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.