Saturday, June 30, 2018

Friday On My Mind by Nicci French

Things are not going well for Dr. Freida Klein.  Her former lover, Sandy, has been found murdered.  Even worse, with enemies in the police department and in the psychologist who now works with them, Freida soon comes under suspicion and then rapidly becomes the only suspect.  When her lawyer tells her that they need to go in for more questioning and that she expects Freida to be arrested, Freida decides to take matters in her own hands.  She disappears and is now a fugitive, her disappearance making her seem more guilty.

But Frieda has knowledge the police don't.  She knows, incontrovertibly, that she isn't guilty so can view the evidence without that false filter.  She also intimately knows Sandy and so can interpret the things she finds out about him better than someone who didn't know him as well.  Her friends are appalled at what has happened and they help her as they can to remain free.  Can Frieda discover the truth about Sandy's death before her time runs out?

This is the fifth in the Frieda Klein series.  Readers who have followed the series will find this one fascinating with Frieda at her best.  She is a private person and one who can use the training and knowledge of her work with the human condition to see past the obvious and discover the truth in situations.  Although I am not a stickler about reading a series in order, this is one series that the reader will benefit from doing so as Freida's personality and life is slowly teased out across each novel.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Oscar And Lucinda by Peter Carey

The time is the nineteenth century, the 1860's to be exact.  The place is Australia, now colonized but still a very new country in terms of its English inhabitants.  The story is told through the lives of two young people.  Oscar Hopkins grew up in a small, remote English village, the son of the local pastor who was also a marine biologist.  There was little love shown and Oscar escapes to Oxford as soon as he can.  Lucinda is a teenager who is suddenly orphaned and discovers that instead of living on a farm and its odors and work as she has always done, that her parents sold the land and she is now an heiress.

Neither are what is considered 'the right sort' in the social pecking order but both are determined to carve out a successful life for themselves.  Lucinda buys a glassworks factory on a whim and then goes to England to see what it holds and perhaps find a husband.  Oscar is assigned to a parish in Australia.  They meet on the boat as Oscar comes to discover his calling and Lucinda returns, disappointed in her quest for love.  Oscar has an intense phobia of water and is the butt of jokes about it but Lucinda sees beyond his weaknesses to a man she would like to know.  They also find that each is entranced by the same vice; gambling.

Once back in Australia, things don't go as planned.  Lucinda is having a hard time breaking into the top rungs of society even with her money.  Oscar isn't his parishioners idea of a pastor and when one of them spies in his window and discovers the two playing cards for money, Oscar is disgraced and stripped of his parish.  The two, shunned by society, form a partnership and soon both are in love, although both are determined to hide the fact from each other.  Their love leads them to a strange mission and a stranger bet; to move and construct a glass church in a settlement across uncharted lands.  If Oscar is successful Lucinda will give him all her fortune. 

This novel won the Booker Prize in 1988 and it is clear why.  Carey's ability to capture the country of his birth and the people who came to inhabit it and make it their own is amazing.  The writing is luminous but it doesn't stray so far that the plot is forgotten.  It moves along inexorably toward an ending few readers would expect.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

The year is 1942 and World War II is in full force.  Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse has been assigned to a secret division.  He is a mathematician and musician whose idea of fun is encrypting and decrypting messages.  He is assigned to a department whose other locations include Bletchley Park and men like Alan Turing.  Waterhouse's job is to hide the fact from the Germans that their unbreakable code, Enigma, has been broken so that the Allies can continue to use this valuable resource. 

He spends time in the outer reaches of Scotland and in the Philippines as his work takes him to different places.  In the Philippines and the islands nearby, he meets Bobby Shaftoe, a gung-ho Marine who is in charge of his safety and that of Douglas MacArthur who immediately sees his worth.  The Axis powers are fueled by their need to hide massive amounts of gold to rebuild after the war and this effort is centered in these same Asian locations.  A massive crypt is built to hold tons of gold and then buried under tons of rock and earth.

