Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Breaks by Richard Price


Peter Heller is at loose ends.  He just graduated college, a great Ivy League university.  But he didn't get into the law school of his dreams and he doesn't want to go to the university that did accept him.  He thought he was geared for success but now he's moved back home with his father and stepmother.  He gets a series of dead-end jobs such as selling various items over the phone, soul deadening jobs.  Peter doesn't know what he wants in life now.  Should he become a standup comedian?  Go for a second-rate law degree?  

At loose ends, he drifts back to his college town where he still knows a number of the faculty.  One of his favorite professors is now head of the English department and he hires Peter to teach a freshman composition class.  Peter likes it at first but grows to dislike it.  He meets Kim, a secretary at the university and starts a relationship with her but worries that she is still in love with her ex-husband, another English professor.  Can Peter find a way forward?

Richard Price is acknowledged as one of the greats in American literature; his forte writing about city life, especially the law enforcement and criminal worlds.  This book, however, has a collection of unlikeable personalities and unfortunately, Peter is among them.  He seems to have no idea what to do with his life and his whining about it isn't pleasant to read.  The book is well written and Price definitely has the measure of someone at loose ends.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction that want to read one of Price's lesser known works.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Last Detective by Robert Crais


It should never have happened.  Elvis Cole's girlfriend, Lucy Chenier, has gone out of town and left her son, Ben, with Elvis overnight.  The two have a great time.  But when Ben goes outside to play with a game, Elvis cannot find him when he goes out after talking with Lucy on the phone.  He searches everywhere but soon has to come to the decision that Ben has been taken by someone.

Elvis's theory is proven when Lucy gets a call from the kidnappers.  Her ex-husband blames her for leaving Ben with Elvis and as a wealthy man, brings in his own team of security to try to negotiate with the kidnappers.  Cole also has a team.  He has Joe Pike, the best friend and most tenacious detective he has ever met.  The kidnapper's throw in a curve, implying that the kidnapping is in retaliation for an event that happened in Cole's military past but he feels that it isn't the real reason as the details of that operation are top secret.  He and Pike work with the LAPD detective assigned to the case, Carol Starkey, to find Ben and return him.  Can they find him in time?

This is the ninth book of eighteen in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series.  Cole and Pike live by a code and while that makes them stand out from others, it is the only way they can honorably lives their lives.  Their military and police skills allow them to see things hidden to others and the twists that occur as the book progresses will shock the reader.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Last Hotel by Emily St John Mandel


This novel opens in the lobby of the Hotel Caiette, a luxury hotel.  It is on an island in Vancouver, accessible only by boat.  The hotel is owned by Jonathan Alkaitis who is extremely wealthy from his work as an investment manager.  Jonathan is expected to arrive that night.  Vincent is a woman in her twenties, adrift in life and working as a bartender in the hotel.  Her half-brother, Paul, is also working there but as a handyman.  There is also a shipping magnate, Leon, sitting in the lobby when a horrible message is discovered written on the glass windows.

Over the next several years, we follow these characters in their lives.  Viincent leaves the island when Jonathan does and becomes his mistress.  She is whisked from a mundane existence to one of in the land of the wealthy.  Jonathan is not only managing an investment firm but is also involved in a Ponzi scheme where he is steadily stealing the money of his investors, Leon being one of them.  One woman sees through the scheme and pursues Jonathan for years until she is able to bring him and his scheme down.  

This work is reminiscent of Emily St. John Mandel's earlier works.  It has a dreamlike feel as the characters all seem adrift in various ways.  Paul and Vincent are drifting through life, going and doing what circumstance puts in front of them.  Jonathan is living on borrowed time as he knows that eventually his scheme will be discovered.  The characters attempt to make lasting connections but those also seem unreal, transparent and temporary.  As the book ends, the various players find resolutions in their lives although mostly not as they had envisioned them.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Ten Thousand Doors Of January


We meet January Scaller when she is seven.  January is named after the god Janus, with two faces that forever looked ahead and back.  He is the symbol for duality, for seeing possibilities and facing past mistakes.  January is the child of Julian, a black explorer and Adelaide, a strong white woman.  She has never met her mother and doesn't even know her name.  She sees her father infrequently.  He travels the world seeking out lost antiquities and precious items for her guardian, Cornelius Locke.  Locke is a wealthy man of impecable background who is the president of an antiquities preservation society.  He employs Julian and watches over January while Julian travels.

