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.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

In Plain Sight by Kathryn Casey

 

In 2013, the nation's eyes were focused on Kaufman County, Texas.  In January, the assistant district attorney, Mark Hasse, was gunned down on the streets walking from the parking lot to his office.  A few months later in March, the district attorney, Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were gunned down in their home the day before Easter.  

The area was in shock and fear and anxiety were prevalent.  This murder struck at law enforcement in a personal way.  Most of the police investigating knew all the victims well.  Had someone declared war on the courts and police in Texas?  There were rumors of the Aryan Brotherhood being behind the murders.  Local police, Texas rangers, the FBI and a pair of special prosecutors spent weeks of long days investigating the thousands of leads they generated but nothing seemed to be working.

But there was a persistent rumor floating around.  This was not the work of a white supremist group, most of whom members were already in prison.  This was a work of malice and many suspected a man named Eric Williams.  Williams grew up a science and technology nerd, an Eagle Scout and a man who believed in hard work.  He became a lawyer and after years of doing that work, was elected as a justice of the peace.  But all his hard work was undone when he was arrested for stealing three computer monitors from the county IT department with a value of $600.  There was no doubt he did it; he was on the camera system.  But his story was that he took the monitors to test out some of his ideas to modernize the county court offices.  

Hasse and McLelland were the prosecutors who handled Williams' case.  There was talk that this was a personal prosecution as Williams had tried to keep McLelland from being elected.  There was talk that the conviction which also resulted in Williams' losing his law license and livelihood, was an overreach and much harsher than the crime merited.  But no one would think that murder was an appropriate response.

Kathryn Casey has done a masterful job in reviewing the facts of this case and of getting behind the scenes.  She gives the reactions of the victims' families and she spent an impressive amount of time interviewing Williams and his wife, Kim, after their conviction to try to understand the roots of this heinous crime.  Readers will be impressed by the research and the writing of this case that caught the nation's attention.  This book is recommended for readers of true crime.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Summer House by James Patterson and Brendon DuBois

 


It's a horrific crime.  Seven people are found dead in a house in a small rural county.  Four men, two women and a two year old toddler girl.  Everyone's first thought was that it's drug related as several of the men are small time dealers.  But that theory is put to rest when four men are arrested and charged with the murder.  But not just any men; these are four of the Army's top Rangers.

With that, a crack Army investigative team is sent in to find out the truth.  The head of the group has returned from service in Afghanistan with an injured leg, his background in the NYC Police Department a plus.  His second in command is a woman plucked from the Virginia State Troopers.  There is another investigator from San Diego with a similar background.  The group is rounded out by a psychiatrist and a lawyer.  

As the team investigates, they notice a couple of things.  First up is the lack of cooperation they are encountering from everyone around, including the local police.  The second is that every witness they talk to is telling a lie but why are lies necessary if this is an open and shut case?  Finally, the four Rangers are not cooperating either; they start by refusing to talk to anyone and then in a surprise move, they admit to the crime.  What is going on?

This is a thriller that moves at a rapid pace.  The crime is intriguing but the victims are quickly lost as characters as the action moves on to the investigation.  The team that is put together would be interesting to hear more about but the reader does get a good view of the internal procedures of a military investigation.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Hard Red Spring by Kelly Kerney

 

The story of Guatemala and its people are told by Kelly Kerney through the individual stories of various women through the decades.  The book begins in 1902 when an American family has come to the country to try to raise wheat to supplement the agricultural crops of coffee and corn.  The father wants to increase the diets of the native people but they are scornful of the wheat, believing that corn was given to them by their ancestors and gods.  As the tension increases with the government conscripting Indians to harvest the coffee crops, the family is caught up, resulting in the family's massacre, leaving only their small daughter who is rumored to have survived.

The novel then jumps to the 1950's.  It tells the story of two families.  One is the American Ambassador to Guatemala.  The other is a highly placed executive in United Fruit which holds a monopoly in the country.  The wife of the ambassador is having an affair with the United Fruit executive and their affair has long-reaching results, echoed in the companies and the country.

In the 1970's, a group of missionaries come to save the native population.  The focus of the novel is on one married couple.  The man preaches to the native population who have come to their camp as refugees from the terrorists and the violence between the government and those terrorists.  He also attempts to train the refugee man in the civil patrol, constructing roads and learning to be soldiers.  His wife works with the women, teaching them to sew with machines to gain a skill that they can be employed with.  The camp is caught up in the violence.

