Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Yards by A.F. Carter


Baxter is a dead end town, it's factories closed and jobs difficult to come by.  Two women face off when a crime is committed even though under different circumstances, they could be friends.  Git O'Rourke grew up in Baxter and would like nothing better than to get out of it.  She lives for her daughter, Charlie and works two jobs as a LPN to support them and her mother who lives with the two as child care.  Delia Mariola is a police officer, full of vim and vigor and headed on the way up.  She has a son and wants to improve Baxter for him and the other kids.

The confrontation occurs when Git has an evening out.  She doesn't have time for a relationship but that doesn't mean she doesn't occasionally want male companionship and yes, sex.  She goes to a local bar and picks up the best looking man there.  But when they get to his motel, the sex is over quickly and the man passes out after shooting up heroin.  Git looks around and finds a bag with money and drugs and decides this is her chance to get out of town and back to school to improve her life.  She grabs the bag and takes off.

But something goes wrong.  The next morning Delia is called out to the motel and finds the man still on the bed but not passed out.  Now he has a bullet hole in his head.  Delia knows the man is a low level criminal and suspects he is connected to the criminal family she has been chasing and particularly Connor, the son who will be taking over the organization when his father ages out.  She knows if she can arrest Connor she will take down the biggest source of drugs and crime in Baxter.  But the scene and the witnesses all point to the women who was there in the room.  Delia knows that even if the women didn't do the crime she is now a target of Connor's organization.  She has to find her quickly but can she do it in time?

A.F. Carter has delivered a compelling novel that explores crime and drugs in a small rust belt town through the stories of two women, both trying to create better lives for their children.  The women see the side of town most folks don't want to admit exists and both find different ways to deal with the crime and general lack of opportunity in Baxter.  The story of how they do so will keep the reader interested to the end.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Coddling Of The American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt


In this nonfiction work, authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt believe that through good intentions, society is protecting young people from dissenting views and this is resulting in the group becoming more fragile, anxious and easily hurt.  They believe that college campuses are the proving ground of their theories and that dissenting speech is now commonly crushed in various ways.  That leads to individuals who don't get the strength of hearing opposing viewpoints and being able to determine their own lifeviews through the sifting of various facts about issues but rather a weak defense of only one viewpoint.

They believe that three untruths fuel this movement: the untruth of fragility, the untruth of emotional reasoning or always trust your feelings and the untruth of us versus them.  This leads to actions such as disinviting speakers with unpopular thoughts, safe spaces, calling out microaggressions and witch hunts of professors who say anything that can be interpreted as hurtful.

The authors offer some solutions to these issues.  The first is prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child or don't make life so easy that the child never gets to grow up by facing difficulties.  Next is your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded which discusses the use of cognitive behavioral therapy or identifying thoughts which falsely weaken the individual through negative self-image.  The third is the realization that the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being so the insistence that all the moral good is on any one side an it's proponents is false.  The solution of helping schools to oppose the great untruths offers specific suggestions for all levels of education.  The fifth suggest is to limit and refine device time and the last is to support a new national norm or service or work before college.

This book was a National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction finalist and a New York Times Notable Book of 2018.  Readers will find much to think about in the great untruths outlined as well as some of the solutions.  It is no service to our children to protect them so much that they are unprepared to make their way in the adult world.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Garment Of Shadows by Laurie R. King


This novel has Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, visiting Morocco.  Russell awakes alone in a room that she doesn't remember ever seeing with wounds as if after a fight and blood on her hands.  She has no idea who she is or how she got here.  When she sees soldiers heading for the house where she is, she escapes through a window and wanders the town, trying to clear her head enough to remember who she is and what she was doing.

As the shadows slowly part, she and Holmes are reunited at the home of the French General who oversees the forces in Morocco.  France and Spain both have parts of Morocco and there are also native troops who are fighting to regain ownership of their country.  The French General is a cousin of Holmes and is in favor of the native army but wants any changes to be done slowly and under supervision.  The natives, led by a military genius, want instant change.  Both men are under threat of assassination.  As the plots and subplots unfold, Holmes and Russell are separated again and both end up in an old dungeon, chained to the wall in the dark.  Their friend who is also there is about to die as the captors are not providing food or water.  Can the pair gain their freedom and help the situation in Morocco?