Decades later, Waterhouse's grandson, Randy Waterhouse, is back in the same Asian areas.  He has made his living in the tech world and has created a new business with his partner, Avi.  They plan to create a data haven where entities can store their data with no worries about security or loss due to natural disasters.  Randy meets and falls in love with Amy Shaftoe, the granddaughter of Bobby and a woman who works with her father on salvage operations.  They fall in with Randy's work as they all endeavor to find the fortune locked away many years ago.

A Neal Stephenson book is a wonder on many levels.  There are multiple plots and subplots all of which tie together beautifully.  Many characters are involved, each given a fully explained backstory and whose lives intertwine in mysterious ways.  There is lots of science and technology and a feeling that perfection is just always a tiny bit beyond one's grasp.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction and literary fiction. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, June 23, 2018

Summer is here in full force with tons of time for reading!  I finished a chunkster this week, Crytonomicon by Neal Stephenson and I've just started another, a thousand page book of dense text about the painter Rembrandt.  That one will probably take the rest of the summer as the book is so heavy I can't hold it for long.  Another milestone is that after fourteen years or so with the vanity plate Booksie on my car I traded it in this week for regular plates.  That car is destined to return with my daughter to college this fall and she didn't want to be noticed everywhere she went.  I'll miss it though.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman, anthology, sent by publisher
2.  Border Child, Michel Stone, literary fiction, sent by publisher
3.  Dead If You Don't, Peter James, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  Eagle & Crane, Suzanne Rindell, historical fiction, sent by publisher
5.  The Devil's Half Mile, Paddy Hirsch, mystery, won in contest
6.  The Great Believers. Rebecca Makkai, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7.  Civil Terror: Gridlock, J. Luke Bennecke, nonfiction, sent by publisher
8.  Ohio, Stephen Markley, literary fiction, won in contest
9.  Conan Doyle For The Defense, Margalit Fox, true crime, sent by publisher
10.  Bring Me Back, B.A. Paris, mystery, sent by publisher

It looks like I never buy books and that's surely not true.  It's a rare day I don't buy either an ebook or an audible one but the list above is about the physical copies that make it through the door and clamor in their stacks and piles to be read.

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Shadow Tracer, Meg Gardiner, hardback
2.  Oscar And Lucinda, Peter Carey, Kindle Fire
3.  Friday On My Mind, Nikki French, paperback
4.  Rembrandt's Eyes, Simon Schama, paperback
5.  Grist Mill Road, Christopher Yates, Kindle Fire
6.  Two Kinds Of Truth, Michael Connelly, audio
7.  First Person, Richard Flanagan, hardback
8.  The Kraken Sea, E. Catherine Tobler, paperback

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy's first novel in many years is an epic history of India and its recent history.  It starts around fifty years in the past and follows the story of Anjum.  Anjum is born with the organs of both sexes and after finding disapproval in society, moves in with a group of the Hijra, transsexuals who are in the midst of gender reassignment.  She leaves this group after many years and moves to a graveyard where she collects a group of others whom society would call misfits.

The story then leaps ahead to the conflict in Kashmir and the struggle between India to subdue it into a peaceful territory and the freedom fighters or terrorists depending on viewpoint, who continue the struggle.   The story is viewed though the life of Tilo and the men who loved her.  There is Naga, the journalist who marries Tilo after rescuing her from an interrogation center.  The is the Indian bureaucrat known as Garson Hobart who is influential enough that when he sends Naga to free Tilo his power insures it is done.  Then there is Musa, the gentle man who becomes known as a successful Kashimi terrorist after his wife and child are murdered. 

