Friday, December 31, 2021

Booksie's 2021 Year In Review


Another year is gone.  For some reason, 2021 just didn't make much of a mark on my memory; it seemed to fly by without much going on.  For much of it, we stayed at home due to the pandemic but we did venture out a bit.  We went to Sanibel Island in April, and have gotten to visit our son, DIL and grandkids a couple of times this year.  That was especially welcome as we didn't see them for eighteen months prior.  I'm in three bookclubs and while they were mostly online, we have started to meet in person for one of them and another occasionally.  I've still been reading quite a lot.  I finished 195 books this year.  Reading goals I've met or making progress on:

1.  Reading from my own shelves.  Pretty much except for book club choices, I've read from my shelves and I'm slowly but surely whittling my collection down.

2.  Reading anthologies.  I always have one going and will for many more months.  I think I've found around another dozen on my shelves so this will be another goal for 2022.

3.  Working on the Wheel Of Time series.  I'm on book eleven now so hopefully will finish this year.

4.  Listening to more audiobooks.  I listened to 36 audiobooks this year.

5.  Reading more nonfiction.  I read 19 nonfiction books this year.

Here are the books I read that I liked the best:

  1. Underland by Robert MacFarland
  2. I Am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes
  3. All The King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
  4. Girl, Woman, Other, Bernadine Evaristo
  5. Winter's Heart, Robert Jordan
  6. The Coffin Maker's Garden, Stuart MacBride
  7. The Quiet Boy, Ben Winters
  8. The Blacktongue Thief, Christopher Buehlman
  9. The Window Seat, Aminatta Forna
  10. The Golfinch, Donna Tartt
  11. The Painter, Peter Heller
  12. Nottingham, Nathan Makaryk
My goals for 2022:
  1. Continue to read from my own shelves and donate what I've read
  2. Finish the Wheel Of Time series by Robert Jordan
  3. Always have an anthology going
  4. Read all of Karin Slaughter's books in order
  5. Read at least four classics
Happy Reading for 2022!

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens


In British Colombia, there is a highway named the Cold Creek Highway.  Along it's length, girls and women have disappeared for years with no closure.  Sometimes their bodies are found, sometimes not.  Some were hitchhikers, some were women who accepted a ride with the wrong person.  To those in the area, it seems that law enforcement has just thrown up their hands and quit trying to find out what is happening.

Hailey McBride could be one of those missing women.  A year ago, she lived with her dad but after his death in a road accident, she has gone to live with her aunt.  Unfortunately, her aunt is married to a local law officer and he has made it his life mission to manage every moment of Hailey's life.  He wants to pick her friends, decide when she can leave the house, be into her social media accounts, listen to all her phone calls.  At first he is irritating but when she discovers that his obsession has tipped over into taking pictures of her unawares, pictures in her bedroom and bathroom, she knows she needs to get away.  With the help of her friend, Johnny, she runs away and holes up in a hunter's cabin that is remote from the town.  Everyone in town assumes that the Cold Creek killer has claimed another victim. 

But the deaths keep coming.  Hailey finds the body of Amber, who was her friend and maybe more.  All she can do is call the discovery of the body in, fearing that her uncle is behind Amber's death.  Now, Amber's sister, Beth, has come to town determined to find the answers that law enforcement can't or won't.  Is Beth now in danger as well?

Chevy Stevens has written a taut, engaging tale.  The Cold Creek Highway exists and the tale of missing and murdered women, mostly indigenous is true.  The story is told through the voices of Hailey and Beth and once the two young women meet, events rush towards a surprising denouement. I listened to this novel and the narrator, Brittany Pressley, has narrated over a hundred books.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

2014 The Best American Mystery Stories edited by Laura Lippman


This anthology of mystery stories offers the best from 2014, as edited by Laura Lippman.  The authors include those familiar to most mystery readers as well as lesser-known individuals.  Authors include Megan Abbott, Daniel Alarcon, Jim Allyn, Jodi Angel, Russell Banks, James Lee Burke, Patricia Engel, Ernest Finney, Roxane Gay, Michelle Butler Hallett, Charlaine Harris, Joseph Heller, David Ingram, Ed Kurtz, Matthew Neill Null, Annie Proulx, Scott Loring Sanders, Nancy Pauline Simpson, Dennis Tafoya and Laura Van Den Berg.

