywhere who thought she would be their perfect partner. 

Her birth father, who one would think would be overjoyed to have his daughter returned to him, instead saw a chance to cash in.  He wrote a book about Charlotte's experiences and then took her on a speaking tour.  When she finally rebelled, she left to go live with her mother's mother and that grandmother supplied her with her first sense of normality in her life.  After her death, she changed her name and moved out to the desert to live alone always protected by her guns and security system.

But evil will not rest.  She gave one man her trust and he instead drugged her with an experimental drug under the guise of medication to let her sleep.  Instead it gave her superhuman strength and the ability to fight her way out of any situation.  When it proves successful, Charlotte is on the run again, this time from the man who gave it to her and the company that made it.  She runs back to her grandmother's house, where with the help of her grandmother's boyfriend and a deputy sheriff she knew in high school along with a hacker on the run, she decides this time to fight back.  Will Charlotte be successful?

Christopher Rice has made a name for himself in the thriller genre.  He is, of course, best known by some readers as the son of Anne Rice and has co-written with her.  This novel, the first in a series, shows his skill in setting a fast-paced story that grabs the reader and never lets go until the end.  Charlotte is a tough woman, created by a life that most can never imagine and she uses the situation to resolve many of the ghosts of her past.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.