Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

When Cassie Bowden wakes up she is disoriented.  That's not anything new; as a woman who drinks too much she is used to waking up in unfamiliar rooms, often with a man she barely remembers.  As a flight attendant, she often can't even immediately place the city she is in. 

But something is even stranger this morning.  As she tries to orient herself, she realises something is very wrong.  There's a smell and a feel around her she has never experienced.  As the fog lifts, she sees the charming hedge fund manager, Alexander, she spent the night with.  But this is Alexander covered in a cascade of blood; his throat slashed.  What could she have done?

Cassie manages to get herself together, leave the hotel room and make it back to her own hotel before the flight out of Dubai leaves.  She is full of questions.  Could she have done it?  Why doesn't she remember?  Who was the woman who came by to have a drink with them?  How can she get by and keep the secret?

Inevitably, the story emerges.  Cassie is caught between her job and the police investigation.  The FBI are called in as the victim is an American in a foreign land.  Worse, it turns out the woman who Cassie barely remembers was an assassin.  That woman, Elena, is in trouble herself for not killing Cassie at the same time she killed Alexander.  Cassie is left to wonder who will get her first, Elena or the law?

Bohjalian has written an engaging premise and opening chapter for this book.  The reader cannot help but imagine what that scene must have been like and what they would have done in Cassie's place.  But, at least for me, I found Cassie's lack of personal engagement with others and her selfish self-destruction offputting enough that I had a hard time relating to her.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

A family comes together after the man and woman meet at work.  Both are audio documentarians and work at archiving sounds of the city that could disappear.  Both have a child from a previous relationship so the new family has a husband, wife, son and daughter.  They are a close family.  As time goes by, the husband becomes interested in the Apaches and how their tribe disappeared.  He tells the children stories of chiefs live Geronimo and Cochise.  The wife becomes interested in the concept of lost children due to the immigration crisis at the southern border.  A friend of theirs has two daughters who have traveled alone to find their mother and who have been seized by the authorities.

But as time goes by a distance starts to grow.  The husband informs his wife that he wants to take an extended family road trip from their New York City home to the Southwest.  He wants to visit the former Apache lands and the things left from the tribe.  He then informs her that his project will take a long time, at least a year maybe more.

Unsure what this means for the family, they take off on a road trip.  The children are close and as the days go by, the family learns about America as they travel, give each other nicknames as the Indians gave each other names that reflected the person's interests and skills.  The parents grow more and more distant but the children are oblivious as children often are.  Everything comes to a head when their friend's children become lost and their own children decide to leave to try to find the little girls wandering in the desert.

This is an interesting take on the immigration issues that are facing our country as well as others.  It talks about alienation, what it means to be a family and what one is willing to give up in order to be with those one loves.  It raises the issue of whether work or family should be the paramount force and which will need to be compromised in order to have both.  This book is a Booker nominee and is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

One hot summer day a decade ago, mother Melisandre Harris Dawes, went out to run errands.  Her two toddler daughters were at nursery school, taken by their nanny.  She took the baby with her on her errands.  And on that hot summer day, she got out, sat under a shade tree while her baby sat in the car in the sun and baked to death.

The publicity was instant and derogatory.  How could a mother forget her baby?  Did Melisandre kill her baby on purpose?  Did she have postpartum depression?  How should she be punished?  In the end, Melisandre was hospitalized for a while, then upon release, went overseas to live with relatives.  She hasn't seen the surviving girls or had any kind of contact for over ten years.

But suddenly, she is back in Baltimore.  She is starring in a documentary about the case, done by a woman filmmaker who needs the film to be a success to get her career back on track.  Melisandre wants contact with her daughters, but her ex-husband refuses.  He is remarried with another baby and doesn't want her rocking the boat.

Tess Monaghan, former journalist and now private investigator, remembers the story vividly.  Now that Tess is a mother, she views Melisandre's actions through a different filter.  She is hired by her uncle who is also Melisandre's attorney, to determine her security needs and serve as a bodyguard of sorts.  At first Tess doesn't think it is necessary but when those around Melisandre start to have accidents she knows something big is going on.  Soon the ex husband is killed and Melisandre is the prime suspect.  Can Tess find the truth?