Finally, in modern times, a woman from Los Angeles and her adopted daughter come to Guatemala to try to find the clues to the daughter's heritage.  The woman's former lover, a woman who believes in various government conspiracies, trails them there and attempts to find evidence to support her wild theories.  

All of these women's stories serve to illustrate the chaos that reigned in this country for decades and the part that American interference served in it's corruption and exploitations of the native population.  Characters from one story show up in others despite the time differences and no matter the time period, the only constant is the fact that those indigenous to the region are never those in power but are always exploited to serve others' agendas.  This book is recommended to readers of historical fiction.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The House On Fortune Street by Margot Livesey

 

A shocking event occurs when Dara, a counselor, commits suicide.  She lived in the downstairs apartment of the house on Fortune Street which her best friend, Abigail, owned and where she lived upstairs with her lover, Sean.  No one would have ever expected that Dara would do such a thing and of course, afterwards, each person in her life tries to determine why she would do it and if they played a part in her despair.

The first part is from Sean's viewpoint.  Sean has left his wife for Abigail and shortly after the novel begins, also leaves his work on his doctorate.  Part of this is because Abigail has insisted that he pay her rent so he has to take work and it interferes with the research he needs to be doing.  The work he takes is a book about suicide and how to accomplish it, writing up stories of those who have taken this step.  Along with this work which upsets him, he is also upset by his suspicions about whether Abigail is still in love with him.

The second part is from the viewpoint of Dara's father.  They had had a happy family or at least that was what everyone would have said.  There were the parents and a boy and girl.  But when Dara is around ten, her world collapsed when her parents split and her father departed.  Afterwards he was a very distant figure and Dara felt abandoned.  She didn't know that her mother insisted that her father leave and move far away and that she kept the children from him after discovering his scandalous secret.  The father talks about this secret and how he still believes it was innocent.

The next part is Dara's story.  She is affected by the abandonment of her father.  At university, she becomes best friends with Abigail although they are very different.  Abigail is an actress, never attached to any part or in her life, any man, for very long.  Dara longs for nothing more than permanence.  She is distraught when her university boyfriend deserts her for another woman.  Lately, she has been happy again after meeting a new man.  Abigail worries that Dara is once again getting dangerously involved with a man to the detriment of her own life and goals.  When Dara is once again disappointed, no one knows to help her climb out of her despair.

Finally, we get Abigail's story.  She was raised by parents who floated from town to town, job to job.  Their children were expected to move without complaint and basically raise themselves.  When Abigail is fifteen, she decides to do just that, moving out, finding shelter and working as many jobs as it took for her to survive so that she could attend school.  She is an actress and that is central to her.  Men are nothing more than a distraction and she moves from one to the next with as little regard as she changes roles from play to play.  Her friendship with Dara is the one constant in her life but her chaotic life makes her unavailable when Dara could have used her most.

Margot Livesey has written a thoughtful book about four very different characters and about the topic of suicide, which is prevalent in most societies.  Everyone always wonders why but that is different for each case and the solution is often difficult to see.  The balancing of the four viewpoints is masterfully done and the reader will become involved in each life they are given a view into.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

 


As April May makes her way home from her job as a graphic designer in New York at three a.m. one morning, she sees an absolutely remarkable thing.  There on the sidewalk, as if it had always been there, was a ten foot sculpture of a figure.  It looked like a Transformer and April knew it had not been there the day before.  No one seemed that surprised or was stopping to look at what she knew was amazing.  So she called her best friend, Andy, who rushed over and took a video of April with the figure which they named Carl.  He uploaded the video and it went viral.

Soon the two learn that their Carl is not the only one.  There are scores of Carls in various cities around the world.  No one knows how they got there or what their purpose is.  But April has been identified as the spokesperson for all things Carl and before they know it, April and Andy are being interviewed on TV shows and are making a fortune.  Then the dreams start.

Each dream poses a puzzle and it is soon a worldwide cooperation as people everywhere try to solve the puzzles.  April is not at the forefront of this effort as she is busy with her media appearances and writing a book but progress is made.  Then April is singled out as the only person to have the dream that poses the puzzle that is the key to tie everything together.  It is clear that the Carls have chosen her as someone special as, although there is no interaction with the inert figures, they find a way to protect April from those who oppose her.  But can they protect her forever?

