Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Sea by John Banville


Max Morden has returned to the small village where his family spent seaside holidays.  His wife has recently died and it has left him pensive and prone to remembering older days.  He finds a boarding house and settles in.

But this is not just any boarding house.  It is the house of the family that he obsessed over one summer holiday.  The Grace family consisted of the extroverted yet sly father, the enigmatic mother and the twins, Chloe and Myles.  The mother was the first woman that Max fell in love with and he mooned over her for a while.  When his obsession was done, he instead was attracted to Chloe, who was his age and who shared his interest.  As he looks back on that summer, he realizes that he has always feared being left behind.

This novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2005.  Banville's writing seems quiet and reserved yet it eventually lands a big punch.  This novel follows that pattern with a big reveal coming at the end.  The author's description of environments places the reader squarely in a small English seaside village and his retelling of his first loves will strike a reminiscence in most readers of their own first crushes.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and is lovely.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Booksie's Shelves, November 29, 2022


Art by RF Skia and Culpeo S. Fox

It's the end of November and I've had a great reading month.  First, word on an oversight.  As you see above, I've added an artists' credit to the logo I've been using.  I thought it was a free image but I was mistaken so I'd like to apologize and make sure the artists, R.F. Skia and Culpeo S. Fox are acknowledged.  I've always loved this image so much.  I haven't done much Christmas shopping yet and I never know what to say when people ask me what I'd like.  What I love to get is an Amazon gift card or a gift card to a local bookstore.  It's pretty hard to surprise me with a book so I like to take the pressure off and do the book choosing myself.  My son sends me a list of what he wants so I'll be buying a stack of books for him soon.  Here's what's come through the door:

  1. Birthright, Charles Lambert, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  2. Super Host, Kate Russo, literary fiction, won at book event
  3. The Lady Upstairs, Halley Sutton, psychological suspense, won at book event
  4. Radiant Fugitives, Nawaaz Ahmed, literary fiction, won at book event
  5. Little Threats, Emily Schultz, psychological suspense, won at book event
  6. Winterland, Rae Meadows, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  7. The Door-Man, Peter M. Wheelwright, literary fiction, sent by author
  8. Because I Loved You, Donnaldson Brown, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  9. The Devil's Alphabet, Daryl Gregory, dystopian fiction, purchased
  10. Mr. Tender's Girl, Carter Wilson, mystery, purchased
  11. Trouble, Katja Ivar, mystery, sent by publisher
  12. The Mimicking Of Known Successes, Malka Older, science fiction, sent by publisher
  13. The Art Of Losing, Alice Zeniter, literary fiction, purchased
  14. Questions Of Travel, Michelle de Kretser, literary fiction, purchased
Here's the e-books I've bought:
  1. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie, literary fiction
  2. Distant Shores, Kristin Hannah, literary fiction
  3. The Dreamblood Duology, N.K. Jemisin, science fiction
  4. One Of Those Faces, Ellie Grawl, mystery
  5. The Secret World Of The Victorian Lodging House, Joseph O'Neill, literary fiction
  6. The Between, Ryan Leslie, horror
  7. Map's Edge, David Hair, fantasy
  8. Wild Fire, Ann Cleeves, mystery
  9. Silence, Thomas Perry, mystery
  10. The Tuskegee Strangler, Linda Lou Long, true crime
  11. Deep River, Karl Marlantes, literary fiction
  12. Careless Love, Peter Robinson, mystery
  13. Survive The Night, Riley Sager, mystery
  14. The Ancient Guide To Modern Life, Natalie Haynes, historical fiction
  15. March, Geraldine Brooks, historical fiction
  16. Degrees Of Darkness, Tony Forder, mystery
  17. Fifteen Coffins, Tony Forder, mystery
  18. An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good, HeleneTursten, mystery
  19. Rhythm Of War, Brandon Sanderson, fantasy
  20. The Ink Black Heart, Robert Galbraith, mystery
  21. Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey, memoir
  22. Olga Dies Dreaming, Xochitl Gonzalez, literary fiction
  23. Funeral For A Friend, Brian Freeman, mystery
  24. Soul Fraud, Andrew Givler, fantasy
  25. Raising Steam, Terry Prachett, fantasy
  26. The Book Of Night Women, Marlon James, literary fiction
Here's what I'm reading:
  1. Alligator Candy, David Kushner, true crime, paperback
  2. She Who Became The Sun, Shelley Parker-Chan, fantasy, Kindle
  3. Grief, Robert Tanenbaum, mystery, Kindle
  4. The Last Chairlift, John Irving, literary fiction, hardback
  5. Taking The Stand, Alan Dershowitz, memoir, Kindle
  6. Fast Friends, Jill Mansell, women's fiction, paperback
  7. The Girl At My Door, Rebecca Griffiths, mystery, audiobook
Happy Reading!