My favorite story was Antarctica by Van Den Berg.  A woman has gone to Antarctica after receiving notification that her brother, a scientist, has been involved in an accident there and is presumed dead.  Due to the remoteness of the location, she stays at a neighboring scientific station and talks to those who knew her brother.  As she reflects on his death, she is reminded of the guilty secret she carried for years, the knowledge of a crime against his wife in her childhood that played a part in her disappearance years later as an adult.  

After all the stories, there was a nice feature.  Each author talked about the genesis of the story and why they loved it.  It was quite interesting to read about how authors get their ideas and how those ideas evolve into stories where the author can rearrange facts to make the situation make sense to them.  This book is part of an annual series and anthology readers should seek these out.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura


An interpreter has come to work at the Hague International Court.  She seems adrift in all ways.  A native of New York, after her father's death, her mother returned to Singapore, where the interpreter felt no ties.  She is pleasant with her co-workers but not close to any of them.  She has made one friend, Jana, who is in charge of an art museum.  While at a galley opening, she meets Adriaan and becomes his lover although he is married and separated; there is no telling if the marriage will end or if the partners will reconcile.  At work, she has been assigned to interpret for a case of war crimes against a former African President who is accused of genocide.  The man seems to pick her out and want some sort of relationship although she doesn't know what.

As time goes on, she meets another woman through Jana, an art professor.  This woman has a brother who was assaulted on the street in front of Jana's building and beaten severely.  Without meaning to, the interpreter learns a secret about this man and wonders if she should reveal it to his family.  

This novel has garnered much praise.  It was nominated as a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2021 and longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award in Fiction.  My biggest question was the title.  The main character seems as far from intimacy in all aspects of her life as any character I've encountered.  All the relationships seem tenuous and as likely to end as to endure.  Readers will be interested to read about the inner workings of the International Court and to figure out along with the interpreter where her life will lead next.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell


In this book, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the research into how we discern truthfulness or falsehood when talking to others.  He has gathered the research into this topic into an easily readable discussion, incorporating interesting examples.  Some of those include how easily the national intelligence agencies are fooled for years by double agents and how Hitler's nature and intentions were misread by national leaders.  He discusses crime cases where truth is of utmost importance but we find it difficult to distinguish truth from lies.  Some of these cases include campus sexual assaults, the Amanda Knox trial, the pedophile scandal of Penn State and the death of Sandra Bland after a traffic stop.  

One of the issues Gladwell discusses is the insistence of truth.  When in doubt about whether someone is telling us the truth, the normal act is to default to the idea that the person is telling the truth.  We believe that we can read truthfulness from facial expressions yet in studies both judges and law enforcement officers fail miserably at telling the truth about people from those clues.  We don't take into account the idea of coupling; that truth is tied to a specific situation and may be different in other ones.  

This is an interesting book on an intriguing topic.  Gladwell has a knack for gathering research and then presenting material in an easily digested format.  His books are readable and while not scientifically exhaustive, they introduce topics to those interested and give them a base from which to pursue further and deeper studies on topics that they are interested in.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers who are interested in communication.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Dark Mirror by Barry Maitland


It's a typical day in the sedate Reading Room of the London Library.  But the calm is shattered when a young graduate student, Marion Summers, experiences a seizure and dies.  What could have caused a young healthy woman to die so dramatically?  The medical examiner is able to provide the answer; arsenic poisoning.

Marion was working on a thesis about the art world and the use of poisons in the paints and in the lives of the artists and their wives and lovers.  The academic who is supervising her work disagrees with her ideas and they are in conflict.  Can he be the one who poisoned her?  Marion comes from a poor background but lives in a luxurious apartment.  How did she finance that?  Her stepfather is also a suspect as he has a record of violence.  

Detective Inspector Kathy Kolla has been recently promoted and wants to successfully solve this case.  But when one of the suspects with connections reports her for harassing behavior, the case is given to her supervisor, DCI David Brock.  Kathy continues to run down leads in the case, sure that she is getting close to the answer.  As more women start to die from the same arsenic poisoning, can she or Brock get the answers before the killer strikes again?

