Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Something For Nothing by David Anthony

All Martin Anderson wants is what he doesn't have.  Yes, he has a beautiful wife, but the neighbor's wive is more enticing.  Yes, he has a business where he sells planes and an ocean cruiser and a racehorse but he desperately needs money.  He's sure he is going broke, that everyone is always talking about him, that there is something out there, just out of reach, that will finally satisfy him.

When his horse trainer approaches him with a get rich quick plan, Martin is ready to listen.  The business isn't doing that well in the oil crisis of the 1970's, and Martin just needs a cash infusion to ride it out until things get better.  His partner, Val, has just the thing.  The DEA is cracking down on heroin brought in from Mexico.  The border checkpoints are getting harder and harder to get product through.  But Martin could fly down, load up the heroin and bring it back.  He doesn't need to do anything else and he can make five thousand for every trip.  Martin isn't sure but then agrees.  What can go wrong?

Apparently, lots can go wrong.  Martin is consumed with guilt about his role, sure that the police will show up any day.  When a DEA agent does show up, to ask about a plane he sold a few months before, Martin is thrown into a panic.  His marriage is having issues and his son isn't sure Martin is the hero he has always thought he was.  Can he pull it out before everything is lost?

David Anthony has written an engaging debut novel.  Martin is a character who the reader knows is doing wrong but can't help emphasizing with and liking.  The drama goes slowly from event to event until it is snowballing down the cliff, taking the reader along.  Although the situations are dire, humor is found throughout and Martin, the ultimate Everyman, gets the reader's sympathy.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Tropic Of Cancer by Henry Miller

Inspired by my resolution to read more classic novels and by the fact that the author Henry Miller played a part in this season's Durrells in Corfu PBS series, I pulled this novel off my shelf one afternoon.  An account of Miller's life in Paris after deciding that the United States was soul deadening, it was banned in this country for thirty years due to its explicit, sexual nature.

For many people, Miller does not come off well.  He is broke, his days spent roaming the sidewalk cafes and poor hotels searching for friends who might buy him a meal.  His friends are mostly in the same straits; searching for food, money and of course sex.  Miller has left his wife behind in the States and the fact that he is married has no effect on his constant searching for women.  He and his friends have little regard for the women they sleep with, describing them in crude terms and treating them with little regard.

Although one may not have wanted Miller as a friend, his ability as an author jumps off the page.  The writing is vibrant and immediate and the reader is transported to a Paris the tourists don't see.  It is one of poverty but freedom, the freedom to make a life that is what an artist needs. It describes men and women who are willing to live in poverty to have the freedom to carve out lives that matter, that allow them to freely express who they are.   It is obvious why this novel is considered one of the classics of literature and the language and attitudes don't seem any worse than much of what is commonplace in books and movies today.  This book is recommended for literary readers.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Murder In Hindsight by Ann Cleeland

They make a strange couple.  Kathleen Doyle is a sheltered, Irish Catholic girl who joined the police but retained her innocence.  Chief Inspector Michael Sinclair is also Lord Acton, one of England's wealthiest heirs.  They work together on the London police force and when Acton sees Doyle one day, he instantly falls in love with her.  He is actually obsessed with her and quickly convinces her that they must marry.  Now each is famous in their own way.  Acton has long been a darling of the press, his aristocratic background a major story in every situation.  Kathleen becomes a media darling when she jumps from a bridge to save her partner from drowning. 

A new case has come to light.  There is apparently a serial killer at work, one who has gone undetected for a while.  His victims follow no pattern of race, gender, social class or means of execution so there has been no connection.  Doyle, who Acton has put on working cold cases to keep her safe, makes the connection that each of the victims were individuals who had committed a crime themselves and escaped without legal consequence.  There is a vigilante on the loose. 

In the meantime, Acton's actions have made him a target for a shadowy figure.  He has, at times, taken the law into his own hands, and is, in fact, a vigilante who has killed before himself.  Now there is apparently a plot to get back at him and he has plenty of secrets to hide.  Can Doyle solve the murders while discovering how to save her husband?

This novel is the third in the Doyle and Acton series.  The characters are interesting but there are serious flaws in them.  It is hard to engage with a policeman who decides that the laws don't apply to him and who takes the lives of others when he decides it is best.  The worst thing that can be said about the characters is the author's insistence that everyone who meets either of them immediately falls permanently in love with them.  For Doyle, that is her partner, a shadowy figure mixed up in the plot against her husband and of course, her husband.  For Acton, it includes a journalist, a former lover at his ancestral home and every woman who comes in contact with him.  The couple have constant sex, several times daily, and yet constantly question if each other really loves them.  These flaws, if corrected, would make this a more engaging series.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Autumn by Ali Smith

Elisabeth grows up a lonely child.  Raised by a distracted and at times neglectful single mother and having little in common with most children, Elisabeth spends most of her time alone.  That is, until she meets her neighbor, an older gentleman named Daniel Gluck.  Daniel is literate and witty and knows things about the world that her mother would never think of wanting to know.  Her mother isn't sure about him but comes to depend on him as single mothers do with those near to them that are willing to help.

