Sunday, March 31, 2019

Little Deaths by Emma Flint

1965 in Queens, New York.  Ruth Malone is trying to make it as a single mother after her divorce. But times are hard.  Ruth is the kind of woman men notice, most men notice.  Men want her and she wants them back.  There's Frank, her ex, who thinks they will get back together.  There's Lou, the local connected businessman who's interested and knows how to treat a woman.  There's Johnny, an ex-cop whose drinking has cost him his job.  And there's the anonymous others, the ones Ruth loves for a night when she's feeling low.

One morning, she goes to the bedroom of her two children, Frankie Jr, five and Cindy, three.  But they aren't there.  It's unbelievable but Ruth knows she went out to walk the dog in the middle of the night.  Did someone get in then?  Did someone come through the window?  Where are her babies?

The case is given to Detective Devlin.  He has his own thoughts about Ruth and he thinks she is a loose woman who couldn't have loved her kids.  Probably resented them.  Maybe wanted to be free of them.  Could have taken the final step and gotten them out of her life.  When Cindy is found dead a few blocks away the same day and Frankie a week later in another location, Devlin is sure he knows the story.  It's a short walk from him making up his mind to making the evidence fit his theory.  Soon Ruth is right in his sights and on trial for the deaths of her children.  Is Detective Devlin right?

Emma Flint, a writer from London, has a longtime fascination with true crime cases.  This novel was a 2017 nominee for the Women's Prize for Fiction.  Flint has managed to capture the essence of New York in the summer and the expectations of women in the time period.  The reader is kept guessing who the culprit is, Ruth or someone else.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Killer Across The Table by John Douglas and Mark Ohshaker

It's not often you get to hear from the creator of a science or technique that changes how we view the world.  John Douglas is such a creator, the man who in his career with the FBI, created the terms serial killer, organized vs. disorganized killers, and who, with his colleagues, created a scale by which these killers could be categorized.  During his time with the agency, he worked on the cases everyone interested in true crime recognizes; The Green River Killer, Son Of Sam, BTK, Lake and Ng, and Ed Kemper.  In this book, Douglas opens his case files and with his co-author, uses four cases to talk more about the types of killers and how they can be differentiated.

The first case is Joseph McGowan.  He killed a seven-year old neighbor who came to his door to collect money for Girl Scout cookies.  McGowan was a local science teacher, a twenty-seven year old man who still lived with his mother.  Douglas included this case to talk about how a killer often chooses a victim in ways that seem unlikely; this was his neighbor and one would expect him to be suspected.  As with Kemper, McGowan had a domineering mother, who had broken up his engagement.  He needed to reinstate control over his environment and chose this method of doing so.  Although McGowan only had one victim, Douglas has been instrumental in keeping him from gaining parole, as he is sure McGowan would offend again.

Donald Harvey is one of a series of serial killers many don't consider.  He was a nurse's aide and probably killed close to a hundred people before he was caught.  This is common, as with Harold Shipman in Britain, who killed several hundred patients.  These medical killers are under the radar.  Their victims are the elderly and infirm, most of whom are expected to die anyhow, so their deaths don't seem surprising.  Unlike the killers who get press, there is nothing sensational about their crimes; they don't abduct victims and they don't have an issue with disposing bodies.  With most killers, there is an automatic recognition of murder and an immediate police investigation; those factors are not seen in these killers.  Harvey was also a charming man whose polite manners kept him from being suspected.

Joseph Kondo killed several victims over the years.  The unique factor in his case, to Douglas, was that he killed the children of people he was close to.  He never had any empathy for others, so to him these victims were just the easiest to gain control of.  He was the known friend of their parents, and in one case, even knew the safe word that the parents had taught their child to expect if they ever sent someone to get them.  This made finding his victims easy and he did not distance himself from the families or investigations afterward. 

The final killer was Todd Kohlkepp, who killed several times over a period of years in South Carolina.  This was the only case I had heard of, as it is recent and close to me.  Kohkepp killed four people in a motorcycle shop; the case went unsolved for over a decade.  Then he kidnapped over months, two couples he hired to help him clean up brush and outbuildings on a farm he owned.  He would immediately kill the men and then imprison the women.  One woman was killed after several months of captivity while the other was found in time by law enforcement.  Kohkepp was unusual in that he was well off, a real estate broker with his own agency and was highly intelligent.  He was also unusual because of his attempts after capture to work with Douglas to understand his motivations and what made him kill.

