Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

Two young boys start a friendship and grow up in a small Switzerland town.  Gustav lives with his mother, his father having passed away.  His father was the assistant police chief and during WW II, forged dates on Jewish passports to indicate they had entered Switzerland before the country's cutoff date on accepting refugees.  Due to this, he lost his position and the family struggled with poverty thereafter.

Anton is his polar opposite.  He is Jewish and comes from a wealthy family.  In addition, he is a musical prodigy and his family does whatever they can to support his talent.  Despite the differences, the boys maintain their friendship throughout their years growing up.

They grow apart in adulthood.  Anton has remained in town, becoming the music master at the local school, a far cry from the spectacular future everyone envisioned for him.  Gustav has accomplished his life goal; he owns a hotel in which he can maintain high standards and take care of his guests.  Taking care of others is very important to Gustav.  The novel turns on what happens between the two in their adult lives.  Will they be content to live out the dreams they had as children or will they reach out and try to find more? 

Rose Tremain is a successful novelist, with titles like The Road Home, Merival, Trespass and Restoration.  She has been nominated several times for prizes such as the Booker and the Bailey's Prize for Women and has won the Bailey's.  She focuses her novels on relationships and how individuals come together and support or tear down each other.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Snap by Belinda Bauer

Life has not been kind to Jack Bright.  When he is eleven, the car in which he is riding with his mother and two younger sisters breaks down.  His mother leaves to find a phone telling Jack he is in charge.  She never returns.  Two weeks later, her body is found, the victim of an attack and murder.

Three years later, Jack's still in charge.  Unable to handle the stress of losing his wife, Jack's father goes out to get milk one day and never returns.  Jack is left to keep the family together and hide the fact that he is the man of the family.  The girls stay home now as going to school might reveal their situation and put the three into the system where they would be separated.  Jack makes sure they stay under the radar by keeping the house spruced up and making sure they have the material things they need to survive.  Since he is too young to get a job, he ensures their survival by stealing.  He breaks into houses and steals things to turn over for pay but also steals healthy food and books.  He steals a lawnmower so the grass will remain trim and steals paint in order to spruce up the outside of the house.  All appears normal.

Then one day while breaking into a house, Jack makes a discovery.  He finds the knife that killed his mother and he now knows the identity of her murderer.  He can't do anything about it himself but he brings the police in on his secret, even at the expense of being caught for the hundreds of robberies he has done.  Is Jack right?  Will the police detective in charge be able to prove it?  He is new to the district, transferred in after messing up elsewhere.  Can this be his redemption as well as Jack's?

Belinda Bauer burst onto the mystery scene with her first novel, Blacklands, in 2010, which promptly won the Crime Writer's Gold Dagger Award for Best Novel Of the Year.  She has written a series of mysteries since, and is often compared to mystery writers such as Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters.  Her books tend to focus on young people who are exposed to crime through no fault of their own and who slowly come to realise that not everyone can be trusted.  This book has been longlisted for the Mann Booker Award this year and is recommended for mystery readers. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

NW by Zadie Smith

They all grew up in the Caldwell housing estate in NW London and now as adults their lives have diverged.  Natalie is a successful lawyer with a wealthy husband, a great job, two children and a huge house.  She grew up as Keisha but knew her name was another thing about her past she needed to move on from.  Leah was her best friend but she has never been focused, instead letting her life happen to her rather than directing it.  She works a job haphazardly at a non-profit and has finally married a good man, a hairdresser who wants to have a good life.

Felix and Nathan also grew up in Caldwell but their lives have not turned out as well as those of the women.  They have had encounters with drugs and petty street crime; their job prospects and history are not what one would want.  They still see the women but these days they are more of a reminder of what the women's lives could have been rather than a welcome friend.

In NW, Zadie Smith illustrates the hopes and dreams of the area she herself grew up in.  The stories are short and disjointed, the language the same.  The reader is taken into an area where the language is jerky and everyone is just trying to get ahead and carve out some peace and success for themselves.  It was chosen as a New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2012 and gives readers a peek into a life they have little knowledge of.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Einstein's Beach House by Jacob M. Appel

In these eight stories, Jacob M. Appel gives readers a view into the lives of others and what they do to survive and thrive.  The title story refers to a family where the father has the bright idea of claiming their beach house was once owned by Einstein and that he spent his summers there after a guide misnumbered the actual house and tourists started arriving.  His plan to make some much-needed money backfires spectacularly. 

