Monday, December 31, 2018

Absolute Proof by Peter James

When journalist Ross Hunter opens his door, he didn't expect to find an older man who insisted he had to talk to him.  When he invited him in, he definitely didn't expect the man to tell him that he had the key to absolute proof that God existed and that he needed Ross to help him publicize the news. 

Ross is leery but after talking to others and researching the man's background, he agrees to at least check out the first clue the man presents him.  He does so and finds the coordinates for an amazing treasure, a cup buried in a hidden chamber on a religious site that could be the actual Holy Grail.  Soon the chase takes Ross around the world to other countries chasing more artifacts and trying to find out the truth.

But there are those who don't want him to succeed.  Representatives of many of the world's oldest established religions want to either buy the proof or find a way to suppress it.  Businesses chime in, hoping to make a fortune off Christians who will buy anything associated with their Savior.  There are break-ins and frightening messages and soon, several murders as those against the possibility pull out all the stops to keep Ross from finding the truth.  Can he push through to the truth?

Peter James is known for his mysteries starring Detective Roy Grace.  This is a different theme for him and the reader is hurtled around the world as Ross attempts to solve the mystery and decipher the way his own life will work out going forward.  Readers may feel that the book is a bit repetitive as it seems to take Ross quite a bit of time to figure out that he is in danger and decide what to do but the ending is thought provoking.  This book is recommended for readers of thrillers with a religious or historical background.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

In her third novel, Jesmyn Ward portrays a poor family in rural Mississippi.  The family is African-American.  Living in the house are the grandfather, who is the patriarch of the family and his wife.  Their daughter, Leonie, lives there off and on, disappearing for days on end either working or doing drugs.  Her two children, Jojo and Kayla, regard the grandparents as their parents and have little regard for Leonie.  Finally, their father, Michael, shows up occasionally.  Michael comes from the white family that lives next door.  He and Leonie haven't married but have the two children.  They can't live with each other or without each other and have a tumultuous relationship.  As the book opens, Michael is about to be released from prison.

Jojo is thirteen and trying to learn all he can about being a man.  His hero is his grandfather and he tries to be just like him.  His white grandfather will have nothing to do with him even living as closely as he does due to Jojo and Kayla's black heritage.  Jojo learns to be a man though stories.  There are the stories of his uncle, Given, who was killed by a member of Michael's family.  There are the stories that his grandfather tells of him time at Parchman prison, back when it used the prisoners as the next thing to slaves.  There are the stories about the boy his own age caught up in Parchman, Richie, and his relationship to Jojo's grandfather. 

Jesmyn Ward has given the reader an intimate look into the lives of this family and the hurt and love still caught up in racial relations in the United States.  Most of the individuals in the novel are just doing the best they can to get by, often hurting those around them as they try to make a life they can live with.  It is an indictment not only of the state of racial relations but the poverty that exists in the United States and that most people have little experience of.  This book was a winner of the National Book Award, (Ward's second win of this prize) and a New York Times Top 10 Notable Book.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, December 26, 2018

Tis the day after Christmas, and what do I see?  A lovely stack of books, for me, me, me!  Christmas time is always a dangerous time in the life of a bookophile.  What else could one possibly want as a present?  What could be more delicious than sitting inside on a cold, dreary day and reading the hours away?  Why are so many good books published and put on sale at this time of year?  All these things have my stacks overflowing.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver, literary fiction, a gift
2.  The Witch Elm, Tana French, mystery, a gift
3.  Delicate Edible Birds, Lauren Groff, anthology, purchased
4.  Where The Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens, purchased
5.  The Perilous Adventures Of The Cowboy King, Jerome Charyn, historical fiction, book tour
6.  The Feral Detective, Jonathan Lethem, mystery, purchased
7.  Murder Once Removed, S.C. Perkins, mystery, sent by publisher
8.  The Death Of Mrs. Westaway, Ruth Ware, mystery, gifted
9.  The Night Before, Wendy Walker, mystery, won in contest
10.  Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Patti Callahan, literary fiction, sent by publisher
11.  If, Then, Kate Hope Day, literary fiction, won in contest
12.  Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan, literary fiction, purchased
13.  The Complete Sherlock Holmes, read by Stephen Fry, anthology, purchased
14.  The Female Persuasion, Meg Woltizer, literary fiction, purchased.