This is the twelfth novel in the Mary Russell series. The relationship between Mary and Holmes is fascinating.  Mary is an independent woman whose skills make her a true partner to Holmes.  This one has many political plots and subplots along with a charming new character, a mute boy who helps both the characters more than once.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Darkling Bride by Laura Andersen


Carragh Ryan can't believe her luck.  She has been hired to inventory the Gallagher library before the estate is donated to the government.  Her academic interest has been in the author who married a Gallagher heiress and after her death never wrote another word.  But there have always been rumors that he was working on a novel about The Darkling Bride, a fantasy figure associated with the castle.  Perhaps Carragh can discover the manuscript which would be a literary sensation.

The castle has stood empty for more than twenty years since the tragedy.  The owners of the castle had both been murdered one day, their children away at the time although the son, Aiden, found his father's dead body in the library.  Now that he is grown, he wants nothing to do with the place that stole away his parents.  Everyone is gathered for one last party and to determine if there are heirlooms they want before he turns it all over.

There is Aiden's big sister, who has been helping run the estate business, which he has stayed far away from.  She is in an unhappy marriage and has two children.  There is the elderly aunt who raised the children after the murders and who is determined to keep the castle in the family.  The housekeeper has been there since before the tragedy and has kept the place running and repaired.  

Carragh understands why Aiden doesn't want the castle and doesn't want to talk about the murders.  She also came from a family tragedy and was adopted at age four after her mother was killed in front of her.  A detective who is wants to make a name for herself is reopening the Gallagher case and is determined to find the culprit.  Aiden and Carragh are drawn to each other but is that wise?

Laura Andersen has written a suspenseful story that will keep the reader turning pages.  The romance between the two main characters, Carragh and Aiden, is a given and won't surprise anyone when it comes to fruition.  But the gothic atmosphere is compelling and the resolution of the family tragedy is interesting.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Island Queen by Vanessa Riley


Dorothy Kirwan Thomas was born a slave in the 1750's on the island of Montserrat, the daughter of a slave and a white planter owner.  She and her sister lived there until their half brother, who hates but desires Dorothy started to rape her, giving her two children.  Dorothy, or Dolly as her family called her, found another planter to help her sister when she is whipped and threatened with being sold after defending Dolly by attacking their half brother.  

As the two sisters move to Demerara, Dolly is determined to find a way to free Kitty and herself.  She starts to train housekeepers who are soon highly prized by the planation masters.  She sells things in the market, saving all her profits.  And she falls in love with several men, notably the man who helped her escape Montserrat.  She continues to have children but he goes back to Scotland and his wife there.

Dolly eventually becomes rich enough with a variety of businesses to free her entire family.  She marries a sea captain after having an affair with the English prince who is sailing the Caribbean.  Her marriage is successful and she ends up having ten children in all.  She has hotels and a plantation of her own, and becomes a slaveowner herself, having more slaves than anyone else on the island.   Dolly has become a successful, wealthy woman known for her intelligence and business acumen.  

Vanessa Riley has a background in mechanical engineering.  She writes historical fiction, often set in Victorian times, and focuses on people of color, showing their lives and bringing them from the shadows.  Dolly is a real woman whose story is amazing although readers may doubt the story that every man who meets her falls deeply in love with her.  This book is recommended for multicultural and historical fiction readers.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

The Peculiarities by David Liss


Thomas Thresher is a Victorian gentleman who has never been asked to do much.  He has lived the life of a wastrel, drinking with his friends in London pubs and dallying his life away.  When his father dies, Thomas' life is changed.  He is now under the supervision of his elder brother, Walter, who has never liked him.  The will specifies that Thomas live with Walter and go to work in the Thresher family bank.  Walter also insists that Thomas marry a woman whose father Walter wants to do business with.

But London itself is also not doing well.  The Peculiarities, as they are called, have appeared.  Individuals wake to find themselves turned into wolves or other animals.  Women are reported to be having rabbits as babies.  There are strangers walking the streets who are murdering prostitutes.  Thomas is caught up in this as he has been sprouting leaves and is slowly turning into a tree. 

Thomas goes to a magical society to see if they can be of help.  There he meets Alastair Crowley, the renowned magician and enlists him to help.  He also gets help from the woman he is to marry and a family of women turned into wolves.  Thomas has also discovered that the bank is doing strange things and comes to suspect that it is connected to the Peculiarities in some fashion.  Can he find out what is going on and can he reverse his condition?