Monday, November 28, 2022

Interstate by Stephen Dixon


A father leaves New York City for home with his two young daughters.  His wife is staying behind for a few days with her parents to visit.  He drives along the interstate, listening to the radio, talking with his daughters and thinking about his life.  Suddenly, a car approaches.  Two men are in the car and they start to make motions towards him.  He drops back, and they do also.  He speeds up and again they match him.  Finally, they tire of teasing him and drive away.

But they aren't through.  After a time, they show up again.  This time, the passenger who has been the most aggressive, pulls out a gun and fires at the man's car.  He is able to get to the shoulder and stop but his youngest daughter has been hit and dies.

This is the premise of Stephen Dixon's Interstate.  He retells this story eight different times, each time changing it a bit or focusing on different aspects such as the time at the hospital trying to save his daughter, calling his wife to tell her of the tragedy, or remembering his life with his daughters and various outings they have had.  

This is not an easy book to read.  Not only is the premise upsetting, but the entire book is written in a stream of consciousness mode, taking the reader inside the man's head on the worst day of his life.  We relive the horrible moments time and time as he is now condemned to do for the rest of his life.  The text is challenging with no breaks but the novel will be one that those who finish it remember for years.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

A Memory Of Light by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson


What does one say when finishing a masterpiece?  I started my journey with The Wheel Of Time two years ago and finished it the day after Thanksgiving.  I am thankful to have been given the chance to read this foundational series of epic fantasy.  Robert Jordan was the original author and after his passing, Brandon Sanderson stepped up and finished the series from Jordan's notes.

For those who don't know, the fourteen books in the series follow three boys from a small village who have been identified by the Aes Sedai (women who have magical powers) as pivotal figures in the coming war to either end the world or save it.  There is Rand, who will become the Dragon Reborn, the man the prophesies say will fight the Evil.  Perrin becomes half wolf as he carries out his duties while Mat is ever the jokester and prankster whose luck always saves the day when needed.  Together with a host of characters, they mature and learn what is important in life, to stand up when all seems impossible and to fight with everything you've been given.  

I can't imagine that I will ever read another series that affects me as this one has.  I'm going to make 2023 the year of Stephen Donaldson and read his Thomas Covenant series one more time before I give those books away.  But I'll never forget Rand, Perrin and Mat and their journey on the Wheel of Time.  This book is recommended for all epic fantasy readers.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Heresy by Melissa Lenhardt


Who would have thought that Margaret Parker and Hattie LeCour would ever meet, much less become good friends?  Margaret, known as Garrett to everyone was born in England and married a nobleman.  Hattie was born a slave in America and after that, supported herself in a variety of ways, often as a prostitute.  But after Garrett and her husband migrated to the United States, the two women did meet out West.  After Garrett's husband died, the women decided to use the ranch Garrett and her husband started as a refuge for women fleeing vicious husbands or family situations.  

The women were both excellent horse trainers and the farm was thriving.  They broke horses, did transport and were outearning the male ranches in the area.  That put a lot of noses out of order and the men grouped together to run the ranch out of business, refusing the women loans, putting a blacklist on their horses and anything else to ruin them.  Eventually the ranch had to be sold for pennies on the dollar and the women who lived there were left penniless.

