Thursday, March 23, 2023

Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson

 

A year ago, Thomas Covenant had a great life.  He had a wife and son he loved dearly.  He was an author with novels that had sold well.  Then he started feeling a bit off.  His feet and fingers tingled and he had a wound that wouldn't heal.  When he went to the doctor and had tests, the news couldn't have been worse.  Thomas Covenant had leprously.

His life changed immediately.  He went to a hospital where he learned how to handle his disease although nothing he learned there did anything to remove his horror and despair.  He returned to find his wife and son gone; the townspeople who had been his friends now shunned him.  Then he fell and hit his head...

And woke up in another land.  He was faced with a horrible presence who named himself as Lord Foul.  He gave Covenant a message to give to the land's lords and predicted that he would take over the entire world.  Then he disappeared, leaving Covenant shocked and not sure what to do.

As he traveled aimlessly, he came across a group of people who were stone workers.  They offered him shelter and food and a guide to the lords to whom he needed to give a message.  He repaid them by committing a crime so appalling that he would be stained with it for the rest of his life.  Along his journey to the lords, he met a giant who accompanied him.  The lords were shocked at his message and named him as The Unbeliever.  They believed that his wedding ring was magic and called him also White Gold Wielder.  They asked that he accompany him to get back a staff that Lord Foul had given a cavewright.  Can Covenant redeem his crime by accompanying him?

This is the first in the Thomas Covenant series.  I first read this series over forty years ago and wanted to revisit it.  Some readers may find it too violent and be triggered by some of the crimes.  Thomas is an unlikely main character to write a series about but he is on a trail of redemption and self acceptance that will appeal to many.  This book is recommended to fantasy readers. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

 


Denise has always been the number one fan of her brother, Nik.  When they were teenagers, she was there when he got his first guitar and began obsessively to play.  She was there as he made and ended bands and there for his fame.  But something happened and now Nik makes his music for only a few people.  He is secretive and gives only a few a chance to hear what he is doing now.  If he were to go to a doctor, he might be diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic but he would never go.

Denise is the one who holds everything together.  She watches after her mother who is failing.  She raised a daughter, Ada, who is now across the country at a university studying film-making.  She works a job that brings her no joy just to keep everything going.  When Ada decides to make a film about her uncle Nik and his devotion to music even when no one else hears it, things start to fall apart. 

This is an exploration about family.  Our sibling relationships are our earliest ones except for our parents and for most of us never are totally severed.  There are memories of things shared and development of our world views.  No one else has the memories of our parents and as they fail and leave, no one else remembers them the same.  But what responsibility do we owe our siblings?  Do they have a call on us that is a lifelong obligation or should we break free of old ties?  Dana Spiotta explores this theme in an intuitive way that rings true to the reader.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and family relatioinships.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Twist Of A Knife by Anthony Horowitz

 

Tony Horowitz finally has the upper hand over the irritating private detective Daniel Hawthorne.  He has written the last book in their contract of three and tells Hawthorne he doesn't want to do any more.  Hawthorne is dismayed and tries to convince Horowitz they make a good partnership but Horowitz isn't convinced.  He never knows what Hawthorne will do next and the detective is maddeningly secretive.  Horowitz has other fish to fry, books in other series to write and a play that is about to open in London.

The play has done well in other towns but Horowitz is nervous about the big stage in London.  It is a departure from the kind of things he usually writes and he's not sure how it will go over.  It has a small cast and he likes them all.  Opening night comes and he goes with his wife, then to the cast party afterwards.  The most vitriolic theatre critic crashes the party and is rude to everyone.  Then she writes a scathing review that pans the play and puts the blame for the play squarely on Tony's shoulders.

That's unfortunate but the worst that can happen is the play closes and life will go on.  But it isn't the worst that can happen.  The critic, Harriet Throsby is found dead the next morning, stabbed in her home with a knife given to all the cast and staff of the play but this one is Tony's.  With a police sergeant in charge who intensely dislikes him, and other clues mounting up, Tony is arrested for the murder.  He now has to convince Daniel Hawthorne to help him after breaking their partnership.  Hawthorne seems ready to believe Tony might have done the murder which doesn't inspire confidence but he has nowhere else to turn.  Can the pair find the real killer?