David Liss is a well-known historical fiction author.  His trademark is meticulous research.  In this new genre for him, the story is still accurate historically while adding the fantastic elements that make the story fall more in the fantasy genre.  Readers will cheer for Thomas as he grows from a feckless young man to someone ready to take on horrendous events.  I listened to this novel and found the narrator to be a good match.  The only quibble I had was that I found Thomas' voice too nasal to enjoy listening to.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy


Joe and Isabel Jacobs have taken a villa in France for the summer.  They are accompanied by their daughter, Nina, and their friends, Mitchell and Laura.  Joe is a famous poet and Isabel is a war correspondent.  Mitchell and Laura run a souvenir shop back in London.  When they arrive, they are shocked to find a naked girl swimming in the villa pool.  This is Kitty Finch, a gorgeous young girl who is a botanist and who knows the owner and stays in the villa sometimes.  The caretaker calls around and no hotel rooms are available so Isabel invites Kitty to use the spare room until a hotel room is free.

Things start to devolve.  Kitty upon further exposure, obviously has mental issues.  She has decided to stop taking her prescriptions and her behavior becomes more erratic by the day.  Joe and Isabel's marriage seems to be under strain and apparently the long absences of Isabel and Joe's serial infidelities are about to render the marriage vows asunder.  Mitchell and Laura are apparently broke and are on this last vacation to decide if they have to declare bankruptcy and start all over again in middle age.  Kitty has written a poem she wants Joe to read and comment on.  Joe is used to young girls falling in love with him and writing bad poetry and decides to pretend he has not read the poem.  Something is in the air, but what?

This novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2012.  It is my first novel by Deborah Levy but it definitely won't be my last.  Her ability to draw a picture of character personalities quickly and to set them up for life altering experiences is key to her work.  Readers will come away thinking about this book long after they have finished it.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Death Of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware


After the death of her mother in a hit and run accident, Harriet Westaway is trying to find the strength to move forward.  Things are difficult.  She is eking out a living giving Tarot reads to strangers on the Brighton pier but winter is coming on when tourist trade falls dramatically.  She is behind on all the bills and the money she borrowed from a local bookie is way overdue.  A big man, bulging with muscles and menace, has shown up at her home, threatening violence if her payments aren't made.

Then out of the blue, she receives a letter from a solicitor, telling her that her grandmother has died and she has received an inheritance.  Harriet knows there's some mistake as her grandparents have been dead for years, but decides to go see the man.  Maybe there's just enough money to get her out of trouble.  A few hundred pounds would see her right.

But when she arrives in the town, she doubts her ability to keep up a charade.  First of all, the Westaway woman who died owns an enormous estate and there are three men in the family who would be her uncles but obviously aren't the kind of men to be fooled.  Things get worse when the will is read and rather than the uncles inheriting, the entire estate is left to Harriet.  Soon trouble and danger starts to follow Harriet and she wishes she'd never heard of Mrs. Westaway.  Can Harriet survive as the Westaway secrets start to be revealed?

Ruth Ware is a mystery writer whose books have been great successes.  I've read several of them and this one is my favorite.  Some of the early books seem to get away as the plot spins out of control but this one is restrained enough to be menacing and intriguing.  Harriet is a character the reader can't help but pull for as she tries to keep her life moving ahead when everything she has was taken from her.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Only One Life (The Drowned Girl) by Sara Blaedel


Detective Louise Rick has been promoted to the Mobile Crime Unit.  When a young teenage girl is pulled from the fjord in a small town, she is sent there to work with the local police.  The girl, Samra, is around fifteen and is a Jordanian Muslim immigrant, part of the fairly large Muslim community.  She lives with her parents, an older brother and a younger brother and sister.  Many people's first thought is that this is some sort of an honor killing but Samra's parents insist she has done nothing that would bring any thoughts of punishing her, much less in such a vicious fashion.  

Louise and her partner interview Samra's friends.  The most forthcoming is Ditka but she also insists Samra didn't have a boyfriend yet and didn't do anything that would be objectionable.  Ditka is an attractive girl whose dream is to be a model and she spends a lot of time being photographed and is moderately successful in her town being used in advertisements.  As the case progresses, the police are caught between the evidence and the assumptions of an honor killing that will not go away.  When another girl is found killed, the pressure increases.  Are these part of a serial killer's work or two separate incidents?

This is the third in the Louise Ricks series and was first released under the title Only One Life and later released again as The Drowned Girl.  This police procedural gives the reader insight into the Danish police organization which is much more collaborative than the American one.  The lower crime rate allows this team focus on every crime.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, August 19, 2022

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin


Rachel Krall is a success.  Her true crime podcast has had two successful seasons and set a falsely convicted man free from the murder charge he was serving time for.  Now she is about to start season three and feels a great deal of pressure to make this season even more successful.  Success breeds imitators and since her success, several other true crime podcasts have sprung up.  