Readers who are interested in true crime, and whose interest lies in trying to understand how people can be so far out of the ordinary, will be fascinated by Douglas' discussion of these cases.  He constantly goes back to his scale and uses it as a framework in which every killer can be categorized.  It is a privilege just to be able to view how he looks at cases and how he was able to help so many police forces solve cases.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

Myfanwy Thomas awakes.  It is night, in a London park, this much she knows.  What she can't explain is why there are dead men all around her, each wearing latex gloves, or why she doesn't know who she is.  Leaving, she finds a letter in her pocket and what a strange letter it is.  It explains that she has awoken in the body of Myfanwy Thomas, who is an agent in a secret organization called The Chequay.  She makes her way to the location described and everyone there seems to know her.  She retreats to her apartment and finds more letters there, and thick files.

The Chequay is the secret organization that combats any supernatural occurrences that threaten Britain.  It has existed for centuries and is made up of many people who themselves have supernatural powers.  It turns out Myfanwy is one of these; she only has to touch someone to be able to control their bodies and minds.  She is a Rook in the organization, an administrator fairly high up.  Oh, and someone in the Chequay is trying to kill her.

In the following days, Myfanwy works in her new job, referring to the notes left behind by her former self.  She handles episodes like a centuries old dragon who is about to hatch and a fungus that takes over, subsuming everything and everyone in its path.  She tries to discover who is trying to kill her and take off Chequay.  Can she do it before her enemy is successful?

Daniel O'Malley has written a fast-paced thriller that takes the rider on an interesting ride if they can put their misgivings to one side.  The characterization of Myfanwy is well done and her voyage of self discovery moves the book along.  There is an enemy organization, known as The Grafters, who are diabolical and whose powers rival that of Chequay.  A second book in the series, Stiletto, explores this alternate organization more fully.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Ruin Of Kings by Jenn Lyon

Kihrin is a musician's son in the slums of Quur, living in a brothel; his days  filled singing in performances.  His nights are very different as he scales the roofs and breaks into the homes of the wealthy.  One night while robbing an empty house, he discovers it isn't empty at all, but overhears men plotting and planning and sees things he knows he shouldn't.  Kihrin escapes and doesn't think much about it except relief at what could have happened and didn't.

Or so he thinks.  A few days later, he is out in the marketplace when a demon appears; a demon who seems very interested in Kihrin.  The Emperor's men come and fight it off, but in the process, Kihrin is scooped up and taken into the house of D'Mon.  There he finds one of the men he saw plotting and is shocked beyond words when the man claims Kihrin as his long-lost son.  It's hard to believe but the man and the other members of the household have the same piercing blue eyes and blonde hair Kihrin has, the eyes his father could never explain.  Soon Kihrin is installed in house D'Mon but it isn't a fairy-tale ending.  The house is full of plans and betrayals, alliances and opposing enemies.  He finds a brother he comes to love and perhaps his mother, but everything is shrouded in layers of deceit and secrecy.  Before he can discover the truth, he is betrayed and sold into slavery.

Now on a galley ship, Kihrin's life is brutal.  When he escapes he is marooned on an island, where gods fight over him and a dragon insures his presence.  He learns more about witchcraft and the evil he left behind.  Can he find a way to get back and save the Empire?

This is a debut novel in a new series and comes with a lot of buzz.  Lyon has created interesting characters and a world that is both bleak and intricate, full of betrayals and love and plots.  The reader is brought into the world with little explanation and must piece together the clues to determine reality, the same as Kihrin.  It can get confusing at times, with characters coming back as other characters and almost no one being the person they appear to be at first, but the discovery is enthralling and readers will turn the last page ready for the sequel.  This book is recommended for epic fantasy readers.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Fury by Salman Rushdie

The year is 2000 and Professor Malilk Solanka has fled London for New York.  Solanka is a highly respected historian until a whim leads him to create a small doll.  The doll, Little Brain, is taken up by the culture and soon every child has one.  There are Little Brain tee shirts, mugs, books and soon a TV show that is wildly popular.  Solanka is thrilled with the money his creation brings, but it all soon sours.  He loses creative control and soon Little Brain is being used for all kinds of purposes which he doesn't agree with. 

