Monday, October 29, 2018

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

It's 1948 in southern Texas, and sixteen year old John Grady Cole has his whole life laid out.  He has been raised on the farm that has belonged in his family for decades and he plans to live and die on it as well.  When his parents divorce and he finds that his mother plans to sell the farm, his world crumbles.  He and his cousin Lacey Rawlins decide to take their horses and ride down to Mexico to live the life he is denied at home.

The two boys ride down across the land, going further and further into Mexico.  Along the way they are approached by a fourteen year old boy, Jimmy Blevins, who has two distinguishing characteristics.  He is riding a thoroughbred of a horse that he insists is his, and he can shoot the leaf off a tree at a hundred paces.  He loses his horse after a storm and when he finds it and is refused ownership by the man who found it, Blevins steals his horse back.  He takes off with federales in close pursuit, leaving John Grady and Lacey to go on their way.

They end up at a large Mexican horse ranch.  They live the lives of gauchos, rounding up horses and breaking them to saddle.  John Grady gets to develop a personal relationship with the farm's owner, a wealthy man who is worldly having lived in many lands.  He appreciates John Grady's ability to do anything with a horse but he is outraged when John Grady falls in love with his daughter and she with him.  Soon, he betrays the boys by turning them in to the marshals, who are sure that they are as guilty as Jimmy Blevins.  How the boys turn into men and the hard lessons they learn as they do so make up this difficult yet beautiful novel.

Cormac McCarthy is one of the United States' national treasures.  He writes of a country and a way of life that has mostly disappeared and makes the reader believe in it.  John Grady personifies the belief that a man must work hard, be honest and make his word his bond while refusing to allow others to make him move from what he knows is right and honest.  The reader is taken along on the ride as John Grady learns what is important to him, what he can do and what he must accept.  The novel won a National Book Award in 1992 and is the first book in the Border Trilogy.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Crossing by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch has retired and he doesn't like it.  He was forced out and has a lawsuit against the force and he is at loose ends without the career he has been dedicated to.  When his half-brother, Mickey Haller, asks him to look into the claims of a client that he is innocent, Bosch's first response is an emphatic no.  He and his fellow detectives regarded those in law enforcement that became defense investigators after retirement as traitors; that they had crossed the line.

But the more Bosch hears about the case, the harder it is for him to refuse his help.  A man is sitting in jail, charged with the brutal rape and murder of a Los  Angeles city worker who was married to a sheriff's deputy.  The man in jail had a record from his youth when he was in a gang, but that was years ago.  He is now an artist and claims he was in his studio working when the murder occurred.  What finally sways Bosch to look into those claims is the realization that if the charge was false that it meant the real killer was free and walking around, maybe to commit more crimes.

As Bosch looks into the case, it doesn't take long before he stirs up interest in the minds of his former co-workers.  As he expected, he is regarded as a turncoat.  As he digs in further, he begins to undercover a plot that will expose corruption unheard of and a series of related crimes that no one else has thought to put together.  None of that makes him any more popular.

This is the eighteenth novel in the Harry Bosch series.   Those who like the series will be interested to see how Harry reacts to retirement and to being at loose ends.  It is interesting to see how his instinct for when something doesn't seem right leads him to one of the biggest cases in his career.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Bernie And The Wizards by Steve LeBel

Bernie has a problem.  He's been given a project that as a god and a builder he should be able to solve.  A universe that another god has created isn't performing as expected.  It was created to produce guidpeppers.  At first everything worked fine and the production and harvest of the peppers proceeded on schedule.  But lately, something was wrong.  Pepper production was way down and even worse, the inhabitants of the planet, a docile group created for their docility and farming skills, were not acting normally at all.  There was a war going on with entire villages being burned and its inhabitants slaughtered.

Now Bernie has to fix someone else's mistakes and he has to do it quickly.  Much is expected of him as he has just won the most prestigious builder award in years.  He has to handle the publicity and adoration that has brought into his life, and that's a tall order for someone who has just finished his training and isn't really sure about himself at all.

