Thursday, December 31, 2020

Booksie's Year In Review 2020


It's the end of 2020 and time to look back on my reading year, evaluate the goals set for this year and set new goals for 2021.  Of course, the big story of 2020 is the pandemic.  We've basically been locked down since February as we've been very diligent about only going out when it's a necessity.  That means much more time at home and much more reading time.  I've read 175 books this year which is definitely an adult high mark.  I tend to read in the genres of mystery, literary fiction, science fiction/fantasy and nonfiction.  This year I read fifty-eight mysteries, legal fictions and thrillers, seventy-five literary fictions, twenty-one science fiction/fantasies and twenty nonfictions and anthologies.  Here's the best of what I read in each category:


  1. Blindsighted, Karin Slaughter
  2. Just One Evil Act, Elizabeth George
  3. Miracle Creek, Angie Kim
  4. The Shadows, Alex North
  5. Breakdown, Jonathan Kellerman
Literary Fiction
  1. Girl, Woman, Other, Bernadine Evaristo
  2. Hamnet, Maggie O'Farrell
  3. The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
  4. A Brief History Of Seven Killings, Marlon James
  5. Ten Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World, Elif Shafak
  6. Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel
  7. The Overstory, Richard Powers
  8. The Sport Of Kings, C.E. Morgan
Science Fiction/Fantasy
  1. Wheel Of Time series novels, Robert Jordan
  2. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Hank Green
  3. War For The Oaks, Emma Bull
  4. The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin
  5. This Is How You Lose The Time War, Amal El-Motar/Max Gladstone
  1. Underland, Robert MacFarland
  2. Age Of Wonder, Richard Holmes
  3. Pilgrim At Tinker's Creek, Annie Dillard
  4. The Black Count, Tom Reiss
  5. Lions Of The West, Robert Morgan

I had several goals for this year.  The first was to read 120 books and I met that goal.  The second was to read the Wheel Of Time series and I'm at the eighth of fourteen so about halfway on that one.  Third was to reread The Satanic Verses which I did.  Fourth was to read four classics and I failed on that one.  Last was to read from my own shelves and I'd call that one a success.  I read and gave away many more of my own books this year.  Here's my goals for 2021:
  1. Read 120 books.
  2. Finish the Wheel Of Time series
  3. Catch up on Jonathan Kellerman, John Sandford and Michael Connelly series.
  4. Read three classics
  5. Read at last ten of the Booker and Woman's Prize nominees
  6. Continue to read from my shelves and give away what I've read
Here's to a happier 2021!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Motar and Max Gladstone


They fight across centuries and across time.  They are each the best warriors of their type.  Blue and Red are sworn enemies of their organizations and only one can finally win and continue its existence.  Blue is the growing entity; full of spring and summer and flowers and birds and lush vegetation  Red is cerebral, made of logic and circuits, unemotional and unrelenting.  

But as time goes by, things start to change.  Red and Blue start to appreciate things about each other in their unending battle to defeat each other once and for all.  As they slip up and down the time continuum, carrying out missions for their sides as they plan the next step in their personal battles, they start to communicate.  Each leaves notes for the other and as they read these missives, they start to know each other and to feel what the other feels.  Finally, over millennium, they start to fall in love.  But how can enemies love?  If their masters ever discover their feelings for each other, they will be utterly destroyed.  How to love, an impossibility in the first place, and keep it so hidden that it can never even be guessed at?

Amal El-Motar and Max Gladstone are both award-winning novelists in the science fiction genre. El-Motar has won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards with her short stories while Gladstone has been a finalist for the Hugo awards for best novel.  Together they have written an intriguing work that awakens emotions in the reader; a hope that there is a place somewhere for these two enemies to find love.  The writing is luminous and lush and the reader wonders how the work was divided.  Did one author write Blue and the other Red or did they collaborate on each section?  However it was done, this is a masterful work that will be remembered long after the last page is read and is recommended for readers of science fiction.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Lies Lies Lies by Adele Parks


Simon and Daisy have a good life.  He's in interior design, she's a teacher.  They met and fell in love in their university days.  Their marriage had some strain while they were trying and failing to have a baby, but the birth of their daughter, Millie, six years before had completed their union.  

But is their life that perfect?  Simon is drinking more than ever, veering ever closer to the line of being an alcoholic.  Something is eating at him and Daisy thinks it started the day they went back to the fertility clinic to talk about having another baby.  She is fine with just Millie but another child seems critical to Simon.  They had left the office that day in a hurry and he has seemed different since then.

As Simon's drinking gets worse, Daisy tries harder and harder to cover it.  She suspects that their circle of friends know exactly what is going on and while everyone likes Simon, these successful professionals expect everyone to have their lives together.  But things get worse and worse.  Simon loses his job and soon he is spending his days in bed, drinking until there is nothing left to drink in the house.  When a horrific accident occurs, their lives explode.  Now the lies on which their marriage were built start to come out.

As each layer of lies is pulled aside, more truth is revealed.  Can they ever live with the brutal truths that are uncovered?  Is the truth always better than the lies that covered it and made it more acceptable to society?  Can they raise a daughter to a happy and successful adulthood if her foundation is constructed of lies?

Adele Parks has carved out a career with books that explore the darker side of relationships.  The lies that paper over the giant holes in Simon and Daisy's marriage cannot hold and the slow exposure of each lie adds to the book's tension.  Some of the surprises I saw coming; some hit me from left field.  As each layer of deceit is peeled away, the reader will emphasize with the characters and hope for a happy ending.  This book is recommended for readers of suspenseful  women's fiction.

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin


The Fifth Season is the season of death.  Events, usually ecological disasters such as volcanoes erupting occur and the Earth suffers.  Skies are clouded over and people may not see the sun for several years.  If you aren't associated with a commun, you'll probably starve to death or be killed by roving humans desperate for survival.  They occur periodically and the times between are spent preparing for the next.  If you are lucky, a fifth season may last a few years.  If not, it could be decades and if your commun didn't store enough food, it will also die.

Society is broken into castes.  Orogenes can control the earth, stop a quake before it grows big and disruptive.  Although it would seem logical that beings with that much power would be on top of society, they are instead on the bottom, cast out and feared, told they are less than human and treated the same.  They are broken, taught and controlled by Guardians.  There are Strongbacks to handle the soldiering and protection needs and Leaders to set policy.  Everyone else are Stills, just normal people trying to make a living and survive.

A small girl is cast out of her family when it is discovered that she is an orogene.  A Guardian arrives to take her off to the Fulcrum, the place where orogenes are trained and controlled.  After she grows, the novel follows her on a mission where she meets one of the most powerful orogenes, Alabaster, who teaches her things about being an orogene and how they fit into the world that the Fulcrum dare not mention.  She and Alabaster break free and use their power to try to carve out a life away from society.  Can they survive?

This is the first book in a trilogy that has garnered enormous praise in the science fiction genre.  It won the Hugo Award for Best Fiction and was also a New York Times Notable Book.  It is a novel that uses the science fiction genre to explore the issues of power and oppression, resistance and survival.  The plotting is complex and the various threads weave together to surprise the reader with discoveries as it winds forward and back upon itself.  It is written without sentiment but the reader will become entwined in the lives of the characters regardless.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction.  

Saturday, December 26, 2020

A Faint Cold Fear by Karin Slaughter


The call is sad but routine.  A college student has been found dead under a bridge.  It is probably the usual suicide but coroner Sara Linton isn't sure.  There's something about the body that just doesn't seem right.  She is telling her ex-husband, the police chief, Jeffrey, that when she realizes something else isn't right.  Her sister had ridden along with her to the call as they were out running errands.  She went into the woods and hasn't returned.  When they find her, she is near death, stabbed and left for dead.