The anger builds within him and one night he finds himself standing over his sleeping wife with a kitchen knife in hand.  Aghast at what his fury has almost wrought, he flees her and his small son and heads to New York to try to figure out what this fury means to him and how he can solve it.  But New York is full of fury also.  People walking the streets are sharp to each other and quick to take offense.  There is a serial killer on the loose and women are being discovered murdered.  The entire country is taking sides about the story of a Cuban boy who is being sent back to Cuba to live with his father rather than the refugees he is with in America.  The country is rich and expensive and everyone is hustling to gain the bucks necessary to live there.  Solanka searches for meaning and ways to conquer his fury but he is unsuccessful.

He meets Mila, a beautiful blonde woman who heads up a group of spoiled, rich techies who seem to do nothing but lounge on the steps of Solanka's building, but in reality are wizards at websites and the entire technical revolution.  He and Mila start a relationship but she is fighting her own fury; that of the wrongs done to her in childhood.  When he meets Neela, the gorgeous woman one of his friends is dating, he is consumed with desire and soon leaves everything to have her.  Neela also has her own furies, ones that originate in her home country and that will keep her from assimilating anywhere else.  Can Solanka fight his furies and find peace again in this life?

This is Rushdie's eighth novel and he has captured the New York that is rich and mindless, that roars on without necessarily considering the thoughts and feelings of those who inhabit her.  This is the pre-911 New York, the New York that is transitioning from the filthy Times Square to the commercialized, sanitized version that requires even more money today.  The tensions between the East and the West are hinted at although are not at the same pitch as in today's world.  Finally, the novel is an exploration of how each of us must explore our own thoughts and find resolution of the anger that can otherwise overwhelm us.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Rembrandt's Eyes by Simon Schama

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is considered by many to be the greatest painter ever.  Known to posterity only as Rembrandt,  his paintings were groundbreaking at the time and have come to be acknowledged as masterpieces.  Simon Schama has written an extensive and detail choked biography of this great man, and of his life and times.

He lived in Holland in the 1600's.  Growing up, the greatest artist in his area was Peter Paul Rubens, and Schama spends several hundred pages talking about Rubens and his life and work.  Since he was considered the best artist in the world, it is almost impossible to talk about Rembrandt without talking about his work in comparison with Rubens.  Rembrandt was influenced by him and his method of portraying reality but over the years, he developed new styles that varied from the extremely formal art of Rubens.  Rubens was rich and powerful and he painted the rich and powerful.  Rembrandt was more interested in the everyday and while he painted commissions of portraits of rich patrons, he also enjoyed painting the common folk he encountered in his daily life.  

Schama discusses everything.  The reader will learn of Dutch art, religion, food, political structures and wars, trade and how the city was organized, the work of the common man, the everyday life of an artist and many other topics as well as the expected life events that make up most biographies.  Every painting of Rembrandt is beautifully portrayed through wonderful color plates, and the reader gains an extensive understanding of what they are seeing through Schama's explanations of how texture and composition is used by the artist to achieve their goals.  There are also paintings of other artists of the period to serve as explanation of how Rembrandt's work was different and groundbreaking.  

Rembrandt's life was not easy.  As with most people then, life could be short and over quickly as plagues and various illnesses took many people in a moment.  Children were born but few survived to adulthood and wives and husbands could be healthy one day and dead a week later.  Rembrandt lost many children and several wives.  Financially, he rose from being a miller's son to being wealthy and respected, but he overextended and ended his life in poverty and disrepute.  

Simon Schama is the historian of our times.  His work is dense and fully immerses the reader in the time and details of the topic being discussed.  Schama has been an art critic for such organizations as The New Yorker and has taught history and art at institutions such as Harvard, Columbia and Oxford.  His work allows the average person to see the depth of meaning that art portrays and the myriad details that go into a priceless masterpiece.  This book is recommended for those interested in art or the time period of the 1600's.  

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer

The time has come to sell the family home for the Blair family.  Bill Blair had found the land in California with a spreading oak tree and knew immediately he wanted to build a house there and raise a family.  He marries Penny and while he pursues his career as a doctor, Penny is left to raise their four children. 

Robert is the oldest child and feels a great responsibility to serve as a model for the other children.  He grows up to follow in his father's footsteps as a doctor.  Rebecca, the only girl, is a psychiatrist.  She marries a much older man and spends a lot of time with the extended family as she doesn't have children of her own.  Ryan is the artistic child and is closest to Penny, who sees her life mission as art.  James is the youngest and is the black sheep of the family.  He is born a rambunctious child and taking care of him and providing for his needs starts the distance between Bill and Penny.  Bill tends to take a path with the children that is nurturing and that doesn't blame them for their behaviors.  Penny is overwhelmed by the children and full of resentment that caring for them interrupts her artistic visions.  Over the years, the parents grow further and further apart until Penny basically lives in her studio on the property, leaving Bill to handle the children.