Each of the characters has a history of pain and struggle yet each finds a way to make a life and to treasure the small moments that are all one can expect to keep.  Along the way the reader is introduced to a host of other memorable characters each of whom's story is told in a way that makes their broken lives understandable.  This is a book of terror and struggle yet of hope and love also.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Death In The City Of Light by David King

The year was 1944 and the place was Paris, France.  Paris was under occupation by the Nazi regime of Germany although the tide of war seemed to be turning.  There had been mass roundups of those the Nazi's considered undesirable; Jewish individuals, gypsies, gangsters, etc.  There was a Resistance in place, in fact many groups of Resistance fighters.  With all the horror going on, no one expected the discovery that was made in March.  An horrid stench came from an apparently unoccupied house.  When the police investigated, a scene of horror was revealed.

The stench came from an attempt to burn bodies.  There were dismembered bodies in the house and more outside in the yard in a pit full of lime.   The bodies were so decayed that there was little hope of identifying the victims or even numbering them or determining their gender.  Who could have created this horror?

The answer seemed to be the owner.  Dr. Marcel Petiot owned the house and the police believed, killed the people found there.   At first the headlines were lurid, hinting at sexual motives.  The police came to believe that he, instead, was so despicable that he used the circumstances of the death camps and the German occupation to victimize those most in danger.  Petiot offered desperate people passage to another country where they could be safe and start over.  For most of them, however, the trip started and ended at his house and they were never heard from again.

The trial was one of the most sensational in the country's history.  Petiot declared himself a Resistance fighter and said various things such as the bodies were put in his house by the Germans or that the bodies were Germans he had killed in his Resistance role.  There were never any firm body count.  The police eventually charged him with twenty-seven murders.  Petiot claimed he had killed sixty-one Germans.  Regardless of the number Petiot was found guilty and executed.

With the cover of the war, this case has never gotten the attention from true crime investigators that one might expect from such a large body count.  The war obscured Petiot's crimes and his trial occurred as the country was recovering from the Occupation.  David King has brought the facts of the case to light in this book and had access to previously classified documents from the police in order to do so.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.

Friday, June 15, 2018

I'll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamera

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, California was terrorized by a serial rapist and killer.  He began his crimes in Northern California in the small communities around Sacramento.  He committed hundreds of break ins and scores of rapes.  He stalked the victims in advance, and often broke in and committed his crimes while the women were in bed with their husbands.  He would have the woman tie up her husband, then move her to another room.  He would place dishes on the man and tell him if he heard them fall off and break, he would kill the woman.  He was known as the East Area Rapist or the EAR.

When the police investigation ramped up to a level that he feared capture, he moved his activities to Southern California.  There, he escalated to murder and is credited with ten murders.  He had killer a couple in Northern California earlier to escape so his murder toll is twelve, although many police believe it is higher.  Then, he seemed to stop.  This occasionally happens with serial killers and it often means the perpetrator has died or is imprisoned.  While the crimes stopped, the police investigations did not.  The police had the best clue of all, a DNA profile but for many years, it didn't provide any breakthroughs.

In addition to the police, an entire society of Internet crime fighters has arisen.  Michelle McNamera was one of these driven individuals.  The wife of actor Patton Oswalt, Michelle was consumed by this case and spent endless hours and funds investigating it.  She met and collaborated with the police investigating the crimes, found old witnesses and victims and talked with them, and spent endless hour discussing the case on Internet boards with other individuals interested in the case.  She started writing I'll Be Gone In The Dark to detail her work and gave the killer a name, The Golden State Killer.  Unfortunately, she died before the book could be completed.  Her husband and others found a way to finish her work and the book became an instant bestseller. 

Outside of the personal loss, the publishing community lost a great true crime writer when McNamera passed away.  Her tenacity, intense curiosity and empathy are clear in her writing.  The book has a forward by Gillian Flynn and an afterward by her husband, Patton Oswalt.  As most readers know, the DNA finally provided the impetus to charge someone with the crimes.  Joseph James DeAngelo, who is now 72, has been charged and will be facing charges.  This was a landmark book and will be one of the classics in the genre.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Patron Saint Of Liars by Ann Patchett

In the 1960's, it was still a family disgrace if a woman got pregnant outside of matrimony.  With abortion an illegal operation, women were forced into marriages which had little chance of survival or they disappeared for six months or so, supposedly to visit an aunt or travel somewhere.  In reality, they entered homes for unwed mothers which were set up to allow the woman to stay during her pregnancy.  The baby was taken from her right after birth and given to adoptive parents.