As Sara rushes with her parents to Atlanta to the hospital with her sister, Jeffrey starts to investigate.  The suspicion is deepened when the girl who found the body is found dead the next day, the body staged to again suggest suicide.  Jeffrey narrows in on a suspect, the son of a white supremacist.  But his former sergeant, Lena, now works as campus security and she doesn't believe the son is involved.  Jeffrey is furious and fearful as evidence starts to accumulate to suggest Lena herself could be involved.  She quit the force after she was kidnapped and held for several days a year ago.  Could she have strayed so far from the law she loved then?  Is this a revenge plot?  As the bodies continue to appear, Jeffrey and Sara must race against time to uncover the killer.

This is the third novel in the Grant County series by Karin Slaughter.  The main characters, Jeffrey and Sara, are still in limbo, back together after their divorce but not yet ready to make it permanent.  Jeffrey's need to protect Lena and her total rejection of his protection adds more suspense.  Slaughter has created an entire environment that the reader will recognize as they settle in for another suspenseful tale.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

What You Wish For by Katherine Center


When the principal of Samantha's elementary school dies, the school is horrified.  Max and his wife Babette had created the school and spent their lives making sure that it was the most creative and enriching environment possible for the children it served.  Sam is the school librarian and Max and Babette her best friends.  She loves everything about her school and like her other faculty friends she worries what will happen next.

When the new principal is announced, she can't believe her ears.  It is Duncan Carpenter and she knows him.  He had worked at her first school and was the star of the faculty.  He was goofy and filled with a sense of fun that included every child and encouraged them to dream big and follow their dreams.  The children loved him and unfortunately so did Sam.  But Duncan was dating someone else and it finally became so painful for her to have him unavailable that she moved to Texas and the school that Duncan is now coming to.

Her trepidation aside, she informs the faculty what a wonderful person they are getting, someone who will carry out Max's vision of the school.  But four years can change a person and it has changed Duncan.  Instead of an offbeat man who loves children and fun, he has become an authoritarian who is determined to change everything about the school and turn it into a fortress.  He wants to take away everything that Sam loves about the place.  Can this be the Duncan she knew?

This lighthearted romance serves as the vehicle to encourage readers to follow their dreams and take the bitter with the sweet, to be strong and unafraid to live life as it should be lived.  Sam has changed herself from meek to outrageous and she boldly fights to save her vision.  The novel received lots of awards such as People's 'Book Of The Week' and Parade's 'Best Beach Read of 2020'.  If I had one quibble it was that Sam didn't seem as emotionally mature as her age.  Her attitude towards Duncan and love often seemed more like that of a teenager with her first crush that a woman in her thirties.  The novel was paced well and the characters were enjoyable.  This book is recommended for readers of women's fiction.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Wait For Signs by Craig Johnson


Fans of the TV series Longmire will be delighted to find this anthology of twelve stories about Sheriff Walt Longmire, sheriff of Absaroka Country, Wyoming.  Readers will find other familiar characters from the series such as Cady, Walt's daughter, Henry Standing Bear, his best friend and Vic Moretti, his undersheriff.  There are divergences from the series also as some main characters in the TV series are not found in these stories.  All of the stories occur after the death of Walt's wife, Martha.

The stories display everyday details about a sheriff's life.  Walt deals with everything from a robbery in progress to an owl trapped in a Porta-Potty.  He deals with animals from a wild rodeo horse to a mama bear with cubs to a queen sheep who rustles other sheep to the dismay of the ranchers in the area.  In all of the stories, Walt's desire to be kind to those around him while upholding the law shines through and the reader is struck over and over again with how such a tough, silent man has an inner core of kindness and love for his fellow creatures.  My personal favorite was a story called Thankstaking, where Walt and Henry reach beyond themselves to discover the true meaning of the holiday.  This book is recommended for fans of the Longmire series and for any reader interested in stories of the West and how law enforcement is really done on a daily basis.

This anthology has now been released in paperback 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Power by Naomi Alderman


When the first girl discovered her power, not much changed.  She didn't know how she was creating sparks in times of stress.  But she showed a friend and soon that friend could do it also.  As they showed more girls and it hit online applications, girls from all over the world could do it also.  Girls had a skein located near their collarbone and it supplied electricity to them.  So they could do much more than light cigarettes or show off to their friends.  It was the ultimate self defense tool and like most power, it became corrupting and soon the defense turned to offense.

Some quickly realized the advantages of the power.  Allie is a sixteen year old girl living in a foster household in Alabama.  When she uses the power to kill the man of the house as he is raping her, she starts a journey that eventually leaves her as Mother Eve, the main character in the religion that grows up around the power.  Roxy is a London girl from a gangster family who comes to the United States to escape the heat of her criminal activities.  Her power strength is legendary and she becomes the enforcer.  Margot is a politician and the financial partner of training camps for teenage girls to help them develop their power and become soldiers.  She even puts her own two girls in the camps.  Tatiana is rescued from a live of sex slavery in a Middle European country and soon gathers enough women around her to create a new country where she is President.  Tunde is a Nigerian man who recognizes that the power is the story of a lifetime and uses it to escape his country and become a world renowned journalist. 

But with great power comes great responsibility.  Can the women as they take their turn in power be sustaining rulers who empower all those around them?  Or will they develop power hungry personalities that use their talents to pay back men for the centuries that they have been on top?  As the months go by, the lines are drawn more and more clearly and the world inches towards a military disaster that will overshadow any seen before with gender fighting gender.  Can things be slowed or reversed?

This novel won the Bailey Woman's Prize for Fiction and was named a Top Ten Book by the New York Times.  It is a compelling look at gender politics and the inevitability of power corrupting those who hold it.  The power is not just a physical thing but the ability to redefine the world with an unclear decision about who will lay down the laws and what the world will look like after it is changed forever.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, December 18, 2020

My Heart Is A Drummer by Adam Sydney


Donald is unlike any other man.  He falls totally in love with everyone he meets, male or female.  He loves them so totally that his only desire is to give them whatever they need or want.  That causes issues in his life.  He can't hold a job as he will walk out in the middle of the day if one of his people needs something.  He can't turn anyway new people which causes resentments and jealousy in the existing ones.  He never thinks of himself.

There is the couple that he lives with in a partnership, all three sharing a bed.  There is the woman who used to also be in the partnership but who has moved out and on with her life.  There is the elderly man who has no one else.  There is the artist who punishes Donald in humiliating ways in order to portray his discomfort in his art.  Since Donald will give anything to anyone, how long will his own existence endure?

Adam Sydney has written an intriguing treatise on the nature of love and what it means to put others ahead of oneself.  At first the recipients can't believe their luck, can't believe that anyone would love them so fiercely and love every facet of their character.  But inevitably, each relationship goes astray.  Jealousy comes in as Donald obsessively meets and loves new people.  But even more, such total love leads to reflection on oneself and over time, self-loathing at what is possible to do in the name of love.  This book is recommended to readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Sport Of Kings by C. E. Morgan


Her name is Hellmouth.  Descended from the great racehorse Secretariat, she is a filly whose strength, size and desperate desire to win is obvious from birth.  She has been carefully bred by Henry Forge, the scion of a famous Kentucky family.  Forge's ancestor had come to this land when it was unsettled, accompanied only by his favorite slave.  Over the years, the land he claimed had been cultivated and made into a famous estate but those black men and women who did the work claimed none of the benefit.