Now with Bill dead for the past few years, it is time to think about disposing of the house.  Some of the children are for selling while others are not able to contemplate it.  James comes back to visit after years of separation and the siblings attempt to come together and make the decision.  The reader learns about each of their lives as the meetings progress and the issue is decided.

Ann Packer has ambitious plans for this novel.  It attempts to educate the reader about a time and place in American life where the vision of a family was different from today's, although it took place in the 1950's not hundreds of years ago.  At that time, the man was the breadwinner and the woman stayed home with a career of wife and mother.  Families were larger and notions of raising them very different from today.  The reader will be interested to learn how things were arranged then and will bring their own background to play as they determine if the Blair family was correct or misguided in their decisions.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Neon Prey by John Sandford

Lucas Davenport is working as a United States Marshal these days; one who gets to pick and choose his own cases.  He is reserved for the worst criminals, those who commit heinous crimes and are difficult to apprehend.  That's the case with Clayton Deese.  He's an enforcer for the local Mob in Louisiana who takes his work seriously and a step further.  After killing his target, he often caps it off by consuming parts of them. 

Lucas is called in and with two other Marshals, FBI agents and local police, he starts the manhunt.  Deese has left Louisiana, leaving behind around a dozen bodies buried on his property.  The hunt soon goes to Los Angeles, where Deese has hooked up with his cousin in a gang who robs the high income couples of that city.  With Deese's addition to the gang, the robberies get more brutal and victims start to be killed.  The police find their hideout but in the shoot out that follows, police are wounded and killed.

Feeling the hunt closing in, the entire gang, including one woman who is a girlfriend and getaway driver, head to Los Vegas.  There the gang tries to decide how to disappear long enough for the hunt to die down.  To do so, they need one more big score for enough funds to lie low for months.  Can Lucas and his team find and capture them before they get away?

This is the 29th novel in the Prey series.  Lucas is Lucas, regardless of age or venue and John Sandford has not written a Prey novel that wasn't heartstoppingly good.  Readers will enjoy the ride, even as they start to mourn what will someday soon be the end of this marvelous series.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Booksie's Bookshelves, March 15, 2019

March!  Spring has arrived and my back yard is full of daffodils and robins.  All the trees are blooming, including the horrific Bradford pears, the only plant I'm allergic to.  And of course, there is the basketball.  My team, the Carolina Tarheels, is riding high at the moment, but once you hit March, it's one and done so every game is super stressful.  Once the national collegiate tournament is over, I'm done with sports until the fall so that is sad, although it gives more reading time.  I've recently been getting more books at the library, which for someone with 12,000 books already on my shelves, is almost heresy.  In good news, I finished the epic Rembrandt's Eyes, by Simon Schama.  It was a relevatory history of the art world in the 1600's and I learned so much.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  The Silver Kings, Stephen Deas, fantasy, purchased
2.  The Emperor Waltz, Philip Hensher, literary fiction, purchased
3.  The People On Privilege Hill, Jane Gardam, literary fiction, purchased
4.  The Craftsman, Sharon Bolton, mystery, purchased
5.  The Death Of An Owl, Paul Torday, literary fiction, purchased
6.  Last Friends, Jane Gardam, literary fiction, purchased
7.  Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch, mystery, purchased
8.  The Little Red Chairs, Edna O'Brien, literary fiction, purchased
9.  Crooked Heart, Lissa Evans, literary fiction, purchased
10.  The Editor, Steven Rowley, literary fiction, sent by publisher
11.  How Not To Die Alone, Richard Roper, literary fiction, sent by publisher
12.  Trust Exercise, Susan Choie, literary ficiton, sent by publisher
13.  Derby Day, D. J. Taylor, literary fiction, purchased
14.  The Poison Thread, Laura Purcell, historical mystery, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Lost Man, Jane Harper, audio
2.  Fury, Salman Rushdie, hardback
3.  Necessary Lies, Diane Chamberlain, paperback
4.  The Rook, Daniel O'Malley, hardback
5.  The Western Wind, Samantha Harvey, Kindle Fire
6.  The Ruin Of Kings, Jenn Lyons, hardback
7.  The Collected Stories, Flannery O'Connor, paperback
8.  The Killer Across The Table, John Douglas, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger

Things haven't been the same for Cork O'Connor since that day at the lake when a protest went bad and he ended up shooting a man who came to kill others.  After that incident, in which a man from the local Indian tribe who Cork considered a father was killed, he lost his job as the sheriff of the small Minnesota town in which he lived.  After the loss of his job and his friend, nothing seemed to make sense and he soon lost his marriage as well.  He isn't sure he really loves his wife, Jo, but he knows he wants to be back in his children's lives.  In short, he isn't sure where life will take him next.