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Rembrandt's Eyes, Simon Schama, hardcover
2.  Autonomous, Annalee Newitz, Kindle Fire
3.  Sing, Unburied Sing, Jasmyn Ward, hardcover
4.  Absolute Proof, Peter James, audio

5.  Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett, Kindle Fire
6.  The Children's Crusade, Ann Packer, hardcover
7.  The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton, Kindle Fire
8.  Quietus, Vivian Shilling, paperback

9.  The Monster In The Box, Ruth Rendell, hardback
10.  Cold Granite, Stuart MacBride, hardcover
11.  Sunstroke, Jesse Kellerman, hardcover

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Liar's Wife by Samantha Hayes

Ella lives a very restricted life.  She goes to work, works all day without socializing with her co-workers, rides her bike home where she spends her evenings alone, reading or doing embroidery.  She wants more but knows the scandal in her past prohibits that.  For all she knows, she is wanted by the police and if she isn't, she wants to stay under the radar so that she isn't.

Then it happens.  On the way home one dark, rainy night, a van comes out of nowhere and the next thing Ella remembers is waking up in the hospital where she is informed of her injuries and the lengthy recuperation she'll need.  But don't worry, the nurses tell her.  Your husband can take care of you.  With that, Ella raises her eyes and sees a face she never thought she'd see again, a face she thought she had killed one night all those years ago.

Although she denies being married to him, her objections are seen as part of her injuries and as soon as she is ready, she is sent off with the man she dreads seeing more than anyone.  Jacob has done everything to make sure his second chance at a life with Ella will work; he has bought a new house and furnished it with everything they need, including a security system that works to keep Ella prisoner during the days while he works.  He even makes friends with the neighbors to keep up the facade.  Ella realizes that it does no good to make waves and decides she will have to escape by her own wits.  Can she do that before her past catches up?

Samantha Hayes has written a psychological thriller that will make the reader squirm.  It is an impossible situation but is laid out in a way that makes it imaginable, although revolting.  Ella is determined to save herself no matter what happens and the introduction of a co-worker who has missed her and wants to help adds another dimension.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Rise & Fall Of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

We meet Tooly Zylberberg as an adult.  She runs an independent bookstore in Wales.  To say that Tooly had an unconventional upbringing would be an understatement.  She remembers living in Hong Kong with her father, Paul, who loves birds and computers and doesn't seem to know what to do with her.  She is spirited away by Sarah, a free spirit who claims to love Tooly more than anything in the world while ignoring her for days on end; the last person one would trust to raise a child.  In actuality, Tooly spends her days with Humphrey, an elderly Russian man who loves books and Tooley and not much else, who cannot give a straightforward account of his life and looks at the world askew, a viewpoint he shares with her.  Then there is Venn.  Venn is a charismatic man who all the others revolve around.  He travels the world, making friends quickly, then leaving them when they discover that he isn't who he seemed to be and that his real mission was to con them out of their money.  Tooley grows up around these people, not attending school and learning mostly how to remain separate from others and to use them for her own gains.

When a former boyfriend tracks Tooly down over Facebook and informs her that her father (as friends think Humphrey is) has fallen on bad times, Tooley decides that it is time to discover the truth about her life.  She flies to the United States and indeed, finds Humphrey in a bad way, living in a decrepit rooming house and rarely leaving his room.  She tracks down Paul and Sarah and finds out their piece of her story.  It is only when she reunites with these companions of her youth that she comes to realize that the stories she has believed all her life were false and that the truth of how she came to be an adult is largely based on ideas she generated as a young girl adrift in the world.  Will she be able to find the truth at last?

This is a wonderful novel and will be in the top five of the year for me.  It is filled with marvelous characters and the reader is entranced with Tooley's journey to find her truth.  The reality of her life is so different from what she has always believed that one must reexamine their own truths to see if memory and childhood explanations have hidden truths for years.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Gathering Prey by John Sandford

When Lucas Davenport's daughter, Lettie, meets two Travellers in San Francisco, he doesn't think much about it.  Lettie had listened to them playing music, and when they weren't getting much money for their mediocre performance, offered to buy them a meal.  They accepted and she talked with them a while about their lives traveling the country, making it by doing whatever they could to keep going.  She gave them contact information and told them she was about to head home for the summer to Minnesota and if they ever got there to give her a call, never expecting to hear from them again.

But she does.  She gets a call from the woman, Skye, who is distraught.  Her partner, Henry, had disappeared while they were out West.  He didn't show up at their agreed meeting place and she's heard rumors that he got caught up with a group headed by a shadowy figure who calls himself Pilate.  Pilate has a group who follows him and travels with him, dealing drugs and women and committing violence for the fun of it. Skye is afraid that the group may have harmed Henry.   Lettie fronts Skye the money to get to Minnesota and introduces her to Lucas.

At first Lucas is wary but soon realizes that the group may be in Minnesota or the neighboring states and that they are involved in several gory murders.  Now they are in his territory and even worse, are on the periphery of his daughter's life and perhaps she is in danger from them.  Can Lucas pull together the resources of several states in order to capture this modern Charles Mason and his followers?