Henry was consumed with racing since he was a small boy.  When his father passed and the land came to him, he tore out the corn and tobacco fields and made it a horse farm.  Now he lives there with his beautiful, headstrong daughter, Henrietta.  Around the time Hellmouth is born, Allmon comes to work there as a groomsman.  Unknown to either of them, Allmon is a descendant of that first slave who came to Kentucky with the first Forge.  Allmon comes to the farm from prison where he is sent after an episode that occurred from his reaction to the pain and disorder he is raised in.  He and Henrietta start an affair that can only come to ruin.

But there is always Hellmouth.  The filly starts winning races early and is soon talked about as the candidate to beat.  She is the star and predicted to win the Triple Crown in her year.  No filly has won against male horses in many years but Hellmouth is not any filly.  Can she fulfill her destiny?

This novel won many prizes.  It was a finalist for the Bailey Prize for Women and was the winner of the Kirkus Prize For Fiction.  It was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the James Tait Black Prize For Fiction as well as a best book of the year as selected by such organizations as NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Booklist and the New York Times.  It is an in depth study not only of racing but the entire culture of racing.  It is also an investigation into black-white relations stretching back to the time of slavery and the effects and destinies set by that cruel practice.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Burden Of Proof by Scott Turow


Alejando Stern, or Sandy as he is known, is at the top of his career.  He is an accomplished defense lawyer, respected by those who move in legal circles.  Sandy came to the United States as a boy from Argentina.  He married Clara and they have three adult children.  The marriage has settled into a polite one rather than a passionate one.  Clara has always been reserved and fights depression.

When Sandy comes home one day from an out of town meeting, he finds Clara dead by her own hand.  Stunned but not really surprised, Sandy starts to settle into his new life only to find that he never knew Clara at all.  He starts to uncover her secret life and each new discovery uncovers more secrets until he wonders how he could have been so blind. 

His professional life is trying also.  His brother-in-law, Dixon, is a wealthy man who trades on the stock market.  He is a chrematistic figure but Sandy has long suspected he sails too close to the legal edge and now the SEC and the state attorney have come to bring Dixon down.  It is one of the most challenging cases of Sandy's career, not least because Dixon lies and maneuvers constantly.  Sandy would leave him to it but he can't desert his sister's husband who also employs Sandy's son-in-law.  But the case is thorny and complicated and he can't quite see how it will be resolved easily.  

This is Turow's second novel and Sandy is the brilliant lawyer who is one of the main characters in Turow's first explosive bestseller, Presumed Innocent.  Sandy is an interesting character and readers will want him to win as he negotiates both the legal world and his new world as a widower back in the dating world.  Through issues with his children, his legal responsibilities and his investigation into the woman he married but who hid her life from him, Sandy walks a fine line guided by his morals and obligations to those he loves.  This book is recommended for readers of legal mysteries.

Monday, December 7, 2020

The Harpy by Megan Hunter


It's another routine day in Lucy's life when she gets the call.  Lucy lives in a small town in England with her husband, Jake and her two sons, Paddy and Ted.  After the boys came, Lucy scaled back her work and now works from home, writing copy for various enterprises, from manuals to articles to editing someone else's content.  Jake is a professor at the local university in biology.  All in all, a routine life that a myriad of women are living.

Then the call comes.  It is the husband of a woman who Jake works with.  He informs Lucy that Jake is having an affair with his wife, Vanessa.  Lucy doesn't really remember how she hung up.  She slowly takes in the news, reeling emotionally.  Now she remembers late nights at work or casual mentions of lunches and dinners with Vanessa.  Vanessa isn't even some young exciting woman; she is probably ten years older than Jake and Lucy.

When Jake comes home, he doesn't deny it.  He is appalled that Lucy knows and contrite, willing to do anything to make things right.  He insists he will end it immediately.  Lucy is furious but wonders if leaving him is the right thing to do for the boys.  She moves him to the sofa while she decides what comes next.  When Lucy was working on her doctorate she studied the classics and was drawn to the story of the harpies.  Vengeful, powerful figures, they stole and ravaged and did whatever they wanted.  She sees something of them in herself and vows to solve this crisis as a harpy would.

The solution occurs.  She will do three hurtful things to Jake.  He will not know in advance what they are or when they are coming.  They will appear out of the blue and he is not allowed to complain or do anything in retaliation.  Perhaps then they can find a way out of the morass of pain and hurt.  Jake agrees.  The first occurrence comes quickly and takes Jake by surprise.  He cannot say anything but must soldier on through the pain while Lucy finds that she feels more powerful and in control, that the inflicting of pain on another eases her own.  Will she be able to stop herself before she does something irretrievable?

Megan Hunter has written a searing novel that explores the pain that infidelity can create in a relationship and the diminution that marriage and family can cause to a woman.  It explores the dynamics of marriage and how children change lives as their needs must inevitably come first and how those needs are still met primarily by women.  I listened to the audio of this novel and the clear, crisp diction of the narrator added to the experience and provided depth to my mental picture of Lucy.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Clawback by J.A. Jance


When Ali Reynolds turns on the news that morning, she heard something that she hadn't expected.  Dan Frazier is all over the news as one of the men behind a Ponzi scheme that leaves hundreds of small time investors penniless.  The name sticks with Ali because she knows Dan.  He's her parents' financial advisor and she knows they invested everything with him.  Are her parents now penniless?

Her father, Bob, has the same sick feeling and need to know.  Not only was Dan his advisor but he and his wife were social friends as well.  He can't believe that Dan would willingly wipe out all the funds he knew his friends counted on for retirement.  Bob decides to go to Dan's house to see what he has to say about things.  When he arrives, it's to a horrific scene.  Bob is in his car, obviously near death from stab wounds.  He begs Bob to go inside to check on his wife but Bob finds her near death as well.  He calls the police but when they arrive both individuals are dead and Bob is hustled off to police headquarters as the person on scene with blood-covered clothes.

Ali, who heads up a security firm with her husband, B, rush to Bob's defense.  After getting him a lawyer they manage to get him released but the detectives make it clear Bob is the main suspect.  Ali and B decide to dedicate all their firm's resources to clearing Bob's name and to recovering the funds that are missing.  Was Dan the crook or was it his fast-talking partner who has now disappeared?  With the help of their technical staff, Stu and Cami, the tangled web of stolen funds, offshore accounts and murder need to be untangled.

This is the eleventh in the Ali Reynold's series.  Jance has given enough backstory that readers can either read this one in sequence or as a standalone.  The plot is complicated enough that those who have technical skills won't be incredulous and explained simply enough that those without technical skills don't feel lost.  Ali's parents, Bob and Edie, are likeable and resourceful on their own and the reader cheers for them and hopes they recover the funds that will let them enjoy their well earned retirement.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Booksie's Shelves, December 3, 2020


This is probably the last edition of Booksie's Shelves for 2020.  What a year it has been.  I suspected back in the spring when we were going through shutdown that it would take at least a year and unfortunely, it appears I was right.  While 2020 has taken a lot away, time with families, jobs and job prospects, friendships conducted only remotely, it has proved a boon year for my reading.  I know a lot of my reading friends have had trouble concentrating, but I've not done much since March except read and catch up on TV series.  I'm making progress on goals like reading series I've been meaning to for years, catching up on some classics I've wanted to read and mainly reading and moving on some of the thousands of books here in my house. That's a necessity since I'll never stop acquiring books. I've read lots of the Booker and Women's Fiction Prize nominees and winners.    Here's what's come through the door lately:

  1. Terrier, Tamora Pierce, fantasy, purchased
  2. Crocodile Tears, Mercedes Rosende, thriller, sent by publisher
  3. The Jasons, Ann Finkbeiner, nonfiction, purchased
  4. What The Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell, nonfiction, purchased
  5. Big Girl Small Town, Michelle Gallen, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  6. John The Revelator, Peter Murphy, literary fiction, purchased
  7. Willnot, James Sallis, mystery, purchased
  8. This Must Be The Place, Maggie O'Farrell, literary fiction, purchased
Here are the ebooks I've purchased since the last Booksie's Shelves:

  1. The Exiled Heir, Jonathan French, fantasy
  2. The Erranty Of Bantam Flyn, Jonathan French, fantasy
  3. An Advancement Of Learning, Reginald Hill, mystery
  4. Snapdragon, Brandon Berntson, fantasy
  5. A Killing Kindness, Reginald Hill, mystery
  6. Underworld, Reginald Hill, mystery
  7. A Visit From The Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan, literary fiction
  8. Pictures Of Perfection, Reginald Hill, mystery
  9. Bad To The Bones, James Harper, mystery
  10. Aftermath, E.A. Copen, fantasy
  11. Hunting Game, Helene Tursten, mystery
  12. The Bishop's Wife, Mette Ivie Harrison, mystery
  13. The Last Detective, Peter Lovesey, mystery
  14. Dawn Of Dreams, Bronwyn Leroux, fantasy
  15. The Unspoken, Ian Smith, mystery
  16. Assassination Protocol, Andy Peloquin, science fiction
  17. The Crimson Claymore, Craig Price, fantasy
  18. You Have Been Judged, Craig Martell, science fiction
  19. The Old Ways, Robert MacFarland, nonfiction
  20. Storm Front, Jim Butcher, fantasy
  21. Dragonfly, Resa Nelson, fantasy
  22. The Prison Stone, J.R. Mabry, fantasy
  23. All Things Left Wild, James Wade, western
  24. The Shadow King, Maaza Mengiste, fantasy
  25. Barnabus Tew And The Case Of The Missing Scarab, Columbkill Noonan, mystery
  26. Barnabus Tew And The Case Of The Nine Worlds, Columbill Noonan, mystery
  27. Barnabus Tew And The Case Of The Cursed Serpent, Columbill Noonan, mystery
  28. Past Caring, Robert Goddard, mystery
  29. Take Me Apart, Sara Sligar, thriller
  30. Breath Of Earth, Beth Cato, fantasy
  31. In The Shadow Of The Gods, Rachel Dunne, fantasy
  32. Shockwave, Lindsay Buroker, fantasy
  33. The Girls In The Garden, Lisa Jewell, mystery
  34. The Dog Stars, Peter Heller, science fiction
  35. The Last Smile In Sunder City, Luke Arnold, fantasy
  36. The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jamison, fantasy
  37. Rush Oh!, Shirley Barrett, literary ficiton
  38. Shtum, Jem Lester, literary fiction
  39. Go To Work And Do Your Job, Noah Cicero, science fiction
  40. Girls Of Brakenhill, Kate Morelli, mystery
  41. The Cipher, Isabella Maldonado, mystery
  42. Rise, The Quantamancer, A.R. McNevin, fantasy
  43. Cydonia Rising, Dave Walsh, fantasy
  44. The Testaments, Margaret Atwood, literary fiction
  45. A Clubbable Woman, Reginald Hill, mystery
  46. April Shroud, Reginald Hill, mystery
  47. That Darkness, Lisa Black, mystery
  48. The Last Trial, Scott Turow, legal mystery
  49. Earthrise, Daniel Arenson, fantasy
  50. The Hungry Tide, Amitov Ghosh, literary fiction
  51. Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, fantasy
  52. The Murder List, Hank Phillippi Ryan, mystery
  53. The Clockwork War, Nathaniel Sullivan, fantasy
  54. Eye For Eye, JK Franko, fantasy
  55. The Guilty Dead, P.J. Tracy, mystery
  56. Beware The Past, Joy Ellis, mystery
  57. Open House, Kate Sise, mystery
  58. Little Night, Luanne Rice, literary fiction
  59. Dead Weight, T.R. Ragen, mystery
  60. The Boat Man, Dustin Stevens, mystery
  61. Death Comes For The Fat Man, Reginald Hill, mystery
  62. Your House Will Pay, Steph Cha, literary fiction
  63. Cloak Of The Two Winds, Jack Massa, fantasy
  64. The Stranger, Camilla Lackbery, mystery
  65. Never Split The Party, Ramy Vance, fantasy
  66. Than No One Can Have Her, Caitlin Rother, true crime
  67. Poisoned Love, Caitlin Rother, true crime
  68. Rivers Run Red, A.D. Green, fantasy
  69. The One, John Marrs, mystery
  70. The Memory Police, Yoko Ogawa, literary fiction
  71. Uncanny Valley, Anna Wiener, nonfiction
  72. The Bone Shard Daughter, Andrea Stewart, fantasy
  73. We Ride The Storm, David Madson, fantasy
  74. Blacktop Wasteland, S.A. Crosby, mystery
  75. Dark Heart, Catherine Lee, mystery
  76. Bones In The Wash, John Bryne Barry, mystery
  77. Bloodline, Jess Lourey, mytery
Happy holiday season and happy reading!

Monday, November 30, 2020

Until It's Over by Nicci French


Astrid Bell isn't sure what she wants to do with her life.  At the moment, she's a bicycle messenger.  She lives in a house with six other people, some of whom she's known since university, some who come and go.  The house belongs to Miles.  He, Pippa and she were the original occupants and they have been friends for years.  Astrid and Miles had a relationship for a while but are now back to being just friends. Pippa is an attorney as is Miles.  Astrid studied law but never followed through after graduation.

The other occupants are all men.  Owen is a photographer.  Davy is the most recent person in the house and works construction.  Dario supposedly is renovating the house in lieu of rent but mostly hangs out and stays stoned.  Mick is the quiet one; he has traveled everywhere and is just marking time until his next trip.  The house is an easy place; everyone gets along most of the time.  Owen and Astrid are starting a relationship.  Pippa believes sex is something everyone should do to relieve the uncomfortable sexual tension in most male/female relationships and she's slept with most of the men in the house.  

One day as Astrid is riding her bike home, she has an accident.  Her neighbor, a middle-aged woman named Peggy, opens her car door just as Astrid is riding past and Astrid flies through the air.  She is hurt but not seriously.  Peggy is appalled and apologizes and insists on paying for any damage to the bike.  That would be that but a few days later Peggy's body is found near her garbage cans.  Who would kill such an inoffensive person?

Then a second murder occurs.  Astrid finds the body of one of her customers, a rich woman whom none of the bike messengers like.  The police now find Astrid a mystery and feels that her connection to the two cases cannot be a coincidence.  At home, tensions are rising also.  Miles has decided to live with his girlfriend Leah as a couple and that means he wants all the other tenants to leave his house.  They are outraged and many have been there long enough that they may have legal claims.  Everyone is upset and there is a lot of rage against Leah who makes no secret of her dislike for everyone except Miles. The roommates start to look at each other with suspicion, wondering if any of them could be the killer.  When Leah becomes the third victim with Astrid discovering her also, it becomes even more evident that this whole situation is moving around Astrid as its center.  