Rachel's location for this season is a small North Carolina town.  There hasn't been a murder but rather a rape.  The trial that is about to occur has torn the town apart.  The victim is a sixteen year old girl, the granddaughter of the former police chief.  The defendant is the town's golden boy, a guy from a wealthy family who is also a record-setting swimmer, bound for the Olympics before he was accused of rape.

But there are other stories in this town.  Rachel starts to get letters left on her car or at restaurants where she is eating.  The letter writer says her name is Hannah Stills and that her sister, Jenny, was raped and killed in the town twenty-five years ago.  Jenny's death was identified as an accidental drowning but Hannah knows that isn't the truth.  But Jenny wasn't from a wealthy family and her death was swept under the rug.  Hannah is sure that the only chance of justice Jenny has is for Rachel to investigate the death and discover who killed Jenny.  

Rachel gets caught up in both cases.  The rape trial brings up repressed memories for her of the times that she was groped or worse in her own life.  The death of Jenny is a mystery and as she looks into it, many of the town's most influential citizens seem to play a part in the long ago scandal.  Can Rachel's podcast help to solve the cases?

Megan Goldin was a journalist for many years before she wrote this mystery.  Part of her inspiration was the true crime podcast, Serial, which investigated the murder for which Adnan Syned has been imprisoned.  That podcast was immensely successful and has resulted in the case being looked at again and further appeals of the sentence brought to court.  Goldin's journalist experience is seen in the pacing of the novel with the two stories balanced and just enough told of each at a time to keep the tension going.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Dangerous Pilgrims by Lawrence Swaim


Two people meet and fall in love in Guatemala.  Sofia Mendez is a native, a nun who is taking time away from her vocation.  Maitland Sutterfield is an American journalist who, embittered by a divorce, has come to Guatemala to report on the dictatorship in power there and the disappearance, torture and murder of the natives to keep them enslaved to the wealthy landowners.

Both end up deep in the jungle at a Catholic mission.  Padre Julio is educated and is trying to help the natives by educating them on better farming methods and creating a cooperative.  All of this is seen by the administration as being one of the revolutionaries and his mission is targeted.  A cruel colonel takes aim at the village and all those who live there.  He and Maitland clash several times but Maitland has contacts at the American Embassy and with the men who secretly support the administration from abroad so he is protected to a degree.  What will occur in this clash of cultures?

Lawrence Swaim has devoted his life to obtaining civil rights for all religious minorities.  He is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Freedom Foundation and this novel reflects his life mission.  The characters fight for a better life and love against an overpowering enemy and lose more often than they win.  This book is recommended for readers of books about other cultures.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

The Children by Ann Leary


Whit and Joan had a love for the ages.  That's what they thought and the fact that two families had to be broken up in order for them to be together was a shame but just what had to happen.  Joan had two daughters, Charlotte and Sally.  Whit had two sons, Perry and Spin.  Somehow the two families managed to merge and the children grew close.

Now everyone is grown.  Joan and Charlotte still live in Whit's beach estate, a codicil in Whit's will and trusts granting Joan lifetime residency.  Charlotte is mildly acrophobic and spends her time writing a successful mothering blog although she has no children and stuck in a decade old relationship with Everett who lives in the carriage house and is the caretaker, raised as another brother to Spin and Perry.  Sally is in the New York symphony but is bipolar and has periodic times of breakdown.  Perry is rich and living the life of a wealthy, old family scion.  Spin is the youngest and is a teacher at the boarding school his great grandfather founded, living there.  

Then a big event happens.  Spin meets Laurel while skiing one winter break.  She is smart, accomplished and beautiful and the two start a relationship.  Laurel is writing a novel.  She was to be on the Olympic team for skiing but an accident put an end to that.  The relationship moves fast and the two are engaged before the family even meets her.  Laurel's arrival cracks the even keel of the family and soon long-buried secrets start to emerge.  Will the family survive?

Ann Leary has written a marvelous novel about families.  It is narrated by Charlotte who loves her family above anything.  All the members are stuck in the past, hemmed in by family traditions dating back generations and by long-held secrets.  The catalyst that causes the revelation of these secrets may cause a rupture that cannot be healed.  Readers will fall in love with Skip and with Charlotte as both are wonderful characters.  This book is recommended for readers of family literature.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Calling For A Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah


This novel introduces the reader to the Geimausaddle family and focuses on one member, Ever Geimausaddle.  The family is Native American, both Cherokee and  Kiowa and Mexican.  Family is everything although the members of the family encounter many issues.  There is poverty, addiction, divorce, issues with the police and government and gangs that try to woo the children away from the parents.  Jobs are hard to come by and easy to lose.  

