Sunday, September 30, 2018

Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina

In the years following the Civil War, a woman blazed onto the national scene.  Victoria Woodhull started life in a family of grifters and con men.  She was used by her parents to further their crimes as she and her sister, Tennessee, were forced to work long hours as fortune tellers.  This was the era of seers and spiritualists and many people believed that the dead could return to predict the future. 

Victoria fled her parents into an early marriage at sixteen, only to find that the man she thought would save her instead was at bad as her parents.  He was an alcoholic and thought nothing of beating her.  But there was a spirit in Victoria that refused to give up.  She and her sister went to New York and managed to meet the acquaintance of one of the nations richest men, Cornelius Vanderbilt.  With his patronage, the sisters managed to break into the heights of society.  Desperate for knowledge, Victoria used her acquaintance with Vanderbilt to learn about the stock market and the two sisters opened the first female stock brokers office. 

But Victoria's interests ran wide.  She yearned to make herself known and valued in all aspects and she became part of the suffragette movement to fight for the vote for women.  That led her to the trade unions with their message of rights and more power for those working.  She opened one of the first female newspapers in order to push her views out to more people.  Finally, in 1872, she became the first woman to run for President, believing that her spirit guide predicted her success.

But Woodhull's views were too outrageous for the times.  She had divorced her first husband and remarried another man but was adamant that she wouldn't be controlled this time.  She advocated for what she called free love, the right of men and women to love where they would regardless of their martial status, what would today be called an open marriage.  She befriended prostitutes and others from the lowest classes.  She fought constantly against the other women in the women liberation movement, like the Stowe sisters as she constantly pushed for more than most considered possible and was considered to be using the movement for her own purposes.  As Victoria came out with more and more radical ideas, she finally lost all that she had accomplished and today, few even know her name.

This novel won the Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction in the U.S. women's history category.  It puts the spotlight back on a woman who dared to want equality and fought her entire life to gain it, not only for herself but for everyone around her.  Although ultimately she failed and was silenced by her critics, she is now being rediscovered and lauded for her accomplishments.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Making A Killing by John L. Hart and Olivia Rupprecht

As the Vietnam war rages, there are lots of events going on besides those on the battlefield.  There is CIA involvement in government affairs, and men who are cashing in on the vast wealth that the heroin trade in this area provides.  All of these factors come together when Kate Morningside is kidnapped.  Who has her?  Is the kidnapping part of a spy-counterspy plot?  Is she caught up in the machinations of the men trying to control the drug trade?

Kate is loved by JD Mikel, the CIA's top assassin but also the brother of the Poppy King, the man who controls the vast drug trade in the shadowy background.  Perhaps the kidnapping is part of a plot to force JD to betray his brother.  He reaches out for help from two unlikely sources.  Gregg and Izzy are two Army psychiatrists.  Gregg also loves Kate and the two are willing to help find her.  They travel from base to base, providing help to soldiers who are addicted while keeping their ears to the ground to pick up any clues about Kate's whereabouts.  Will they find her in time?

The writing team of John L. Hart and Olivia Rupprecht have created an intricate plot that brings together the worlds of espionage, drug trafficking and warfare.  The characters are interesting, especially that of JD.  The men they fight against include some of the vilest sadists and criminals imaginable.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

It is an unlikely encounter.  She is the best opera soprano currently singing.  He is an extremely wealthy Japanese industrialist.  They are brought together in a small Latin American country who wishes to court the fortune and influence of the businessman.  His birthday is coming up and one of the few personal things known about him is his love of opera.  So a massive birthday party is thrown and the opera singer is hired to provide the night's entertainment. 

At the end of her singing, the crowd of wealthy businessmen and their wives are silent, amazed at her talent.  At this moment, in swarms a group of guerrillas; it is hard to understand that they are actually there or what their purpose is.  They have come to kidnap the President of the country.  Unfortunately for their plans, the President didn't attend and his Vice President is the highest ranking official.  The guests are forced to the ground, their sumptuous garments crushed and matted.  What will the invaders do now?

What they do is settle in.  They soon get embroiled in negotiations with the police outside.  The women are all sent out in the first round of bargaining, as the terrorists realize they have too many hostages along with those who are ill.  That still leaves over forty men and one women inside; the soprano.  The terrorists are not willing to give up that bargaining chip. 