This is a stand alone novel from Nicci French.  The story is told from Astrid's viewpoint and then from the killer's.  It is interesting to read the same events told through two filters and see the difference in how events are processed.  The reader will cheer for Astrid while wondering if she could be the killer and if not, why everything seems to happen around her.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart


Shuggie is a Scottish boy, named after his father, Big Shug.  He lives with his grandparents, mother, father, sister and brother in a tenement flat.  His father is a taxi driver; his mother stays at home.  Shug is her second husband and Shuggie's brother and sister are from her first marriage.  Shug hates living with his in-laws and he convinces Agnes, the mother, to move to a new flat a few miles away.  The surprise is that when the family gets there, Big Shug doesn't move in.  He has found a new woman and leaves the family there with no transportation.

The other big fact about Shuggie's life is that Agnes drinks.  Not a little bit but a lot.  She regularly gets so drunk that she passes out.  She spends the welfare money on drink, leaving the children with no food in the house.  She alternates between treating them as small children and over loving them or ignoring them or cursing them when the drink is on her.  This is the normal for Shuggie as he has never known anything else.  He believes that it is his job to make Agnes better no matter what price that extracts from him. 

Shuggie is a kind boy, a boy who thinks of others.  The kids at school call him posh and accuse him of being gay and maybe he is; he's not sure about any of that.  As the years go by, first his sister and then his brother leave to try to make their own lives.  Shuggie is the one who stays by Agnes as she is taken advantage of by men, as she drinks up everything they own.  He feeds her when there is food in the house, he draws her baths, he undresses her and puts her to bed.  But he never loses hope and he never loses the kindness in his heart.

This book won the 2020 Booker award.  I listened to it and the narrator's Scottish brogue added to my enjoyment of the novel.  This is a novel that will stick in the reader's mind and Shuggie and his determination to rise above his circumstances will endear him to readers and make him memorable. Although the story is bleak, no one will regret meeting Shuggie.   This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Hunter by John Lescroart


Wyatt Hunt's life is good.  He's a private investigator with his own firm and lives in a great converted warehouse space.  He is starting a relationship with Tamara, who works with him.  So the text catches him by surprise.  How did your mother die? it asks.  Wyatt is nonplussed.  He grew up as the adopted son of loving parents and his mother is very much alive.  But he is intrigued enough that he asks his parents what they know of his birth parents.  The answer is not much.

But Wyatt doesn't let that deter him.  As an investigator, he is used to getting answers.  He soon discovers that his mother was murdered when he was three.  His father was tried twice but not convicted either time as there was nothing but circumstantial evidence that he was involved.  A priest that Wyatt tracks down who knew the couple has a letter from his father that he was given to safeguard if Wyatt ever came looking.  In it his father says he didn't have anything to do with the murder but he knows he needs to leave town.  He did and no one has ever heard from him since.

As Wyatt tries to discover what happened all those years ago, he starts to uncover some unsavory secrets.  His mother may have had a connection to Jim Jones before he took hundreds to the jungle in Guyana and forced their suicides.  There was a neighbor who was his mother's good friend and who his father didn't trust.  Then people involved in the investigation start to be killed and Wyatt knows he is on the right track to uncover secrets buried for decades.  Can he find the truth all these years later?

This is the third book in The Hunt Club series but can be read as a standalone.  Wyatt's backstory is interesting and readers will be swept along with the events that the investigator and his partners uncover.  The love relationship seems more unlikely but lays the foundation for future books.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican


When prospective freshmen arrive at St. Michael's High School for visitor's day, they are subjected to a horror none of them expected.  A student, bullied for years, has picked today to fight back at his tormentors and has climbed to the roof, hurtling cement statues down on his classmates.  Students run everywhere and some are hurt by the projectiles.  Peter Davidek and Noah Stein are both there visiting and they stand out by helping a seriously wounded student in the parking lot, probably saving his life.

When the freshman year starts, one would think these two would be considered heroes but that's not what happens.  For some reason, several of the teachers take against the two and they are singled out for ridicule in classes.  Peter just wants to go unnoticed as that's his plan in life until he can get old enough to get out of his household and escape the town.  Noah, who has a scarred face from an earlier trauma, is combative and his first instinct when bullied is to fight back.  Both of them have a crush on the beautiful Lorelei, who was ignored and harassed at her last school and is hoping for a new start.

St. Michael's is on the verge of being closed due to a crumbling infrastructure and financial issues.  The staff and faculty seem to have given up and turn a blind eye to the rampant bullying that goes on.  Seniors take delight in having their year to do whatever strikes their fancy to freshmen.  It is an institutionalized ritual that gets more brutal every year.  When the annual picnic comes around with its showcase of ritualized abuse that is the freshman talent show, everything is in place for a tragedy.  Can anyone turn things around?

Anthony Breznican has written a novel that will stir echoes in many readers whose education was marred by the casual cruelty of other students and by bullying that can turn violent and tragic in a moment.  The atmosphere at St. Michael's has been exaggerated and the constant idea that there is nothing the faculty, staff and parents can do about the bullying doesn't ring true but otherwise he has captured the intensity of feeling and the strong friendships that this age often encounters.  Peter and Noah are sympathetic characters and the book ends in a satisfying manner.  This book is recommended for readers of young adult fiction.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Kisscut by Karin Slaughter


Grant County, Georgia is still reeling from the serial killer who came to town last summer.  The police chief, Jeffrey wonders what he could have done to solve the case sooner.  His ex-wife, Sara, the town pediatrician and county coroner is affected as is Lena, the only female deputy who was a victim of the killer who survived.

But crime doesn't take a break because people haven't yet recovered.  One Friday night at the local roller skate rink, what should have been an easy night of teenage fun explodes with the end result being a thirteen year old girl dead, killed by police when she tries to shoot a boy.  When her body is examined, evil screams from the body.  This girl has been circumcized with the brutal surgery of backwoods countries in other parts of the world.

Who could have done such a thing?  As Jeffrey and Lena investigate they come to realize that evil has again been stalking their town.  This time it's a ring of pedophiles who have been victimizing young children for years.  Can Jeffrey stop the crime and catch the criminals before more violence occurs?

This is the second novel in the Grant County series.  It is unimaginable that such vicious crimes are occurring in what seems like such a placid rural town where everyone pretty much knows everyone else and their business.  The aftereffects of the first crime on Lena are vividly portrayed but the reader holds out hope that she can find her way back to normality.  The relationship between Jeffrey and Sara is tenuous but this couple may also find their way back to where they used to be.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Rockets And Rodeos by Thomas Mallon


Thomas Mallon is a writer who has written ten novels as well as a wide variety of nonfiction.  He got his doctorate in English and American literature from Harvard and has taught at several universities such as Vassar and George Washington University.  His shorter pieces have appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and the New York Times Book Review.  He has also served as the literary editor for Gentleman's Quarterly.

In this book of essays, Mallon covers a wide range of topics.  He talks about the scientists who observe the space program both in Florida with the Discovery rockets and in Alaska.  He writes about a criminal murder trial stemming from a bank robbery and one where two teenage boys were killed.  Rodeos are another area of interest and Mallon covers the lives of those who follow the circuit and the rodeo business itself.  He talks about what it is like covering a Vice Presidential visit with the Vice President in question being Dan Quayle.  He also talks about the anniversary of Pearl Harbor and the men who survived that day and came back fifty years later to remember it.

This book is written in the late 1900's and may seem dated to some readers but I found it fascinating.  Each essay covers the topic in ways that explain it while pointing out what might make it interesting to others.  The writing is clear and concise and the author is clearly at the top of his form.  This book is recommended to readers of nonfiction.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Totally '90s Coloring Book by Christina Haberkern


For adults who enjoy coloring or for those who have children and want them to see a bit of what their parent's childhood was like, Christina Haberkern has created the perfect vehicle.  This coloring book has scenes about such fads as fanny packs, trolls dolls, ring pops and 90's tv shows like Full House.  The images are clear and will provide lots of entertainment as they are colored.