January survives by being a good girl.  She travels with Locke and is treated with respect as his ward, not how she would be treated on her own as a mixed race child with no money.  She is quiet and studious but that changes when at age seven she discovers a door.  It is out in a field all by itself and as she got close, she started to feel the pull of the unexplained, the feeling that what lay beyond would answer all her questions.  But as she starts to go through, Mr. Locke calls her and she pulls back.  The next day the door is gone, only a pile of rubble in a field. 

That day stays with January however and the way the door made her feel.  When she is seventeen, she finds a quaint book hidden and seemingly meant for her.  It is a story of her background and of doors and the magic that can lay beyond them.  January is determined to set out to find more doors and to find her father who has disappeared on one of his journeys.  Perhaps she can find her own story and clues about the mother of whom she knows nothing.

January does find doors and as she does, she comes to realize that her life has been shuttered and only bits of her history have been revealed.  Mr. Locke is less the kindly guardian who has raised her and more an exploiter of both her family and the antiquities that propel his purpose.  January comes to realize that the doors she finds all over the world may eventually give her the answers to her background and give her the family she has wanted all her life.  

This is a debut novel which was highly anticipated as Alix Harrow had already made a name for herself as a short story author.  It is a coming of age story that hints at the mystery and wonder that the world can provide.  January is an entrancing personality and the reader cannot help but cheer her on.  This book is recommended to readers of young adult and fantasy literature.  

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye


Jane Steele grew up on a large country estate, told by her mother that one day it would all be hers.  But something is wrong with that scenario.  Jane and her mother lived in the carriage house while her aunt and cousin lived in the mansion and it was clear her aunt intensely disliked both her mother and Jane.  Her cousin was her only playmate and he delighted in mean tricks and terrorizing her.  When her mother died and her cousin died in suspicious circumstances, Jane was packed off to a boarding school.

But the school was even worse.  Run by a sadistic tyrant, Jane and her schoolmates lived in constant fear.  When the man is killed, Jane and a friend find a way to run off to London.  There they found a way to survive, her friend singing and Jane writing broadsheets about executions.  But death followed them there as well.  After the friends were separated, Jane needed to leave London.  Looking at the want ads, she finds that the man now living in the estate on which she grew up was advertising for a governess.  She applies and is hired.

The master of the estate is a former military man who served in India.  His butler and servants were all Indian as was her new charge.  The girl was delightful and adored by everyone on the estate and Jane also quickly fell in love with her.  She is finally happy but trouble is brewing.  Can Jane finally find a place where she fits in?  Will her past rise up and ruin this situation as well?

Lyndsay Faye has rewritten the Jane Eyre story in an endearing manner.  Mystery surrounds Jane and whatever she tries, murder always seems to follow her.  The romance between Jane and the estate owner is inevitable and engaging.  The mystery of the estate is satisfactorily revealed and the reader is left feeling justified.  This book is recommended for mystery as well as literary fiction readers.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Little Bones by N V Peacock


First her name was Leigh-Ann.  She lived with her parents and had an idyllic childhood.  Then she was called Little Bones when her father was arrested and convicted of being Mr. Bones, a prolific serial killer.  He killed little boys and used their painted bones to make colorful sculptures, using Leigh-Ann to make the rides he offered seem safe.  After his conviction, her mother couldn't live with the infamy and killed herself so Leigh-Ann grew up in foster homes, always watched with suspicion and the first to be accused whenever anything went wrong.

But those days are behind her.  As soon as she legally could, she changed her name to Cherry.  For ten years, she has worked at a butcher's shop, her co-workers her friends.  She has a long term boyfriend and the love of her life, her son Robin.  All in all, it's a safe, predictable life and it's heaven on Earth to her.

But things are about to change.  A young boy has gone missing.  Worse, a college student with journalistic hopes has decided to create a podcast and his first case is that of Mr. Bones.  He has somehow tracked Cherry down and has outed her on his podcast, giving her new name and her place of work.  How can this be?  No one knows about Cherry's past.  She never even told Leo, her boyfriend.  How can she tell him now after all this time?

When Robin goes missing while at the fair with Cherry, everything stops.  She can't live without her son and the first boy never returned home.  The police assure her that they are doing everything possible but Cherry is determined to pull strings they don't have access to.  She reaches out to anyone she thinks can help, psychics, relatives of other missing boys and even her imprisoned father whom she hasn't seen in over a decade.  Can she find Robin before he suffers the fate of her father's victims?