Now the negotiation period stalls.  Days, then weeks and soon months go by.  The terrorists begin to make ever more outrageous demands, and the police and officials outside provide nothing but food.  Soon the story even falls out of the headlines as days go by.  Inside, a new society emerges.  The men are all in love with the soprano.  A translator, Gen, who works for the Japanese tycoon, becomes essential as he can help these men from all over the world communicate with each other.  As the days go by, it is discovered that two of the guerrillas are girls who are disguised as boys.  Alliances are formed and love affairs emerge.  The most momentous is between the industrialist and the soprano but there are other love affairs as well.  Will this state of affairs go on forever?

Ann Patchett has written a story that is both torn from the headlines and timeless.  It is the story of people coming together in spite of differences.  It is the story of how we each long for beauty to make our lives more bearable.  It is the role of love in our lives.  The novel won the Orange Prize (now the Bailey Prize) and the PEN/Faulkner award.  It is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Kraken Sea by E. Catherine Tobler

Jackson doesn't who what he is exactly, but he knows he isn't like the other children in the orphanage that is all he remembers.  They don't really like him and he can take or leave them.  No one really bothers Jackson as the word is out of bad things that happen to those who cross him.  Jackson is content as he can be.  He has Sister Jerome Grace as a friend and that was enough for him.  Most days passed by without incident although sometimes others would see a momentary flash of scales or a hand that seemed to not quite be formed correctly.  Jackson doesn't know what these momentary flashes are but he knows he needs to hide them from everyone else.

Than things change at the orphanage.  A group of children are chosen to be adopted by families out West and Jackson's name is on the list.  He can't imagine who would want him as no one else has or why.  The woman in San Francisco who has chosen him goes by the The Widow and she is respected and feared by everyone around her.  There are others in her mansion and again, not everyone is fully human.  Jackson knows he has been chosen to live with The Widow for some purpose although he doesn't know why.   He finally feels accepted and that is a revelation to him.  Jackson meets Mae, who is a lion tamer at a circus/show a few blocks away who is mysterious and powerful and drawn to him.  At the same time, he meets a girl at a bakery who seems the epitome of normality.  Which girl is he meant to love and why?

This novella is menacing and murky while still being fascinating.  There are glimpses of myriad things going on in the dark and behind the scenes but much is left to the reader's imagination and interpretation.  The reader is left with the feeling that there is more to Jackson's story that hasn't been told yet and that further adventures await him.  This book is recommended to fantasy readers.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

Twenty-eight years ago, a horrible event happened in the small Georgia town where the Quinn family lived.  Rusty Quinn was a defense criminal lawyer, an occupation that made him an unpopular figure in town.  His wife and two daughters, Samantha and Charlotte, were at their house when two men intent on revenge on Rusty broke in.  At the end of the day, Rusty's wife, Gamma, lay dead, Samantha was barely alive and Charlotte, at thirteen, was left to mourn the wreck of her family and then testify in the trial that sent a man to Death Row.

Now another horrific event has taken place in town.  A girl has taken a gun into an elementary school and opened fire, killing the principal and a young girl.  Unbelievably, Charlotte is mixed up in this event also.  Although she now is a practicing attorney herself, she had gone to the school before classes began and is caught up in the events as a witness.  Her father plans to defend the shooter and that night, when he ends up in the hospital, Charlotte has had enough.  Her husband contacts Samantha, who has lived estranged from Charlotte and Rusty all these years, and asks her to come home to help. 

It's the last thing Sam wants to do.  She fought for years to be able to walk and talk again.  She left home as soon as she could and became a patent attorney in New York City.  She is highly paid and the best at what she does but she cannot manage to cross the gap those distant events left to reach her family.  This is probably her last chance to reunite with her family.  She returns.  Can she reconcile with Rusty and Charlotte?  Can the two sisters unearth the secrets that remain from that event and find a way to work together in this new crisis?