This is the fourth book in the series and just as charming as the others.  The partnership between the two men is frustrating to Tony but effective to solve murders.  Hawthorne is determined to give no clues about his life, but bit by bit, Tony is discovering what makes this detective tick.  The mystery is satisfying with twists and turns galore and all is written in a breezy style.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

An Image In The Lake by Gail Bowen

 

The government supported television channel is about to premiere a show that tells the story of Joanne Kilbourne's childhood and that of her best friend and as she finds out half-sister, Sally.  Joanne isn't sure what she thinks about this public telling of her story but has worked with the actors and writers to make sure the show is accurate.  

The channel is having growing pains.  One administrator was forced out amid rumors that she couldn't do her job anymore and another has disappeared after losing her long running show.  The summer interns have banded together and are a source of trouble.  Joanne's former friend, Jill, is brought in to straighten things out.  

But things continue to go wrong.  Someone seems to have it in for Joanne's daughter, Taylor, and is doing things to hurt her.  A couple she and her husband, Zack, have known for years is having marital problems and it's about to blow up.  Then things get worse.  The wife of the couple is found dead in her bed and the husband is suspected of doing something.  There is another death and soon Joanne and Zack are up to their ears in another mystery.

This is the twentieth mystery in this series.  As always, there is lots of talk about food and Joanne and Zack's everyday life.  Their daughter has a romantic breakup and another daughter has a son born.  Friends come to ask help and advice from Joanne and the couple are drawn into the troubles around them.  Readers will find themselves entranced with the couple and their lives and working along with them to try to solve the mysteries around them. I listened to this novel and the narrator's voice enhances the coziness of the novel.   This book is recommended for mystery readers.


Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Butcher by Jennifer Hillier

 


Things are going great for Matt.  His restaurant, where he recreates the meals his grandmother taught him how to cook, is thriving.  He has a wonderful girlfriend, Samantha.  His grandfather just gave him the house he grew up in when he moved to a retirement center.  A foodie television channel wants to make him the star of his own show.

But....  His relationship with Sam is faltering because he can't make a commitment.  His employees, most who have been with him for years are complaining about his attitude and he's so busy he rarely gets to cook in his own restaurant.  But all of that pales beside the discovery he has made at the house.

His grandfather was the Chief of Police when he retired.  He made his reputation solving the case of The Butcher, a serial killer plaguing the city in the 1980's.  But when Matt finds the box buried in his backyard, he realizes the horrible truth.  His grandfather set up someone as the Butcher when in reality he was the serial killer himself.  Now what is Matt to do?

This is a wonderfully creepy tale.  Hillier reveals the truth about the killer early but the reader can't put the book aside as they discover the depths of depravity the killer will descend to.  The relationship between Matt and Sam is interesting and the fact that Sam is a true crime writer adds to the suspense.  This book is recommended for thriller readers. 

Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

 

In this anthology, the stories all have a connection to Vietnam and its rich history of folk tales and stories.  In one, a teenage girl working in an all night grocery finds an old man behind the dumpster, naked.  Both of them are Vietnamese immigrants, the girl's parents being the immigrants in her case.  He tells her a fantastic story that since he was a teenager, he periodically turns into a boa constrictor.  She doesn't really believe him but takes him home and discovers that his story may be true.

In the book's title story, the Frangipani Hotel is an older Vietnamese hotel that doesn't attract many tourists.  But the receptionist finds a fully clad woman in an overflowing bathtub and she remains in the hotel doing strange things until he finally learns her truth.

In another story, an American woman goes to Vietnam where she works in the embassy, verifying stories about children with American fathers whose mothers hope this means they can get passage to America.  She is torn between a Nordic lover and a Vietnamese one.  Another story has three men visiting and making art.  They are known as the Calligrapher, the Poet and the Guitarist.  The Calligrapher tells a story of his time in the war and why he is cursed ever since and the other two slowly start to believe him.