Bernie visits the planet and what he discovers dismays him.  The inhabitants believe in magic, of all things, and their social structures revolve around the village shamans.  The shamans are the first born children of previous shamans and they must undergo seven years of intensive training to become fully vested to serve.  But the shamans have no answer to what is happening and the aggression that is tearing their society apart.  Worse, the builder gods are constantly threatening Bernie that the easiest thing to do would be to kill off all the inhabitants and start with a new species.  Since Bernie is one of the few gods to believe that their creations also have souls, he wants to find a solution that will avoid that.  Can he solve his problem and save the inhabitants?

Steve LeBel has created an interesting world that proves a setting in which ethical questions can be played out.  There is the question of whether these created individuals should have the same rights as the gods do.  There is the question of how Bernie will adapt to sudden fame and if he can retain his childhood friends when he is surrounded by others who now want to be with him.  There is even the problem of how he will handle his father who deserted the family but now wants to reconcile.  The reader will be interested to see how these problems are resolved.  This book is recommended for young adult fantasy readers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Beasts Of Extraordinary Circumstances by Ruth Emmie Lang

Not everyone is average.  It's taking Weylyn Grey a while to realize that.  Most children grow up in loving families and do all the normal childhood things like going to school, trick and treating, waiting for Santa, playing with their friends and learning to become adults from their parents.  Weylyn has a different route.  He grows up living with a wolf pack after his parents are killed.  He doesn't go to school and has no touchpoint with the usual childhood activities.  He doesn't have human friends until Mary finds him in the woods and befriends him.

But Weylyn knows his way is different.  Strange things happen around him.  Like having a horned pig for a pet.  Like having snowstorms come up from nowhere and drop inches of snow in a short time.  Like being able to stop a tornado or a hurricane or regrowing timber that was cut overnight.  The strangeness keeps others away and on the few occasions when Weylyn makes an attempt to be included, he soon pulls away himself to protect others from the natural disasters that seem to follow him around.  Can he ever find love?

Ruth Emmie Lang has written a charming book about an unforgettable charcter.  Weylyn draws the reader in and they cannot but help cheering him on, even as they experience the fact that his otherness seems to be the barrier that will forever keep him apart.  The connections between characters and the happenstances that are unreal but seem perfectly formed make this a book few will forget.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

The Lewis Man by Peter May

After his son is killed in a hit-and-run traffic accident, Fin Macleod's life falls apart.   His marriage is over as it was a passionless affair held together by the love each had for their son.  He ends up quitting his job as a detective inspector as it just doesn't mean anything to him anymore.  After his divorce goes through, Fin is drawn back to the land of his youth, The island of Lewis, an island high in the Scottish sea, remote yet compelling.  He left there as a young man and returns with a need to reinvent himself again.

Fin is not sure what he will do there but decides to start by rebuilding the ancient farmstead where his parents lived their lives.  He reunites with the people from his youth, his former love Marsaili and her son Fionnlagh, now a father himself, his best friend Donald, now a pastor.  He foresees himself living a quiet life, spending his time discovering what can make a life after he has lost everything but a quiet life is not to be.

A man is discovered buried deep in the peat that makes up the soil of the island.  At first it is thought that this is one of the famous bog men that occasionally turn up, men preserved for hundreds of years in the peat.  But a tattoo on the man's arm of Elvis puts paid to that idea.  Who is this man and how did he come to lie in the soil of Lewis?  How did he die and who was responsible?  Soon Fin is drawn into the mystery as it turns out that the man is related somehow to Marsaili's father, a man now lost in the fogs of dementia.  Can he solve the mystery and bring peace to those left in his life?

This was my first book written by Peter May and I've discovered another mystery author to follow.  The setting is wonderful, reminiscent of the series Shetland.  The characters are attempting to live their lives but their presents are overshadowed by their pasts.  Fin is a great character and the reader is drawn into his life, hoping that some good can come to a life burdened by loss and regret.  This book is recommended by mystery readers.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

White Bone by Ridley Pearson

Although it is unimaginable to those living in the United States, in many areas of the world ivory from the tusks of elephants and rhinos are highly prized and valuable.  They are used in spurious health remedies and virility extracts and there is never enough supply to meet the demand.  This leads to the deadly gangs of poachers in Africa and the entire network of ivory smugglers.  The park rangers attempt to capture the poachers and the government tries to stop the export but neither are very successful.  Add in a layer of governmental corruption and it seems that nothing can stop the murder of these animals.