Karin Slaughter is a successful novelist.  She currently has three works in film production, this being one of them.  She has two successful series and has written eighteen novels.  Her ability to spin a tense, compelling story makes readers want to continue reading to find out what is next.  What is next is often a twist that the reader couldn't see coming, but that makes everything fall into place.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

An unspeakable crime has occurred.  A man lies dead in his courtyard, his head split open by the hatchet laying nearby.  The only person there when the police arrive is his wife, Zeba.  The family lives in a small Afghan village and Muslim law is the norm.  The man, Kamal, was not a perfect man.  He had removed his family from the side of town where his family lived and there were rumors of the things he chose to do.  Zeba was expected to have no input into his behavior; to take whatever he chose to dish out and continue to be a perfect wife and mother to her four children. 

Now Zeba is in prison, the house with no windows.  She refuses to speak or give any explanation about what has occurred.  She is quartered with other women who are imprisoned for crimes, many of which boil down to zina, having sex outside marriage.  This could be loving a man one planned to marry, having an affair, being prostituted by one's husband or even being raped but blamed.  Women were not believed, their testimony not given any weight.  They were arrested by men, tried by men and judged by men.  Their punishment was given out and administered by men.

Into this environment comes Yusuf, Zeba's attorney.  Yusuf was born in Afghan but his family immigrated to the United States where he grew up and became an attorney.  Now he is back in Afghan as he wants to make an impact in the land of his birth.  He believes there is something in this crime that has not been uncovered, some reason that Zeba is not speaking.  Can he uncover all the hidden secrets that led to the crime?

Nadia Hashimi has shone a light into a culture that is difficult for most readers to imagine.  It is hard to conceive of a life where you have no hegemony, where your every action is dependent on what someone else decides you should do, where your desires and needs have no effect on any outcome.  Readers will be intrigued with the machinations that go on beneath the surface so that these women can survive if not thrive.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in feminist themes.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Trail Of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Maggie Hoskie is a member of the Dinetah tribe.  After the deluge that took much of the western United States, the tribe lives behind a huge wall that was created by the prayers of the Dinetah tribe leaders.   But all is not safe behind the wall.  Monsters are also living there and it is Maggie's decision to hunt and kill them, protecting those she loves.

Her mentor and lover was Neizghani, an immortal who is the greatest fighter ever known.  She worked and lived with him for many months, then in the midst of one of their greatest battles, he deserted her without a word.  That's what immortals do but they leave a hole behind them that is almost impossible to fill. 

After weeks of holing up in her trailer, Maggie is starting to move among her people again.  She is asked to rescue a young kidnapped girl from a monster and although she manages to kill it, she realizes that this is a new type of monster and she doesn't know who created them or for what purpose.  Her adopted grandfather introduces her to his grandson and suggests that they work together.  Kai seems to be a lightweight, turning aside situations by talking his way out of them rather than fighting as Maggie does but to please the old man she takes him along.  Can they discover who is creating the monsters that are preying on the tribe?  Can she find out what happened to her mentor and why he has deserted her?

Rebecca Roanhorse has written an entertaining tale that is unique in its setting in an Indian land after a dystopian event has changed the world we know.  Maggie is an interesting heroine and as she learns to trust and love others, the reader is taken on her journey.  The action is fast and furious and the book ends with the reader barely able to wait for the next novel in the series.  This book is recommended for readers of sci fi/fantasy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Dead In The Dark by Stephen Booth

Even though they work in different police organizations now, Ben Cooper and Diane Fry are both still busy with their work, murder.  Fry, who has transferred to work with a division dealing with more organized threats, is called to the murder scene of an immigrant.  He was a loner and kept to himself but she soon discovers the more common scenario for these immigrants from Eastern Europe is for them to live overcrowded in dilapidated residences, crammed in with others and paid starvation wages.  They are resented by the local inhabitants and experience prejudice wherever they turn.  This touches a chord with Diane, whose background in care left her with memories of children she lived with who faced the same unreasoning prejudice.

Ben Cooper, who is still in his small village, has been promoted to head up his team.  He now adds management worries to those of fighting crime in a remote village where he knows many of the inhabitants.  The most recent case he has brings back bad memories in the village.  A man has gone missing.  Ten years ago, the man's wife had disappeared and it was assumed by all that he had killed her.  He was charged even though no body was found but was saved at the last minute by an eyewitness account that seemed to clear him.  But memories are long and Cooper knows that his disappearance now could have its roots in those former times.