But there is much that is good.  Children are prized and the adults sacrifice much in order to attempt to make their children's lives better than their own.  The tribe holds dances to teach the culture and to strengthen the ties between the families.  The title phrase, calling for a blanket dance, is a reference to when a blanket is spread, someone with a need stands on the blanket and starts a dance and everyone there throws what money they can spare on the blanket to help a family in need.  Ever fights through a childhood of anger to two marriages, both of which end in divorce.  But he has his three children plus a young man he adopts.  Ever does what he can to give back, working with the young people he sees in trouble.

This is a debut novel and it is exceptional.  The story is told through the stories of individual members of the Geimausaddle family, Ever's parents and aunts and uncles, cousins.  It is a story that will touch the hearts of readers and give insight into the lives of Native Americans in our country.  Ever is an interesting character and seems to be autobiographical as the author's life follows much the same path.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in other cultures.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn


Alina meets her husband, Liviu the summer they both work as tourist guides at a beach town in Romania in the 1970s.  They marry and both work as teachers.  Romania is in a dictatorship and the couple wishes they could live in another country, Germany maybe or Italy.  But leaving is strictly forbidden and every word and act is watched and can be reported.  In fact it is a crime not to report anything done or said that goes against the strict rules of the administration.

When Liviu's brother defects while on a business trip to France, the couple come in for punishment back in Romania.  Liviu is demoted from his job to one hours away.  Alina is reported by someone at work for not reporting an argument between two students, one of whom has a father with an important government position.

Things continue to deteriorate.  Alina is picked up for questioning and taken to a place where torture is carried out on prisoners.  A government official starts to come to her house every week while Liviu is gone.  Liviu is picked up and is not released for three days.  The couple is determined to leave.  Will they be successful?

This book was nominated for the Woman's Prize For Fiction in 2019.  It describes the repressive regime of the Communists in the 1970's, headed up by dictator Nicolae Ceausecu.  The description of the daily life of those who live in fear every day is claustrophic and leaves the reader glad to be reading this in a country that is different.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Two Lives by William Trevor


This book, a 1991 Booker nominee is actually two novels in the same volume.  The first novel, Reading Turgenev, tells the story of Mary Louise Dallon.  She is a young Protestant girl from a town that is mostly Catholic.  One of the few men in town who are also Protestant is Elmer Quarry, a local shopkeeper.  He is in his forties when he notices Mary Louise and decides to marry her.  Young and naive, Mary Louise accepts his proposal and goes to live in his loveless house with two spinster sisters who have perfected the art of daily intimidation and disparagment. The only happiness is Mary Louise's life are her Sunday visits to her aunt and cousin.  Her cousin introduces her to a life based on nature and literature and introduces her to Turgenev, one of his favorite authors.  When this friendship is taken away, Mary Louise has a breakdown and spends years in the local home for women in this situation.

The second book, My House In Umbria, tells the story of Mrs. Delahunty, a middle-aged woman who runs a small tourist home in Umbria.  She has come from Africa with a younger man whose idea it was to buy and run the home and who serves as the organizer and butler.  After moving there, Mrs. Delahunty discovers a talent for writing romances and becomes a successful author.  Going on a shopping trip, she is involved in a train wreck with many fatalities.  The survivors come to stay with her for their recuperation.  There is the General, who lost his wife, a young German man who lost his girlfriend, and a three year old girl who lost her parents and her brother.  The four form a friendship that helps them all in their recuperation.  

William Trevor is a prolific author who whose books often speak of the Irish experience.  His talent for creating characters is amazing and readers will remember these individuals long after the books are finished.  The two novels both share the lives of women whose early dreams were never realized but who learned to pull satisfaction from the life they were granted.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Friday, August 12, 2022

The Kills by Richard House


The Middle East.  An explosion happens, killing one person.  But this is not on the battlefield.  Sutler, the man in charge of turning a burn pit facility into a planned city after the war, was told to come to headquarters to get the money to start his project.  But then he was told something had gone awry and he needed to get away.  Sutler goes on the run.

A shadowy American corporation works in the Middle East and other war-torn areas, fulfilling military contracts.  With such work, cash often changes hands and cash often disappears.  The word is out after Sutler disappears that he stole and has with him fifty-three million dollars in cash.  Is this true?  Why does no one know about the burn pit?  Why are the workers assigned there unable to claim compensation for the diseases they are bringing back after their work?