Despite an age gap of seven decades, Elisabeth soon finds Daniel to be one of the central figures of her life, giving her things to consider and think about she had never imagined and opening her life.  Daniel loves art and literature and music and he exposes Elisabeth to all of that.  In particular, he loves the work of a sixties female artist named Pauline Boty and that is the subject that Elisabeth eventually chooses as her doctorate dissertation. 

The novel picks up again when Elisabeth is 32 and Daniel is 101 and living in a care facility.  Elisabeth goes to see him regularly although he is in a type of coma and only sleeps while she is there.  She still goes regularly, reading aloud to him and reminiscing about their time together.  She is now a part-time art lecturer and is trying to form a closer relationship with her mother.  She uses her time sitting with Daniel to think about her life and put it into a form she can understand.

This is the first of an anticipated four book sequence.  The form is loose, like the ramblings of a mind left to ponder things in unguarded moments.  Along the way, Smith talks about how she finds the world or at least her corner of it, after Brexit, with a government who doesn't seem to care about its people, about how art can speak to us when we are straining for connection.  It was nominated for Best Book Of The Year by such publications as The New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, The Guardian, NPR, and The Washington Post.  This book is recommended for readers willing to think about what their lives mean and readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, November 17, 2018

It's almost Thanksgiving, which is one of my favorite holidays.  It's about family and food, not as much about commercialism or tons of decorating.  All in all, it's a pretty low stress holiday.  My son and all four grandkids are coming this year for the first time; my daughter will be coming home from college and DH will be here as well.  My plan is a big meal, followed by football and reading.  To aid in the reading, here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  Love Can Be, anthology, sent by publisher
2,  Grace After Henry, Eithne Shortall, literary fiction, won online
3.  Astounding, Alec Nevala-Lee, nonfiction, sent by publisher
4.  The Librarians And The Pot Of Gold, Greg Cox, thiller, sent by publisher
5.  Death's Favorite Child, Frankie Bailey, mystery, sent by publisher
6.  Roar Of The Sky, Beth Cato, fantasy, sent by publisher
7.  In Defense Of Guilt, Benjamin Berkley, mystery, sent by author
8.  Golden State, Ben Winters, literary fiction, won online
9.  The Dogs Of Christmas, W. Bruce Cameron, anthology, sent by publisher
10.  Mechanical Animals, anthology, sent by publisher
11.  The Winters, Lisa Gabriele, literary fiction, sent by publisher

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.  Absolute Proof, Peter James, audio

5.  The End Of The Wasp Season, Denise Mina, Kindle Fire
6.  The Children's Crusade, Ann Packer, hardcover
7.  Something For Nothing, David Anthony, paperback
8.  Welcome Thieves, Sean Beaudoin, paperback

Happy Reading!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Devil's Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

When Justy Flanagan returns to his hometown of New York, he is changed from his time in England.  He left an angry young man, uneducated and ashamed of his family ties to one of the most powerful underbosses of the city.  His father had just died and he knew he wanted something else, something more.  That same underboss, his uncle, had paid for Justy's time abroad and his education as a lawyer.  Now Justy has returned with a mission, to find out who was responsible for his father's murder.

Justy didn't just get a legal education during his time away.  He also spent time with the fledgling French police who were starting to approach crime and detection in a forensic manner.  Flanagan is fascinated with the ability to scientifically arrive at the truth.  He feels that his return will be profitable on both a financial and a personal level.

At first glance, not much has changed in 1799.  His uncle still rules the waterfront.  The same financial scalawags who almost crashed the nation's economy are still at work, although it took Alexander Hamilton to rescue the nation's economy the last time they plotted to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.  These financiers are ensconced on the Devil's Half-Mile, or Wall Street.  Justy is able to work his way into their company with his new legal skills and connections.

He soon discovers things are not much better.  Girls are being killed and discarded.  Crime is still rampant everywhere and his best friend, Kerry, has turned to street crime and maybe worse.  Kerry has also grown up and is now a beautiful woman, not the pesky tomboy that followed him everywhere.  Justy realizes that the same men are back to their financial tricks, a modified Ponzi scheme that has the ability to trash the entire economy.  Can Justy prevent their schemes while avenging his father?