Into this deadly stew, Grace Chu has gone missing.  Her military contractor partner, John Knox, drops everything and heads to Africa to find her.  Grace is a financial and computer expert and she went to find out where their employer's money has disappeared to.  In the process, she has run afoul of someone and is now nowhere to be found.

Knox uses unorthodox methods to find Grace.  He depends on a street smart teenager, a millionaire who has dedicated his life to saving the elephants.  A native policewoman is helpful when Knox needs help getting around or breaking through the layers of corruption.  A ranger, who is a legend for stopping as many poachers by whatever means he deems necessary is another ally.  Can this team of men and women find Grace in time?

Ridley Pearson has written a page turner of a novel that exposes the horrific world of ivory smuggling and those who are fighting to insure the animal's survival by whatever means necessary.  The plot is complex and the action is nonstop.  There is tension and an education in bush survival.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Templars by Dan Jones

Most people have heard of the Templars and the mysteries surrounding them.  They are still current in stories of the Middle Ages and most people have a nodding acquaintance on what they did and who they were.  In this comprehensive book, historian and award-winning journalist Dan Jones outlines the complete history of the order and their downfall.

The order of the Templars was created in 1119 when the Western Christian countries wanted to insure that they were in charge of Jerusalem, location of the majority of Christian shires and tourist sites.  Ownership of Jerusalem was hotly contested with various Muslim groups in the area with the Christians being in control at times and the Muslims at others.  Each tended to make worship at the others' sites difficult when they were in authority.  The Templars and the Hospitallars were created to fight the wars necessary to win the territory and to support those injured in the constant battles.

Many of the legends associated with the order came from the high profile of the various leaders of the Crusades.  Richard the Lionhearted of England, Louis IV of France and Frederick II of Prussia were some of the storied men who led the armies that fought for control.  On the Muslim side, such famous men as Saladin were in control.  These two sides fought for control over the area for hundreds of years.

Although the Templars were started as a monastic entity, over the years the order became very wealthy.  Kings and church leaders granted them lands and freedom from levies and taxes.  The Templars not only fought but provided banking services to others as they were trusted and had the military authority to secure funds.  They also provided security to tourists and made money shepherding them to and around the Holy Lands.

Finally, in the early 1300's, envy of the Templar's wealth and their stubborn insistence on their independence from governmental control brought them ruin.  On April 13, 1307, a Friday, hundreds of Templars in France were arrested and then tortured during their imprisonment until they made confessions that they were anti-Christian.  The Church became involved in a power struggle with the French king and finally to resolve it, declared the Templars disbanded.  The order was not persecuted in other countries as they were in France, but their power and wealth were over. 

This is an interesting compilation of what is known about the Templars.  Readers may be surprised at the sheer numbers killed in the Crusades and at how often the Christians were utterly defeated only to rise and try again and again.  Jones has written extensively on English history and he brings his easy to read style to this topic as well.  This book is recommended for nonfiction and history readers.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

If your family has an exceptional child, your life is different from those of other families.  Every resource the family has, time, money, attention is spent on supporting that child and making sure he or she reaches the goal they are pushing toward.  That was the case of the Knox family.  Their daughter, Devon, is a golden girl of gymnastics, one of the few each year who has the realistic potential to make the Olympic team and even medal at the next Olympic games.

Everything the Knox family did, it did with that goal in mind.  Katie, the mom, leaves her full-time job so that she can spend the time taking Devon to practises at a gym that can support her.  There is a second mortgage on the house and Eric, the dad, serves as the parent representative.  There aren't vacations; only family trips to distance cities where Devon is competing and maybe a few hours snatched between rounds.  The money goes quickly on gym fees, private coaching, competition leotards at several hundred dollars each, hotel bills, eating out, etc.  Devon's little brother, Drew, grows up on bleachers where he and his mother spend hours waiting on Devon to end practice.