Laura Lippman is a successful mystery author, usually setting her books in her home locale of Baltimore and surrounding areas.  Tess Monaghan is a recurring figure and this is Lippman's twelfth book in the series about Tess.  The reader is drawn into the family conflict and is also interested to read about Tess's own domestic life.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

August 15, 1947.  This is the date of India's independence from Britain.  It is also the birthdate of a thousand 'midnight's children', those children born on the exact moment of India's creation.  Their lives are tied to that of their mother country and reflect what is going on in the world around them.  Each child receives a special gift.  One can time travel, one change genders at will, another knows all about spells and potions.  Two of the babies are born in the same hospital.  Saleem Sinai and Shiva.  One is from a poor Hindu family, the other from a wealthy Muslim one.  A nanny who is there swaps the children.  The wealthy heir is sent to the slums to grow up poor and desperate.  Saleem is sent to the wealthy family and given everything he needs and desires.  He has the gift of telepathy and can psychically contact the others.  He creates a midnight's children congress which meets every night.

But things are not easy in India.  First, Pakistan demands it's own independence.  When Saleem is a teenager, the deceit of his nanny is revealed and he is unmasked as a fraud.  His family loves him though so not much is done.  The family moves to Pakistan and over the years, Saleem experiences the horrors the world is going through; war, poverty, repression, political torture, etc.  The other child, Shiva, grows up to embody his namesake, The Destroyer, and rises to fame in the military, killing those who oppose the government.  How will the story end of these two men, twinned at birth and now opposite in every way?

This novel is Salman Rushdie's crowning jewel.  It won the Booker in 1981 and then won the Booker of Bookers later, which was selected by readers.  It is a huge analogy of freedom and repression, opposite sides of the coin.  The writing is lavish and imaginative, a waterfall of images and comedy and tragedy that spews forward until the reader must give way to it and accept it all.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Eye Of The World by Robert Jordan

Three young men are growing up happily in their small village.   Little do they know that their contentment will be short lived.  In one night, Trollocs descent on their village and it becomes apparent that The Dark One has sent them to bring the three to him. 

Luckily, the three (Rand Al-Thor, Mat and Perrin) have help at hand.  Moiraine, an Aes Sedai or magical lady and her protector, Lan, are close at hand to diagnose the issue and help the three escape.  Along with them go Egwene, a village girl who Rand is attracted to and Nynaeve, the Village Wisdom.  The band travels as quickly as possible but are followed by the minions of The Dark One at every turn.  Along the way, the group picks up Loial, an Ogre who is a giant who understands the life of trees.  They continue their mission until Rand finally is caught in a fight with The Dark One, a fight for the survival of the world.

This is book one in the epic Wheel Of Time series.  As is common with many first novels in a series, much time is spent world building and setting up the characters and their traits.  I've been promising my son for years that I'd read this series as it is his favorite and the first book was worth the read.  This book is recommended for epic fantasy readers.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Booksie's Shelves, August 22, 2019

I don't know about where you are, but here in North Carolina it is hot, hot, hot.  With high humidity and temperatures in the high nineties, all you can do is hunker down and wait for a cool front to come and make things better.  Since house time equals lots of reading time, I'm ok with it. We decided to replace our thirteen year old refrigerator this week so the new one is bigger but its taking me a while to adjust to it.   My chrysanthemum has come back and is blooming merrily and I'm thinking about putting my fall wreath on the front door to try to hasten things along.  Regardless of weather, the books keep rolling in.  Here's what's made it through the door (i.e., physical copies instead of the daily onslaught of ebooks):

1.  The Voluptuous Delights Of Peanut Butter And Jam, Lauren Liebenberg, literary fiction, bought
2.  Monster Love, Carol Topolsi, literary fiction, purchased
3.  Hope Farm, Peggy Frew, literary fiction, gift
4.  Love And Death In The Sunshine State, Cutter Wood, true crime, gift
5.  The Room Of Lost Things, Stella Duffy, literary fiction, purchased
6.  Sorry, Gail Jones, literary fiction, purchased
7.  Paper Chains, Nicola Moriarty, literary fiction, sent by publisher
8.  Do You Mind If I Cancel?, Gary Janetti, memoir, sent by publisher
9.  Critical Injuries, Joan Barfoot, literary fiction, purchased
10.  After The Eclipse, Sarah Perry, memoir, purchased
11.  Nottingham, Nathan Makaryk, fantasy, sent by publisher
12.  29 Seconds, T.M. Logan, thriller, won in contest
13.  Pat Conroy, Our Lifelong Friendship, Bernie Schein, memoir, won in contest
14.  Th1rt3en, Steve Cavanagh, thriller, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Lost Children Archive, Valeria Luiselli, hardback
2.  The Child Finder, Rene Denfield, Kindle Fire
3.  Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie, paperback
4.  Hush, Laura Lippman, paperback
5.  The Flight Attendant, Chris Bohjalian, Kindle Fire
6.  The Dutch House, Ann Patchett, Kindle Fire
7.  Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, hardback

