Friday, May 31, 2019

The Shadow Of Death by Philip Ginsburg

Things were changing in the early 1980's in the Connecticut River Valley.  The River went between two states, New Hampshire and Vermont and was made up of small towns and people used to a rural life.  But outside life was intruding.  City dwellers were moving out to escape the high prices and crime of the big cities.  Instead of everyone knowing everyone else, now families came and went and one encountered many strangers each day.  Soon, things would change even more as young girls and women started to disappear, found later dead.

At first it was young girls, girls who were walking along the small highways or even hitchhiking, which was more common then.  At first, the cases seemed unrelated but as the total number started to climb, the similarities between the cases were more noticeable and soon the police and the general public realized that one person was responsible.  After much investigation, a young man named Gary Schaefer was arrested and imprisoned.

But the cases did not stop.  Women alone in cars along the highways were still being grabbed up, their bodies found months later.  One woman was last seen talking on a public pay phone outside a store.  Another was taken from a rest stop one snowy evening returning from a ski trip.  One was killed in her house minutes before her husband returned; an outlier but the house was impossible not to see and its occupants were basically living in a fishbowl.  These women were older than the first group of victims and as unbelievable as it might seem, it became clear that this small rural area had another serial killer working the roads.  This one was never caught although there were various suspects over the years.

Readers of true crime will find this book fascinating.  It is not one of the most publicized cases so it will be new to most people.  Although the second killer was never found, the story of the investigation, the families of the victims and the police who worked the case are interesting.  It is a good viewpoint into what a case was like as the notion of serial killers was just making its way into the mindset of the country.  I found this book especially interesting because of one investigator.  It was a psychiatrist named John Philpin, who was one of the earlier individuals doing what the FBI was to later make so famous in books and TV shows, building a psychological profile of the killer that could be used to identify and capture the killer.  I was in an email group with John years ago and to read about his early career was satisfying.  This book is recommended for readers of true crime.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Monk Of Mokha by Dave Eggers

According to history, coffee was first discovered by a shepherd in Yemen, Africa, when he noticed that his sheep seemed to be way too energetic.  He realized they were chewing berries and after investigation, found a way to make the beans in the berries into coffee.  The drink spread rapidly and was soon a major crop in Yemen and protected from exportation.  Over time, the Dutch smuggled it to the island of Java and then later it was smuggled again to South America.  Now coffee is the premier drink of the world but almost no Yemen farmers grow it.  Over time, they rotated out of coffee to growing qat, a plant that can be chewed to induce euphoria.

Recently, a young man living in the United States with a Yeman background, Mokhtar Alkhanshali discovered all this history and decided that bringing Yemeni coffee back to prominence would be his life work.  He had spent time in Yemen as a child with his grandfather and wanted to give back to his country.  He had no experience in business, no contacts in the coffee world and no real idea how to create his dream.  But he found ways to move ahead.  He attended every event having to do with coffee, visited coffee farms and processing plants and learned the process of taking a plant from berry to bean to coffee.  He became a coffee judge.  Finally, he was ready to go back to Yemen.

Once there, he again started his journey of exploration and learning.  He visited the few farmers still growing coffee.  Due to poor processing, the native coffee was now graded low and the farmers received little money for their product.  He taught the correct processes to those interested with the promise of much greater money in the future for their crop.

Finally, he was ready to achieve his goal.  He had tons of product and now needed a way to get it to market.  Unfortunately, Yemen was not a placid place but one torn by war between rival factions and Mokhtar and his partner found themselves unable to get out of the country in order to attend the coffee conference that would establish the new Yemen coffee.  After many trials, armed confrontations, arrests and last minute miracles, Mokhtar escaped Yemen, returned to the United States and successfully introduced high grade Yemen coffee.