Now, it's about time for all those sacrifices to pay off.  Devon is approaching the biggest trial in her career, the one that will put her in the stratosphere from which the Olympic team is chosen.  Nothing, nothing can be allowed to distract her or take time from her preparation.  Then something does anyhow.  A young man who is a fixture at the gym and who dates on of the young coaches, is found dead.  Even worse, it appears to be a case of hit and run, his life cut short on the side of a road.  The gym closes down but the rumor mill starts up.  Did the coach kill her boyfriend?  As she is the niece of the gym owner, it starts to affect practises.  The rumor mill gears up.  Hailey is being questioned by the police; Hailey and her boyfriend were seen fighting, Hailey was known for her jealousy.  Soon the gym is shutting down for hours and then days as the gym owner supports his niece.  What will happen next?  Will this put an end to Devon's dreams?

Megan Abbott has captured the concentration and focus that supporting a child with a dream entails.  The drama and suspense builds slowly, exposing the bones beneath the appearance of a successful family who has spent their lives focused on one thing.  It questions when support becomes obsession and exposes how it can affect every relationship.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Dark Saturday by Nicci French

Twelve years ago, a murder case hit the headlines and became a media sensation.  Eighteen year old Hannah Docherty was accused of murdering her mother, stepfather and little brother in a rage against the family.  The evidence was clear and there was never any doubt.  Since then, Hannah has been held in a secure psychiatric hospital but her name still strikes fear and repulsion in the public mind.

Now Dr. Frieda Klein has been approached and asked to meet with Hannah to give her read on Hannah's mental state.  Klein is reluctant but she is being asked as a favor she owes to a man high in the government who helped her and her police detective friend when she needed help so she feels she must agree.  She reads up on the case and goes to meet Hannah.

What she finds upsets her.  Hannah is unresponsive, a girl who is battered and bruised, obviously the recipient of inmate or staff abuse.  She is drugged and can or will make little sense.  Frieda is appalled and starts to think about the case in a different way.  What if Hannah wasn't guilty and has instead been buried alive to hide someone else's guilt?  What would that person do to keep their part in the crime hidden?  As Frieda begins to investigate and talk with those involved in the tragedy, her doubts continue to mount.  Can she solve the case that everyone thought was solved twelve years ago? 

This is the sixth in the Dr. Frieda Klein series.  Klein is an interesting protagonist.  She seems introverted which is a strange characteristic for a therapist to have.  She lets few people into her life but those she lets in she cares for intensely.  She is driven by a sense of injustice and her ability to sort through the tangled threads of a messy situation to discover the truth is a fascinating procedure to watch.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Rhapsody by Elizabeth Haydon

They are The Three spoken of in lore and myth.  Rhapsody is a Singer, one who speaks the truth through Naming a person or event's essential truth.  Achmed is the hidden one, an assassin who is destined to lead his people who have been considered monsters or half-men.  Grunthor is the giant who trains and leads the armies of Achmed and who is fiercely loyal to the others. 

Together they are to fulfill the prophecy of the Children of Blood, uniting all together, merging the civilizations that fled an Island kingdom only to unite in marriage with the Dragon civilization.  After a rupture in that union, all the various tribes of men have separated into their own realms and become deadly enemies of each other.  Now there is a chance of reunion.

This is the first novel in a nine novel series called The Children Of Blood.  Haydon has created an interesting world, filled with novel characters who have flaws to offset their virtues.  Rhapsody was a prostitute before she trained as a Singer.  Achmed was an assassin who served dark masters until he could break free while Grunthor cheerfully admits to cannibalism and murder.  The world frame laid down in this first novel will lead to more intrigue and depth in the eight following ones.  This book is recommended for readers of fantasy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff

At first glance, Jonathan has it all.  Fresh out of college, he is living in Manhattan and working at an ad agency with his best friend.  He is engaged and about to be married.  He even has two dogs, his brother's pets that he couldn't take overseas so they are staying with Jonathan.  But when the top layer is peeled back a bit, Jonathan's life is anything but perfect.  He hates his job where he has no creative input and spends his days drawing his masterpiece, a comic version of the nine levels of hell.  His Manhattan apartment is one that doesn't even have a lease and he's not sure who owns it or when they will want it back.  His friends don't like his fiancee, who is an uptight, organized type, and now that it's getting closer, Jonathan isn't sure the wedding is a good idea either.