St. Elizabeth's is such a home.  It was in Kentucky and the girls that came there came from all over the United States.  They formed friendships but as soon as the baby arrived, the girls left hoping that chapter of their lives was closed. 

Rose was a different case.  She was married but decided that life with her husband was a mistake and that she just didn't love him.  She left California without a word one day and drove across country to St. Elizabeth's.  Rose didn't tell anyone she was married.  She just let everyone assume her story was the same as the other girls.  Also, unlike the others, Rose didn't leave and didn't give up her baby.  She helped in the kitchen and after her baby's birth, stayed on to cook for everyone.  She married Son, the man who helped with all the repairs and upkeep of the home and they raised the baby, Cecelia together.

Ann Patchett's forte as an author is creating believable characters, giving them backstories and telling their lives in a way that the reader wants to continue to see what happens next.  In this novel, she has created three such characters, Rose, Son and Cecelia.  Each tells the story from their own perspective and the reader soon grows to know more than any one of the characters do about their own lives since the other character's viewpoints are also clear to them while opaque to the other characters.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams

A serial killer is stalking Atlanta.  There are several confirmed kills and the pattern is such that investigators are sure these aren't the killer's first attacks.  The police are inundated with pressure from the mayor's office and the press as hysteria builds.  He's nicknamed The Wishbone Killer and as he gets more famous, the police look everywhere for clues.

Police lieutenant Aaron Rauser is in charge of the investigation.  He has years of experience and resources are his to use.  But he wants the help of the one person the department doesn't want involved.  Keye Street worked for the FBI as a successful profiler before she ruined her career with alcoholism.  Now pushed out of official law enforcement, she makes her living as a private detective, serving subpoenas and tracking down bond breakers.  She and Rauser are friends and he brings her into the investigation for her insights.  But the killer is aware of this move and soon fixates on Keye.  Can Street and Rauser catch the killer before more murders occur?

This is a mystery debut novel for the author.  Williams has written an espionage series prior to entering the mystery field.  There are currently three novels in the series.  Readers will be interested in this strong female lead and the fast-paced plot with plenty of twists and turns.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid

When skeletal remains are found on the roof of a deserted Edinburgh building, two strong women must come together to solve the mystery of who it is and who wanted him dead.  Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie heads up the Cold Case Unit and the case is assigned to her team.  The first thought was that the murder might be related to the sport of climbing old deserted buildings, but a bullet hole in the head puts paid to that idea.  This is murder and Pirie must first find out who it is. 

After forensic investigation, the body is identified as General Mija Petrovic.  He was instrumental in the Balkan wars of the 1990's and had moved to England afterwards with his lover, Professor Maggie Blake.  When he disappeared eight years before, she assumed he had returned to Dubronik and the life he left behind there.  Now that she discovers that he didn't leave her but was murdered, she is determined to discover who did this.  The two women work together, even going to Yugoslavia to discover Petrovic's background to see if his death is related to the war.  The International Crime Tribunal still working on the human rights violations of that time are also interested in discovering Petrovic's whereabouts and what part he played in all the violence of those times.  Who will track down the truth first and determine who killed Petrovic and whether his past played a part in his murder?

Most fans of Val McDermid know her as the author of the Tony Hill, Carol Jordan mysteries.  Karen Pirie is a different sort of police officer and this case focuses less on psychological probing and more on solid police procedures.  McDermid is a master at creating strong women characters and starkly outlining the brutality that makes up a police officer's daily life as they go about the work that few can do untouched.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Silver On The Road by Laura Anne Gilman

Isobel has hit a milestone in her life.  She has turned sixteen and her days as an indentured servant have come to an end.  Her life has been one of working in the saloon, serving those who come to play cards with the Devil and learning their secrets.  She doesn't know what she wants to do next, but she knows she wants to do something different.  The man she works for, known as The Devil, controls the Territory and all within it.  He is powerful enough to help her start a new life if she can decide what to do.  But his help is never free.