Other stories show us a family who lives next to a sex offender and how the father reacts, a family where the child has an imaginary friend with coincidences that are unimaginable, a female rabbi who is having a hard time deciding on the appropriate response to a former lover who tries to take advantage of her good nature and a teenage boy who is invited to be friends with the teenage girl he already has a crush on by her parents.  Each story shows us the events in various viewpoints and leaves the reader pondering the nature of humans and their relationships.

Jacob M. Appel is an amazing person.  He holds a bachelors and master's degree from Brown University but also has five other master's degrees and a doctorate, including both legal and medical degrees.  He has taught at various universities and his work has won praise and awards in various contests such as the O'Henry and the Reynolds Price Short Fiction award.  He writes on reproductive rights and his medical essays are published in various journals and collections.  His insight on how humans relate to each other are interesting while being very approachable.  This book is recommended for readers of short stories. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Years That Followed by Catherine Dunne

They are sisters under the skin, although they've never met.  Each has a life that is irretrievably impacted by the wealthy Demitriadas family, a family from Cyrus whose wealth was made by shipping interests.  Each will love a man from the family and find their life changed forever.

Calista is an eighteen year old when she meets Alexandros who is in Dublin for talks with her father.  When he comes to dinner and shows an interest in her, she feels the spark of attraction and a sense that nothing will ever be the same.  She lets Alexandros rule their relationship and when she finds herself pregnant, they marry and he gets ready to take her back home.  Home to Cyprus, where she won't speak the language or know anyone.  Home where he is the youngest son of the family and doesn't get the respect he thinks he is due.  Home where he is able to control her every movement until even that is not enough and he starts to get violent.  Calista is too young to know what to do and soon there are her children, who are her life.

Pilar grows up in Spain in the depths of poverty.  When she is eighteen, her mother sends her to Madrid and puts her under the protection of a successful man who came from their village and who the mother knows she should have married.  Pilar lives and works for years and under the tutulage of Senor Gomez, learns about financial matters.  She is able to buy into an apartment house and live there, overseeing her tenants.  She meets Petros, the patriarch of the Demitriadas family while he is there on business.  They fall in love and have a year of wonder until Pilar gets pregnant.  Then Petros tells her there is no future, that he can never leave his family.

As the years progress, the women live their lives always under the influence of the Demitriadas family.  They learn to compensate and carve out lives for themselves and finally after decades, they share one final thing; a death that each think will change the rest of their lives.  Are they right?

Catherine Dunne is an Irish writer who explores the ways that love changes those in relationships.  She doesn't see much happiness coming out of these relationships and her message seems to be that women must protect themselves at all costs.  This novel is recommended for readers of women's fiction.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

The Dutch in the early 1700's are the masters of the world.  Their clockmakers have created a series of mechanical men.  These beings are alive yet enslaved through chemical bindings to their masters.  They start to feel pressure whenever given an order and as every minute passes that the task is not completed, their pain increases until it is intolerable.  Thus, they quickly obey any order without pause or hesitation.  Their masters don't acknowledge that these are sentient beings who have feelings and aspirations but treat them as one would a vacuum cleaner or washing machine.  With such obedient creatures, the Dutch rise in the world standings as they have soldiers that never tire and slaves to do all physical work.

Jax is one of the enslaved but something wonderful happens.  While carrying out a task to deliver a package, part of it spills out and when it touches him, something changes.  His obligation to constantly serve any human who orders him has disappeared.  He can, for the first time, think for himself and about what he might want.  It's clear; he wants freedom and to escape from his masters.  Can he find a way to get away from the humans who see him as a rogue and a threat?