Hank Green has written an enticing science fiction tale.  April is not a typical heroine but a snarky yet uncertain woman who is busy figuring out her own life when this mystery drops into her existence.  She doesn't do everything right and in fact, sometimes hurts those who care most about her, but she never gives up trying to figure out what this means and to find a way to make it create a positive change on Earth.  This is the first novel in The Carls series and readers will be enticed to rush right out and read the second.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Deception by Denise Mina

 

No one would have predicted it.  When Lochlan and Susie Harriot married, the predictions were for success.  Now, a few years later, they have a small daughter and Susie is a doctor while Lachlan is a stay at home dad and a writer.  Susie is a forensic psychologist and her job is writing reports for the courts after interviewing serious offenders, including killers.  Her most recent subject was Andrew Gow, who is imprisoned for killing five prostitutes.  

But things have gone horribly wrong.  After Dr. Harriot's review, she becomes involved with Gow.  The other staff at the hospital question if she has even become obsessed with him.  He marries a woman, Donna, who wrote to him and then formed a relationship with Andrew.  Susie seems upset about this relationship and when Andrew is eventually paroled and goes off with Donna, Susie's world collapses.  She loses her job because she has taken Andrew's files from the hospital and refuses to return them or even acknowledge that she has them.

Then the worst occurs.  Susie gets a phone call one day.  She tells Lachlan she is headed out for groceries but instead drives eight hours to the remote Scottish village where Andrew and Donna have gone.  Three hours after arriving, she is arrested in the local pub, covered in Andrew Gow's blood.  Donna is nowhere to be found but suspected to be dead along with Andrew.  Now Susie has been charged with Andrew's murder and is on trial.  She is convicted and sent to prison.

Lachlan isn't sure where all of this leaves him.  He doesn't believe Susie is guilty and is determined to prove her innocence.  But as he delves into Susie's world through her papers and computer, he starts to question everything he knows.  What is the truth about the murder of Andrew Gow?

This novel is one of Mina's earlier works.  The slow reveal of the things Lachlan finds out about his wife is one that will intrigue readers.  He finds out more than he ever wanted both about her relationship with a serial killer and her true feelings about her life with him and their daughter.  The resolution is satisfying.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson

 

Teddy Todd seems to live his life through the expectations of others.  As a child, he had an idyllic life in the countryside, loved by his family.  He adored his big sister, Ursula, and his father.  His best friends were the girls on the neighboring estate, especially Nancy, who was his age.  But even as a child, Teddy did what others wanted of him.  His childhood was immortalized by his aunt who wrote a set of famous childhood novels about a figure who was Teddy in disguise and who was loved by a generation.  As he got to adulthood, whatever he wanted to do with his life was overwritten by the War.  As with most of his generation, Teddy enlisted and his job was to become a fighter pilot.

He was an excellent one.  The casualty rate was horrendous but somehow Teddy managed to get his crew home alive and safe even on those few occasions when he had to crash land.  He was revered by his crew but never expected to end the war alive as the majority of his kind did not.  He didn't really plan for life after the war as he didn't believe there would be one.

But Teddy did survive and now had to find what else life had in store for him.  He tried various things, teaching, writing, working on a newspaper.  He gardened.  His marriage to Nancy was solid but Teddy wondered if it was really a grand love affair or just a comfortable way of being.  He and Nancy had one daughter, Viola.  Viola was her mother's daughter and after Nancy died early, Teddy and Viola went along but were never that close.  Teddy becomes much closer to Viola's children who spent much of their childhood with him.

This novel is a companion piece to an earlier Atkinson work, Life After Life, which was the story of Ursula's life.  Atkinson is able through the exploration of the Todd family to demonstrate what was the reality for the majority of an English generation, barely surviving the first world war only to be plunged into another twenty years later.  This modern war which also saw the Blitz of London, affected every English family and also shook up the traditions as people from many countries came to fight and the old class system started to fall apart as men worked and fought alongside each other and women fell in love with those who managed to survive.  Teddy is a hero for the times and an example of a man who did what was expected of him, by his government, by his family and by society.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Overstory by Richard Powers

 


A female scientist who is scoffed at when her research shows that trees are in communication with each other and find ways to proactively help each other.  A Vietnam era pilot whose fall from his plane is broken by a banyan tree.  A young boy whose father plants a tree as each child in the family is born, grieves for the loss of the chestnuts.  A Chinese engineer whose father immigrated bringing a priceless scroll depicting trees is radicalized by the loss of a park outside her workplace.  A group of people who come together to fight for the few remaining redwoods and the lengths they go to in an attempt to save what they love.  An Indian boy whose fall from a tree leaves him paralyzed but whose creativity and computer programming skills make him a millionaire.  A Midwestern couple who fall in love at community theatre and who make a pact to plant something in their yard every year for their anniversary.