This is one of the success stories in the mystery genre.  This is the eighteenth book in the series and readers not only get satisfying puzzles but they get to see the development of the main characters over the years.  The series is called the Cooper and Fry series but, although everyone pairs the two, they themselves have a complicated relationship and don't always see themselves as a team.  Their friction makes for an interesting digression from the usual mystery series and keeps it interesting.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey

The Redex Trial was a brutal car trip in the 1950's.  A total of 6,500 miles through unforgiving terrain, rally teams would fight for the chance to be crowned the winners.  It was a national sport with the drivers becoming national heroes.  Back then, the roads were still not reliable and the drivers had to fight terrain where the roads were mere wisps of dirt, streams had to be forded and supplies were few and far between.  It was an endurance race that could only happen in Australia.

Eager to make their name and fortune, one team set out to make their mark.  Titch Bob is the best car salesman in Australia but that doesn't mean he will be given the prize he covets; a Ford dealership.  His wife, Irene Bob, is a woman who knows what she wants.  She married Titch in part because he was a small, compact man and she knew her babies with him would be easy births.  She is outraged at his inability to get the dealership and is ready to do whatever it takes to help him win, even fight his larger than life father for him.

The Bobs are the drivers on their team, but they turn to their next door neighbor, Willie, Bachhuber, to be their navigator.  Willie has had a hard start to life.  He married young but left his wife in the hospital when their baby was revealed to be another race.  Stunned by that betrayal, he became a teacher but lost that job when his discipline methods came into question.  He was one of the first radio quiz show heroes but lost that job through duplicity.  Twenty-six years old, he jumps at the chance to go along on the Redex quest to see what is next for him.

The team's preparation pays off and soon they are the leaders.  But time and proximity exposes strains.  The Bob's marriage is strained and Willie's past and the secrets hidden there make him prey to a life-changing event.  The Redex Trial will change each of their lives forever.

Peter Carey is one of Australia's foremost novelists.  He is one of only four writers to have won the Booker Prize twice.  One was for Oscar And Lucinda and the other was for The True History Of The Kelly Gang.  In addition, he was won The Miles Franklin Award, Australia's top literary award, three times.  His forte as an author is to develop intriguing characters that characterize the Australian personality and to bring the history of his country into his books and make it approachable to the reader.  This book is recommended to readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Carousel Court by Joe McGinniss Jr.

They came chasing the American Dream.  Phoebe spends her days riding the California freeways, driving from doctor's office to doctor's office, her job as a pharmaceutical rep demanding that she flirt and sometimes more to make her quota of sales.   Nick came out to California believing that he had a job in the film industry only to find out that it was vapors when he got there.  He now works for a firm that clears out and cleans up houses that are foreclosed on and where the people living have just given up and moved on.

Nick and Phoebe are struggling, fighting every day just to keep their heads above water.  They live in an amazing house but just like their neighbors, they are upside down on the mortgage and struggling to make payments.  Their toddler son is with the nanny more often than with them.  In order to make it work they need to pull together but instead they turn on each other, using drugs and alcohol to fill the gaps.  Soon they are locked into a martial struggle that seems to have no resolution, each doing whatever they can to hurt the other.  Both indulge in infidelity and recriminations, blaming the other for their misfortunes.  Will they survive or be victims of the life they have chosen?

This bleak novel is not for everyone.  The main characters are struggling and as they flail around, hurting everyone they get close to, they are unlikeable and hard to emphasize with.  They know what the dream is but it is forever out of their grasp and they can't figure out why some people are winning while so many struggle and go under.  The reader moves on, unable to look away from the train wreck that is their lives and wondering if there is any hope of redemption.  This is not an easy book but it is a searing indictment of what chasing the dream can be.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

March Violets by Philip Kerr

The year is 1936 and the place is Berlin, Germany.  Bernhard Gunther, known as Bernie, is a private detective.  He became one after leaving the police force in support of his friends who were pushed out by political actions.  One of his biggest areas of work is finding missing persons; many are found to have been shipped to concentration camps or picked up by the Gestapo and killed. 