When a local judge is found dead in his office and a young man is discovered missing on the same day, something stirs in Cork.  Although the judge's death is ruled a suicide, Cork isn't sure that's the truth.  The judge had a reputation as being just on the edge of corruption, and his son is the newly elected Senator from the area.  He also is Cork's wife's lover.

Cork starts to look into the incident, and soon finds more than he ever would have expected.  Before things are done, there is a blackmail ring, white supremacists trying to force their ideas on the local population, money scams at the local Indian casino and maybe a couple of murders.  Cork keeps digging even after he is warned off.  Can he find the truth and regain his purpose in life?

The Cork O'Connor series is one of the best in the genre with over eighteen novels so far.  William Kent Krueger writes so descriptively that even those who have never visited the North and its lakes get a real feel for the area.  The mysteries are satisfyingly tied together and the characters introduced form a firm basis for the following novels in the series.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Serial Dater's Shopping List by Morgen Bailey

This is a novel I'll be reviewing soon.  In the meantime, I am lucky enough to be able to share a guest post from Morgen Bailey about her writing:

I wrote my third novel, The Serial Dater’s Shopping List, for NaNoWriMo ( 2009. It ended up being a 115,640-word first draft, written with three days to spare! I took a year to edit (and re-edit) it down to just over 100,000 words.
In November 2018 and half of January this year, I wrote the first draft of the follow-up, The Serial Dieter’s Shopping List, which has Izzy’s sidekick, health and beauty columnist Donna, set with the task of eating thirty-one under-five-hundred-calorie dishes in thirty-one days. As if that wasn’t complicated enough, she’s sent to the sister newspaper at Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, not far from where I grew up so semi-familiar territory. She works there during the week but stays with her wacky mother, Lesley, in nearby Tring, where my mum lives.
They say to write what you know and while my knowledge influences my writing, I obviously have to do my research. If I’m in a hurry I put ‘CHECK THIS’ or if I get stuck, I put ‘MORE HERE’ then move to another part of the novel so that when I’ve finished the first draft, I can go back to the ‘check this’es and ‘more here’s.
There are generally two types of authors: plotters and pantsers. I’ve interviewed over 700 authors for my blog and most say they are pantsers. That is that they get an idea (however vague) and run with it, seeing ‘what happens’. I was the same for The Serial Dater. I had a list of male characters, some as simple as ‘Cling film on his arm, just had tattoo done, hides from mum as still lives at home’ – we all know someone who should have moved out years ago, and I set Izzy to meet them all. Most of my characters are non-experts so I don’t have too far a stretch and too much research to do.
I have a wonderful array of beta readers (I’m always looking for more) who tell me where I need to change something and (hopefully) what works. While The Serial Dater was fairly fresh in my mind, I needed The Serial Dieter to be different and the feedback I’ve had so far is that it is… but perhaps too different. Having Donna as the main character rather than Izzy, who is me (my brother calls The Serial Dater my autobiography!), I needed to ensure that I wasn’t rewriting her. It seems to have worked except that Lesley, her mother, actually ended up more quirky than Donna whereas Donna was the quirky one in the first book. So one of my tasks as I go back through The Serial Dieter is to give her more oomph. There’s a love triangle in this book and she’s tempted by a new colleague as her currently relationship (you find out who she’s with in The Serial Dater) has hit a sticky patch.
Try to write every day. 300 words a day would get you a staggering 100,000 words in a year (109,500 actually, 109,800 in a leap year) so easily a novel. If you don’t have that much time then 100 words a day would get you 36,500 – that’s half a standard James Patterson novel or a whole novella.
Also, don’t worry if you’re not happy with your first draft. You can edit a first draft whereas you can’t edit a blank page. Join a local writing group. Hopefully they’ll be firm but fair and help you see where you’re going wrong… and right!