Richard Power's newest work is concerned with the environmental crisis the world is facing and the place that trees/forests play in reversing the damage and making a positive impact.  Through the life stories of a disparate group of individuals, he demonstrates how much of an impact the natural world has on human life and how cruel and shortsighted our interactions with it have been.  

This novel has garnered enormous praise.  It is the winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction as well as being shortlisted for the Booker Prize.  It is a New York Times Notable Book and a Best Book of the Year for such publications as the Kirkus Reviews, Time, Newsweek, Oprah, Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.  Readers will be taken into an intricate plot that connects in astounding ways as each story emphasizes the reality of our environmental situation and the miracle of creation.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George

 

A murder has occurred in the small village of Keldale.  A local farmer has been decapitated in his barn; his teenage daughter charged with his murder.  Keldale is not used to murder; the only famous one was the death of a crying baby in the local monastery whose cries was giving away the location of those taking refuge there.  That death may not be real but legendary but an abandoned baby was found but died a few years ago.

To handle the case, Scotland Yard sends one of its best.  Inspector Thomas Lynley, who is also the eighth Earl of Asherton, is known for his perception and ability to unravel mysteries.  He is given Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, who has been serving time as a street officer after clashing with her last two inspectors.  Can this thorny woman who walks around with a grudge against authority and this aristocratic genteel man manage to form a working relationship and uncover the truth?

This is the first in Elizabeth George's series featuring Lynley and Havers.  It is interesting to go back to the beginning and see how their relationship started out and how they managed to work through their differing backgrounds to form the successful relationship that carried them through so many cases after this one.  Lynley's friendship with Simon and his former love with Debra is also explored as Simon and Debra are newly married in this novel.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

 

It was a small business that should have succeeded.  The Yoo family, Korean immigrants, have a hyperbaric chamber housed in an old submarine.  Individuals can go in for an hour long treatment to breathe increased oxygen.  The treatment has been suggested for everything from Lyme disease to infertility to autism treatment.  But something went horribly wrong and a fire trapped the patients inside the chamber.  A mother of five and an eight year old boy are killed, burned alive.  The immigrant father is left paralyzed and his teenage daughter is left scarred and in a coma for several months.

What really happened?  A year later, a murder trial is being held.  Elizabeth, the mother of the child who was killed, is on trial.  The prosecution believes she killed her child to escape the life of a mother with a disabled child.  But was it her?  There are secrets belonging to almost everyone there that day and even some no one knew were there.  Was the fire to hide an affair?  Was it to collect an insurance payment of more than a million dollars?  Was it a different mother who couldn't face their child's disability?  Was it done in anger over a marriage that isn't working out?

This is a debut novel and it has garnered lots of praise.  It won the Edgar Award for Debut Novel and is recommended by many prominent names in the mystery/thriller genre.  The plot twists and turns and the reader is convinced over and over that they know who it is as it turns out that everyone there had a reason to start the fire that ended so tragically.  The author has intimate knowledge of much of the book's subjects.  She is from a Korean-American family and was a former trial attorney.  Readers will be entertained and left interested in seeing what this author will do next. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

A Crown Of Swords by Robert Jordan

 


This volume in the epic tale of A Wheel In Time opens with a battle.  Rand has escaped from the Aes Sedai who captured him and tried to take him to The White Tower.  With the Wise Women and the channeling men at his side, Rand defeats those Shaido warriors who were defying him, and has taken the Aes Sedai who dared to capture him hostage.  As they return to the capital city, others in the group have their own missions.

Nynaeve, Elaine, Aviendha and Mat are on the hunt for the fabled bowl that can end the heat wave the world is caught in.  Nynaeve is reunited with her great love, Lan.  Egwene, as the head of the rebel Aes Sedai, is collecting women from all over the world who can channel in a giant collective of women to defeat the evil arising.  Rand is preparing for his battle with the Forsaken, Sammuel but along the way he takes a new step in his relationship with Min.