Violet Kupersmith is the child of an American father and a Vietnamese mother.  She was born here but her work explores her Vietnamese culture.  Kupersmith has lived in Vietnam at various times but mostly resides in the United States.  Her stories are dreamy then snap the reader into a horrifying reality.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those who prefer short stories.

Friday, March 17, 2023

The Once And Future Witches by Alix Harrow

 

Once there were three sisters.  Bella was the oldest and loves books and learning.  Agnes is the middle sister, beautiful and strong.  Juniper was the youngest, wild and unafraid.  They grow up in the woods and mountains, left there with a cruel father by the death of their mother in Juniper's birth.  But they do have their grandmother who teaches them how to be strong and the stories and rhymes that all children should hear.

The sisters are separated when Juniper is still a small girl.  The two older sisters are sent away and leave Juniper as the only target of their father's rage and cruelty.  When Juniper finally runs away, she is warped by those years and full of bitterness at her sisters for going away and never returning.

But the three are reunited and they realize that the power of witches is within them.  They gather other women who have the same beliefs that they do, that magic is the distance between what you need and what you have.  They find the way to restore the Lost Way of Avalon but there's danger.  A man named Gideon Hill is powerful in the town, New Salem, where the women have settled.  He is determined to stamp out all witches and especially the three sisters.  Who will survive?

Alix Harrow grew up in the same mountains she writes about here.  She is known for writing marvelous modern fairy tales based on the old stories.  Her writing is mythical, drawing the reader along wherever her characters go.  Each reader will probably relate to one of the sisters best and that is one of the strengths of this story, along with the message that women are strong and can accomplish whatever they need to do.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver

 


Shep Knacker's life hasn't turned out as he planned.  He spent his life saving for an early retirement in a remote location, selling his firm to a jerk who he now works for.  He has the money to leave but his wife has just been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.  He has a sister who thinks he's a piggybank, a father who is failing and needs care, a grown daughter who still needs help with her rent and a teenage son who lives in his bedroom and rarely emerges.  

His best friend has a failing marriage and a teenage daughter who won't live to be an adult as she has a rare neurological disease.  Jackson rails against the world constantly, sure that there is a conspiracy to keep them all enslaved to the government and big business.  His last ditch effort to save his marriage is a medical disaster.

This novel explores the issue of long-term disability and terminal diseases.  It is not a cheery read but it points out some of the more pressing issues of medical care and how it can impoverish a family facing a serious illness and how we are dependent on health insurance often at odds with our wishes.  Although an English author, Lionel Shriver gets the American health care industry and its intrusions on our lives.  She is known for writing novels that explore various social issues and this one is successful on that score.  This novel is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Dust Child by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

 

In this novel, the issue of those children born of Vietnamese mothers and American soldiers during the Vietnam war is explored.  Most of these children were left behind by the soldiers some of whom never knew they had a child.  Others were born of one night stands when women working in bars to keep their families afloat became pregnant, often without knowing who the father was.  These children were often abandoned by their mothers as well, left at orphanages or just deserted to make their way on the streets.  They were called 'dust child' as their survival was as tenuous as dust and their relationship to any family the same.

Dan and his wife Linda have come back to Vietnam forty years after he was there as a young man.  Although he and Linda had been engaged, Dan was so lonely and distraught while there that he formed a relationship with Kim, a bar girl who fell in love with him.  He paid for an apartment for her but when she told him they were going to have a baby, he went ahead and returned to the United States after his service without seeing her again.  Now he has come back and he knows he must tell Linda about that time and try to find Kim and his child.

Phong is one of the dust children.  He was left as a baby in a sling up in a tree outside the orphanage.  Raised by a nun there, he was forced out on his own at twelve when she died.  Phong was the child of an African-American soldier and a Vietnamese mother.  He now has his own wife and children and has tried several times to get papers to go to America and try to find his father.  He meets Dan and Linda and they try to help each other.