The author is a designer and illustrator who owns Hello Harlot which is a stationary and gift brand of pop culture and humorous products.  This book is a great addition to that genre.  

Here's an example page:

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Don't Ever Forget by Matthew Farrell


State Police Investigator Susan Adler has seen a lot of cases but this one strikes close to home.  A state trooper has been found dead, bludgeoned when he makes a roadside stop.  Enough is caught on his dash cam to see that there were two people involved in his murder; the woman driving the car and a man who was in another car.

Things get more complicated when the woman's car is traced.  It belongs to a homecare nurse who is missing.  Even more bizarre, her current patient, an Alzheimer's patient, is missing from his home.  There is blood on the walls at his home and a search of the residence uncovers bloodchilling evidence that ties the man to a series of child murders that occurred decades ago.  Was he the killer?  Is his disappearance and that of his nurse tied to these events?  Did someone find out his secrets and come to take revenge?

As Susan investigates, she needs additional help.  She calls on a friend, a forensic investigator named Liam Dwyer to help.  Liam is currently at loose ends after he was accused of a crime that he didn't commit.  He was eventually cleared but it left him with some physical issues and a distaste for returning to his old unit.  He is more than willing to help Susan where he can as the murders occurred in his area.  Can the two unravel the mystery in time to find the nurse and her elderly patient?  

This is the start of a series.  Both the police characters have issues from their pasts that tend to draw them together.  The action is fast and furious and readers who aren't careful can get lost in the action as there are lots of other characters to keep track of.  The mystery that fuels the action is revealed in bits and pieces and it's unclear at all times if what is revealed is true or false, just another piece that fuels the suspense.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Other Fires by Lenore H. Gay


Joss and Phil's marriage has been in trouble since the birth of their second baby.  Somehow, the pressure of working and raising their first child is doubled with the addition of the new child.  When Joss finds out that Phil has been having an affair, she wonders if this is the last straw.  Hurt and frustrated, she sends him to the guest room to sleep.  When a fire breaks out in the night, he is the one who is injured.  When he wakes up in the hospital, there is another issue.  He doesn't recognize Joss at all, claiming that she is a stranger and wonders why she is there.  To tell the truth, so does Joss.

Adam is a recovering alcoholic.  He is a skilled electrician but it's been hard for him to keep a job while he was drinking.  Sober now, he comes to Joss' house to help repair things after the fire.  Somehow he and Joss strike up a relationship.  Adam is also a dreamer and he believes he is meant to leave this town and make a whole new life somewhere else.  He thinks that Joss will uproot her children after only a few weeks of their new relationship and follow him wherever the fancy takes him.  

Terpe is the older child.  She loves her father who has always treated her as his special child.  She has been threatened by the arrival of her baby sister and is now unsure how she should regard her father.  She saw him with another woman at the hospital and it is difficult to reconcile that image with the one of him as a loving father.  She is also upset at Adam being in their house and assuming that he has rights to her mother.  

Lenore Gay has written a novel that explores the family dynamic in strained circumstances.  Infidelity is a cruel occurrence and those who shortsightedly rush into extramarital relationships seldom consider the hurt and tragedy they are bringing on those around them, especially their children.  Gay's background is in sociology and rehabilitation counseling.  This expertise is demonstrated as she explores the lives and viewpoints of these four people.  The reader will sympathize with some of the characters while being frustrated at the blindness and singlemindedness of others.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, November 16, 2020

A Burning by Megha Majumdar


A horrible event has occurred in Kolkata, India.  A train has had its doors locked shut than terrorists have tossed in firebombs.  Over a hundred people are killed.  The outrage is real and calls for retribution are everywhere.  This event has major effects on three individuals.

Jivan is a young Muslim girl who lives in the slums with her parents.  Given a scholarship to a good school, she stays long enough to get her certificate of completion then leaves to take a job in a store.  She is thrilled to have a real job with money that she can help support her family with.  PT Sir was her PE teacher and is a man still searching in middle age for a way to stand out.  Lovely is a hijra or transgender individual who makes a living blessing others for a fee or by begging.

Each character has dreams for the future.  Lovely dreams of being an actress in the Bollywood movies.  PT Sir dreams of fame and power.  Jivan dreams of pulling her family into the middle class.  Each individual's dreams are affected by the catastrophe.  Jivan makes a terrible mistake.  Scrolling through Facebook on the phone she has just bought with her own wages, she makes a comment on the tragedy about how the government is ineffectual in preventing such tragedies.  This comment leads to her being targeted by the police and charged herself as a terrorist as she was in the vicinity that day.

Lovely knows why Jivan was there.  She was on her way to Lovely's house where she tutored her in English, which Lovely knows she needs in order to have an acting career.  The package Jivan is carrying that the police find so suspicious on the CCTV footage contained textbooks for Lovely.  Lovely is willing to testify for Jivan but soon realizes that will hurt her chances at getting acting roles.  PT Sir joins a right-wing party that uses hatred of Muslims as a vehicle to gain more power.  Although Jivan had been his favorite pupil, he balances that fondness against his rise in power and prestige.  How will this play out?

This is a debut novel for Megha Majumdar who was raised in India and came to the United States to attend Harvard.  She now lives in New York and works as an editor.  The novel has gotten a lot of buzz and is a National Book Award longlist nominee as well as a Today Show book club pick.  Her ability to use the event to raise moral questions makes this a rewarding read.  Which is more pressing for individuals, ambition or the truth?  How can dreams and goals come true when you are not seen as an person?  Will sectarian violence find a mechanism to stop the prejudice that allows hatred to push its agenda?  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer


Thalia Cutler is a stage magician, an occupation that isn't that usual in 1905 for a woman.  She inherited the act from her father and learned all about stage craft and the ways to make magic appear spellbinding for the audience.  She is making a name for herself with the help of his best friend, David Nutall, who has been a surrogate mentor and advisor for her after her father passed on.

But her successful rise is stalled when the biggest theatre conglomerate puts a ban on her.  It seems that another magician has claimed that Thalia has broken a noncompete agreement.  It's unheard of for a magician to have a noncompete and the man who is persecuting Thalia stole most of his act from her father in the first place.  Thalia and Nutall are determined to find a way to overturn the decision.  They attend a performance of the other magician's act only to witness him be killed in a mishap.

Bad luck continues as Nutall is arrested and charged with the murder.  Thalia is left on her own but is soon taken in by a rich man and his sister who Thalia is instructing in stage magic.  The two are Traders, individuals who trade places with their animal sides and it turns out that Thalia is also a Trader which comes as a shock to her.  She has lived her life as a Solitary and never knew that her parents were both Traders.  Now she has two missions.  She must find out who really killed the magician on stage and she must find a way to fully transition to her new life and abilities.  Those who don't make the full transition are prey to being hunted by Manticores who seek to kill them.

Caroline Stevermer has written a fantasy that is also a mystery.  She does a good job of portraying life in the early 1900's and Thalia is a fully developed individual.  Other characters such as the rich Trader who offers Thalia shelter are not as richly developed and it can be unclear what the differences are between Traders, Solitaries and a third category, the Sylvestri.  This book is recommended for fans of the Gilded Age and for fantasy readers.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Age Of Wonder by Richard Holmes


In this fascinating work, Richard Holmes explores the Romantic period from the latter part of the 1700's to the mid-point of the 1800's and how the work of various scientists changed the worldview forever.  This was the time when major discoveries were being made but also a time of great discoveries and work in the arts with many of the well known poets doing their strongest work.  Holmes explores the intersection of science and poetry and what men believed before and after these great discoveries were made.