This is the seventh book in the epic series.  This one was more story building than climatic events as foundations are laid for more things to happen in later volumes.  Rand is questioning whether he has begun the process of losing himself to insanity as all men who channel eventually do.  He is at times masterful and at others bombastic as he adjusts from being a village boy to the Dragon Reborn with more power and responsibility than anyone has ever faced.  This book is recommended for epic fantasy readers.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

 

There are four Skinner children.  Renee is the oldest; fierce and a second mother to her siblings.  Caroline is next, a sensitive girl who seems to gravitate towards society's perception of womanhood.  Joe is the golden boy; a born athlete whose skills gain him popularity and automatic acceptance wherever he goes.  Fiona is the youngest, closest to Joe who she looks to for protection.  The children are forced to be innovative and look after themselves when their father dies unexpectedly and their mother falls apart for a year or more.  She lies in her bedroom, leaving the children to grow up however they will.

Adulthood finds the four separated.  Renee has become a doctor, not sure if a man fits into her goal-oriented world.  Caroline married her high school sweetheart early and now has a houseful of kids and a big house in the suburbs.   Joe is in finance as his college connections have gained him a successful job as easily as everything else in his life.  Fiona has blossomed from a chunky girl to a gorgeous young woman and is happily playing the field and writing about her experiences.  When the four siblings are faced with a tragedy, they must come back together and find a new way to relate to each other and to move forward in their adult lives. 

This book received a lot of buzz with raves by Goodreads, Lithub, the New York Times and others.  It is a departure from Conklin's first novel which was a historical fiction.  This novel explores the concept of family and sibling relationships and how our first families shape us and support us for life.  Readers will be able to instantly relate to one of the Skinner children as each is an archetype played out in many families giving them familiarity.  This book is recommended for readers of women's and literary fiction,


Saturday, October 3, 2020

Three Seventeen by Darren Shell

 

This author is not a doctor. He is not a counselor or a minister. He is an average man, a father, son, husband who loves his family and friends. Darren was faced with something that many families face. He was faced not once, but twice, with the suicide of someone close to him. The first was his father who took his own life only a few days after the birth of his first grandchild. Several years later, one of his closest friends also committed suicide.

Three Seventeen is the author's story of this life journey, about how he managed to survive suicide of someone close not once but twice. It is full of faith and reliance on the Christian faith. But what, more than anything, pulled him through was realizing how prevalent suicide is and that he could make working on preventing suicide a life mission. Darren has teamed up with those at his job and with those from the military (22 veterans kill themselves every day) to create programs that have as their aim helping those who are considering suicide and getting them through their crisis points.

It is a rare family that hasn't been touched by suicide. In my own case, I always knew I had a relative who had died in a train wreck. But it wasn't until I was in my 40's that my mother felt she could share the fact that this person had caused the train wreck when they walked in front of the train, committing suicide. Many people have been touched by this issue, either with family or friends. Readers will find this story an invaluable resource as they work on this issue.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Booksie's Shelves, October 2, 2020

 


It's October which means it is fall, my favorite season of the year.  I love the cooler temperatures, the colors, the sense that time is passing.  This year, of course, is strange due to the continuing self-isolation of the Corvid virus which does leave more time for reading.  I read thirteen books in September and at this point have finish 133 books for the year.  I hope to read at least one hundred fifty this year.  I found out about The Guardian's Not The Booker Prize and have been busily compiling lists of the longlist nominations for the past fifteen years.  Here's what's come through the door either physically or electronically:

  1. Tome Of The Undergates, Sam Sykes, fantasy, purchased
  2. A Great Disturbance, Elizabeth George, mystery, purchased
  3. Three Seventeen, Darren Shell, nonfiction, sent by author
  4. Privilege, Thomas Carry, mystery, sent by publisher
  5. The Dark Circle, Linda Grant, literary fiction, purchased
  6. The Fixer's Daughter, Hy Conrad, mystery, sent by author
Here's my e-book purchases this month:
  1. Broken Ground, Val McDermid, mystery
  2. The Remainder, Alia Trabucco Zeran, literary fiction
  3. The Exiled Heir, Jonathan French, fantasy
  4. The Errantry Of Bantam Flyn, Jonathan French, fantasy
  5. An Advancement Of Learning, Reginald Hill, mystery
  6. Snapdragon, Brandon Berntson, horror
  7. A Killing Kindness, Reginald Hill, mystery
  8. Underworld, Reginald Hill, mystery
  9. A Visit From The Good Squad, Jennifer Egan, literary fiction
  10. Bad To The Bones, James Harper, mystery
  11. Aftermath, E.A. Copen, science fiction
  12. Hunting Game, Helene Tursten, mystery
  13. The Bishop's Wife, Mette Ivie Harrison, mystery
  14. The Last Detective, Peter Lovesey, mystery
  15. Dawn Of Dreams, Bronwyn Leroux, fantasy
  16. The Unspoken, Ian Smith, mystery
  17. Assassination Protocol, Andy Peloquin, science fiction
  18. The Crimson Claymore, Craig Price, Jr., fantasy
  19. You Have Been Judged, Craig Martelle, science fiction
  20. The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane, nonfiction
  21. Storm Front, Jim Butcher, fantasy
  22. Dragonfly, Resa Nelson, fantasy
  23. The Prison Stone, J.R. Mabry, fantasy
  24. All Things Left Wild, James Wade, literary fiction
  25. Past Caring, Robert Goddard, thriller
  26. Take Me Apart, Sarah Sligar, literary fiction
  27. Breath Of Earth, Beth Cato, fantasy
Here's what I'm reading:
  1. A God In Ruins, Kate Atkinson, paperback
  2. Miracle Creek, Angie Kim, Kindle Fire
  3. Hard Red Spring, Kelly Kerney, hardback
  4. Evil, Inc, Glen Kaplan, hardback
  5. Three Seventeen, Darren Shell, paperback
  6. A Great Deliverance, Elizabeth George, paperback
  7. The Overstory, Richard Powers, hardback
  8. The Path Of Daggers, Robert Jordan, hardback
  9. Deception, Denise Mina, hardback
  10. In Plain Sight, Kathryn Casey, Kindle Fire
  11. Rattle, Fiona Cummins, Kindle Fire
Happy Reading!

Thursday, October 1, 2020

A Registry Of My Passage Upon The Earth by Daniel Mason

 

This is an anthology of various stories by Daniel Mason.  There are nine stories in the collection.  Each concerns some individual and their lives.  The title story, which is the last in the collection, concerns the life and artistic work of Arthur Bispo do Rosario, who lived in Brazil, was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and spent fifty years in an institution, where he embroidered lists of all he encountered in spectacular works of art.

Other stories portray a boxer and the scientific collector Alfred Russel Wallace who was a contemporary of Charles Darwin and extended his work.  A Civil War reenactor is the protagonist of a story as is the Egyptian Psammetichus I.  A young boy sick with tuberculosis in Victorian England is portrayed as is a woman hot air balloonist and an agent in the jungle who spends his life alone.  My favorite story is one called The Second Doctor Service.  It portrays a middle aged doctor who starts to have periods where he is absent from his body such as found in petit mal epilepsy.  He starts to realize that while he is absent he is interacting with others with a different personality and as time goes on, he begins to realize that everyone else, including his wife, prefers the other personality.

Daniel Mason is a physician who has written several novels that were acclaimed such as The Piano Tuner and The Winter Soldier.  He is currently  a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.  The stories are immediately engaging and his ability to pinpoint personality traits is enticing.  I felt several of the stories had a weaker ending than I expected.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

 

The Interdependency had endured for thousands of years.  All the far flung countries that composed it were connected by the Flow, the mechanism that allowed travel between places so far apart that without the Flow there would be no way to reach them in a man's lifetime.  The Interdependency was ruled by the Emperoux who resided at the capital, the Hub.  Another place of note was The End, a small world which had been originally populated by criminals exiled from other worlds.  

But things are changing.  There is a new Emperoux, a young girl who never thought she would be in charge and thrust into the role when her brother, the heir, died in an accident followed by the death of their father.  The merchant families, which hold much of the power in all worlds and control the traffic between them, seem to be embroiled in a power struggle.  End is engaged in a native rebellion that seems likely to topple its ruler.  Most importantly, something seems to be happening with The Flow.  Some of the entry points seem to be collapsing, which means no one can enter or exit there. 

On the End, a friend of the Emperoux continues his work.  A brilliant physicist, he had come to the Emperoux decades ago showing him the prediction his math equations showed; the entire collapse of the Flow.  Since that time, he appeared to have been exiled to End but in reality he is there continuing his work.  Now his son must reach the Emperoux and weeks into her reign, inform her that everything on which the world has been built, will change in the near future.  How will humanity survive?  Will the Emperoux prove up to the challenge?