Morgen’s website is and email is She is morgenwriteruk on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook where she also runs a free mentoring group on Facebook ( She’s happy to hear from anyone interested in writing and / or reading. Morgen makes a point of the ‘Morgen with an E’ because MorgAn Baileys include a rocket scientist (female) and male: athlete, Green politician, basketball player, and transsexual porn star!

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Lower River by Paul Theroux

Ellis Hock spent four years in Malawi, Africa, as a young man.  He lived in a remote village, not seeing another white man for weeks or even months.  With the help of the villagers, he built a school and he and an African woman educated the youth of the village.  The work was hard but fulfilling and Ellis was at peace.  He was known as 'The Snake Man' as he had an affinity for capturing snakes, poisonous or not.  Then Ellis moved back home to America.  He married and spent his working years running a high-end men's wear store.

When he gets older, things have changed.  The relaxed mood in American business wear means that there is less and less call for a high end store.  He finally sells it off, and then tries to decide what to do for his retirement.  His marriage had already failed and his ex-wife has his house.  Their only child is grown and married and her only concern is that he give her 'her due' now instead of her having to wait until he dies to get an inheritance.

Looking around, Hock sees little to keep him in America.  He decides to return to the happy place of his youth and to the work that was so sustaining.  He cashes out all his assets and returns to Africa.  He finds a man who will take him to the small village he lived in before.  Soon he is on his way, visions of happiness ahead of him.

But happiness is not what he finds.  He finds a village mired again in poverty, with no jobs and little food.  The school fell into disrepair years ago and no one is interested in rebuilding it.  The inhabitants seem to welcome him at first, but he soon realizes that what they are welcoming is his money and that they are determined not to let him leave without transferring it from him to themselves.  Soon he is a virtual prisoner, with only the granddaughter of his former co-worker and a misfit of the village as companions.  His every attempt to leave is thwarted until he finally gives up and accepts that this will be the place of his death.

Paul Theroux is known for his travel writing.  His early adventures spoke of his great railroad trips through such places as China, Britain, the Mediterranean, Siberia and many other places.  Readers thrilled at his authentic portrayal of the places he visited, warts and all.  But things have changed in the world to his mind.  He despairs of the fact that local cultures are wiped out at the thought of being like the modern industrial nations.  He sees that the people of these regions are giving up their traditional ways not for progress but for massive poverty.  The only people who seem to have gained are those few at the top who plunder the vast mineral resources and skim off the dollars in aid that enter the country.  In 2014, he wrote The Last Train To Zona Verde, where he returned to the Africa he lived in as a young man for six years.  What he loved then was gone and he saw poverty and restlessness everywhere he went.  The Lower River is a fictional exploration of these same themes and one can see the agony he feels for how the world has changed.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

Shandi Pierce didn't believe in love at first sight.  That was before she instantly fell in love with William Ashe.  Shandi has enough things going on in her life.  She is a single mom with a three year old son, Nathan.  Working on her degree, she decides that commuting from her home an hour away is just too draining, so she is about to move into her father's condo in Atlanta to cut down on that stress.  Her mother and father divorced years ago, but the rancor and anger never dissipated over the years, with Shandi stuck firmly in the middle. 

Almost to her new digs, Shandi and her best friend, Walcott stop for gas.  Shandi and Nathan go inside to get something to drink.  They are there when a skinny, hopped-up man comes in with a gun and announces that this is a robbery.  Without thinking, William steps between the man and Nathan and Shandi's heart is stolen just like that.  When William manages to extricate the hostages in the gas station store without any of them being injured, she is even more impressed.

William has his own issues.  He is a brilliant man, who is a scientist and works in a genetics lab.  He is also autistic and caught up in the recent past, where he had a wife he adored and a little girl.  Both were snatched away in a car accident and he is grieving and trying to figure out how to live again.  Are Shandi and Nathan the answer?

Joshilyn Jackson has written an engaging novel that makes the reader think about life and love and how we're all in this thing called life together.  The characters are memorable and the romance is subtle enough that it keeps the reader guessing.  The characteristics of romantic love are probed but parental love is also a major theme.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, March 8, 2019

A Serpent's Tooth by Craig Johnson

Things are never dull for Sheriff Walt Longmire in Absaroka County.  There's talk of an offshoot Morman fundamentalist cult spread out over several counties.  Up till now, there hasn't been anything concrete to worry about but that's about to change, it seems.