What could they do?  What else except form a gang and start to rob trains, stages and banks?  Garrett always made sure they were targeting locations tied to the family that led the events that took their ranch and livelihood.  The women flew under the radar as men refused to admit that they had been outsmarted and robbed by women.  But eventually the truth came out and the law and the Pinkerton detective agency started to track the women, determined to bring them to justice.

This is a fascinating look at the Old West from another perspective.  The women's characters are all different and fully developed.  The love between the women who formed a different type of family was real and their friendships allowed them to do things no one would have expected.  This is a side of the Old West that hasn't been discussed and Melissa Lenhardt does a great job doing so.  This book is recommended for women readers and anyone interested in the Old West.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Worst Thing I've Done by Ursula Hegi


It's always been the three of them.  Annie, Mason and Jake.  They grew up together and when they were adults, Annie and Mason married.  On their wedding day, Annie's father and pregnant mother were killed in a car accident, although the baby was saved.  That made them four as Annie and Mason became parents to Opal, Annie's sister.  

Although Mason is charismatic and fun as well as a great father, he has a dark side.  He must come first always and he has always been jealous of Jake and his relationship with Annie.  Although it's just a friendship, they all know that the marriage could have been Annie and Jake as easily as it was Annie and Mason.  Mason pushes and pushes at this truth until he pushes the two into a catastrophic mistake that has long reaching consequences.

This is a story of friendship and love, of betrayal and jealousy.  It is also a story of loneliness and separation and healing after the worst things one can imagine have happened.   The characters are interesting and Annie's love for her sister/daughter is deep as she tries to heal Opal's fears of abandonment.  This book is recommended for readers of family relationships.  

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy


Bobby Western is a deep sea diver who dreads it every time he descends.  He knows there is evil in the world and he accepts that it could come for him anytime.  Bobby loved only one woman in his life and that was his sister.  She walked out into the snow one night about ten years ago and laid down to be found dead the next morning.  Since then Bobby has lived a life that has seemed empty.

Now he has new problems.  The IRS is after him and to try to make their case, they have taken his work, his passport and all his money and belongings.  The only thing left for Bobby is to become someone else.  Someone different than the man whose father worked on the atomic bomb that rained destruction on Hiroshima.  The man whose sister was the smartest person he ever met and whose shadow he can't move beyond.

Cormac McCarthy hasn't released a novel in sixteen years.  This one is bleak yet compelling.  There are passages that show the disorder of his sister's mind, a genius yet schizophrenic.  There are passages about the world of psychics.  Yet above all, there are passages about Bobby Western, trying to make his way through the world without hurting others and brooding on the meaning of life.  It is a bleak book yet perhaps illustrative of the life many people live.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Testimony by Anita Shreve


It's a nightmare is everyone's first thought when they saw the video.  It's set in a dorm room at a private academy.  Three young men are there and one girl barely into her teens.  They proceed to have a sexual encounter that is videotaped and the tape is later released, both internally at the school and on the Internet.  The story hits the airwaves and is a national incident.  Is this what our young people are up to?  Did the girl consent or could she given her age?  What about the young men?  Are they all athletes?  How many other girls' lives have they ruined?

Anita Shreve tells the story of the incident from all sides.  There are the story of the girl, a newcomer to the school who leaves afterwards.  There are the stories of the young men, each of whom had a different reason for being there.  There are the stories of the parents of all of them.  There is the story of the headmaster of the academy and a recounting of the spotlight his actions are put under and the stories of the teachers.  There are the stories of the press.  But does anyone get it right?