This is the tenth novel in the Kolla and Brock series.  Long-time readers of the series will be interested in this latest case and in Kolla's professional rise.  Readers will learn about the pre-Raphaelite period of art and all the scandals in that sector, as well as gaining knowledge about poisoning cases.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy


Inty Flynn has arrived in a remote Scottish village with a team of scientists.  The group is there to work on reintroducing wolves back into the environment.  Inty has worked on similar projects in Alaska and Yellowstone and is a wolf expert.  She expects resentment and fear from the people living there, most of whom are sheep farmers and she is not disappointed.  The people are adamantly against bringing wolves into their lives.  Intry tells them about the ways that wolves improve the wild.  Predators are necessary to keep the animals that graze down, so that they don't eat all the young growth of trees and so that the weak and old are taken from the herds.  But the populace just expects that the wolves will kill their livestock and present a danger to humans, even though Inty has explained that wolves are shy creatures, afraid and leery of humans.

Along with her knowledge, Inty has brought her twin sister, Aggie.  Aggie doesn't go out, her mind shattered by a marriage when her husband regarded her as his property and enforced that belief with his fists.  The women have fled from him and Aggie's greatest fear is that he will track them down and force his way back into their lives.  She only trusts Inty as she and Inty have always lived together and been there for each other.  Most people don't even know that Inty has a sister.

As time goes on, Inty starts a relationship with the local police chief, Duncan.  Duncan also has a history with violence but Inty slowly starts to believe that she might have a future with him.  At least, until Stuart is killed.  He is a local farmer, vocal against the wolf project and furious with Inty as she has outed him as a wifebeater.  When he is killed, Inty knows that the town will think the wolves were responsible and she is right.  Can Inty protect those she loves, Aggies and the wolves?

I listened to this book and it was a great choice.  The prose is slow and haunting and the narrator reflected that.  I had time to settle in and imagine myself in the remote Scottish highlands, to feel the love Inty had for her sister and the wolves and to feel the fear that Inty feels as she comes to believe that everything she loves will be taken from her.  Along the way, I learned quite a bit about wolves and their place in the ecology of a forest.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Booksie's Shelves, December 23, 2021


Two days until Christmas!  A week left in 2021 as we race towards 2022.  We've had a warm winter here in North Carolina so far.  DH and I took a trip to Georgia last weekend to visit our son, DIL and the grandkids for Christmas.  The actual day will be a quiet one with us plus our daughter.  I'll be up early making the sausage balls that are one of our Christmas traditions then lots of present opening.  I've already received some books for Christmas from my reading son so I'm ahead of the game.  I'll be posting a year-end wrapup of my 2021 reading in a few days.  In the meantime, here's what has come through the door lately:

  1. The Removed, Brandon Hobson, diverse voices, purchased
  2. Simon The Fiddler, Paulette Jiles, literary fiction, gift
  3. Talking To Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell, nonfiction, gift
  4. I Am Not Who You Think I Am, Eric Rickstad, thriller, gift
  5. The Water Cure, Sophie Mackintosh, literary fiction, purchased
  6. The Long Take, Robin Robertson, literary fiction, purchased
  7. Geographics Of The Heart, Caitlin Hamilton Summie, literary fiction, sent by author
  8. Believing The Lie, Elizabeth George, mystery, purchased
  9. Resurrection Men, Ian Rankin, mystery, purchased
  10. Space Opera, Catherynne Valente, science fiction, purchased
  11. Exit West, Mohsin Hamid, literary fiction, purchased
  12. Sundial, Catriona Ward, thriller, sent by publisher
  13. The Resting Place, Camilla Sten, mystery, sent by publisher
I bought these ebooks:

  1. Empire Of Black And Gold, Adrian Tchaikovsky, science fiction
  2. Dangerous To Know, K.T. Davis, fantasy
  3. Empire Of Wild, Cherie Dimaline, fantasy
  4. Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones, horror
  5. The Doors Of Eden, Adrian Tchaikovsky, science fiction
  6. Bitter Orange, Claire Fuller, literary fiction
  7. Bright Girls, Clare Chambers, women's fiction
  8. Still Lives, Maria Hummel, mystery
  9. The Stand, Stephen King, horror
  10. The Cold Nowhere, Brian Freeman, mystery
  11. Magpie Lane, Lucy Atkins, mystery
  12. Tyrant's Throne, Sebastian de Castell, fantasy
  13. Truth Or Dare, M. J. Arlidge, mystery
  14. The Children Of Jocasta, Natalie Haynes, literary fiction
  15. 56 Days, Catherine Ryan Howard, mystery
  16. New Spring, Robert Jordan, fantasy
  17. The Galaxy, And The Ground Within, Becky Chambers, science fiction
  18. The Story Of The Lost Child, Elena Ferrante, literary fiction
  19. I: The Creation Of A Serial Killer, Jack Olsen, true crime
  20. Spine Of The Dragon, Kevin Anderson, fantasy
  21. Spoken Bones, N. C. Lewis, mystery
  22. Murder At Teal's Pond, David Bushman, mystery
  23. The Spires, Kate Moretti, mystery
  24. The Whitstable Pearl Mystery, Julie Wassmer, mystery
  25. Bleeders, Anthony Bruno, mystery
  26. The Body Scout, Lincoln Michel, science fiction
  27. The Sun Casts No Shadow, Mark Richardson, science fiction
  28. Where The Truth Lies, M J Lee, mystery
  29. An Ignorant Witch, E M Graham, fantasy
  30. Hurricane Season, Fernanda Melchor, literary fiction
  31. The Unbroken, C.L. Clark, fantasy
  32. For The Wolf, Hannah Witten, fantasy
  33. The Seven Visitations Of Sydney Burgess, Andy Marino, horror
  34. Sistersong, Lucy Holland, fantasy
  35. Grave Peril, Jim Butcher, science fiction
  36. No Gods, No Monsters, Cadwell Turnbull, fantasy
  37. The Darkest Evening, Ann Cleeves, mystery
  38. Knightmare Arcanist, Shami Stovall, fantasy
  39. A Small Town, Thomas Perry, mystery
  40. Tell Me The Truth, Matthew Ferrell, mystery
  41. The Recent East, Thomas Gratten, literary fiction
  42. Girl Missing, Kate Gable, mystery
  43. Girl Lost, Kate Gable, mystery
  44. American Sherlock, Kate Dawson, nonfiction
  45. Palace Of The Drowned, Christine Mangan, literary fiction
  46. Queen Of Shadows, Sarah Maas, fantasy
  47. Empire Of Storms, Sarah Maas, fantasy
Here's what I'm reading:
  1. Talking To Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell, nonfiction
  2. The Night Swim, Megan Goldin, mystery
  3. True Crime Story, Joseph Knox, true crime
  4. Best Mystery 2014, various, anthology
  5. A Woman Is No Man, Etaf Rum, literary fiction
  6. Nottingham, Nathan Makaryk, literary fiction
Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 23, 2021

When A Killer Calls by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker


May 31, 1985 and Shari Smith had it all.  It was two days before her high school graduation near Columbia, South Carolina and she was to sing the national anthem before the ceremony.  Her high school class was going on a trip to a tropical island after graduation.  She was planning to live in Charlotte for the summer and with her sister, Dawn, perform at Carowinds.  Shari had a boyfriend and a loving family.

But none of those plans came to fruition.  On her way home, Shari stopped at the bottom of the driveway to get the family's mail.  That's where her father found the car minutes later, door open, engine running.  There were footprints leading to the mailbox but none returning.  

Despite the police being called immediately there was no sign of Shari.  But then the calls started.  The man on the other end admitted to having Shari and instructed her family to expect a letter.  When the letter arrived the next day, it was titled Last Will And Testament and Shari had written it as a love letter to her family.  She knew she was about to be murdered and wanted to reassure her family and urge them to move past her death.  Lawmen had never seen such a thing.  The FBI was called in to assist in finding the man who took Shari.

John Douglas was the head of the FBI profiling unit.  He and a co-worker had invented the system of criminal profiling by spending time going from prison to prison interviewing killers.  He had worked on the cases of the Atlanta child murders, the Green River Killer and many other well known cases.  He flew to South Carolina and worked on a profile with the local law establishment.  His profile gave the police a way to narrow down their search.  In the meantime, the man who kidnapped Shari continued to call, asking to speak to either Shari's mother or her sister, Dawn.  He seemed to revel in the pain and anguish these calls produced.

After a week, Shari's body was found where the killer had directed Dawn to tell the police it would be.  Then another tragedy.  Nine year old Debra May Helmick was kidnapped from her front yard with her little brother watching.  A week later her body was also found.  Soon afterward, forensic evidence helped the police narrow their search and arrest the killer, Larry Gene Bell.