This is a heartbreaking book that explores a topic that has been ignored too long.  Children are often the longest lasting victims of war and that is definitely the case for these children who were often denied any education or training that allowed them to make a living.  American soldiers were often left with guilt and secrets they felt they could never share.  Although a real problem, it is often a hidden one and readers will be exposed to sadness they never knew existed.  This book is recommended to readers interested in other cultures and in family stories.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Booksie's Shelves, March 13, 2023

 

Art by RF Skia & Culpeo S. Fox


It's mid-March and time for another Booksie's Shelves.  I've had a pretty good reading year so far and just finished my 51st book.  Spring had come to North Carolina but seems to have retreated for a bit with cold weather forecast for the rest of the month.  Sports is done for me until fall.  My favorite football team, the Kansas City Chiefs, won the Superbowl but my favorite college basketball team, the University of North Carolina Tarheels, didn't make the Big Dance this year.  March Madness is over for me before it started so more time for reading and discussing books.  I'm about to hit the five hundred review mark in Netgalley and I have lots of great books lined up.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

  1. Looking Glass Sound, Catriona Ward, horror, sent by publisher
  2. No Less The Devil, Stuart MacBride, mystery, purchased (I love this author!)
  3. The Dead Of Winter, Stuart MacBride, mystery, purchased
  4. The Industry Of Souls, Martin Booth, literary fiction, purchased
  5. The Essence Of The Thing, Madeleine St. John, literary fiction, purchased
  6. Red Team Blues, Cory Doctorow, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  7. The Mayor's Tongue, Nathaniel Rich, literary fiction, purchased
  8. Fatelessness, Imre Kertesz, literary fiction, purchased
  9. Kunstlers In Paradise, Cathleen Schine, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  10. The Tumbling Girl, Bridget Walsh, mystery, sent by publisher
  11. A History Of Burning, Janika Oza, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  12. The Dragon Behind The Glass, Emily Voigt, nonfiction, purchased
  13. Because Of You, Dawn French, literary fiction, purchased
  14. Girl, Edna O'Brien, literary fiction, purchased
A list of the ebooks I've purchased:

  1. The Direction Of The Wind, Mansi Shah, literary fiction
  2. Someone Else's Life, Lyn Butler, literary fiction
  3. Watching You, Lisa Jewell, mystery
  4. Dead Lions, Mick Herron, spy
  5. Boundless, R. A. Salvatore, fantasy
  6. The Mothers, Brit Bennett, literary fiction
  7. The Books Of Jacob, Olga Tokarczuk, literary fiction
  8. The Five Wounds, Kristin Valdez Quade, literary fiction
  9. City On Fire, Don Winslow, mystery
  10. Trace Evidence, Bruce Henderson, true crime
  11. The Stay At Home Mother, Nicole Trope, mystery
  12. We All Loved Cowboys, Carol Bensimon, literary fiction
  13. Native Speaker, Chang-rae Lee, literary fiction
  14. Last Seen, Joy Kluver, mystery
  15. Exile, R. A. Salvatore, fantasy
  16. The Cold, Cold Ground, Adrian McKinty, mystery
  17. Equal Rites, Terry Prachett, fantasy
  18. Wizard Of The Wasteland, Jon Cronshaw, fantasy
  19. The Dragon Rogues, D.K. Holmberg, fantasy
  20. A Well-Behaved Woman, Therese Fowler, literary fiction
  21. Celine, Peter Heller, literary fiction
  22. Whereabouts, Jhumpa Lahiri, literary fiction
  23. The Dwarves, Marcus Heitz, fantasy
  24. The Way Of Kings, Brandon Sanderson, fantasy
  25. Tell Me An Ending, Jo Harkin, mystery
  26. Wish You Were Here, Stewart O'Nan, literary fiction
  27. The Master And Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov, literary fiction
  28. Dare Me, Megan Abbott, mystery
  29. The Dime, Kathleen Kent, mystery
  30. The Puppet Show, M.W. Craven, mystery
  31. The Curator, M.W. Craven, mystery
  32. Dead Ground, M.W. Craven, mystery
  33. The Botanist, M.W. Craven, mystery
  34. Daughter Of The Morning, Craig Johnson, mystery
  35. Do I Know You?. Sarah Strohmeyer, mystery
  36. The Foster Family, Nicole Trope, mystery
  37. The Ballad Of Perilous Graves, Alex Jennings, fantasy
  38. The Maid's Diary, Loreth White, mystery
  39. A Widow For One Year, John Irving, literary fiction
  40. When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead, literary fiction
  41. The Crook Factory, Dan Simmons, horror
  42. The Black Ascot, Charles Todd, mystery
  43. Blood, Salt, Water, Denise Mina, mystery
  44. Born In A Burial Gown, M.W. Craven, mystery
  45. The Suspect, Michael Robotham, mystery
  46. A Closed And Common Orbit, Becky Chambers, science fiction
  47. Body Breaker, M.W. Craven, mystery
  48. The Beautiful Mystery, Louise Penney, mystery
  49. Sleeping Beauties, Stephen/Own King, horror
  50. The Last Party, Clare Macintosh, mystery
  51. In Too Deep, Simon McCleave, mystery
  52. Dragons Walk Among Us, Dan Rice, fantasy
  53. The Last Wish, Andrzej Sapkowski, fantasy
  54. The Two Of Swords, K.J. Parker, fantasy
  55. Deaf Row, Ron Franscell, mystery
  56. Watch Her Vanish, Ellery Kane, mystery
  57. The Woman In Blue, Elly Griffiths, mystery
  58. A Column Of Fire, Ken Follett, historical fiction
  59.  Northern Borders, Howard Frank Mosher, literary fiction
  60. Lock In, John Scalzi, fantasy
  61. The Burial Hour, Jeffrey Deaver, mystery
  62. Strange Loyalties, William McIlvanney, mystery
  63. The World We Found, Thrity Umigar, literary fiction
  64. The Pearl, John Steinbeck, literary fiction
  65. Cannery Row, John Steinbeck, literary fiction
  66. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck, literary fiction
  67. The Red Pony, John Steinbeck, literary fiction
  68. The Moon Is Down, John Steinbeck, literary fiction
  69. Tortilla Flat, John Steinbeck, literary fiction
  70. Five Bloody Hearts, Joy Ellis, mystery
  71. The Bullet That Missed, Richard Osman, mystery
  72. Nona The Ninth, Tamryn Muir, fantasy
  73. All The Missing Girls, Megan Miranda, mystery
  74. Disappearing Earth, Julia Phillips, literary fiction
  75. Assassin, Andy Peloquin, fantasy
  76. Deceiver, Andy Peloquin, fantasy
  77. Slayer, Andy Peloquin, fantasy
  78. Savior, Andy Peloquin, fantasy
  79. Protector, Andy Peloquin, fantasy
  80. Far From The Light Of Heaven, Tade Thompson, fantasy
  81. A Maggot, John Fowles, literary fiction
  82. Gould's Book Of Fish, Richard Flanagan, literary fiction
  83. The Hangman, Dinah Miller, mystery
  84. Gideon The Ninth, Tamryn Muir, fantasy
  85. The Deadline, Ron Franscell, mystery
  86. The Obituary, Ron Franscell, mystery
  87. Steel And Stone, Kate Haley, fantasy
  88. I Have Some Questions For You, Rebecca Makkai, literary fiction
  89. The Forgetting, Hannah Beckerman, mystery
  90. An Island, Karen Jennings, literary fiction
  91. A Heart So White, Javier Marias, literary fiction
  92. The Pallbearers Club, Paul Trembley, mystery
  93. Find Her, Sarah Denzil, mystery
  94. The Pact, Sarah Bolton, mystery
  95. Set This House On Fire, William Styron, literary fiction
  96. Flamingo, Rachel Elliot, literary fiction
  97. Consent, Annabel Lyon, literary fiction
  98. Year Of Wonders, Geraldine Brook, literary fiction
  99. The Killer You Know, S.R. Masters, mystery
  100. I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness, Claire Vaye Watkins, literary fiction
  101. The Birthday, Carol Wyer, mystery
  102. Since We Fell, Dennis Lehane, mystery
  103. The Lying Life Of Adults, Elena Ferrante
Here's what I'm reading:
  1. The Butcher, Jennifer Hillier, ebook
  2. The Once And Future Witches, Alix Morrow, ebook
  3. Epitaph, Mary Doria Russell, ebook
  4. America's Best Travel Writing 2009, edited by Simon Winchester, paperback
  5. Stone Arabia, Dana Spiotta, hardback
  6. An Image In The Lake, Gail Bowen, audiobook
  7. Lord Foul's Bane, Stephen Donaldson, hardback
  8. The Frangpani Hotel, Violet Kupersmith, ebook
  9. No Less The Devil, Stuart MacBride, paperback
Happy Reading!