Anita Shreve is an issue writer.  Fans of writers such as Diane Chambers and Celeste Ng will enjoy Shreve's work as well.  The ripples of one night cause waves in so many ways, disgrace, failed marriages, job loss, life plans ruined.  Some of the outcomes are predictable while others are not.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Let Me Die In His Footsteps by Lori Roy


One rule that everyone knows:  Hollerans don't go near Baines.  That goes back to the disaster that happened in the 1930's.  Back then seven Baines sons lived on the farm with their mother.  That is until the eldest son, Joseph Carl, was accused and convicted of raping Juna Crowley and kidnapping her brother who died after that event.  He was the last public hanging in Kentucky and the other Baines sons drifted away leaving only the mother to grow old on the Baines farm.

Now Annie Holleran, daughter of Juna although she's not supposed to know it, has discovered the body of Mrs. Baines in her garden patch.  What was she doing outside at midnight?  Did old age take her or something more sinister.  Along with the death, Annie and everyone else believes that Juna, who left right after Annie's birth, is coming back now.  Will she?  The sons are back for the funeral and there's plenty of chances for the whole enmity to break out again.  In order to save her family, Annie must go back and reveal all the secrets both sides have been hiding all these years but there is danger in revealing secrets.

Lori Roy is a Midwestern author who now lives in the South and gets the feeling of its people exactly right.  This book is set in a rural area with families who have lived there for generations and lots of secrets which have built up in order for those families to live in close proximity with their neighbors.  The tension in the book builds slowly but steadily and the secrets are revealed one by one.  This book won an Edgar Award for Best Book and it is definitely deserving.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.


Friday, November 18, 2022

I Am The Light Of This World by Michael Parker


Earl has lived two lives.  Before he was a teenager with his first love, Tina.  Known as a loner and a dreamer, his family is poor and he is astonished that Tina is interested in him.  He is willing to do anything she asks so that she will stay.

After Earl is an older man.  His dreams are to learn to swim like an Olympian does, to have a small apartment where he can watch the river and listen to music and have some true friends.  

Between there is the crime.  Earl takes Tina to Austin to visit her mother.  Two days later, Tina is dead and Earl is charged with her murder.  It turns out that Tina lied to him about everything, starting with her name, her mother's location and everything in between.  Earl knows he didn't kill her but he spent his two days in Austin in a drug filled haze and can't account for much of his time.  Coming from a poor family and the victim having been from a wealthy one, he is sentenced for a crime he didn't commit.

Michael Parker is one of my favorite authors.  He writes of those who are often forgotten and ignored by society and his character creation is superb.  The small details he includes brings a character to life and he is non-judgmental about their flaws.  Readers will find themselves sympathetic to Earl and interested in his life.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The English Major by Jim Harrison


As Cliff hits sixty, his whole life changes.  He has been a cherry farmer for decades, living on his wife's family farm and keeping things going.  Now Vivian has left him for an old high school flame and the farm has been sold.  After all the years of work, Cliff only gets ten percent of the price so he's broke as well.  Outside of farming, he taught high school English for a while but never really liked that.  What is he going to do with himself now?

He decides to take a road trip across the country to see all the places he has never seen.  As he goes, he thinks about his future and then there's the woman question.  He still has feeling for Vivian and can't believe his marriage is over.  There's Babe, the waitress he has been spending time with lately.  Then a former student, Marybelle, who he has kept in contact with over the years, asks if he can give her a ride out West to a friend's house.  He agrees and falls into the sexual fantasy of his life.  There isn't anything Marybelle won't do and so often that he can barely walk. 

Cliff's goal is to make it to San Francisco where his son lives.  Along the way, he visits old friends who have moved away, calls old friends back home, fishes when he can and muses on what he'll do next.  He thinks about renaming the states and all the native birds of America and figures that will take quite a while but after that he's stumped.

Jim Harrison writes books about people most of us can imagine knowing.  He delves into their thoughts and dreams and makes their lives understandable.  He wrote over thirty books, and was known for his poetry as well as his novels.  His books celebrate the land and the life lived by those who choose to live away from the cities.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian


Chloe is not like other freshman students.  Sure, she takes classes and even takes them seriously as she intends to be a doctor.  She hangs out with her friends in the dorm, doing silly girl things.  She flirts with the cute guys around her, even hooking up with some.  But Chloe's main purpose is different.  She is there to kill another student.  