I read everything John Douglas and Mark Olshaker write.  There can be no more authoritative voice in the world of finding killers than John Douglas.  His books portray the process by which such killers are found as well as the effect such a hunt has on the men and women we have charged with doing so.  This book follows through Bell's trails and gives updates on the various people in the book.  It is recommended for readers of true crime.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney


Adam and Amelia Wright are celebrating their wedding anniversary.  If they ever needed to celebrate, it's this year.  They have been slowly drifting apart until they are like two people stranded on separate ice floes that are moving further away from each other day by day.  Adam is a scriptwriter, rewriting other people's works for the movies.  He has had ambitions to write his own novels but can't really find the time with all the work he takes on.  He also has the condition of face blindness where he can't recognize anyone by their face, even his wife.  Amelia works at a dog rescue where she can share the love she can't give a child as they haven't been able to have children.

When Amelia gets an email saying that she has won a weekend away in a giveaway, they decide this is the perfect opportunity to get away and rediscover each other.  The location is a remote repurposed church up in the Scottish highlands.  They are glad to get away but when they arrive they start to wonder.  The church is fairly dilapidated and it is very remote with no other houses or towns around.  Inside it is dusty and cold and there is little sign they are expected.  They eventually find a note saying there are frozen meals and a cellar full of wine and they decide to make do.  However, they aren't prepared for the power to go out while they are down in the cellar, making it difficult to find their way back upstairs.  Worse, they seem to be catching glimpses of someone outside and their dog barks periodically as if he is aware of a stranger as well.  What is the story?

Alice Feeney has written a taut tale of love gone astray, betrayals both professionally and personally and a quest for revenge that has taken years to plan.  The secrets are revealed in turn, each one totally reframing the story and what the reader believes about the couple.  Alice Feeney is an author and journalist with books that are optioned for tv series.  She knows exactly how much to reveal and when to raise the tension and surprise the reader at every turn.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

The Husbands by Chandler Baker


Most women would envy Nora Spangler.  She is a successful attorney with a loving husband, a software designer.  The couple have a young daughter and Nora is pregnant with their second child.  They are looking for a new house as their family expands.  

But Nora doesn't necessarily feel like someone who others should envy.  She has all that but it seems like she is always running a hundred miles an hour to keep all the parts of her life going.  She works long hours but still there is a suggestion at her law firm that she should be able to drop everything and work late or on weekends whenever the firm finds it necessary, which is often.  Her daughter loves her school but school means monitoring projects, packing lunches, making sure there is a new cute outfit ready each day.  The house still has to be cleaned, laundry has to be done, cooking the meals and cleaning up is a daily chore and then there are the other items such as grocery shopping, doctors' visits, dentist, playdates, birthday parties, school trips and parties.  The list goes on and on.  Dylan would say he helps and he does but the responsibility falls mainly on Nora.

The couple finds a great house in a subdivision called Dynasty Ranch.  The house is great but Nora is even more impressed with the women she meets from the neighborhood.  They are all highly successful, doctors, CEOs, and other professionals.  Yet they seem calm and happy and they all have highly supportive husbands who take on an equal share of the second shit work if not the majority of it.  Nora wonders how did they come to this arrangement?  As she gets to know the women better, she realizes that this lifestyle is the one she wants.  Or is it?  

Chandler Baker has written a story that reverses the well known book, The Stepford Wives.  The tension in the book builds slowly, from Nora meeting the other women to envying them to finally fearing them.  Baker taps into the resentment that most married women with families feel; that they are shouldering the majority of the household work while men come home to relax, and that something needs to change in their lives.  Many readers will be surprised at the book's ending and final twists.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Darlings by Cristina Alger


Carter Darling is a billionaire financier, head of his own hedge fund.  As he moves closer to retirement, he is pleased with his life and what he has accomplished and done for his two daughters, Merrill and Lily.  Both of his son-in-laws are employed at his firm.  Paul, married to Merrill, has just come on two months ago as corporate general attorney when his former firm went under.

But things are about to change drastically.  One of Carter's best friends, Morty, who ran one of Carter's funds, is suddenly in the news.  Apparently his great investment success is due not to Morty's acumen but to a Ponzi scheme.  As friends, Carter has not been as diligent in overseeing Morty as he should have been.  Morty's car was found on a bridge with the doors open and no sign of Morty, a presumed suicide.  Since Morty is not around to pay for his sins, the SEC will be looking for a scapegoat.  Carter may be the best one for the job.

But Carter won't go down without a fight.  He rallies his family around him and hires a PR firm who specialize in cutting deals behind the scene.  He demands family loyalty but is he willing to give it back?  How far will he go to save himself?