This is the twenty-fifth book in the Prey series.  Lucas is getting older and less likely to care about the rules of the bureaucrats he works for.  Some of the more recent books in the series have seemed a bit cookie cutter but this one is intriguing and a real page-turner.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Waters & The Wild by DeSales Harrison

When Father Spurlock is approached in his church by the young woman, he suspects that she might be one of the street people who come there for help.  She has come for help but he cannot provide what she needs.  The woman seems to think that he has something for her, some papers she needs.  When he states that he has no knowledge of any papers, she disappears with no way to contact her again.

Several days later, Spurlock does receive papers.  It is the papers of a psychoanalyst named Daniel Abend and it is a confession of his life and that of his daughter.  Abend has recently had a patient commit suicide; one that he thought he had helped.  Father Spurlock had performed the eulogy at the young woman's funeral and that is where Abend meets him and decides that he is the person who can help him in his time of need.

For it turns out that Abend's patient had not committed suicide but been murdered, and worse, that the person responsible may have Abend's daughter who left home as a young woman.  The story is revealed slowly, over months, to Abend, and as he gets a clearer picture, it becomes evident that he has an enemy.  This enemy has harbored hate for Abend for many years and is determined to get revenge.  In order to protect his child, Abend is forced to relive his own youth and the mistakes that were made in it and to understand how those mistakes are coming back to impact his life.  Can he resolve the issues in time to save his daughter?

DeSales Harrison has written a debut novel that will resonate with readers long after the last page is turned.  The mystery is slowly revealed, ratcheting up the suspense with each new revelation.  Harrison himself studied psychoanalysis as a student and is currently a professor of poetry and the director of the creative writing program at Oberlin College.  He has written a novel that readers will not soon forget.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and psychological suspense.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Absent Friends by Frederick Busch

In this anthology of fourteen stories, Frederick Busch explores how individuals deal with the missing parts of their lives, whether they attempt to rediscover it, to move past it, to be crushed by it or to move on to discover something else to take its place.  In the first story, From The New World, a man deals with the fact that his family will never accept the woman he loves and will try to control him even from beyond the grave through their money and influence.  In the last story, To The Hoop, he deals with a man and his son who are dealing with the aftermath of their mother and wife committing suicide and choosing to leave them.  Between, the dozen stories talk about loneliness, the aching to belong and the lengths individuals will go to in order to fill the voids in their lives.

Frederick Busch is known as an author's author; he is respected by those who know writing and are amazed at his ability to eloquently outline the human condition.  He has written several anthologies and several novels such as The Night Inspector or Girls.  This fifth book of stories is dedicated to Reynolds Price, another author who falls in the same category of a writer admired by other writers.  Busch was a professor of literature at Colgate University and a winner of the 1991 PEN/Malamud Award for short stories.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Border Child by Michel Stone

Life is hard for Hector and Lilia in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.  Hector works long hours at a physically tasking job in order to provide them a living.  Lilia looks after their toddler and is about to give birth again.  She works as a potter as the women in her family always have in order to make a little more money.  It's a hard life, not the one the pair had dreamed of as young lovers and then a young married couple.

Their dream was to go to the United States, where work was more plentiful and the money was much better.  Hector went first and found a job in South Carolina which was too far away for him to visit.  Lilia decided to follow him but when she reached the border her coyote said that he wouldn't take her across with her baby, Alexandra.  Instead, he would take her and his friend, a woman, would take the baby and meet them across the river.  Lilia didn't like the plan but had no other resources so reluctantly agreed.  She made it across the river by swimming but the woman never came to the agreed meeting place.  When Hector met up with her, they spent frantic days searching but there was no word and no trace of their baby.  They reluctantly moved on to South Carolina to make money to extend their search.  They were ultimately arrested and deported back to Mexico.

The loss carved a hole in their marriage.  It was almost impossible for Hector to forgive Lilia for her foolishness that had cost them their child.  Now, with a son and another baby about to be born, they have reached an equilibrium in their marriage.  It isn't the same as it was when they were young, but it has its joys along with its difficulties. 

Then a miracle occurs.  They find the man who arranged their passage with the coyote.  The coyote was killed in a car wreck so there can be no answers from him about their Alexandra but they discover that a woman and a baby were also in the wreck.  The woman was also killed but the baby survived.  Was that woman the one Lilia trusted with Alexandra?  Did Alexandra survive and if so, where was she now?  Hector immediately prepares for a journey to find out what happened three years ago and if Alexandra is still alive to rejoin their family.  He leaves Lilia, heavily pregnant, behind as they search for the missing piece of their family.  Will they be successful?