As Sutler tries to make his way back home, he travels under the name of Ford.  He has identification in this name.  He falls in with a group of filmmakers and journalists who are in the country making a film about a murder described in a book that is a literary sensation.  One of the group falls into infatuation with Ford and disappears after Ford rebuffs him.  Ford is left without the account numbers where the money resides which he noted in the young man's notebook.  Who will end up with the money?

This epic work was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2013.  It is a challenge to read with over a thousand pages and many stories which eventually all come together to solve the various mysteries laid out in the book.  Government and military corruption is explored and readers will be reminded of recent stories of corporations that make a fortune from government and military contracts with little or no regard for the workers that depend on them for their livelihood.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

All I See Is You by Charlotte Barnes


M has what looks like an ordinary life.  She did well in school and now works as a graphic designer at a publishing firm.  She is close with both her parents although they are divorced and has friends.  But there are things that make M less ordinary.  Since she was a girl, she has had blackouts.  Her counselor says she should try to remember all the things she has blocked out but M senses there are pitfalls in her memories she doesn't want to deal with.  M doesn't have a boyfriend except for Caleb.  Caleb is the man who lives across from her apartment and M spends hours watching him and following his social media.  She watches him with girlfriends and knows his schedule inside and out.

When Caleb goes missing, things start to crack.  M starts to remember more about the things she has suppressed, the main one being a girl in her school class who was killed as they were all graduating.  Her case has never been solved but M has flashbacks to the last night the classmates all spent together.  She also suspects that Caleb's disappearance may have connections to her but who knows?

Charlotte Barnes has created a character in M that the reader will not soon forget.  Should they be sympathetic to M and her issues or is she to be avoided at all costs?  What is the price of M's attention?  I listened to this novel and the narrator did a great job.  She has the perfect accent to indicate someone of M's family background and gives the reader a sense of the slowing emerging pictures M needs to deal with.  This book is recommended for psychological thriller readers. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Big Girl Small Town by Michelle Gallen


Majella O'Neill doesn't like things to change.  Her life is one of routines she has developed over the years.  She goes to work in the fish and chips every day wearing the same outfit.  Majella is fat but doesn't care, she likes the extra weight and the comfort it brings her.  She eats the same dinner every night, fish and chips from where she works.  She watches the same show, Dallas, in her bedroom on her DVD player.  When she is home, she stays in her room, avoiding her alcoholic mother.  

Underlying this routine is sadness.  Her father disappeared almost a decade ago and has never been heard from since.  Her mother has never worked so it falls on Majella to support them.  Now her grandmother has been attacked in her caravan out in the country and has died, a murder case.  Majella is sad about her grandmother's death and upset that it puts her in the spotlight as the murder is all anyone can talk about.

But things are changing.  Her grandmother surprisingly has left the family land to Majella instead of her aunt.  That means there is finally the possibility that Majella could do something different with her life.  She could sell the land and move away although it has been in her father's family for decades.  She could move to the land away from everyone.  What will she do?

This Irish novel won several awards.  It was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and longlisted for the Irish Award For Newcomer Of The Year.  Gallen has created a memorable character in Majella.  Although others may look down on her, she is comfortable with herself and her life and knows what brings her happiness.  She is a survivor and can sustain herself with small comforts and occasional human interaction.  Readers will remember Majella long after they finish the novel.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan

 This graphic novel is the winner of three Eisner Awards, which are prizes given for creative achievement in graphic novels.  It is the story of a virus that wipes out all the men on Earth simultaneously.  Or all the men except for Yorick an acrophobic escape artist and his monkey Ampersand.  The world erupts in violence as the remaining women fight for supremacy and the right to rule the world.  

The novel covers Yorick's adventures as he reunites with his mother, a high-ranking politician and his sister who has joined an extremist group of lesbian women.  That group is determined to kill Yorick and any other men who have managed to survive.  

Brian Vaughn is a writer and producer who has worked on such shows as TV's Lost.  He is the author of several graphic novel series, including his most recent, Saga, which is a sci-fi series.  This book is recommended for graphic novel readers.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Trust by Hernan Diaz


Andrew Bevel is a enormously wealthy man, one of the first to become a billionaire in the stock market.  He is also extremely reclusive, interested in not much more than his work.  Society is intrigued with him due to the scarcity of his public appearances and his wealth.  All are amazed when he marries a young woman who has just returned to the United States after years abroad.  The two seem to have a successful marriage as both are introverted.

Bevel's story is told from three viewpoints.  Harold Vanner, a formerly successful author, has the idea of writing Bevel's life from what he knows and can make up.  His book is a success although Bevel is enraged both at the public revealing of his life and the errors he sees in the book.  He is angry enough that he hires a woman to write his autobiography with him, giving nothing but the truth which he feels will show Vanner as a false writer and ruin his career.  Finally, the woman who he hires finds the journals of Bevel's wife, which reveals the story as totally turned around from what either man has written.