Cord Lynear is one of the 'lost boys' pushed out of the cult as he becomes near adult age.  Son of the local cult leader, he is sixteen and has no way to support himself or even know much about the mechanics of day to day living.  Longmire has him in the county jail for safekeeping after a couple of complaints, but a longer term solution needs to be found.  When an elderly man shows up and claims to be Cord's guardian, it muddies the water even further. The man claims to have known Joseph Smith himself and to be over two hundred years old.  Whoever he is, he seems determined to attach himself to Cord.

When Walt, his friend Henry Standing Bear and his deputy, Victoria Moretti, try to go talk with the cult leaders, they are turned away by armed men at the gate.  As they investigate further, there's talk of big oil and a plot to hijack an oil pipeline along with possible CIA connections.  Is this something that will have to be dealt with?

This series of novels by Craig Johnson is, of course, the foundation for the TV series Longmire.  The characters are a bit different in the novels.  Henry Standing Bear is a much more physical presence, much more menacing.  Victoria is also more hard-boiled and there is no doubt of a sexual relationship between she and Walt.  Fans of the show will enjoy this series, of which this book is the ninth.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Technologists by Matthew Pearl

The year is 1868 and the location is Boston where an experiment in academia is happening.  The Massachusetts Institute for Technology is about to graduate its initial class.  Dedicated to science and using it to solve society's issues, the institute is not without controversy, mainly from those who think education should only be of the liberal arts as in that university across the river, Harvard.

Adding to the controversy is MIT's policy of taking talented student whatever their circumstances.  There are young men there from wealthy families like Robert Richards and Edwin Hoyt, who vie for the top of the academic lists.  But there are also men like Marcus Mansfield, a factory worker fresh back from the Civil War who is there on a scholarship.  Even more controversial, Ellen Swallow is the first woman admitted.  She is determined to make her way as a scientist even if her dream is considered scandalous.

Outside of the controversy about their curriculum and admitting practises, bigger problems face MIT.  Someone is using science to create a series of disasters; all the ships in the harbor simultaneously sinking; glass melting on buildings causing mayhem and human damage.  The group of students realized that these are man made disasters and that their purpose is to create sentiment against the university.  Can they find the culprit before more damage is done?

Matthew Pearl has made his mark writing books set in this time period.  He is known for such novels as The Dante Club, The Last Dickens and The Poe Shadow.  This novel is based on fact and many of the actual men who created MIT as well as some actual inaugural students are used here.  This book is recommended for readers of historical mysteries. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz has turned the detective story upside down with this imaginative telling of the murder investigation of Diana Cowper's murder.  Diana, an older woman, leaves her house one day on an errand.  She calmly goes to a funeral director's office and lays out and pays for her own funeral.  It's not unusual to preplan your funeral; TV ads suggest it almost daily, but what is unusual is that Diana's life ends that day.  She is brutally murdered in her house later that day.

Hororwitz is casting about for his next project when he is contacted by a man he knows but has little use for.  Detective Daniel Hawthorne was a man Horowitz met on the set of one of his projects.  He served as a consultant to the directors of that film as he was a former London detective and brilliant at it.  However useful he was, Horowitz had never liked him as Hawthorne is secretive, dismissive of others and rude.  He is surprised when Hawthorne asks him to lunch to discuss something and more surprised at his suggestion.  Hawthorne wants a partnership with Horowitz in which Horowitz will document Hawthorne's investigation of the murder as it occurs.   Hawthorne is sure it will be a big success but Horowitz is less convinced.  But it is intriguing to imagine being on the inside of a murder investigation so he agrees.

Diane Cowper seems like an unlikely candidate for murder but she does have skeletons in her closet.  Years before, she was involved in a tragedy.  She was the driver when nine year old twins dashed out in front of her car.  One was killed and the other was severely injured.  Is this a grudge killing?  Diana also has a famous son; a man who trained as an actor and is now a big star in Hollywood.  When he reluctantly comes home, will the detectives find out that he is involved somehow? 

The case twists and turns and Horowitz faithfully documents every incident, along with his thoughts.  The two men don't become closer; if anything, their contempt for each other grows as the case goes on.  Hawthorne is secretive and dismissive of Horowitz's conclusions and the reader becomes more and more furious of Horowitz's behalf.  But are they getting closer to solving the murder?