I listened to this novel.  The main narrator, Stephanie Racine, uses her voice to portray the desperation and heartbreak Cherry goes through.  The novel is set in England and her accent transports the reader to that locale.  There is a secondary narrator who narrates various chapters on the podcast, a male voice that portrays the juvenile yearnings of the podcaster.

N V Peacock has written a chilling tale of the past finding the secrets about ourselves we hope to hide forever.  Cherry has built a new life from an unimaginable past but it can be torn away by anyone determined enough to research her path after the trial.  She also covers the popular world of criminal podcasts and the harm that those who cover crimes without investigative knowledge and a police background can do.  That's a topic I've thought about quite a bit as the criminal podcast world exploded.  Some are very well researched and provide answers that the police don't have the resources to find but some are just riding on the popular bandwagon and probably do as much harm as good.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda


The world has forgotten about Visitation Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  It's a neighborhood of blue collar workers, of immigrants and those who aren't about to make a mark.  Now a tragedy has happened.  One warm summer night two teenage girls, Val and June, take a blowup raft out on the water but only Val returns.  She doesn't remember anything about that night so June's disappearance isn't solved.

But there are others in the neighborhood.  Fadi runs a grocery and has hope for the neighborhood.  He prints a local newspaper and has high hopes for the cruise ship rumored to be coming bringing tourists to his market.  Cree is about to start community college, getting things together after the horrific murder of his father that tore his family apart.  Jonathan was Val and June's music teacher but he spends his nights getting drunk and picking up anyone who will sleep with him.  Ren paints the walls with his graffati and seems bent on protecting Cree.  As these characters interact slowly the mystery starts to be penetrated and perhaps the mystery of June's disappearance will be solved.

Ivy Pochoda has created a slice of life portrait that brings this isolated neighborhood to life.  The characters are recognizable types, their motivations vague as they try to figure out life.  Life has not been kind to the inhabitants of Red Hook but in various ways they strive towards a more successful life.  This book is recommended to readers of literary fiction with a twist of mystery.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha


This timely novel concerns the lives of two families in Los Angeles and how their lives intersect.  The Matthews family is an African-American family.  Shawn and his sister came to live with his aunt and his cousin Ray when their parents were unavailable.  Shawn grew up considering Ray his brother.  Now Ray is coming out of prison after a long stretch and Shawn is hoping to help him navigate the transition he made himself after some prison time.  Their lives were changed forever when Shawn's sister was killed in an incident in a convenience store.

The Park family have Korean heritage.  Grace is the daughter who still lives at home and who is a pharmacist at the family store.  She has a sister who lives in the heart of Los Angeles and is estranged from the family, especially their mother.  When Grace leaves the store one night with her mother and the mother is gunned down in front of Grace, everything changes.

It is touch and go whether her mother will make it but she survives.  As she is recuperating in the hospital, the family secret comes out.  Grace's mother was the woman who shot Shawn's sister all those years ago.  The incident rocked Los Angeles especially when the mother received a minimal punishment.  She changed her name and the family moved and she has hidden in plain sight all these years.  Now her secret is out and suspicion falls on Shawn's family.  Did one of them take revenge after all these years for the earlier shooting?  

Cha has written a tense novel about how events can both separate and intersect those who would normally never come in contact.  The desire for revenge is understandable yet the act would be as wrong as the one that set this crime in motion decades before.  How each family reacted to the earlier tragedy and this new one is discussed and the question of when forgiveness is appropriate is explored.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, February 12, 2021

The City We Became by N.K. Jeminsin

 When Matt gets off the subway in Manhattan, he realizes he doesn't exactly know where he is or worse, who he is.  He's a graduate student, newly arrived in the city but he is dizzy and something seems to be happening.  New York residents step up to help him and he finds himself in a Checker cab heading to his new apartment.  He doesn't know much but he's sure he shouldn't be seeing a huge monster on the Long Island Expressway with waving white tentacles.  Somehow he knows how to fight it off but what next?

What's next is more than anyone could expect.  It turns out that cities are alive and something is trying to kill New York.  Furthermore, Matt has somehow been chosen as the avatar for Manhattan.  There are other avatars, one for each borough.  There's a community organizer, an art galley owner, another poor graduate student who is also an immigrant and a young girl whose father is a policeman.  Somehow they must unite and fight off the threat to the city.  Can they band together in time to save the city?