Paddy Hirsch has created an intriguing figure in his main character, Justy.  America's colonial times and the start of our government and institutions is under a revival with plays such as Hamilton and TV shows about the era.  The mix of historical fiction and thriller is a potent one and readers will enjoy the mix.  This book is recommended for mystery and history readers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Dellarobia Turnbow is the first person to see them.  Thousands, maybe millions of brilliant monarch butterflies who turn the mountain on her husband and in-law's farm to molten gold.  What are they doing there?  Are they a miracle sent to brighten her life?  Is God speaking to them all?

Dellarobia could use a miracle.  She sees nothing but tedium ahead of her in her rural Tennessee life.  She married early to a kind man who she will never love and the best they have been able to do in life is to live on her in-laws land in a house the in-laws built them and under the in-laws thumb.  She had hoped to be one of the first to get out, to go to college but an early pregnancy put paid to all that.  Now there is no work and little money, just a constant scrabble to pay the bills and provide for her two children.  She is under her mother-in-law's rule and that means going to church whenever the doors open and doing whatever she's told.  What does this beauty mean in such a tattered, hopeless life?

As the word of the butterflies gets out, things start to change.  A team of scientists come to study the butterflies and what this change in their migration pattern means.  Dellarobia gets to know them and to work for them as a general manager to the college students who come to volunteer.  She is surrounded by people who have science as their base knowledge and who see this as a cautionary event, not a wonderful thing.  Her son is entranced with these new people and Dellarobia sees him stretching and growing and starting to see possibilities that she is determined to find a way to give him.  Her in-laws are not happy and the townspeople aren't sure what to think of all the tourists.  The church hasn't weighed in but Dellarobia knows that may be the determining factor of everything in this area that is so connected to it.

Barbara Kingsolver's novels often use literature to illustrate the way our world is changing and the dangers of how civilization and the consumer society threaten our world.  She uses natural wonders to illustrate the themes of science, responsible behavior and the ability to use knowledge to transform lives.  This book does all that and the reader will find themselves both appalled at what is happening and cheering for Dellarobia to make the changes that will enrich her life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Cassowary Hill by David de Vaux

In this debut novel, Tom Pryce-Bower lives on an animal sanctuary in Australia.  Tom is a ghostwriter among other things and the peace and solitude suit him.  His days are surrounded by large birds called cassowaries, fruit foxes and the other animals that make up the inhabitants of an original forest on this continent.  Tom is divorced after finding out that his wife and best friend had an affair and is not quite sure what to do with his life from this point.

An old American acquaintance contacts Tom, suggesting that he might be the perfect person to help a young photographer with her memoirs.  Bia is from East Timor, an island nation that most have either never heard of, or have little knowledge of.  She was there during one of the worst governmental massacres in modern times and wants to tell that story along with her other life stories and display of her work.  The old friend, Emjay, becomes an important force in Tom's life.  A further change is when his former friend, Jack and a friend of Bia's decide to take on the United States government in the form of a former general who was involved in the East Timor's troubles.  Above all, Tom is in a phase of discovery, of what is important to him and how he wants to live the rest of his life.

This was an interesting novel and bodes well for the writing life of de Vaux.  The reader learns about many things; the flora and fauna of Australia, human events and evil done by governments, the culture of other lands and the ability to find love at any stage in one's life.  The novel is written in first voice and the reader may have difficulty separating the character from the actual novelist.  This book is recommended for readers of general fiction and those interested in discovering information they didn't know before. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

Things are about the same in North Bath, a dying Rust Belt city.  There isn't much work and most of the city's young people are moving on.  That leaves a collection of older individuals, whose outlook is backward rather than forward most days.  Chief among them is Donald Sullivan, or Sully as he is known far and wide.  Everyone knows Sully and there are many stories told about him.  He is the type of charismatic person who others revolve around even if it isn't clear from the outside what draws others to him.  Sully has never been rich; he's made his living doing manual labor and he loves nothing more than making fun of the establishment and what others say needs to be done for a successful life.  But change has come to Sully.

The biggest issue in Sully's life these days is that there appears not to be much left of it.  The doctors are watching a heart condition and tell him that without treatment he will be lucky to have a year or two.  This makes changes in him.  He isn't working since one of his elderly neighbors left him her money about a year or so ago.  He isn't making love with his longtime married mistress, Ruth, although he doesn't stay away from her cafe where he has hung out for years.  His best friend, Rub Squeers, a handyman who doesnt' have other friends and is constantly worried that Sully doesn't like him either, now has another reason to worry about his relationship with Sully.  Sully has adopted a dog and named it Rub also.  Now no one is sure who he is talking to or about and that suits Sully's sense of humor just fine.  Then there is Doug Raymer, the town's police chief.  He's never been a friend of Sully's as it's obvious to everyone that Sully has little respect for the law.  But now Doug has his own problems.  His wife died recently in a fall down the stairs in their home and Doug hasn't been the same since.  He isn't sure if she fell or was pushed and finally decides that he needs to see the body again to determine and lay his suspicions to rest.  There is no one in the world who would help with his obsession and need to dig up the body except Sully so Raymer forms a temporary alliance with him.  Will Sully end his days and leave all the characters of North Bath behind?