This is the first in a planned trilogy about this world and the challenges facing it in the collapse of everything on which their reality is based.  There are many interesting characters and the struggles between trading families trying to secure power and wealth is fascinating.  But what drives the novel is the idea that humanity could be faced with a challenge of the entire system collapsing and the survival of life at stake.  Readers will want to continue the series to see what happens next.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Breakdown by Jonathan Kellerman

 



It's been six years since Dr. Alex Delaware has thought of the actress Zelda Chase.  Then, she was working on a comedy series but a complaint had been filed and he was called in to evaluate her parenting.  Zelda had a five year old son, smart beyond his years and talented and Ovid seemed fine to Alex.  After his evaluation, he put Zelda and Ovid out of his mind.  

But now she is back.  The six years have not been kind to Zelda.  Her series ended soon after Alex met her and before long, her mental disturbances took everything from her and she is now homeless.  Someone found Alex's name in her files when she was arrested for going into someone's yard, shouting and screaming and digging up bushes.  By the time Alex sees her, she is sedated and unresponsive.  Although she was never his patient, he finds her shelter for when she is released from the short mental hospital hold.

But the next time he hears about Zelda, the news is worse.  She stayed in the shelter for only a short while then walked out.  The next she was heard from, it was her body, found in the yard of a gated estate.  The homeowner, an elderly widow, had returned from a stay in Palm Springs to find Zelda's body when she strolled in her garden before bed.  No one knows how Zelda got there, ten miles from the shelter.  No one knows where Ovid is or where he has been while Zelda has been on the street.  Did something happen to him and was that what sent Zelda over the edge?

As Alex and his friend, Detective Milo Sturgis, try to find the answers, more mysteries occur.  The maid at the home where Zelda was found is missing, and soon they find that another maid is missing as well.  A man they talk to is found dead.  What is happening and how is Zelda connected?  Can they find the answers as well as finding Ovid or what happened to him?

This is the 31st novel in the Alex Delaware series.  While most series cannot carry the weight of so many novels, this one is always fresh and interesting.  The mystery is compelling and the reader wants to find out what happened to Zelda and where Ovid could be.  The interplay between Alex and Milo is always fascinating and the mystery comes to a satisfactory resolution.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.


Thursday, September 24, 2020

How Much Of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang

 

When their Ba, father, dies, Lucy and Sam are left alone in the mining camps of California.  Their parents were immigrants from China but Ma has been gone for a while and now Ba has died.  Lucy and Sam are young girls, not even teenagers as they decide to pack up what they can and move on.  Their father hoped to become rich mining gold but that didn't work out.  He took a job as a coal miner and as pay got cut, left Samantha cut her hair and masquerade as a boy in order to work alongside of them.

As Lucy and Sam travel, Lucy takes charge.  Sam is the hunter but Lucy is the one with a plan.  They ward off men on the trail and those who would try to map out their lives for them.  After they bury Ba, they travel to a town.  Lucy longs for other people, education and a structured life and she moves into town and finds work.  Sam is less settled; her life working alongside Ba in the mines and the gold fields has left her with a quest for adventure and she takes off after a while by herself. 

The two girls try to interpret the family stories they know bits and pieces of.  As they unravel the past, they learn about the family secrets and how they impacted their family life.  The two eventually reunite and decide to move back to China and find themselves there in their parents' first home.  

This novel was nominated for the Booker Prize.  It is a fascinating view of an underreported minority in the immigrant stories of the American West.  The hardships the girls meet and conquer are daunting and will make one wonder if our children today could be as hardy.  The love the two girls share and their quest to understand their family and to carve out a life for themselves is inspiring.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

 

Wallace is working on a biochem graduate degree.  But he seems out of place in this midwestern university.  He is not the typical graduate student.  He is black, gay and comes from a challenging childhood.  As a child, he was largely self-educated as no one in his family valued learning.  His family life was chaotic with his father abandoning the family while Wallace was a child.  Although his father only moved a few blocks away, he made it clear that he was cutting all ties with his family, something Wallace never understood.  Through a desire to move to a better life, Wallace managed to study and catch the eye of teachers who helped him work toward a goal of a different life.

Now he is in a stressful graduate environment with a limited social life.  The hours in the lab are long and grueling and his research is not going particularly well.  He doesn't have the favor of the graduate supervisor and in fact, she takes the word of other students, mainly female, against Wallace.  He is considered to have come with deficits and his supervisor and his peers are open about speaking about this as if there is nothing Wallace can do to compensate for it.