This was an interesting book written about a young man who should have failed a thousand times over but who persisted and finally, after years of preparation and work, managed to achieve his goal.  Readers will discover the history of coffee and the political and economic realities of life in Yemen.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Booksie's Shelves, May 25, 2019

It's Memorial Day Weekend and I wish everyone a restful time while sending appreciation to those who the holiday celebrates.  We started our weekend off with a bang, going to Durham to see the delightful play, Hello Dolly.  Betty Buckley is 72 but she can still command the stage and the dancing and choreography was amazing.  We got home very late and have spent most of today recuperating from the shortened sleep we got.  Tomorrow we are going to a neighbor's cookout and I'll be making broccoli salad to take.

A few weekends ago, I went to the library to pick up a reserve book and fell into a library book sale.  Most of what I bought were books in either the Michael Connelly Bosch series or the Jonathan Kellerman Alex Delaware series as one of my goals this year is to catch up and get current on each.  One of my favorite mystery authors, Stuart MacBride, just released his latest and I've been fighting the urge to buy it right away.  Here's what has been successful in coming through the door:

1.  The Good Sister, Gillian McAllister, thriller, sent by publisher
2.  Degrees Of Difficulty, Julie Justicz, literary fiction, sent by publicist
3.  The Drop, Michael Connelly, mystery, purchased
4.  The Closers, Michael Connelly, mystery, purchased
5.  Once A Liar, A.F. Brady, thriller, sent by publisher
6.  The Furies, Katie Lowe, thriller, won in contest
7.  Merivel, Rose Tremian, historical fiction, purchased
8.  Dr. Death, Jonathan Kellerman, mystery, purchased
9.  Therapy, Jonathan Kellerman, mystery, purchased
10.  Survival Of The Fittest, Jonathan Kellerman, mystery, purchased

Here's what I'm reading:

1. The Monk Of Mokta, Dave Eggers, hardback
2.  Witch Elm, Tana French, hardback
3.  Flannery O'Connor, The Collected Stories, paperback
4.  The Truth-Tellers Lie, Sophie Hannah, paperback
5.  In Her Bones, Kate Moretti, Kindle Fire
6.  The Eye Of The World, Robert Jordan, audible
7.  The Shadow Of Death, Phillip Ginsberg, hardback

8.  Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, hardback

Happy Reading!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

If you are a half-orc, life doesn't get better than riding with the Grey Bastards.  Friends Jackal, Oats and Fetching grew up together in the orphanage and become members at the same time.  The groups are necessary to protect The Lots, the lands that were granted to the half-orcs after the Great War.  Their purpose is to act as a safeguard and buffer to keep the orcs from invading and to border on the Elven lands.  It's a life of duty, hard-riding mounted on hogs to patrol the land and frequent battles with various invaders.  There are other groups, but everyone knows the Bastards are the best.

But all is not good.  The group's leader has been in power for many, many years and some question if he is still capable of leading the group.  Jackal is one of those and is interested in leading himself.  But to challenge the leader can easily lead to death or banishment and he's not sure he has the votes to win.  Recently, a new half-orc has shown up.  He seems to be a wizard and while he professes friendship and support for Jackal, Jack isn't sure if he can trust him or what his real story is.  There seem to be lots of power struggles and machinations throughout the world and it takes a smart, dedicated guy to survive and thrive.  What will come next?

Jonathan French has created an interesting world that arrives fully fleshed out and a hero in Jackal that will engage the reader's interest and sympathy.  The battle scenes are frequent and well done, and the issues of friendship and loyalty are explored.  The language and sex scenes are not PG, but all in all this first novel in an anticipated series has burst upon the fantasy world and I, for one, can't wait to read more about this world.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Prairie Fever by Michael Parker

The Stewart family is living in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, in the early 1900's and the living is hard.  The prairie stretches forever, but it's not necessarily easy farming land.  The winters are brutal with biting winds and blizzards that blow up out of nowhere.  The family has lost two small sons to 'prairie fever' or typhoid and only the daughters are left.  Lorena is seventeen and Elise is fifteen.  They feel alone in the world; their mother has never recovered from their brothers' deaths and their father is a big talker, little action buffoon who drags them from state to state on whatever whims move him along.