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 19, 2019

This Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas

There's a sensational story in the media in the South of France.  Three elderly men have died in recent weeks, all from the bite of the recluse spider.  How could that be?  The recluse spider is a loner, hiding in the most remote, darkest corners and its only interest in humans is to hide from them.  Moreover, unlike the American version, the recluse spider's bite is not that dangerous, definitely not life-threatening.  But the facts remain; three men, all dead, all bitten by a recluse in the days before their death.

Inspector Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg doesn't believe the hype.  He suspects that something more is going on.  After research, he discovers two things.  The men all knew each other; in fact, they grew up together in an orphanage.  Secondly, in order for a death by recluse venom, it would take scores of recluses all biting at one time in concert.  He knows that is not something that would have happened, so there must be something else going on.

Adamsberg has help tracking down the truth.  There are police in his department that would do anything, believe anything that Adamsberg says and they are as determined as he to find the truth.  There's an elderly lady  he meets who knows the victims and knows about recluses and even gives him a specimen.  There's a scientist in the local museum and a forensic psychologist who has ideas to move the investigation along.  But Adamsberg has obstacles also.  There is dissent in his own department with his right hand man opposed to his ideas.  There is an incident in his own background that keeps him from thinking clearly.  As the days go by, more victims are discovered.  Can Adamsberg discover the truth?

Fred Vargas is a French woman, born in Paris who is an archaeologist and historian.  Her background is seen clearly in her mysteries which are complex and draw on the past and science.  This is the seventh novel in the Adamsberg series.  Readers will be interested to see the differences in police procedure in France as opposed to the more familiar English and American police departments.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

As the days go by, more victims are discovered.  Can Adamsberg find the truth?

Thursday, August 8, 2019

In Our Mad And Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

In present day London, tensions are high after a police officer is killed on the street by a young man of color.  This novel follows the life of various characters in the aftermath of this occurrence.  Most live in public housing which is known as the estates and most are attempting to make a better life for themselves and for their families.

There is Selvon who is the athlete.  He has his eye on making the Olympic team and spends his days training, running, boxing, playing football with his friends.  His parents are Jamaican immigrants.  Caroline is a middle-aged woman who came to London from Ireland when her family got mixed up in IRA politics and sent her away to avoid any trouble.  Ardan is Caroline's son and is small and shy.  Few know that he is intensely interested in grime music, the next generation of hip hop or rap and has an amazing skill for generating songs.   Yusuf is Muslim.  His father was the Iman and moderate but was recently killed in a car accident.  The new Iman is strict and determined to bring all the members of his congregation under his control.  He has plans for Yusuf and his brother that Yusuf wants to avoid; he just wants to hang with his friends and go to school.  Finally, there is Nelson, Selvon's father who came to England as a young man and is caught up in the first racial tension with the bully boys who don't want anyone coming to their country if they are a different nationality or color or culture.

This is a vibrant, interesting novel.  The writing is fresh and brash and the reader will take a while to settle into the new words and phrases which are unfamiliar to them.  But the characters are real, struggling to make a life that is fulfilling and going about it in different ways.  Without preaching, the message comes through strongly that only by accepting others will we all move forward.  This book was longlisted for the Booker Prize and readers will be glad to be introduced to this fresh new voice.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Evil Beside Her by Kathryn Casey

The Bergstrom marriage was never a great one.  Linda was guilted by James into dating him and not breaking up.  When he joined the Navy and wanted to get married, Linda decided to go along.  Things weren't great in her family and maybe getting out of town was the right thing to do.  The two moved to Bangor, Washington where James was assigned to work on a Trident submarine. 