His friends are not much more help.  The novel follows a weekend where Wallace interacts with his circle of acquaintances.  He starts an affair with another student.  He gets caught up in the relationship of two of his friends as one of them pushes for the relationship to become open to other people.  He is insulted and insults others.  

This novel was a Booker nominee and in fact, is shortlisted.  Other critics call it a searing portrait of youth and coming of age.  I found it a challenging read with lots of negativity and the expectation that this is the experience of most young people.  That goes against my experience with this age group although I'm sure it is true of some of this group.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Three Seventeen by Darren Shell

 


From the Greensboro News And Record, author Nancy Mclaughlin

Darren Shell didn't decide to write a book about suicide after his father and best friend took their lives. It was after being awakened by a voice shortly after 3 a.m. one morning, years later.  "It's a higher power ... telling me to get up and write," recalled Shell, 49.

The losses had been devastating. Ed Shell, just 59, shot himself in 2006 — two days after holding his son's newborn daughter.  For Darren, the sermon at church the following Sunday seemed to address his hesitation. He didn't decide to write the book as much as he was pushed in that direction it seemed.

"I went into this with a blind promise that there is at least one person who needs to read it," Shell said.  This is his story of taking two of the worst days of his life and making the decision to not let it define him but work to prevent suicide. On Sept. 29, the 14th anniversary of his father's suicide, Shell's book,  "Three Seventeen: A Suicide Loss Survivor's Story," officially goes on sale.

Released during Suicide Prevention Month, the book tells the story of Shell's struggle, survival and recovery. People contemplating suicide might not think anyone will care or that they will be missed, Shell said. They're wrong. Suicide always leaves survivors. "I've not sat in an empty church yet," Shell said.

Before starting on the book, Shell spoke to his mother and his best friend's wife, mother and sister about what he planned to do. "I said, 'I need y'all to be OK with this," Shell recalled.

Suicide claims the lives of at least 132 people a day in this country. But research shows that for each of them, their deaths affect scores of other people. According to experts, those struggling are often too ashamed to admit they have suicidal thoughts and might only offer a hint at what they are feeling — if at all.

The April day in 2014 he hung himself, the Rev. Robert McKeehan — a High Point pastor, husband and father — got up and went to the gym. Afterwards, he posted a humorous account on Facebook. His death made national headlines. As did the suicide that same year of a young man who posted "suffering is optional" on social media before jumping off the downtown Marriott parking deck.

Shell's father had been Darren's hero for as long as he could remember. Well, him and Major League Baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan. Shell always spotted his father in the stands at his baseball games, despite the elder Shell working two jobs to pay his son's way through school. Before his death, Ed Shell had health problems related to a battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and he carried baggage from his childhood. His mood lifted, but it didn't stop him from taking his life.

In the months after his father died, Darren threw himself into helping his mother and being a husband and father. He later sought therapy and learned how to better deal with his emotions. "You only learn to accept it," Shell said of the grief. "It never goes away." As he struggled to understand what happened, Shell was caught in a cycle of shock, anger and immense pain. The "what-ifs" haunted him. "Did he not think what (his suicide) was going to do to Mom and me?" he said. "I was surprised at how mad I was." Overwhelming guilt followed. He had been on the phone with his dad hours before and would repeatedly relive their conversation, trying to find any indication that his father was planning to take his life. "You spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you could have done different," Shell said.

And then his friend was gone, too. When Shell started writing the book, he didn't spend his time delving into the "whys" of what happened in either case. "I don't know what happened," Shell said of the deaths. "And it wasn't fair for me to add anything to that. You spend months or years trying to find an answer and the person who can provide the answer isn't here."

Shell's book is self-published, so he has taken on a larger amount of the risk that anyone will pick it up. A friend took photos and another friend served as editor — which Shell said was a monumental task because even his sixth-grade teacher will remember how horrible of a speller he can be. The COVID-19 pandemic has doomed all the fall book festivals Shell was hoping to attend. "I wanted it to be more than my mother and three people buying the book," he said.

A friend pushed him to set up a website for the book when Shell was happy just to get it on Amazon. "He was like, 'No, you are going to get lost in the crowd,'" Shell said. He's already looked into dropping off a few free copies at local libraries. Co-workers have been supportive.

"I did what I was supposed to do," Shell said.