Every day the two sisters saddle up Sandy, their horse, and ride the miles into town to school.  Their teacher is Gus McQueen, a man just a few years older than them and with little education or aptitude for teaching although kind and interesting.  Lorena is organized and focused, the best student in school as well as the most beautiful.  Elise is different; she sees the world through dreams and odd takes on common views.  Most don't understand her or the depth of her feelings for those she loves.

When Gus and Lorena ride out in a blizzard to go after Elise who has taken off on what seems to her a necessary adventure, things change.  They rescue Elise right before death and Gus' relationship with the girls changes forever.  He and Lorena become a couple, but down the road, he ends up falling in love and marrying Elise instead; an act that creates a lifelong rift between the two sisters.

Michael Parker has a talent for bringing characters to life and leaving readers not only interested in other times and the difficulties people had then, but with lifelong friends in their minds.  No one reading about Elise will forget her quickly and the stories of life in those earlier times shows starkly the difficulties of communication and how distance meant something back then that it doesn't mean in our hurried world.  The story unfolds slowly giving the reader time to sink into the time period and get to know each character.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

Somewhere in the desert, in the American Southwest, is the town of Night Vale.  That's the opening for many small towns but Night Vale is different.  Really different.  There are widespread government conspiracies, rapacious librarians, angels and time just doesn't work right there.  Donations to various community fundraisers are compulsory and taken from one's bank account.  Your child may be a teenager one day, a giant moth the next and perhaps a sloth or a skink the next.

When Diane's son goes missing, she knows she has to do something to find him.  Should she join forces with Jackie, a perpetual nineteen-year old who runs the pawn shop and seems to hate her?  Why is Troy, her son Josh's biological father, back in town?  He left when Diane found out she was pregnant sixteen years ago.  Why is her job in jeopardy after years of running the company's database?  Why doesn't anyone else at her job remember Evan who worked there for years but seems to have disappeared?  What is the force that seems to be drawing everyone to King City and how do you get there?

These are all questions that need answers and so, forgetting their dislike of each other, Diane and Jackie make plans to work together to solve the mysteries surrounding them.  In the process, they will each discover things about themselves and their locale that are astonishing but commonplace in this strange town.

Welcome to Night Vale started as a podcast.  It has turned into a massive conglomerate, with podcasts, merchandise, books, live shows, etc.  It's mix of whimsy and nonsense has created a cult following that is difficult for those who don't get it to understand.  The target audience is probably teenagers to early twenties but any age with the right mindset could enjoy it and become an aficionado.  This book is recommended for sci fi/fantasy readers.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes by Jules Moulin

Ally Hughes turned 41 recently.  She is happy enough.  She has her daughter, Lizzie, 20, who is bright, gorgeous and determined to make it as an actress.  She has her career, a tenured professor at Brown University in Female Studies.  She has friends and baking and reading.  What she doesn't have is a man.  Oh, there is Ted, a rich man who is always available for a dinner date or to serve as a plus one but there isn't much of a spark with him plus Lizzie hates him. 

It's not like Ally has burned up the sheets anytime in her life.  There was the one-night stand in her freshman year at college that produced Lizzie nine months later.  Then there was Jake.  Jake showed up in her class as a presence she was aware of in the back row.  He wrote huge papers that she graded down for exceeding length.  In fact, as the end of the semester loomed, he is about to fail.  He shows up at her door to ask for leniency which she gives him.  Then he stays to help out as Ally's handyman has once again disappeared on an appointment.  Ally needs a handyman that weekend as Lizzie is about to turn ten and she needs to put together her birthday present, a new bed while Lizzie is off visiting her grandmother.  What she never expected was a weekend of passionate, riotous sex or Jake's declarations of love.

Fast forward ten years.  Lizzie is determined to make it as an actress, an occupation that mostly consists of auditions although she gets a line in movies or shows every so often.  She volunteers Ally to cook dinner for the star of her newest movie, Noah.  Imagine Ally's surprise when Noah shows up and turns out to be Jake and the attraction is still there.  Will Ally act on it and seize some happiness in her life finally?