Horowitz has created an interesting take on the detective novel.  He is, of course, a highly successful author in the world of murder mysteries.  Both Midsomer Murders and Foyle's War are series that he created and the reader sees into that world, as well as the life of an author.  The reader gets every clue that the men have and are as surprised as Horowitz at every turn at what the facts really mean.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Little Fires Everywhere by Celestine Ng

The Richardson family is the perfect family as defined in Shaker Heights, Ohio.  Shaker Heights was a planned community and every aspect of life is defined in advance.  Mrs. Richardson is a part-time journalist while Mr. Richardson is a lawyer.  They have four children, who are all in high school.  Lexie is a senior, already accepted to Yale for next year.  She is popular in high school and hangs with the popular clique; an 'it' girl.  Trip is good-looking and athletic, a hit with the girls.  Moody is the sensitive brother who is more into poetry and songs than the playing field.  Izzy is the baby and a rebel who refuses to believe that nothing can be done about the injustices she sees around her.  All in all, the family has a perfect life where no one is questioning much.

That all changes when Mrs. Richardson rents her apartment to a new family.  Mia is an artist whose camera work is everything to her.  Her daughter Pearl is brilliant although their lifestyle hasn't allowed her to feature that strength as much as if she had always attended the same schools.  Instead, the pair leads a nomadic life, moving into a community until Mia feels she has exhausted the creative spark there, then packing up and moving on.  That means Pearl has not had a stable academic life, or friends or most of the experiences most of her peers have.  Mia has promised that this move will be one that Pearl can stick with until she finishes high school and Pearl is excited at the prospect.

Soon the two families lives are entwined.  Pearl is fascinated with the Richardson family and they with her.  She is Moody's first serious crush.  Pearl idolizes Lexie and is attracted to Trip.  On the other hand, Izzy is fascinated with Mia and her in dependant life and starts working as her assistant.  Mrs. Richardson offers Mia a job cleaning and cooking for the Richardsons and Mia can't find a way to refuse and anyway feels it is an opportunity to keep an eye on Pearl.

When a situation arises in the town that divides it, the lives of these two families are affected.  A local family is in the process of adopting a baby who was surrendered by her mother who is a recent Chinese immigrant.  When she recovers from the illness and inability to acclimate to her life situation, the mother wants her baby back.  Soon the two sides are in court, fighting about who would be the best parent for the baby.  Everyone in town has an opinion and the Richardsons and the Warrens are on opposite sides.  Mrs. Richardson is outraged that Mia is taking the birth mother's side and decides to investigate Mia's background.  Will she discover something scandalous?

Celestine Ng grew up in Shaker Heights herself so understands the environment.  Her clear portrayal of each of the characters in the book allows the reader to visualize each one and decide where their sympathies lie.  The plot twists are revealed slowly enough that they all seem natural.  The novel was named a Best Book by such sources as NPR, Audible, The Washington Post, Esquire, Kirkus Reviews, Entertainment Weekly, People and many others.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

Things aren't going the way Robin Ellacott expected.  Her marriage of less than a year is faltering; the result of her realizing right before the wedding that she didn't really love him anymore.   She had felt a sense of obligation to him and to her parents and gone through with it but you can't force love.  That just leaves her job and things aren't going that well there either.  Her last big job at the detective agency had resulted in her facing down a killer and being attacked; now she is having panic attacks.  There is also a strain in her relationship with her partner, Comoran Strike.  A distance has crept into their working relationship and nothing really feels right to her.

But regardless of feelings, the cases come in.  The latest two cases may be related somehow.  A young man in the midst of what seems to be a psychotic break comes to the office and tells Strike of a murder he witnesses years ago as a child that he has never been able to put aside as everyone around him tells him it never happened.  A government minister, whose estate the young man grew up on, has coincidentally come to Strike for help.  He is being blackmailed and he doesn't know who the blackmailer is.  Can Strike and Robin help?

Robin agrees to go undercover, to pose as the minister's newest secretary.  They find plenty of suspects.  The man is in a loveless marriage, his third which is about to fall apart.  One of his sons has been killed in the military while the one left behind is freshly out of prison after killing a young mother in a hit and run accident.  There is a left-wing radical who is out to get him and who is the psychotic man's older brother.  Finally, there is political in-fighting with a minister just down the hallway leading the opposition.  When the minister is killed, Strike and Robin are faced with a complicated case.

This is the fourth installment in the Comoran Strike series.  The mystery is enticing and complex but the reader falls in love with the characters and the relationship that is always about to burst into a full-fledged love between Comoran and Robin.  There are plenty of thorny personal issues facing both of them and a new character joins the agency.  The book is set both in the political arena and the world of horse racing and the country life that surrounds horses.  This book is recommended to mystery readers.