This is the first book in N.K. Jemisin's newest trilogy.  It is a madcap adventure which emphasizes the need for all races and ages to come together to create a world in which everyone's talents and skills are valued.  Some may find the analogies a bit heavyhanded but the point is well taken in today's world; without each other we are doomed.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Booksie's Shelves, February 9, 2021


February in 2021.  Things are looking up a bit as DH and I are getting our second covid virus shots this Friday.  Football is done for the year and college basketball is revving up for March Madness.  In our area of North Carolina, the days are cold and dreary but we haven't gotten snow yet this year and probably won't this winter.  It's been fourteen months since I've seen my son and grandchildren but hopefully we will get to see them soon after the second shot has time to kick in.  I read fourteen books in January and four so far in February.  Most of what has come in have been ebooks and audibles but here's what's come through the door:

  1. Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien, literary fiction, purchased
  2. The Brass Queen, Elizabeth Chatsworth, historical fiction, sent by publisher
  3. Astrid Sees All, Natalie Standiford, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  4. The Sound Of Wings, Suzanne Simonetti, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  5. First Love, Gwendoline Riley, literary fiction, purchased
  6. The Lowering Days, Gregory Brown, literary fiction, won in contest
  7. The Perfect 10, Eric O'Keefe, mystery, sent by publisher
Here's the e-books I've bought recently:
  1. From The Shadows, Angel Haze, fantasy
  2. Collecting The Dead, Spenser Kope
  3. The Scholar, Dervla McTiernan, mystery
  4. Deacon King Kong, James McBride, literary fiction
  5. Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead, Olga Tokarczuk
  6. Agency, William Gibson, science fiction
  7. Lies We Tell Ourselves, Steena Holmes, mystery
  8. Restriction, CM Raymond, fantasy
  9. The Invention Of Nature, Andrea Wulf, nonfiction
  10. The Labyrinth Of The Spirits, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, literary fiction
  11. Ritual, Mo Hayder, thriller
  12. Infinite Home, Kathleen Alcott, literary fiction
  13. Face Of Our Father, G. Egore Pitrir, thriller
  14. Pale Highway, Nicholas Conley, fantasy
  15. The Song Of The Sirin, Nickolas Kotar, fantasy
  16. Shadows Of Ivory, T.L. Greylock, fantasy
  17. Foundling Wizard, James Eggebean, fantasy
  18. Dead God's Due, Matthew Gilbert, fantasy
  19. Immortals, Joshua Smith, fantasy
  20. Darkblade Avenger, Andy Peloquin, fantasy
  21. Shields In Shadow, Andy Peloquin, fantasy
  22. Children Of The Dead City, Noor Al-Shanti, fantasy
  23. Mary Toft, Dexter Palmer, literary fiction
  24. Black Bird, Greg Eslen, mystery
  25. The Edinburgh Seer, Alisha Klapheke
  26. The Cactus League, Emily Nemans, literary fiction
  27. West With Giraffes, Lynda Rutledge, literary fiction
  28. The Shadow Box, Luanne Rice, mystery
  29. The Long Way Home, Louise Penny, mystery
  30. On Beauty, Zadie Smith, literary fiction
  31. The Boy Who Lit Up The Sky, J. Naomi Ay, fantasy
  32. The Mountains Sing, Nguyen Phan Que, literary fiction
  33. Perfect Remains, Helen Fields, mystery
  34. Lady In The Lake, Laura Lippman, mystery
  35. The Traitor Beau Cormorant, Seth Dickinson, fantasy
  36. I'll Take Care Of You, Caitlin Rother, true crime
  37. Someone Else's Daughter, Linsey Lanier, mystery
  38. Bunny, Mona Awad, literary fiction
  39. False Value, Ben Aaronovitch, fantasy
  40. Infinite, Brian Freeman, mystery
  41. The Third Rainbow Girl, Emma Eisenbery, true crime
  42. The Bone Ships, RJ Baker, historical fiction
  43. Hi Five, Joe Ide, mystery
  44. Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Marlon James, literary fiction
Happy Reading!

Monday, February 8, 2021

The Northern Reach by W.S. Winslow


Wellbridge, Maine, is not what most mean when they think of a coastal town.  This is no hot in the sun, fun-filled, commercial strip where fun and romance is uppermost.  This is a small fishing village in a cold climate, a hardscrabble environment where livings must be clawed from the sea or those few tourists that end up here for a vacation.