Ian Tregillis has created an interesting world in which the ideas of predestination and human freedom can be debated.  The mixture of fiction and solid historical research gives this world gravitas and serves as a stand from which an alternate view of history can be imagined.  This is the first of a trilogy and readers will want to continue with the other novels to read more about Jax's attempt to gain freedom.  This book is recommended for readers of fantasy. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer

Most people thought Eve Singer had a charmed life.  They saw her beauty and her prestigious job as a television reporter.  What they didn't see was the reality of Eve's life.  Her beat was the crime beat so she was immersed daily in murder and mayhem.  When she left work, she didn't go home to a loving family.  Instead she went home to her second job, caring for her father who suffered from Althimezers.  There wasn't any time left for romance, friends or even rest and relaxation.

A murderer is in town and his crimes are getting more frequent.  He fixates on Eve and decides that only she can tell his story.  At first, Eve is willing if reluctant as being in contact with a killer is a scoop no other reporter can match.  But soon her repulsion forces her to break contact and the killer is incensed.  Eve now moves from his venue to get his story told to his obsession.  He is determined to ruin her life to pay her back for daring to refuse his requests for publicity.  Who will win, Eve or the killer?  Eve is familiar with working towards deadlines but now the deadline is how quickly the killer can get to her and kill her.

Belinda Bauer was forty-five before she wrote her first novel.  That first novel, Badlands, won the prestigious Crime Writers' Association's Gold Dagger Award, something unheard of for a debut.  Since then her novels have won her the mantle of the new Ruth Rendell and her ability to turn a story on its head makes her novels page-turners.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Girl In The Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

Something suspicious is going on in the technology world.  One of the foremost authorities, Frans Balder, feels that he is in danger.  He has been working on creating an artificial intelligence that will overshadow human intelligence and his work is of interest both to the private sector and various governmental agencies.  Rumors are that he has made a breakthrough but he has suddenly left his job in the United States and returned to Sweden.  There he takes his son back from his ex-wife and decides to devote himself to being a good father.

But that's not an easy task.  The son is autistic and doesn't talk.  He spends his days working complex jigsaw puzzles and occasionally having meltdowns.  No one seems to understand him but Balder feels that there is hidden intelligence straining to come out.  He starts to make progress but then his past catches up.  Hours after being warned by the Swedish intelligence agency that he is a target, he is murdered in front of his son.   Before he dies, he contacts journalist Mikael Blomkvist and asks to see him on an urgent matter.  Blomkvist arrives to a murder scene.  The boy, August, was a witness but anything he saw is locked inside his shell. 

The killers don't believe August isn't a threat, however, and decide to come back and finish the task of removing all threats.  Blomkvist and the police inspector contact the mysterious hacker, Lisbeth Salander, to help them understand Balder's work and to safeguard August.  Can they keep him safe until the killers are brought to justice?

Lagercrantz is continuing the series of Salander novels that made an instant success of their author, Stieg Larsson.  Larsson had three highly successful novels that made Salander one of the most recognizable figures in the thriller world.  This fourth novel carries the storyline onward.  Readers will miss some of Larsson's writing style and ability to make a story electric but will be glad to read another of Salander's adventures.  The novel considers the concept of artificial intelligence and what life would be like if humans were not the smartest organisms around as well as the moral quandaries of a world with constant governmental surveillance.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, August 7, 2018

We're into August and perhaps the end of summer is in sight.  I'm not a fan of heat and humidity so summer is my least favorite season.  Fall is my favorite so I'm looking forward to that.  We're about to move our daughter back to SC for her junior year of college.  Next summer she may be doing an internship so this may have been her last summer at home which is sad.  We've taken trips, cooked together, accomplished goals and read, read, read all summer!  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  Ghosted, Rosie Walsh, modern fiction, sent by publisher
2.  The House Swap, Rebecca Fleet, thriller, sent by publisher
3.  Melmoth, Sarah Perry, historical fiction, won in contest
4.  Go Home, Afton, Brent Jones, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  So Much Life Left Over, Louis De Bernieres, literary fiction, sent by publisher
6.  Rush, Lisa Patton, women's fiction, sent by publisher
7.  November Road, Lou Berney, thriller, won in contest
8.  Stone Cold Sober, Rebecca Marks, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  Old Fashioned With A Twist, Rebecca Marks, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  Swift Vengence, T. Jefferson Parker, thriller, sent by publisher
11.  Unexploded, Alison Macleod, literary fiction, purchased
12.  Button Man, Andrew Gross, thriller, sent by publisher
13.  Believe Me, JP Delaney, mystery, sent by publisher
14.  The Whale, Mark Beuregard, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Since the last time I posted, I've also purchased 21 ebooks, with eight of those being boxed sets and downloaded about thirty ebooks as ARCS.  There's never a dearth of reading material in this house!