This book has been nominated for the Booker Prize this year.  It explores whether any of our truths are valid or if the alternating viewpoints of others cancel our own views.  As I started this book, I wondered why it had been nominated.  The book was interesting but didn't seem that different from any other historical fiction.  But by the end, as I read all three accounts of Bevel's life, the idea of what is valid and the reality that events are viewed very differently by each individual made this novel a stunning accomplishment.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

The Missing Husband by Natasha Boydell


Kate is shocked when she reads the letter Pete has left on her pillow.  After years of marriage, he tells her he has fallen in love with someone else and is leaving her and the girls.  Kate had no idea.  Sure, Pete had been traveling a lot for business and working late more but late nights and traveling is a part of his job.  Their marriage has not been that exciting lately but most marriages fall into a routine over the years.

But what Kate never expected was a total cut off of communication.  Pete doesn't call her or answer emails.  He doesn't get in contact with the girls.  Finally, Kate swallows her pride and gets in touch with Pete's best friend.  She finds out that the woman in question was Claire, who had been a temporary receptionist at Pete's company.  The two had taken off to France, where Claire had inherited a house.  Pete had quit his job months ago.

Kate is reeling but as the weeks go by, she realizes that this is her life now and she must go on to keep the girls' world safe.  She starts to make new friends, women whose children go to the same school.  Kate hasn't worked since she had the girls, but she contacts some of her old clients and soon is starting to get some publicity jobs, the field she had left.  As she becomes more independent, she starts to realize that she is actually happier than she's been in years.  Then there is a knock at the door.

This is a debut novel and Boydell has a real career in the thriller market going forward.  She writes about every married woman's worst fear, that their husband will fall in love with someone else and leave their family for her.  Kate survives that happening and is thriving until she finds out that everything she thought has been based on a lie. I listened to this novel and the narrator has the perfect accent to make this English setting seem real.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, August 5, 2022

The Appeal by Janice Hallett


The Haywards, Martin and Helen, are the big fish in their village's small pond.  They own and run the local country club and they created the local theatre group, The Fairway Players.  Martin directs the plays with the help of his son James and Helen is the star of every show.  They also have a daughter, Paige.  Tragedy has hit the family.  Paige's two year old daughter, Poppy, has been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor.  Martin has talked with a doctor, Tish, who informs him that a new treatment has been found in the United States but is very expensive since it's not covered under the National Health Plan.  The family launches an appeal to raise the money for Poppy's treatment.

The Fairway Players get involved.  One of the main couples of the players grew up as best friends with the Haywards and the wife agrees to head up the fund raising for the appeal.  There are also nurses on the roster.  Izzy has been with the group for a while and she has brought in Samantha and Kel, both nurses who have recently returned from volunteering for several years in Africa.  Sam and Izzy work together.  

But everything doesn't go smoothly.  Although lots of money is being raised, there doesn't seem to be an easy way to account for it or pin Martin down about how it's being spent.  There are rumors floating around about a scandal in Africa that may have resulted in Sam and Kel coming home.  There are scammers floating around the appeal trying to get their hands on some of that money.  When one of the participants is found murdered, everything falls apart.

This is one of the most unique mysteries I've read in years.  The entire action is told through emails and phone messages that a group of junior lawyers is reviewing for the head of their law firm.  It is amazing that this is a debut novel and I'm looking forward to reading more by Janice Hallett.  Everyone has a secret and there are plots and subplots, lies and startling revelations.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Submission by Amy Waldman


A selection panel gathers in Manhattan.  Their job is to pick the architect vision of the memorial that will honor the victims of the 9-11 terrorist attack.  The jury is composed of artists, family members of those killed, and movers and shakers of New York society.  The final decision is made from the anonymous entries.  Then the envelope is opened and the architect is revealed.  He is a Muslim American.

Immediately controversy erupts.   While everyone claims not to be racist, there is kickback against the plan due only to the man's ethnic background.  He was born in the United States and has only visited the terrorist area once when he was sent by his firm to submit plans for a new American embassy in Afghanistan.  But that is all lost in the immediate shouts.