This is Jules Moulin's debut novel although not her debut writing job.  She spent several years working as a writer on hit shows like Party Of Five and The West Wing.  In Ally, she has created a woman who is finally waking up to the fact that our lives are what we choose to make of them and that we don't have to settle but can instead hold out for our dreams.  This book is recommended for romance and women's fiction readers.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Rope by Nevada Barr

She wakes slowly.  Something is not right.  Her head is pounding and her body feels weird.  Where exactly is she?  What was she doing?  As she starts to wake more fully, Anna Pigeon realizes that she is not in good shape.  Her head is bleeding from an injury.  She is hot and thirsty.  She is alone.  She is naked.  She is in a pit in the desert and she has no idea how she got there.

As the hours pass, Anna starts to put her situation together.  She had come to the National Park, fleeing New York and her career as a stage manager after a personal tragedy.  Her work is not glamorous but it's hard and occupies her mind and body and that's all she requires.  She had gone out on her day off for a hike and come across three men attacking another woman.  Apparently, they are the culprits who are responsible for her current situation.

As the hours and then days pass, Anna's reserves of strength and courage are taxed to the max.  Can she survive this?  How?  Are her captors coming back and which is worse, their return or their absence?  They are hundreds of pits in the landscape and no one knew she was going hiking so no one has any idea where to look.

This is the book that introduces Anna Pigeon and her career as a park ranger to the reading public.  However, it is the seventeenth book in the series, written after the phenomenal success of the series as readers wanted to know more about Anna and what brought her to her job.  The action is fast and furious and the reader cannot help but wonder how they would fare in a similar situation.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Memory Of Love by Linda Olsson

Now in her fifties, Marion Flint finds herself alone in a coastal town in New Zealand.  She is a doctor and practiced for many years, but now only works part-time.  In her past, she was married for a time, but the marriage came to seem an empty shell and she fled it and her London home for New Zealand.

Marion's childhood was dysfunctional and left her with difficulty in forming attachments and relationships.  She spends her days walking the coastline, collecting treasures that she turns into art.  Everything changes when she meets Ika, a young boy or around nine.  He starts showing up occasionally at her home and she feels an interest in him.  When she realizes that his home life is not ideal, in fact, perhaps dangerous, it starts two processes. 

First, she starts to take steps to rescue Ika from his home and to help him flower despite his own difficulties.  But, having Ika around also takes Marion back to her past.  She starts to review the memories that she has repressed for decades and to slowly start to put them into a united focus and to forgive those who inhabited her past.  Will doing so help her create a more balanced life?

Linda Olsson has created a quiet book that has emotional depth that the reader slowly uncovers as they get to know Marion.  Her struggles and attempts to change herself in her middle years, leading to her older stages, is noteworthy.  Readers will be drawn into her struggles and cheer for her to overcome the adversity that has stunted her life until now.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Booksie's Shelves, May 4, 2019

Spring is finally here!  In North Carolina, that means azealeas are blooming everywhere along with dogwoods and daises on the side of the roads.  My husband retired about two weeks ago so my biggest challenge is adjusting to that.  His job was in another city so for thirteen years he had an apartment and came home on the weekends so adjusting to someone else in the house every day is quite different.  My reading and gym time have gone way down.  Here's what's made it through the door lately:

1.  After The End, Clare Mackintosh, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2.  Sunset Beach, Mary Kay Andrews, women's fiction, sent by publisher
3.  The Never Game, Jeffery Deaver, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  The Crossing Places, Elly Griffiths, mystery, won in contest
5.  Nottingham, Nathan Makaryk, historical fiction, won in contest
6.  The Lazarus Files, Matthew McGough, nonfiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1. The Memory Of Love, Linda Olsson, paperback
2.  The Rope, Nevada Barr, hardback
3.  Flannery O'Connor, The Collected Stories, paperback
4.  The Truth-Tellers Lie, Sophie Hannah, paperback
5.  In Her Bones, Kate Moretti, Kindle Fire
6.  The Eye Of The World, Robert Jordan, audible
7.  Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes, Jules Moulin, paperback

Happy Reading!