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Rembrandt's Eyes, Simon Schama, paperback
2.  The Girl In The Spider's Web, David Lagercrantz, hardback
3.  The Mechanical, Ian Tregillis, paperback
4.  The Crossing, Michael Connelley, audiobook
5.  All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy, audiobook
6.  The Beautiful Dead, Belinda Bauer, paperback
7.  Autonomous, Annalee Newitz, Kindle Fire
8.  The Years That Followed, Catherine Dunne, hardback

Happy Reading!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Silk And Song by Dana Stabenow

Johanna Wu is the granddaughter of the traveler Marco Polo.  When he left, he put his wife and daughter under the protection of the merchant Wu, his best friend.  Wu's son married Polo's daughter and their only child was Johanna.  Johanna grew up on the road, traveling with the caravans across the East, learning the value of silks and gems, paper and maps.  Along the way, the family grew when they rescued a boy, the only survivor of a massacre that killed both his parents.  Jaufre's father was an Englishman, a former Crusader and Knight Templar who now sold his services for protection along the trading routes. 

Johanna and Jaufre are left at a loss when their father, Wu, dies.  It is unlikely that they will be welcome in China without their father as their European features mark them as different.  They decide to go to Venice to see if Marco Polo yet lives.  Along the way, they add to their group of friends.  There is Johanna's stepsister, a wise woman and healer who knows plants and medicine.  A Mongol assassin joins their group when he falls in love with the stepsister.  There is a troubadour and a traveling religious man, both strays whom the group takes in.  Another former Templar joins the group and along with his Mongol counterpart, train the group in self-defense.  Two women from a harem are rescued by Johanna and join them.  Finally, when they reach Venice, Johanna adds a street urchin who is sold by her father. 

Together the group travels and trades, encountering friendship and base treachery along the road.  Johanna has an amazing white stallion that she races and who has never been beat and will only respond to her.  Will they find the answers they seek in Venice?  Could Marco Polo be alive after all these years and will he remember the wife and child he left behind in China?  What is the mystery of Jaufre's background that is hinted at by those they meet?

Dana Stabenow is known for her mysteries.  This historical novel is a departure but the reader will find the same robust storytelling that has made her a success in her more familiar genre.  The relationships are interesting and the various quests and dangers are compelling.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Quick by Lauren Owen

James Norbury grew up, isolated, in the English countryside with only his sister, Charlotte, for friendship and affection.  Their mother had died and their father had little time or interest in them and left them to be raised by the servants.  After his death, they moved out of the huge mansion that would be James's when he was grown and into the cottage of their caretaker.  There James lived until he went to college.  Afterwards, in the late 1800's, he made his way to London.

He didn't have to work but wasn't as wealthy as many of the men he went to college with and now encountered in London.  James shares rooms with Christopher Paige, a man from a wealthy family who is well established in London.  They slowly build a friendship.  Then the unimaginable happens.  The two are walking in the streets when they are set upon by a man.  After the encounter, Paige is dead and James awakes to find himself kidnapped.  To his utmost horror, his captors are a society of those others call vampires and James has been unwillingly brought into their number. 

In the meantime, Charlotte has made her way to London to find James after her letters and telegrams go unreturned.   She finds him in the worst situation imaginable and in the midst of an epic struggle between those belonging to the upper reaches of society who are vampires and those in that category from the lower classes.  The two sets are determined to eradicate each other and then there are vampire hunters also.  Somehow Charlotte must weave her way between the rivalries and try to save James.  Is it even imaginable that she can?

The Quick  is a debut novel, the title referring to everyday humans who are known as the quick by those who hunt them.  Lauren Owen  has managed to recreate the misty London which always seems so mysterious and slowly build tension as the two groups fight their battle for supremacy.  This book is recommended for readers of horror and mystery fiction.