Things went from blah to bad.  James started to show a temper and was very possessive of Linda and her time.  They didn't have friends since James was jealous of everyone around her.  And he had started to ask her to do things she wasn't comfortable with; things like letting him tie her up in the bedroom.  At first just her hands, then her legs and a gag were added.  When she refused, James would storm out of the apartment.

Soon, Linda lived only for the months that James would be out on the Trident.  Those were months where she could have girlfriends, do whatever pleased her with her time and just relax.  Life with James was a lot of things but relaxing was never one of them.  Whenever James returned to land, the entire cycle of jealousy and possession started back up.  Soon there was physical violence added.

James left the service early at the Navy's request and the two moved back to Texas.  By now Linda realized she had married a very sick man and the rapes that started occurring whenever he was around were not happenstance.  How could she end the cycle of violence?

This case happened in the late 1980's and early 1990's.  I can only hope that the police would be more responsive in such a case now.  Linda told the police early and often of her suspicions of James.  Several of the police she talked with believed her but others either brushed her off or said she could not testify against him.  James managed to terrify women for months in several locations, raping some and attempting to rape others.  This book outlines the difficulty both of identifying and then prosecuting men like James, and is recommended for true crime readers.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Euphoria by Lily King

In the 1930's three young anthropologists meet in the wilds of New Guinea and never afterwards is the same.  Andrew Bankson is from England.  He has been in the field for several years, fleeing a home where there is no freedom and where both of his brothers have died.  He meets an American couple, Nell and Fen.  Fen he has met before for a short time in their academic careers.  Nell has already found fame with the publication of her first book.

Andrew is immediately smitten with Nell.  In his eyes, she is beautiful and wise and he is so taken back by his attraction to her that he can barely speak..  But Nell and Fen are married, as unlikely as their union seems.  They are very opposite characters, even in their work.  Nell likes to sit and observe, making copious notes about everything she sees; slowly evolving a worldview of the culture she is studying.  Fen becomes the culture; going out hunting with the men, disappearing for days on end and entering their rituals.  He has even indulged in their ceremony of cannibalism.  He is also envious of Nell's success and finds ways to sabotage her work.  He hides discoveries from her.  He breaks her thing; her glasses and her typewriter.  He is disparaging of her both personally and professionally.  Yet each still is tied to the other by attraction and love.

Fen and Nell are fleeing their lives with a tribe that turned dangerous for them.  Andrew helps them find another tribe to study, one that is close enough to his own tribe of study that he can visit.  Slowly, he works his way into their lives.  He finds it harder and harder to hide his interest in Nell and Fen knows that Nell is also attracted to him.  As a group, they make seminal discoveries and create structural guidelines that will rock their field of study.  But individually, none can see where these relationships will go or what the end result of their meeting will be.

This was a Best Book for such publications as NPR, New York Times Review, Time, the Guardian, Publisher's Weekly and others.  It was the winner of the 2014 Kirkus Prize as well as a finalist for the National Book Award Critic's Circle Award.  It is loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead and her seminal work on the Pacific Tribes.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Bolton

Detective Inspector Mark Joesbury of the Scotland Yard Covert Operations Unit, has a new assignment.  He is working undercover to gain information about a terrorist group operating under the radar.  As he works his way into their confidence, he discovers that there is a plot to create havoc in the midst of London, on the Thames River.  The plot seems focused around Westminster Bridge and the House of Parliament.  The American President is soon to come on a state visit and it appears that the time frame will put the plot going into high gear then.

Mark is able to gain the terrorist's confidence due to his knowledge of the river having come from a family that grew up on it.  He knows boats inside and out and it appears that boats are a big part of the plan.  As the time grows closer, Mark still doesn't have details of the operation but the ante is upped when the gang manages to capture DC Lacey Flint.  Not only is she useful for propaganda purposes, but she is Mark's girlfriend.  Can he foil the plot and save Lacey?

The book is mislabeled on Amazon.  I bought it because I discovered Sharon Bolton this year and have loved the novels I've read.  The book was listed as 400 pages but in reality it is not a novel but a novella and is around 97 pages.  The crisp planning and intricate details that characterize Bolton's writing don't have a big enough frame to come into play in this shorter work.  I was disappointed in it and would only recommend it to those who understand going in that it is a novella.