Chloe is a diagnosed psychopath and is in a secret program at the university.  There are seven students this year in the program where a doctor is studying them and giving them intensive therapy to see if their behavior can be modified while teaching them how to be successful in normal society.  Chloe was raped when she was younger and her attacker attends the university.  She plans to kill him and nothing is going to stop her.

But soon something might.  A student in her program in found killed in one of the testing cubicles.  Then another in the MRI room a week or so later.  Is someone targeting the psychopath students?  Is Chloe in danger?  She discovers several of the other students although they are all supposed to be anonymous and they meet to decide if they should do their own investigation.  Trouble is, who can trust a psychopath?

This was an interesting mystery that was a quick read.  The author is a psychologist and this is her debut novel.  It was an Edgar Award Nominee for Best First Novel.  Chloe is fascinating to read about and the interplay between her and the other students identified as psychopaths is an eye opener.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson


The year is 1612 and King James I of England is obsessed with two things: stamping out Catholicism and witchcraft.  He sees the two things as related and Lancashire as the center of both.  He sends his witch hunters there to stamp out what he sees as a place mired in witchery.  

A group of thirteen is found on Pendle Hill one night, poor women and men who want to believe there is a way to break out of poverty.  Most of them live on the estate of the local wealthy Alice Nutter.  No one understands why she would shelter and stand up for such people and suspicions start to arise about her as well.  When she is tied to an escaped Catholic priest and when locals see the chance to take her land and wealth, the die is set and the witch hunters come for her as well.

Jeanette Winterson is known for writing books that highlight women's issues.  Her books have been well regarded and nominated for book Booker and Women's Fiction prizes.  This book shows the prejudice against women that fueled the witch hunts in countries in the 1600's as any woman who acted out of the ordinary or insisted on speaking her mind could be a target of the frightened populace and the men who ruled with an iron fist.  This book is based on a true case in Lancashire and is graphic about the tortures inflicted on those who opposed the Crown.  This book is recommended for historical fiction and those interested in women's issues.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

O Beautiful by Jung Yun


Elinor grew up in North Dakota, the child of a military man and his Korean wife brought back from an overseas assignment.  She was tall and gangly and mocked and bullied by her classmates as a half breed and other racial epitaphs.  But her height was her ticket out as she was discovered as a model right out of high school.  She took off as soon as she could and never looked back.  Now, her modeling days behind her, she is trying to make it as a freelance journalist.  

Her mentor and former lover has put a big assignment in her way.  He is having surgery and will be out of things for a while so suggests her as a substitute to a large magazine that is doing a feature on the oil boom in North Dakota.  It's the first time Elinor has been back and she barely recognizes the place where she grew up.

Now it is flooded by a massive influx of men and money.  Women are outnumbered and catcalled everywhere.  Elinor feels less safe here than in all her years of city living in New York.  The men are bold, violent and often drunk.  There is an air of sexual violence in the air and women have been disappearing.  But her editor insists that the story is that of the oil money itself and the way it has changed the local population.

As Elinor works on her article, she starts to question everything she knows.  Her sister has stayed in the area and their relationship is strained.  She is also trying to reinvent herself as she enters middle age.  Elinor questions why her mentor gave her this amazing opportunity.  Was it because he valued her work or some more sinister reason?  Does she even want to be a journalist or should she try something else?

This is Jung Yun's second novel and it is a New York Times Editor's Choice Book.  She explores how our relationships and even our memories change over time and the difficulty of looking backward and reconnecting with anything or anyone from our past.  She also writes about how people of color are treated in the United States where they are automatically considered by the majority as lessor than.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill


This was not the life Hans van den Broek expected to be living.  He followed his wife, Rachel, from London to New York when she was transferred.  His job, analyzing the oil industry and its stocks is in high demand and he finds a job easily.  They live in an apartment with their young son, Jake, and Hans thinks everything is fine.  But its not.  Rachel is increasingly worried about living in New York after the 9/11 tragedy and is upset that Hans doesn't share her fears.  Eventually she moves back to London, taking their son and Hans agrees to fly there every other weekend as they decide what the separation means.