The only constant are the dogs.  They never complain, never seem to think Jonathan has made a major mess of his life.  They seem to support him in ways that others think are in his head but he's almost sure they are guiding his life.  But that's nuts, isn't it?  Is Jonathan headed for a crisis or is everything bound to work out fine?

Meg Rosoff has written an engaging novel with a protagonist the reader can't help but fall in love with.  Jonathan is the child everyone wants to protect, the good guy who just can't seem to catch a break but possibly, he is about to take charge of his life.  Rosoff has written six novels.  Her first, How I Live Now, was nominated for the Orange Prize for Women's Literature.  Subsequent novels have been nominated for such awards as the National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

Zoe Walker is headed home after a long tiring day when she sees it.  Glancing through the newspaper, she stops short at the advertisements.  Did she just see that?  What in the world?  Zoe has seen a picture in the personal ads and somehow, the picture she has seen is her own.  Looking again, she isn't as sure and thinks maybe its just one of those doppelgangers everyone seems to have.  She makes her way home, a bit uneasy but ready to shrug it off.

Then it happens.  She had checked the other ads when she saw the one that seemed to be hers.  Then she is watching the news and a shock of recognition comes over her as she listens to the crime news.  One of the women on the news has been robbed on the subway.   Even worse, as she focuses in on the news in the next few days, a recent murder of another woman brings the realization that she, also, had her picture in the ads.  What is going on?

It's not like Zoe doesn't already have enough problems.   She has a job that is stressful due to the bullying her boss provides; he knows she is not in any position to leave a well-paying job in the economy they face.  She faces a long commute daily which doesn't leave her as much time at home as she'd like.  Neither of her teenage children seem to be moving forward in life and neither likes her live-in partner.  They haven't forgiven her for the divorce when she left their father as she shielded them from his infidelities. 

Zoe reports her suspicions to the police.  They aren't interested until Zoe connects with a policewoman who is looking for a way to get back on the fast track at work.  Kelly made one mistake that almost ruined her career and has been working diligently to try to retrieve what she threw away in one moment.  Kelly listens to Zoe and as the murders start to pile up, brings the police force in on the deadly game that is being played out under their noses.  Will they solve the case in time to save Zoe?

This is a chilling book for any woman to read.  The reality of danger from the merest of suspicions makes the reader check their own lives for touch points and to wonder how safe they are as they go about their daily routine.  The author is a twelve year veteran of the police force in England so those portions of the book ring true.  The suspense builds slowly and steadily and the ending will surprise most.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

In the early 1900's, Sunja, a young girl from a poor Korean family, is not sure what her life will be.  She lives with her mother in the boardinghouse they run.  Her father, a crippled fisherman who loved her dearly, has passed on.  She expects her life to be spent on the island where she was born, working in the boardinghouse.  A chance encounter in the marketplace leads her to a relationship with Hansu.  Hansu is a tall, rich Korean who lives in Japan where he can pass as Japanese.  The two start a relationship and it is only when Sunja finds herself pregnant that she discovers that Hansu is married with three daughters in Japan.

This is a disaster to her family.   She has brought shame on them all and there is now no hope of marriage as no other man will look at her.  Then a miracle happens.  The two women have been taking care of a sick young man at their boardinghouse.  He is a minister who became ill on his trip to join his brother in Japan as a missionary.  Grateful that the two women have nursed him back to health, he offers to marry Sunja and take her with him.  With no other options, she accepts Isak's offer.