The work revolves around the lives of several scientific giants.  The first is Joseph Banks.  A wealthy man, he went on Captain Cook's exploration of such cultures as Tahiti.  His scientific interests were wide ranging and he returned as a society lion with all the wonders he brought back and could talk about.  He went on to become the President of the Royal Society which was the premier association of scientists.  His interest in all areas of science and his network of scientists worldwide made him the preeminent figure of his time.

William Herschel and his sister Caroline were astronomers.  Herschel discovered the planet Uransus and constructed huge telescopes never before possible that allowed him to write the definitive numbering of the astral bodies.  His sister Caroline was one of the first women scientists in this area and was known for discovering new comets.  Their work was fascinating to King George III and his royal patronage made their work possible.

Humphrey Davy revolutionized the field of chemistry.  He worked on gases and discovered various uses for what is called 'laughing gas'.  He experimented on himself with this and his work was famous.  His most successful experiments were his work in making mining safer.  As men tunneled further and deeper, methane gas became a major issue with huge explosions periodically killing massive numbers of miners.  Davy created a safe lamp that allowed the miners to work more safely and was a hero in that industry.   

Along with these three giants were many other scientists.   Some most will have heard about were Michael Farraday, the African explorer Mungo Park and Charles Babbage, the mathematician whose work led to the first 'calculating machine' or computer.  But what was also fascinating were the topics that the famous poets of the era were exploring due to these scientific discoveries.  Coleridge, Keats, Wordsworth and the Shelleys Percy and Mary, were exploring the relationship between nature and the ideas of a deity that were considered set in stone.  Many of the scientists and poets started to question this certainty as their work didn't support the idea of a Creator who set everything in motion in six days.  Herschel talked about the enormity of the universe and how many millions of years it took for light from the stars to get to Earth.  

Richard Holmes has made his literary career in biographies.  His area of interest has been the poets of this era.  This work, exploring the interaction of science and art, and the opening of the questions of how man came to exist and how the universe truly worked, is a fascinating exploration of the topic and its figures.  This book is recommended for history and science nonfiction readers.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo


Doris is a thirteen year old girl going about her business on her family's small farm when it happens.  One minute she is strolling through the field, the next she is grabbed by a large man who puts a hood over her head and hauls her off.  He and another man rush her into the woods, then they travel many miles.  What is happening?  How will her family find her?  She ends up at the coast and as she is put into a pen with other people, she realizes that she is now a slave.  She will now spend the rest of her life serving her black masters.  Doris is white, as are all the other slaves.

Loaded onto a ship, she is taken to another country.  Many die along the way and many of the women are taken out at night and used by the sailors for sex.  When she arrives, Doris is immediately sold off to a wealthy man.  He renames her and tells her that she will be the companion of his small daughter who is to be obeyed in everything.  The daughter is spoiled and vindictive.  She never hesitates to tell Omorenomwara, Doris's new name, how ugly white people are.  Omorenomwara hates her life but knows she is much better off than those working in the house and especially those in the fields.  A tragedy occurs when the daughter dies and then Omorenomwara is sold to another master.

This man realizes that she can read and write and uses her in the office to help with his affairs.  But after she tries to escape, she is tracked down and flogged to within an inch of her life.  No longer trusted, she is sent to cut sugar cane on an island where her life is even more difficult and brutal.  Along the way, she has had three children all of whom were taken from her and sold.  Omorenomwara is determined to be free but is there any way for this to happen?

Evaristo has written an alternative history that spotlights the indignities and cruelty of slavery in a new light that may resonate with those who have never considered it before.  The hardships are both large and overwhelming and small but created to break the spirit of those enslaved.  Omorenomwara is a determined woman but can anyone fight against such institutionalized cruelty?  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Evil, Inc by Glenn Kaplan


Things are going well for Ken Olsen.  He has a beautiful wife and a little girl who is the apple of his eye.  He is rising fast at his company.  But things are about to take a turn.  When the new CEO of his company, Tom Pennington, comes to visit the company in the wake of a merger, he plucks Ken from mid-manager and makes him the head of the turnaround that will be necessary for the company to avoid closure.

Ken is estastic and full of plans.  But those plans don't have a chance.  Shortly after his promotion, an explosion and fire at the company ends it along with the lives of all the workers there that day.  Ken's own wife and child were at the plant in the daycare facility and are also killed.  Ken was out of town that day and escapes.

At first the explosion looks like it was caused by neglect of maintenance.  Ken realizes that it is no accident and that he has been set up to be the scapegoat.  Along with his brother-in-law, he vows to find those responsible and bring them to justice.  He soon realizes that Tom Pennington is responsible, the lives lost in his schemes to rise even further in the business world.  Can Ken find the proof that will put an end to Pennington's evil?

This book, along with the author's others, is set in the world of big business.  In order to believe the evil portrayed, the reader must suspend belief and accept that people are willing to kill hundreds of people unknown to them to advance their own personal goals of success at any cost.  That's a high bar to set and many readers won't be able to get over it.  The pace is fast and there are a few surprises along the way.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy thrillers.

Friday, November 6, 2020

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman


Lucy froze inside when she was eight.  As her mother was leaving to go out with her friends one night, Lucy stood on the front porch shouting, 'I hope I never see you again'.  When her mother is killed that night in a car accident, the young Lucy believes her wish caused her mother's death and she stops feeling anything.  She grows up with her brother, being raised by her grandmother, but feels nothing for anyone, fearing that her love is the kiss of death.  She becomes a librarian as it is a job in which she is able to remain distanced from others.  Her research specialty is death, how to do it, methods, symptoms of poisons, etc. 

Then something happens.  Lucy is struck by lightning.  When she is released from the hospital, her brother comes up from Florida to take care of her.  He convinces her that she needs to move with him to Florida and has already found her a job there and a house to rent.  Lucy doesn't really care where she is so she agrees.  While there, she agrees to be part of a study group of lightning strike survivors.  The other survivors whisper about one survivor who was clinically dead for twenty minutes but came back to life.  The man, Lazarus Jones, refuses to talk to anyone.

Lucy is intrigued and drives to his house to talk to him.  She finds that he is the opposite of her iciness; he is full of fire.  He stays remote from people because he fears harming them.  Lucy is drawn to Lazarus and soon they are involved in a torrid affair.  She can cool him down, he can burn her enough to make her feel and melt her iciness for a few moments.  Soon Lazarus is all she thinks of.  She neglects her job and the survivor group.  She hasn't seen her brother in months.  Will Lazarus be the answer she has searched for all her life?

Alice Hoffman is a prolific author with many acclaimed novels.  This novel draws the reader in and it ends quite differently than one might expect.  The author delves into the inner emotions that can help people connect or put up barriers that prevent connection.  Her understanding of human nature makes for an interesting read and the reader is attracted to Lucy and hopes for a life for her that brings her contentment.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan


Egan has written a novel of character studies about what it is growing up in the 1970's and 1980's.  The novel is loosely based around the lives of Sasha and Bennie who work in New York City in the music industry.  Bennie is a manager and producer of rock groups and Sasha is his assistant.  But Egan writes about many more characters all connected to these two in some way.

We first meet Bennie as part of a rock group of high schoolers in California.  They are hoping to hit the big time but only one of them, the guitar player named Scotty, is talented enough to go further.  Sasha has a more checkered life, moving out of her family as a teenager, going to Europe and doing whatever it takes to survive, then coming back to the States to college and eventually marriage and children after her New York days.