Michel Stone has written a moving account of why families immigrate and the perils they face as they do it without the legal protections that exist for legal immigrants.  Those who come illegally are at the mercy of whomever they meet, to provide work, to keep their secrets, to not cheat them or take too much from them.  Sometimes, tragedies occur and may rip families apart.  The reader feels for Hector and Lilia and their child who is torn from them.  This book is recommended for readers interested in current events.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Innocents by Ace Atkins

Things are different for Quinn Colson this time around at home in Jericho, Mississippi.  Colson has been in and out of the Army serving as a Ranger for a decade, reupping whenever home causes issues.  The last time Quinn was home, he was the Sheriff but he lost in the reelection.  He's thinking about going back to Iraq but as a contractor this time.  But things are pretty hot at home also and he's got to decide if he'll stay and help out there or go back overseas.

The new sheriff is a woman, Lillie Virgil.  She seems to have things under control or at least until Fannie Hathcock moves into town and takes over the local nude bar.  She uses a motorcycle gang to serve as enforcement and the whole scene is getting out of control.  When a former high school cheerleader is found murdered gruesomely after a short stint at Fannie's place, tempers run high and Lillie finds she needs help and offers Quinn a job as deputy.  Together they try to find out what happened that night to the girl and who was behind it.

This is the sixth novel in the Quinn Colson case.  Readers will appreciate him; he is a salt of the earth, decent man who takes care of others and does what he can to make his country better, whether its serving in the military or helping out back home.  Colson has issues but they don't stop the reader from liking him.  The mystery of what happened to the cheerleader is interesting and the bigger crime that is uncovered in the process is surprising.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Missing by Chris Mooney

Darby McCormick is a typical teenage girl, at least until that day in the woods.  Darby and her friends, Stacy and Melanie, are headed for their party place when they come across a man killing a woman.  They escape, but somehow the killer tracks them and before everything is over, Stacy is killed and Melanie is kidnapped.  Somehow, Darby manages to escape her friends' fate.

Twenty-five years later, Darby is now a criminologist with a doctorate in forensic investigation.  Her work gives her a way to silence the fears left behind from the trauma in her past.  That is, until another girl is kidnapped the way Melanie was.  Determined to find this girl, Darby, her partner Coop and the FBI soon determine that the case is bigger than one girl.  In fact, this is a serial killer the FBI has long called The Traveller, and he is responsible for murders going back thirty years.  In fact, it becomes apparent that he was the man from Darby's past, although another man was held responsible for those crimes.  Can Darby find the killer and put her past behind her?

This is the first in a series of eight thrillers starring Darby McCormick.  Although the formula is now common, with shows like Criminal Minds and podcasts and documentaries about true crime, its commonness does not take away its power to terrify.  This is a chilling book about a diabolical killer and the reader will be compelled to turn the pages until the resolution is complete.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The End Of The Wasp Season by Denise Mina

Alex Morrow's job as a homicide detective in Scotland is difficult enough.  But working the job while being pregnant with twins is another level of difficulty.  Alex is about to go out on maternity leave but the call comes in of a murder so she goes out to investigate what may be her last case before she leaves for the break.

It's a horrific crime.  A young woman, home to settle her recently deceased mother's estate, has been found in her childhood home.  The victim of an apparent home invasion, she has been brutally beaten to death.  Alex and her staff find some clues to go on, but when it is discovered that the woman made the money to care for her mother through prostitution, sympathy for her and interest in her case decreases.  Alex knows that's not fair but its life.

In addition to working the crime, Alex is especially challenged by this crime.  Interviewing witnesses brings her back to her childhood and her childhood friends.  Alex got out of the projects; most of her friends did not.  Even more troubling, the gangster brother she has distanced herself from is back in her life, asking for favors.  Can she balance all these issues while providing justice for the victim?

This is the second in the Alex Morrow series by Mina.  Readers will be drawn to Alex and the way she is singularly engaged in the work she has chosen.  Mina uses the novel to make points about family dysfunction and how our pasts influence our presents.  This is more of a police procedural than a mystery and its always interesting to see how police work is done in different locales.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Welcome Thieves by Sean Beaudoin

In this anthology of twelve stories, Sean Beaudoin explores everyday life from an offbeat, darker point of view.  Beaudoin made his mark writing YA novels but these stories show that he is an expert at working his way into adult minds and minds that aren't the ordinary ones.  These are minds at the edge of society and the situations he narrates are not your everyday normal occurrences.

In And Now Let's Have Some Fun, the reader is transported into the world of professional boxing.  In D.C. Metro, we meet Penny, who is renting a room and trying to go straight but who falls back into destructive habits she can't seem to escape.  Exposure is about a tenement apartment house and its inhabitants.  The Rescues take us inside the world of a collegiate lacrosse player after he has sacrificed his body for his sport and is left at an early age to figure out the rest of his life.  In each story, there is an offbeat aspect but also a human commonality that lets the reader feel that we are truly all connected, that there are emotions and experiences we all can relate to.  This book is recommended for literary fiction and anthology readers.