There are many players in the aftermath.  There is Mo, the architect who takes the position that he is as American as anyone else and doesn't have to reveal his thoughts or inspirations.  The most common complaint is that the garden memorial he has designed is really a martyr's garden meant to honor the terrorists rather than the victims.  There are politicians and media people who use the controversy to further their careers.  There is the family member on the panel who is rich and reserved.  She originally supports the selection but as Mo refuses to discuss his ideas she slowly starts to be won over to the other side.  There is the brother of a victim who never felt like he could live up to the life of his older brother who lost his life and is leading the opposition so that he can try to win his parents' approval.  There are the Muslim groups that see the selection as a mechanism by which they can bring their goals to fruition.  What will happen?

This book received much acclaim when it was released ten years after 9-11.  It was both a New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book of 2011 and one of NPR's 10 Best Novels of 2011.  Amy Waldman has created a book that explores the issues of racism and acceptance.  She adroitly draws characters that exemplify each facet of the controversy and her solution is surprising.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


Vampires are still existent.  They have been banned in most countries, but Mexico is corrupt enough that officials can be bribed and papers obtained for residence.  Mexico City is about to witness a battle between two houses of vampires fighting for dominance.

Atl has run to Mexico City.  Her house has been dealt a horrific blow, her mother and sister who were running the house both murdered.  Atl got out just ahead of her own certain death along with her dog, a huge genetically modified Great Dane.  He is her only protection as she schemes to get away until she meets Domingo.

Domingo is a throwaway teenage boy.  His family was poor and sent him off to make a life for himself with no resources.  He has been working with the garbage pickers, not a career but a way to make some money until he can find something better.  He sees Atl on the subway and is fascinated by her.  When she takes him home, he volunteers his blood to her.

Atl needs a human helper to run errands she can't and provide another set of eyes for protection.  What she never expected was to learn to love a human, even when she knows it is an impossible dream for them to become a couple and stay together.  But the heart wants what the heart wants.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia has written another intriguing fantasy.  She plays with both vampire lore and Mexican folk tales to create a new story, one which readers won't be able to put down.  I listened to this novel and the narrator was excellent, providing a narration that was smoky at times and warrior like at others.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Sea Of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel


In this novel, Mandel uses time travel to illustrate how interconnected all of our lives are and how one act can echo through the years, changing lives as it intersects with them.  Gaspery Roberts is at loose ends, working dead ends jobs to support himself while figuring out what would make his life meaningful.  His sister and a former childhood friend both work at the Time Institute.  His friend suggests that Gaspery become a time detective, investigating instances where an act has slipped in time and impacting events in an unplanned manner.  His sister is adamantly opposed but Gaspery is intrigued and signs up for training.

There is an abnormality in the forest in rural Canada in 1912.  It was witnessed by several individuals throughout time.  Edwin St. John St. Andrew, who has been sent to Canada by his aristocratic family, is the first to see it.  It is a black hole in the forest, an indication that something is wrong.  In 2020, Mirelle goes to a concert to see a video her good friend, Vincent has taken as a child.  It is the same scene in the Canadian forest.  The composer of the night's entertainment had been Vincent's brother and he uses his sister's video as an accompaniment of his own work.  

In 2023, Gaspery makes his big mistake.  The main rule in the Time Institute is that he is not to make any changes.  He meets Olive Llewellyn who is an author on a book tour for her recently released book.  A pandemic is just starting and Gaspery tells Olive to go home.  She does and thus lives a long life and gets to see her child grow up but Gaspery is now an outlaw.  How he manages his life from this point on moves the action.

Emily St. John Mandel has been one of my favorite authors since her first novel.  She is an author whose books I anxiously await and always read as soon as possible.  Her books are not straightforward in terms of plot.  Instead, various threads are laid out and eventually woven together to make the author's point.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, August 1, 2022

A Prayer For The Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers


Sibling Dex is a tea monk, traveling to serve tea to people as a service.  He is accompanied by Mosscap who is a robot.  They discovered each other in the forest of Panga and teamed up.  Mosscap is on a mission to discover all about humans and what they what most in life.  They are now headed towards a city so that the robot can experience this other way of living.

Along the way, they encounter several villages.  In some, they are welcomed and feasted.  In others, they are considered outsiders and shunned.  Regardless, Mosscap continues to ask everyone encountered what do they want?

The pair are even able to fit in a visit to Dex's home farm.  They are welcomed there and his parents and relatives are excited to see him as he hasn't been home for quite a while.  They are given dinner and taken around the farm.  As they continue their journey, they stop on a beach and ponder their next steps.  Will they continue to the city or remain where they are?

This is a gentle book in the Monk and Robot series.  Chambers uses these two characters to ask what is the purpose of life and once one has enough, is more even necessary?  The characters are interesting and their interaction is compelling.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.