Along the way we go on safari with the man who picks up one of the girls in Bennie's rock band and who takes his children wherever he goes and whichever woman he is with at the moment.  We meet a man who Sasha shares a first date with in New York and see him again decades later when he is a young married man with a small child, now working for Bennie on the sly generating publicity.  There are other characters we meet along the way.

This novel has garnered literary praise.  It is a National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, a PEN/Faulkner finalist and a New York Times Book Review Best Book.  It was also singled out by organizations such as People, Salon, the Boston Globe, Slate, Time, Publishers Weekly and others as a Best Book.  Egan asks what holds our lives together through all the changes we encounter over our time here on Earth and what happens to those we are once close with.  She finds an enduring thread of friendship and character that stays with us no matter how our circumstances change.  Each character study is masterfully done and the thin threads that tie each character to another are often surprising and give the reader a sense of connection.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Pisces by Melissa Broder


Lucy is at a crossroads in her life and she doesn't know what direction to take.  She has worked on a doctoral dissertation for nine years but is now ambivalent about it and thinks she may have made a mistake.  She is at the same place with her boyfriend of many years, Jamie.  When they first got together, both insisted they were fine with no thought of marriage or living together.  As the years passed, Lucy began to change but Jamie still thought their arrangement was perfect.  When Lucy flared up at him and said maybe they should break up, she was shocked when he agreed that maybe 'they needed a little space.'

So she has picked up from the Arizona desert she has called home for over a decade and come to Venice Beach, California, to housesit for the summer for her sister who is in Italy with her husband.  She is also petsitting their fox terrier, Dominic, and for many days he is her only company.  She joins a counseling group for women who are having issues but doesn't really relate to them.

The women seem addicted to men and sex.  There is the woman who lets her boyfriend treat her terribly, ,using her for money and a residence while dating anyone he wants.  There is the woman who spends her days on Tinder meeting men for meaningless sex; she is determined to have a harem of men so that no one man means that much.  Another woman who everyone thinks has it all, rich, wonderful children, spends her days at the club in sordid affairs with the young tennis pros.  Lucy sees them and wonders if she can learn anything from them.

She tries the Tinder route and has a few dates and sex with a few men but it is not satisfying.  She is about to give up entirely when she meets a young man.  She has gone at night down to the beach and sitting on the rocks she senses someone there.  When she looks down, a man is in the water and says he is resting before starting his swim again.  Theo says he swims every night.  Lucy is interested but decides he is too young for her.

But she keeps going back at night and Theo is always there.  As the days pass, they get more and more involved until she falls in love even as he reveals his biggest secret, one that would make him unavailable to most women.  Could this be the love of her life?  What will she give up to be with him and only him?  Is Theo even telling her the truth?

Melissa Broder has written an intriguing novel that was nominated for the Woman's Fiction Prize.  Lucy seems insatiable yet restless, a woman who never knows what she wants and pushes it aside if it appears she is getting it.  The women all seem to want men in their lives but don't know how to make the men want them the same way.  For some readers, the graphic sex in the novel may make it questionable but others will find it quite erotic.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Shadows by Alex North


When Paul Adams gets the call from hospice, he knows he must return to the village where he grew up.  His mother had fallen and it turns out, was about to die from the cancer she had hidden from him.  Paul had not been home for twenty-five years, ever since he went off to university.  That's a long time but Paul had a good reason for avoiding his home.  It had been the scene of a horrific event that threatened to affect his entire life.

Paul had one good friend in school, Jeremy.  Jeremy was the kind of boy who is often bullied, shy, slight, unsure of himself and Paul tried to protect him when he could.  Then the two boys were drawn into the orbit of two other outsiders, Billy Roberts and Charlie Crabtree.  At first Paul is pleased to have more friends but soon Charlie makes him uneasy.  Charlie is obsessed with the idea of lucid dreaming and believes the four of them can dream events that will then come true in reality.  Paul is uncomfortable with the idea and with the way Charlie becomes more and more controlling.  When he starts to talk about using the dreams to touch base with a man with bloody hands, Paul leaves the group and is glad to get away.

But Charlie is not done.  Soon afterward, he and Billy commit a shocking murder.  Billy is caught right afterwards but Charlie is not.  In fact, despite all the searching, he is never found and disappears forever.  Yet maybe not quite.  Over the years, Charlie becomes a legend in certain Internet chatrooms and a cult grows up around him.  Several times over the intervening years, murders that are exact copies of Charlie's occur.

Paul has spent his life trying to forget that time.  But now that he is back, the thoughts and memories come back with him.  Suddenly, he is being stalked and threatened at night in his mother's house.  A police detective, Amanda, who is investigating the most recent murder seems to believe that Paul is the key to finding out what happened all those years ago and why it has reverberated down through the years.  As the body count rises, Paul is forced to face his childhood memories and his part in what occurred.

This is the second novel of the writer Alex North and I thought it was an even stronger effort that the first, The Whisper Man.  There is a large twist that occurs that I didn't see coming at all.  Paul is a stunted individual who has not been able to move past his childhood memories yet now perhaps he has a chance to put everything behind him if he can find the courage to face his past.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Escape Clause by John Sandford


Things aren't going well in Minnesota.  A call has come in from the Minnesota Zoo where it seems their two endangered species tigers, a male and female, have been stolen.  How could someone manage to get two tigers away from the zoo and why would they want to?  The clues point to a team who used tranquilizer darts and moving dollies.  As to why, there seem to be three camps.  One is a nut who wants their own pair of tigers.  The second group favors the animal rights folks who might have a grudge against zoos in general.  The third group has the most sinister answer.  Tiger parts are highly valued and perhaps these tigers have been stolen to be killed and processed for medicine used in other countries in folk lore.

The third possibility is the most time critical as if you steal a pair of tigers for parts, the deaths will come fairly quickly as the thieves will want to process and take off for other locations.  Virgil Flowers is given the case although he protests as cases involving animals seem to always come his way and always end up as murder cases.  He starts to interview people in the fringe world of natural medicines and finds them a strange bunch.  One woman is out on bail after shooting another and almost killing him because she believes he is cruel and gives the movement a bad name.  Another is a former doctor who doesn't practice medicine due to sexual missteps he made during his residency.  Others are just trying to make a living, true believers who think all health answers can be found in nature.

Other items take Virgil's attention.  He is in a relationship with a woman with a salvage yard.  Her sister has come into town to work on her doctoral dissertation about labor relations and is interviewing at the biggest factory in the area.  When Virgil's woman is beaten up, it seems to be a case of mistaken identity and that her sister is being targeted.  When a second woman is beaten up, Virgil adds that case to his workload.

It's a workload which is rapidly expanding.  Bodies start to show up and it seems evident that the thieves have fallen out and when the police get a clue to the identity of one of them, the leader starts to tie up loose ends by killing the other members of the team.  Then there is a wealthy Chinese man who shows up from California and has connections that would allow him to distribute any medicines made from the tigers.  Is he also part of the gang?  Most importantly, can Virgil find the tigers before they are killed?

This is the ninth novel in the Virgil Flowers series.  While the Lucas Davenport series portrays a detective who there is never any doubt is dangerous himself, Flowers seems to be a laid back man as interested in women and having fun as his job.  He is teased for never having his gun when he needs it but his ability to piece together the clues in a puzzle make him an effective, if different, detective.  This series is more lighthearted and readers will enjoy reading about Virgil's escapades.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.