Hans is left at loose ends.  He moves to the Chelsea Hotel, one of a number of long-term residents and makes friends with the staff there.  He rediscovers his love of cricket and finds a league that plays in the city, mostly immigrants from places such as Trinidad and the other islands.  His entry to the league is Chuck Ramkissoon, an entrepreneur who always has a finger in lots of pies and who seems to know everyone.  He introduces Hans to his friends, his wife and his mistress and takes Hans on mysterious errands.  

This book was a Booker nominee in 2008.  Hans is introduced to the immigrant experience in America, not that of the wealthy such as he and Rachel's lives are, but that of those who come poor hoping to make money in the land of opportunity.  Once he is stranded there without his family, he comes to understand their lives better and their feelings of separateness and loneliness.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Sleeping King by Cindy Dees


When the Orcs came to Will's village and massacred everyone they found, he managed to get home quickly enough to warn his parents and they ran for the forest.  While there, he was astonished to discover that his father was a warrior with magic and his mother an elf who also had magical skills.  Neither of them had taught Will any magic or how to fight but realizing that they would die that night, they tasked Will with fulfilling a quest.  That was to find and awaken The Sleeping King.

Raina was the second daughter of an old family.  When she discovered that her life was predetermined to be entangled with that of the Sleeping King, she rebelled.  She refused to have her life spelled out by others and ran away from home, accompanied by a mercenary elf.  

Will and Raina meet up and realize they are sharing the same mission.  They are joined by others, a gypsy healer, a Jann who has escaped slavery and others who want to fight the current situation.  The Kothrites had achieved power and since they were more or less immortal, their reins on the world grew tighter and tighter.  Only the Sleeping King can break their hold if the mission of the group is successful and if he really even exists.

This is the first novel in the Sleeping King trilogy.  It is based on a real fantasy video game, Dragon Crest and has the approval of the Dragon Crest founder, Bill Flippen.   The world building is interesting and there is a clear demarcation between good and evil in the world Dees has created.   Some beings are misunderstood and wrongly assigned to one side or the other, an error that is remedied as the book progresses.  There is romance, magic, and a quest to save the world.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers. 

Monday, November 7, 2022

Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave


Theodore Tate has gone about as far down in life as he can.  Two years ago, he was a respected police detective with a lovely family.  That was before the phone call that told him an accident had occurred.  His wife and daughter were hit by a car and his little girl was killed.  His wife was left in a limbo, alive but not responding to anything or anyone around her.  Tate lost his family and then his job when he went outside the law to deal with the man whose drunk driving took them away.

Now Tate makes a living, more or less, as a private investigator.  That is not much of a living as he spends every evening getting drunk to block the pain.  But he does get work.  Today is an example.  An exhumation needs to take place as suspicions have arisen about the death of a man who died two years ago.  But when the coffin is raised, the man is not there.  Instead a woman's body is in his place.

As Tate and the police investigate, more bodies are discovered in other graves wrongfully.  Soon four women have been discovered with no clue to whom has been killing women and using the cemetery to hide their bodies.  Tate feels responsible as the first occurred right after the accident that took his family and he had not done his best work back then.  He is determined to find the killer and put things right.  Can he do it?

This is the first book in the Theodore Tate series and this is my first read of a Paul Cleave novel.  He is a New Zealand author and his books are in the mystery thriller genre.  He has been called a New Zealand James Ellroy and his writing has that noir feel where behind the everyday events of life a deeper, darker reality exists.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen


The Hildebrandt family is a typical one of the 1970's.  They live in a suburb outside of Chicago where Russ, the father, is an associate pastor.  Marion is his wife who has been a stay at home mom to the family, supporting her husband in his job and their children in their childhood.  Clem is the oldest child.  He is in his freshman year at college where he has discovered both sex and philosophical discussions about what is moral and where should a person make a stand.  Becky is the queen bee of her high school, pretty and popular.  Perry is a year behind Becky in school, an acknowledged genius.  The youngest son is ten and a typical kid.  They seem like a perfect family.