This is Cristina Alger's debut novel and she writes about a world she knows.  She is both an attorney and a former analyst at Goldman, Sachs.  Alger portrays a cutthroat world where betrayals are the coin of the realm and where family and power is all.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Man Of War by Charlie Schroeder


Charlie Schroeder, a writer, pubic radio producer and actor, had an idea.  He wondered what made people, mostly men, want to reenact battles from various wars?  Charlie is a progressive and he expected that most of the people he would meet would be conservative if not far rightwing.  But he set out to find out what drives the whole genre of reenactment.

Over the year he spent doing this, he flew over thirty thousand miles and drove over five thousand.  He found groups in all areas of the country and they reenacted battles from many wars.  Charlie participated in ten reenactments.  There were the Romans, Civil War, Revolutionary War, Nazis, the French and Indian War, Vikings, rowers in bateaus and Vietnam.  To end his time, Charlie even devised and carried out his own reenactment in California; that of the monk who founded the majority of the Spanish missions back in the 1700's.

What he found were people who had a reverence for history, for learning how their ancestors lived and worked and what they found compelling enough to fight for.  He found that most were very generous with their time and knowledge but that there were some racists as well as historians.  Overall, he found it a fascinating experience that he was glad to have experienced.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

A Woman Of Intelligence by Karin Tanabe


In post WWII New York, Katharina Edgeworth seems to have it all.  She is married to Tom Edgeworth who is a pediatric surgeon and the heir to a shipping fortune.  She lives in a large apartment right off Central Park.  She has two healthy boys that she is raising.  But she is bored, bored, bored.

Rina, as she is known, was a United Nations translator before her marriage.  She is fluent in multiple languages and her life was full of busy work in the days and tons of parties and affairs with men from all over the world at night.  Now her biggest intellectual challenge is deciding if today will be a zoo day or a museum day.  Her boys are holy terrors but she rarely if ever disciplines them.  Tom is gone most days until the family is asleep.  Rina is rarely if ever away from the boys since Tom doesn't believe in babysitters or nannies.

Rina feels her mind atrophying and her sense of self disappearing.  So when she is approached by an agent of the FBI, she is willing to listen.  The government is interested in the Communist party and its members in New York.  The head of the group is a former classmate and lover of Rina's and the FBI would like her to reestablish the friendship and get inside the group.  Desperate for stimulation, Rina agrees.

Not only does she now have to find ways to hide her mission from her family, Rina faces other challenges.  The main one is falling in love with her handler, one of the few African American men in the FBI.  Soon her routine work of transporting documents is transformed when a woman she gets close to in the party is found dead.  Can Rina continue to balance her two lives?

While the time period is interesting, I never connected to this novel.  Rina seems whiny, constantly bemoaning her fate yet doing nothing to try to improve it.  She doesn't discipline her children yet seems aghast that they are out of control.  She reminisces about her pre-marriage affairs and seems all too willing to break her marriage vows the minute another man enters her orbit but her husband seems devoted to her.  She is supposed to be an independent woman yet lets life and circumstances define her rather than her defining her own life.  The spy story seems secondary with not much sense of how it fits into the bigger issue of the government against the Communist party.  Yet the novel does outline the issues of women and their careers, the need for intellectual stimulation after marriage and the emerging issue of race relations post WW II.  This book is recommended for readers of women's fiction.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty


Laura's life was perfect. She had married the love of her life, David.  She had two glorious children, Betty and Rees.  She had a job she liked.  But perfect doesn't last.  David has an affair and then leaves her for the other woman with whom he has another child.  Laura goes a bit crazy but is finally starting to get her momentum back when the doorbell rings.  There stand two police who have come to tell her that her world and life are over.

On her first day walking home from school with a friend, Betty has been hit by a car.  The other girl is in intensive care but Betty died at the scene.  Laura doesn't remember much about the next few weeks.  She stumbles from task to task, not caring about anything.  How could her baby be gone?  She reaches out to David for help and comfort which he provides since only the two of them can understand each other's pain.  That brings out his new wife's insecurities and pettiness.  

As the days go by, Laura finds a purpose.  She will find the man who was driving the car and watch him until she finds the things he loves most.  Then she will take them away so that he can start to realize what he has cost her.  As her plans become more concrete, she wonders at the person she has become.  Will life ever return to normal?