Bernie is called to the home of a multimillionaire.  The man's daughter and son-in-law have been murdered and a safe in their house containing an expensive diamond necklace has been burgled.  The man wants Bernie to run a parallel investigation to that of the police as he doesn't want to give the police all the information he has as he thinks it could have adverse financial impact on his business. 

Soon Bernie is up to his neck weaving his way between political bigwigs, the police, members of the criminal underclass and men from the Gestapo.  He meets a beautiful movie star and several women who have lost their jobs due to the new emphasis on women staying at home and being supported by their men.  It is a delicate task working through all the horrendous things going on in Berlin in that era but crime never takes a break.  Can Bernie find the murderer and the jewels?

March Violets is the first book in Kerr's successful crime series featuring Bernie Gunther.  There are currently fourteen books in the series.  Readers will enjoy the noir feel of the book and have room to compare German noir with that of Hollywood.  Bernie is an interesting character and his ability to maneuver between all the warring factions in Berlin is fascinating to watch.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, September 1, 2018

September has arrived and hopefully, autumn will be close behind.  Here in the South, we don't really get fall temperatures for six or eight more weeks, but I'm ready to decorate my door with my fall wreath and put out my glass pumpkins all over the house!  Last year I even made a glass pumpkin at a workshop which was fun.  We have delivered the college age daughter back to school so I'm back to days on my own, which translates into lots of reading.  I read twelve books in August and hope to match that in September.  Here's the ones that have made it through the door:

1.  The Island Of Always, Stephen Evans, literary fiction, sent by publicist
2.  Trust Me, Hank Phillippi Ryan, thriller, sent by publisher
3.  Grace Williams Says It Loud, Emma Henderson, literary fiction, purchased
4.  Stygian, Sherrilyn Kenyon, fantasy, sent by publisher
5.  Spies, Michael Frayn, literary fiction, purchased
6.  The Shape Of Rain, Michael Koep, fantasy, sent by publicist

Then there was the Audible sale last weekend.  I bought the following audio books:

1.  The Drowned Girls, Loreth Ann White, mystery
2.  The Water Knife, Paolo Bicagapuli, fantasy
3.  Brothers And Bones, James Hankins, mystery
4.  Gone To Dust, Matt Goldman, mystery
5.  The Naturalist, Andrew Mayne, mystery
6.  Silent Victim, Carolina Mitchell, mystery
7.  A Killer's Mind, Mike Omer, mystery
8.  Strange The Dreamer, Laini Taylor, fantasy
9.  A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms, George R. R. Martin, fantasy
10.  Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi, literary fiction
11.  The Three Musketeers, Alexander Dumas, classic literature
12.  Wizard's First Rule, Terry Goodkind, fantasy

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Rembrandt's Eyes, Simon Schama, hardback
2.  The Crossing, Michael Connelly, audio
3.  Carousel Court, Joe McGinnis, hardback
4.  The House Without Windows, Nadia Hashimi, hardback
5.  All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy, audio
6.  Bitter Violets, Philip Kerr, hardback
7.  The Golem Of Paris, Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman, paperback
8.  Autonomous, Annalee Newitz, Kindle Fire
9.  Pachinko, Min Jin Lee, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

A Woman Is A Woman Until She Is A Mother by Anna Prushinskaya

In this collection of eleven essays, author Anna Prushinskaya discusses one of the common threads tying women together, that of motherhood.  She wrote these essays while she was pregnant with her first child and then after the birth of her son.  She discusses such topics as the feelings of being pregnant, labor itself, the change that pregnancy and birth makes in a woman's life and how motherhood and outside employment interact.

In the essays, several themes emerge.  Prushinskaya brings in the Russian influences of her heritage and she discusses the thoughts of prominent feminists about the topics of women and childbirth and of becoming a mother.  Her family emigrated from Russia in 1998 and she became a citizen in 2008.  She discusses the quandary of bringing into an imperfect world a being one loves immediately and wishes the best for.  She talks about the uncertainty of pregnancy; not knowing when labor will begin or how things will turn out.  She talks about the changes one undergoes immediately after childbirth as a new world is entered.  Readers, especially women, will be interested in this unique take on one of the common experiences that bind women together.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers and those interested in the female experience.