When Isobel has her talk with the Devil, he offers her the chance to be his Left Hand, the one who travels the land, determining what is going on and making sure that his law is being upheld.  Most would never consider a young woman as the likely Left Hand, but he sees things in Isobel that others cannot see.  She leaves the only home she has known to travel in the company of Gabriel, who has made his own bargain with the Devil.  He agrees to mentor Isobel in the ways of traveling in return for release from the pull of the Territory on his soul.

But this trip is not normal from the start.  The two encounter evil and dangers neither have even heard of before.  Someone evil is afoot in the Territory and they are the only hope against it.  They meet a Magician on the road and even though everyone knows magicians are not to be trusted, they form an alliance with him.  The unlikely trio ventures forward to attempt to rid the land of the danger that is apparent to them all.  Will they be successful?

This is the first novel in the Silver series by Gilman.  She is a Nebula Award finalist and this series is set in the Old West, an unusual setting for fantasy.  The premise and characters are intriguing and readers will be eager to read the next in the series.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, June 1, 2018

It's June 1 and summer has finally arrived in North Carolina.   It's my least favorite month as I don't like being hot and sticky but the plus side of that is more reading time.  I read thirteen books in May and hope to do the same this month.  I had a spell of bad luck in May that also increased my reading time.  My laptop gave up the ghost and I was basically without a computer for about a week till I could order a new one and get it set up.  The same week I picked up a nail in a tire and had to buy a new one and the air conditioner went out, which is a calamity indeed in North Carolina.  My phone also had to be replaced, as it decided not to hold a charge, although I think that was more of Apple doing me in with an upgrade than a real battery issue.  Nonetheless, I upgraded my phone as it had been three or four years since my last one.  My daughter arrived home for the summer from college and this could be her last summer home.  I so enjoy having her around and of course, she is a reader also.  I've been checking out books from the library after a long hiatus and I continue to read more and more on my Kindle Fire.  Those books don't make the list below of new physical books.  Here's the books that have come through the door:

1.  Rust & Stardust, T. Greenwood, mystery, won in contest
2.  The Waters & The Wild, DeSales Harrison, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  Death Doesn't Bargain, Sherrilyn Kenyon, fantasy, sent by publisher
4.  Social Creature, Tara Isabella Burton, thriller, sent by publisher
5.  The Kept Woman, Karin Slaughter, thriller, sent by publisher
6.  Daughter Of A Daughter Of A Queen, Sarah Bird, historical fiction, won in contest
7.  The Devil's Half Mile, Paddy Hirsch, historical mystery, won in contest
8.  Hard Cider, Barbara Stark-Nemon, literary fiction, sent for book tour
9.  Broken Ice, Matt Goldman, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  Hunting Charles Manson, Lis Wiehl, true crime, sent by publisher
11.  A Gathering Of Secrets, Linda Castillo, mystery, sent by publisher
12.  The Stranger You Seek, Amanda Kyle Williams. mystery, purchased
13.  America For Beginners, Leah Frangqui, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Silver On The Road, Laura Gilman, paperback
2.  The Skeleton Road, Val McDermid, Kindle Fire
3.  The Patron Saint Of Liars, Ann Patchett, paperback
4.  I'll Be Gone In The Dark, Michelle McNamera, audio
5.  Cyrptonomicon, Neal Stephenson, hardback
6.  Golden Bats And Pink Pigeons, Gerald Durrell, Kindle Fire
7.  The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy, hardback
8.  Everybody's Fool, Richard Russo, Paperback

Happy Reading!