Thus begins Sunja's life in Japan.  Her son with Hansu is Noa but Isak considers him as his own son.  Later the two have a second son, Mozasu.  The couple live with Isak's brother and his wife and it takes everyone to carve out a living in Japan, where Koreans are discriminated against and given only the lowliest jobs.  As the years and decades pass, the family goes through many changes with deaths, new loves, marriages, new children, etc.  The constant is poverty and hard work and the bedrock of family and obligation.

Pachinko is a National Book Award finalist as well as a New York Times Notable Book for 2017.  Readers will be immersed in a culture about which they likely know very little.  It also explores the themes of family, obligations, prejudice and love.  Multigenerational sagas are often described as sprawling but this story is tightly plotted and will draw the reader into a world they never imagined before.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne

While on a field trip in Montana, Professor Theo Cray hears a horrific story.  A woman has been killed.  He is shocked when he finds out that it was a former student of his, in the area doing field work.  Cray sees the body and although the first impression is that she has been killed by a bear, he doesn't believe it.  He takes pictures and samples and goes to the police with his thoughts only to find that they are determined to put this down to a rampaging animal or alternatively, to charge him as he seems so obsessed with the crime.

He reluctantly leaves the town but he isn't through.  As a computational biologist, he is a scientist and the police's theory just doesn't add up.  He is trained to see patterns where others do not.  In fact, he is just focused enough that he sees things others do not and socially awkward enough that he insists on his theories even when those around him don't believe him.

Theo goes to a neighboring town and tries to work out what happened.  Once he throws out the theory that the death was the result of a bear, he is left with the theory that it is a human killer who is disguising as a bear for the ability to kill without consequences.  Cray works out a theory that shows him the areas that such a killer would tend to target and then searches for missing people.  When he manages to find another body, killed a year before, the police can't ignore him although once again they reach for the comfortable animal killing idea.  Although the police don't believe him, the killer does and can't believe someone has managed to break his decades long streak of killings.  The killer is determined to put an end to Theo's theory and how better to do it than to put an end to Theo?

This is the first in a series of mysteries by Andrew Mayne, who is best known for his work as a magician.  He has both a TV series and a podcast about illusion which makes the sleight of hand necessary in a mystery secondhand to him.  In Theo Cray, he has created a fascinating character whose quirks seem believable and whose name, Cray, is a sly illusion to the Cray supercomputer which he is similar to.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, October 1, 2018

It's October and soon things will get cooler.  There is football and pumpkins, mums and soon there will be turning leaves.  Schools and colleges are having fall breaks and Halloween decorations are cropping up everywhere.  Soon it will be time to make crockpot potato soup and chicken and dumplings, food we never make in the hot, humid summer.  It's dark now by 7:30 as opposed to almost 9:00 a few months ago.  Obviously, fall is another great time for reading.  Here's what has come through the door lately:

1.  The Glovemaker, Ann Weisgarber, historical fiction, sent by publicist
2.  Red Hotel, Gary Grossman, thriller, sent by publisher
3.  Fed Up, Gemma Hartley, nonfiction, sent by publisher
4.  We All Love The Beautiful Girls, Joanne Proulx, literary fiction, Vine review book
5.  False Witness, Andrew Grant, mystery, Vine review book
6.  Sight, Jessie Greengrass, literary fiction, Vine review book
7.  Time's Convert, Deborah Harkness, thriller, sent by publisher
8.  The Last Romantics, Tara Conklin, historical fiction, Vine review book
9.  The Wreckage, Michael Crummey, historical fiction, purchased
10.  Rhapsody, Elizabeth Haydon, fantasy, purchased
11.  I See You, Clare Mackintosh, mystery, given by a friend

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Rembrandt's Eyes, Simon Schama, hardcover
2.  Autonomous, Annalee Newitz, Kindle Fire
3.  The Templars, Dan Jones, hardcover
4.  The Crossing, Michael Connelly, audio
5.  All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy, audio
6.  You Will Know Me, Meg Abbott, paperback
7.  Jonathan Unleashed, Meg Rosoff, hardback

Happy Reading!