This book is labeled as a thriller but I found it to be instead a retelling of a parent's grief at losing the person they brought into the world.  Unfortunately, I have several friends who have lived this horror so it hit home in many ways.  Laura is lost and desperate to find her way back to some sort of normality while slowly coming to realize that normal will always have a new meaning now.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers and those interested in family dynamics.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Light From A Distant Star by Mary McGarry Morris


Nellie Peck's thirteenth summer is not what she had hoped.  She is gangly and awkward, desperate to know if she will ever be lovely like her mother and big sister.  The family is in financial trouble, the hardware store that has been in her father's family for decades on the verge of closing.  Her big sister Ruth is determined to find 'her real father', the man who got her mother pregnant as a teenager then moved to Australia with his family.  There's the whole issue of boys and how to attract them and what to do if you did.  

Her mom is working long hours and the family needs to rent out the apartment attached to their house.  Their long term tenant has moved out and the new applicant is named Dolly.  Dolly dances at the local strip joint and in different times her application would be an automatic no but now any tenant is better than no tenant.  Another new face has joined Nellie's world as well.  Her grandfather runs the local junkyard.  One day when she goes to visit she finds a man there.  Max is a drifter and her grandfather is letting him live at the junkyard in exchange for doing the work that he is no longer able to do.  Nellie is fascinated by Max who rarely talks at all and loves his dog.

Then tragedy strikes.  Dolly, who has had a string of lovers, is found murdered in her apartment, discovered by Nellie and Max who is replacing a water heater at the house.  Max is arrested and Nellie will be the star witness at the trial.  Nellie just knows Max is innocent but everyone else seems to be convinced of his guilt.  Can she save the day?

Mary McGarry Morris has written an interesting coming-of-age novel.  Nellie is a mass of contradictions who charms her way into the reader's heart.  All the family issues that are Nellie's whole world resolve satisfactorily and she learns that what she wants to happen is not always going to happen nor will it always be the best solution.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, December 3, 2021

The View From The Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman


In this anthology, author Neil Gaiman gives us an oblique view of his life.  It is not a direct retelling of life events, born on this date, attended this school, etc.  Rather it is a sharing of his life through books.  He starts by sharing how he felt as a young man when he discovered science fiction and fantasy, how he felt that finally there was someone else who felt as he did and that shared his worldview.  He talks about the books that influenced him and the authors who wrote them.  As the book progresses, he moves on to talk about his own works, what he was doing at that time in his life, how each work fits into his research and enthusiasms.  He talks about his friends who are other authors and visual designers and about all the mediums that people use to create art.

The book is full of short pieces that were speeches he gave as keynote speaker at various conventions, graduations or book launches.  There are pieces that are introductions to other people's books.  There are pieces that talk about events happening in the world such as the Syrian refugee crisis.  There are pieces that talk a bit about his children or his wife.

One thing that was so evident and that made me like the author even more was his innate generosity. When discussing another author's book or movie, he talks about the wonder that they instill and how their unique view of the world is a magical transport for readers.  There is not a mean-spirited piece in this long collection and the reader will finish admiring Neil Gaiman not only as an author but as a human being.  This book is recommended for nonficiton and fantasy readers.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Painter by Peter Heller


Jim Stegner's work as an artist is coming into its own.  He paints scenes from the West and his works are highly anticipated even with his past.  Jim had shot a man in a bar fight when he was younger and served time for it.  Once he was out, he has spent his life fly fishing and trying to control his temper.  Life has not always been kind.  His daughter, the light of his life, was killed and his marriage collapsed in the aftermath of guilt and recrimination.

But things have started to look up.  He is doing a new series of paintings and found a new model who brings out his best work and is becoming more than a model to him.  Jim thinks he has finally turned a corner.  But when he is driving home and sees a man beating a horse on the side of the road, he explodes.  He beats the man to make him stop and then takes the horse to a friend's ranch.

Just like that, Jim is back where he was.  He has started a vendetta with a family of men who are hunting guides and poachers, known for their violence and determination to have their own way in all things.  As the situation spirals out of control, Jim wonders what will it take before he finds the peaceful life he wants.

This is a stunning book.  Heller has spent his life as an outdoorsman, surfing and kayaking around the world and his intimate connection with nature is evident throughout the novel.  He delves into the mind of Jim Stegner and questions what makes a man and what part violence plays in a man's life.  Is it wrong to use violence to correct a situation where those unable to protect themselves are being victimized?  If a man uses violence what does he need to do for reparations?  Jim Stegner is a character readers will think about long after the book is done.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.