As in most small places, there are several families that have been there forever and who will probably only disappear when their families die out, not because they moved elsewhere in search of a better life.  There are the Baines, a fishing family whose future dies with a ship wreck that drowns most of the men in the family.  The Moodys are considered white trash and are hard drinking poor people who aren't about to be told what to do by anything.  The Edgecombs are farming folk although the land isn't exactly thriving.

Over the decades, these families intermarry, fight and join.  They know each others' secrets going back for years and have ancient grudges.  Occasionally one of the young people marry someone from somewhere else and bring in new blood but these newcomers are rarely welcomed.  Their lot is to be at best tolerated as they are considered to be ignorant of the things that are needed to survive in this place.  There are shipwrecks, illnesses, even a murder or two.  

W.S. Winslow is a native Maine resident herself so she knows what she is writing about.  This is her debut novel and the structure makes this novel interesting.  It ties together the stories from the different families into a tapestry of survival in a bleak environment, of people doing whatever it takes to get by.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Queen Of America by Luis Alberto Urrea


Teresita Urrea moves to the United States with her father, Tomas Urrea as a teenager after the Mexican government declares them persona non grata.  Terestia is considered a saint by the native population after the sixteen year old recovers from a coma and states that she saw the Virgin Mary and could now cure people.  People came from near and far to be cured and the government soon considered her influence to be one that could forment revolution.

Tomas was the wealthiest landowner in the Sonora province but readily gave it up to travel with his daughter who was in danger of being imprisoned if they stayed in Mexico.  They moved around to several places while finding a home.  They started in Tucson, then moved to El Paso and finally ended up in Clifton, Arizona.  Wherever they went, people flocked to see Teresita and she was a celebrity.

As she grew older, she fell in love but with tragic results.   Her marriage lasted but a day when it became apparent that her husband was a violent man with mental issues.  Since her father had never wanted her to marry, Terisita felt she had failed him and moved to California under the protection of a business consortium that wanted to market her powers.  Lonely, she sent for a childhood friend, John Order and later married him.  They had two daughters and lived in California, New York and finally back to their roots in Clinton. 

This book is a historical fiction but based on a real person.  Terestia Urrea, the Saint of Cabora, lived from 1873-1906 and was the author's aunt.  He spent many years learning about her life and then wrote a two book history, this being the second recounting her time in the United States.  The first novel was The Hummingbird's Daughter which recounted Teresita's early years in Mexico.  The fact of the author's connection and his meticulous research makes this a powerful work.  This book is recommended for historical fiction readers as well as readers of diverse cultures.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Profiler by Pat Brown


When Pat Brown, a housewife and mother, was in her forties two things occurred that would change her life.  She and her husband rented a room to a new tenent.  Shortly after he moved in a woman was brutally murdered a short distance from their house on a path that the man was known to walk on almost daily.  Suspicious, Brown searched his room and found evidence that she thought pointed directly at him as the perpetrator; muddy and wet clothes thrown away although they seemed new, a letter opener filed down to serve as a knife and pornographic magazines.  She bundled up the items and took them to the police where she laid out her suspicions and the strange way he talked and acted.  Much to her disbelief, the police pretty much ignored her and the evidence she brought them and the case remained unsolved.

Brown was determined to find out more about killers and crime detection.  She was too old to start a police career and she couldn't find any schools that specialized in the subjects she wanted to study.  So she became a self-taught forensic investigator or profiler.  Far from mimicking  the practices of the legendary FBI unit that men like John Douglas set up to profile criminals, especially serial offenders, she used a different method and often disagreed vocally with the FBI and its conclusions.

This explanation of how Pat Brown began her career starts out this book.  The rest of the book is composed of various cases she profiled.  There were cases such a woman killed and found in the parking lot of a club, a young girl who disappeared during a sleepover with a neighbor and was found murdered and several suicides.  Interestingly, she reports that her work is made up of more suicide cases than murders as it is a verdict that families have a hard time accepting.  

While interesting, the book may leave readers with questions.  While Brown lays out the facts of the cases and gives her solutions and how she arrived at them, there is little to no evidence that her work is taken seriously and led to prosecutions.  She often is working with little evidence and no police cooperation and she puts the fact of prosecutions down to politics and shortsightedness.  Her work would seem more authoritative if her conclusions led to more prosecutions.  Her explanation of her methods and how she reached her answers is intriguing and will give the reader much to consider.  This book is recommended for readers of true crime.