But poke behind the scenes a bit and everything looks different.  Russ and Marion are estranged and thinking about a divorce.  Russ feels slighted at the church where a teenage ministry he started, Crossroads, has been taken over by a younger, more hip minister.  He also feels slighted because he has only slept with one woman in his life, Marion, and is making plans to change that fact.  Clem is disillusioned with college and his student deferment which has kept him from Viet Nam and abruptly gives up his scholarship and leaves college.  Becky is tired of being the virtuous pastor's daughter and is exploring the counterculture while Perry is selling drugs to other school kids, even those as young as the seventh grade while developing a drug habit of his own.  All of these issues explode over a year of family life and everything will be different at the end.

I've read pretty much everything Jonathan Franzen has written and this novel is probably my favorite.  It is more approachable than some of his earlier work and the characters are more relatable.  The sarcasm that can sometimes overtake Franzen in his work is absent here and the reader is drawn in and retains interest until the end.  Those who grew up in the 1970's will be especially interested in this novel which echoes that time faithfully.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Elmet by Fiona Mozeley


A small family builds a house in the forest outside the village of Elmet.   John is the father, a giant of a man who makes what money they need in fights and doing favors for others.  The children are Cathy, 15, and her brother Daniel, 13.  The land they possess used to belong to their mother who disappeared from their lives and who sold the land to the man who owns most of everything in Elmet, Mr. Price.  

The family lives happily off the grid, hunting and growing their food, building their own furniture and tending to the forest and land.  The children go to the house of one of John's friends, Vivian, who teaches them what she can.  Daniel loves the lessons but Cathy is a child of outside and usually leaves early to go listen to the animals and roam the land.  

But paradise is always ruined.  John and a former union organizer create a plan to help the villagers against Mr. Price and his cronies.  These men hire the villagers at day labor for a pittance but the rents on their cottages rise year after year.  Organized, the men are able to negotiate better pay and lower rents but it comes at a price.  John must agree to one last fight for the landowners.

After that fight, a crime occurs and the life the family has been living is ruined forever.  They stick together and fight to remain as a family but everything around is against them.  The village will never be the same nor will they.

This debut novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2017.  Mozeley creates a world that seems perfect yet dreamlike and unable to exist in the world as it is.  John, the father, is a man comfortable with himself and his body and attempts to do what is right.  Cathy is most like John and is determined to also live life on her own terms.  Daniel isn't sure what his life will be but knows he needs these two individuals by him to be happy.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

The Vanished Man by Jeffery Deaver


Somewhere there's a killer.  The first victim is a young woman, a student at a performing arts college.  The police arrive on the scene while the killer is there but somehow he escapes from a locked room.  That's odd enough that the case is turned over to New York's best consultant, Lincoln Rhyme and his team of police and forensic experts.  The most devoted adherent to Rhyme's methods is Amelia Sachs, a policewoman and his love.  Of course, Rhyme has been paralyzed for several years since he was hurt on the job, no movement below the neck except for one finger.

The killings continue and a pattern emerges.  This is the work of someone trained as a magician and he is using his knowledge to commit murders based on famous magic acts.  What is his motive?  Who is he?  Rhyme drafts a young woman training as a magician as a consultant but the murderer seems to be one step ahead at all times.  Can the team find him before he kills again?

This book is number five in the Lincoln Rhyme series.  Readers will be intrigued as the clues mount up and as the intricate forensic work gives up clues that bring the police ever closer to the killer.  The relationship between Rhyme and Sachs is always of interest.  Readers will learn about forensic methods and about life as a disabled person.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.