This novel is a followup to Russo's novel, Nobody's Fool, where Sully and his friends were introduced.  It is a New York Times Notable Book.  Readers of the first novel will be entranced to pick up Sully's story years later and newcomers to Russo's work will be delighted by the irascible yet charming Sully.  Everyone loves him; it's just that no one knows why.  He holds nothing sacred, teases everyone yet his heart of gold peeks through.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Girl In The Afternoon by Serena Burdick

Many would envy eighteen year old Aimee Savaray.  She has been born to a wealthy French family and now in the 1870's, she seems to have it all.  Her father is successful and her mother is considered one of the leading lights of society.  She is an only child except for Henri, who is the son of a family friend but who has lived with them for many years.  Henri is an artist, and he encourages Aimee to paint also.  Then one night, Aimee and Henri kiss but before anything else can happen, he disappears in the night.

The family is stunned but accepts his disappearance after time.  Mrs. Savaray has a son after many disappointing trials at childbirth and Aimee loves her little brother.  She continues to paint and is mentored by one of the most famous artists of her time, Edourd Manet.  Several years later, the family finds Henri but his reappearance brings to light a dark family secret which tears the family apart.  Aimee also has a secret as does Henri.  Will all these secrets be displayed and will that clear the way for Henri and Aimee to be together?

Burdick has written an engaging historical novel that explores the Paris of the Impressionsists, highlighting the role of women and the emergence of a new way of looking at the world.  Aimee is a young girl who takes years to finally find her way and discover that secrets can tear a family apart so that it can never reunite.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes by Karin Slaughter

Julia Carroll is a college freshman with the typical freshman issues.  She has two sisters still living at home that she has a tight relationship with.  Although she is living in a dorm, her parents live only a few minutes away, since to her dismay, the home town university had the best program in her chosen field.  Julia is interested in becoming a journalist.  She is also interested in shedding her virginity and keeping up her grades and all the other issues that come along with being out on one's own for the first time.

As she works on the school newspaper, she comes across the story of a girl her own age who disappeared and has not been heard from since.  The stories are ambivalent about this.  Was the girl drinking that night?  Was she careful on the street?  Was she flirting and leading on the men she met?  As Julia researches her case, she discovers that over twenty young women are snatched off the street or from their homes each year in her city.  Is there a common thread?  Some are raped, some are killed, some have just disappeared.  Is Julia right in suspecting that there is a common thread that links some of these girls?  Will that thread lead her to a dangerous place?

This is a novella by one of the top suspense writers.  Julia is recognizable as a college freshman with the typical problems and issues encountered as one works on becoming an independent adult.  The issue of women's safety is one that is relevant in every town, not just in college towns.  There is a twist at the end that the reader doesn't not expect.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Record Of A Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Hundreds of years ago, the Exodus Fleet had a mission; to rescue as many of Earth's inhabitants as possible by taking them into space as the planet became increasingly uninhabitable.  The descendants of those who left call them the Exodans and still live on the ship, even though through their journey they discover many habitable planets.  These days, few ever come to visit the Exodus, but Exodans often leave to live or visit other places. 

There is a definite society, based on the needs of a space fleet.  Nothing is wasted and all is recycled, lessons necessary in order to survive on a space ship.  Although they revere their culture, many of the other cultures they have come in contact with consider Exodans to be quite primitive.  The culture has taken some of the best of other cultures but still are insulted to be considered less than the technologically advanced civilizations they are surrounded by.

This novel focuses on the question of whether this Exodan culture is worth saving and if it still has a purpose hundreds of years after it served its original purpose.  This question is considered through the lives of several of the inhabitants; a caretaker of the dead, a woman who is raising her children while her husband travels to send back money, an archivist who is concerned with saving the story of each inhabitant, a young man searching for his purpose and career in life, and a rare visitor who thinks the Exodan society may be a starting over place for him. 

This is the third novel in the Wayfarer's series by Chambers.  They have been successful as the author manages to humanize the space environment as few other sci fi authors do.  Viewing the problems of a society very unlike ours yet facing many of the same human problems of the need for purpose and connectedness through the lives of the inhabitants brings the big questions down to a smaller, approachable platform.  This book is recommended for sci fi readers.