Saturday, March 11, 2023

12 Rose Street by Gail Bowen

 

Joanna Kilborn and her husband Zack Shreve live in the city of Regina where Zack is running for mayor and Joanna is running his campaign and that of a close friend who is running for a seat on the City Council.  While it is unlikely that Zack can unseat the current mayor, the two feel that they need to try as the people in their community are underrepresented and poverty surrounds them.

But politics is not always a gentle game.  At the opening of  a community center Zack has headed up, a local real estate investor tells them he has heard rumors that a child will be kidnapped.  That doesn't happen, but the man is killed that night.  Joanna and Zack feel that his murder is connected to the story he told them.

As the campaign heats up, more incidents occur.  Joanna's family live close by and helping with her grandchildren is another big part of her life, as is the activities of her daughter still at home.  Joanna reconnects with an old friend but their friendship is tested by the revelation of an earlier betrayal.  The friend also starts seeing Zack's opponent and that tests the friendship as well. As the election approaches, more secrets emerge and more crimes occur.  Can Joanna keep her family together and solve the crimes?

Gail Bowen is a popular Canadian crime writer and this book is the fifteenth in the Joanna Kilborn series.  It is reminiscent of a Louise Penney novel as the main focus is on Joanna's family and friends and how crime impacts them.  The characters are finely drawn and much time is given to developing the relationships between Joanna and the other characters.  This book is recommended for mystery readers and those who want to experience a Canadian crime writer.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Her Last Breath by Robert Dugoni

 


There's always work for homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite.  Someone is killing exotic dancers, tying them up so that when they tried to find relief they strangled themselves.  The press has jumped on the case, naming the killer The Cowboy.  Tracy doesn't care what they call him; she just knows he will continue until he is caught.

Then there is the matter of her boss.  He doesn't like Tracy and he makes it very evident.  Tracy has been put in charge of the task force chasing the killer and he is sabotaging her efforts behind the scene.  When Tracy discovers that nine years ago, one of his cases may have been the Cowboy's first kill, he is incensed and determined to push her out of the force.  He has no intention of letting her investigate his past work.

Soon The Cowboy's kills number five and things are getting dicey.  It's clear that he has focused his intentions on Tracy herself and she now has to watch her back twenty-four hours a day.  Can she and her team find the killer before he finds her?

This is the second novel in the Tracy Crosswhite series.  She is a sympathetic character with her family background of a murdered sister whose case she solved in the first book.  Now she is fighting for her career and life in a Seattle murder case that could consume her.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Distrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson


 This anthology, published in early 2012, is a collection of essays and speeches by William Gibson.  It shows the influences that interested him as he was writing such classic novels as Necromancer and Pattern Recognition.  There are twenty-five pieces plus an introduction.

One of the interesting items I noted was that as the Internet became more ubiquitous, Gibson wasn't sure if he wanted to participate.  He was slow to embrace email and wasn't sure that the instantaneous availability of so much information about any subject one cared to research was a good thing overall.  This was even before the rise of hate and scams that many find today as they go online.  

Another influence that Gibson writes about in several articles is his fascination with the East, particularly Japan.  He saw it as the vanguard of new technology and felt that teenage girls walking the streets on their new phones foresaw what would be popular and available to others quickly.  Again, Japan's dominance in this field has waned a bit since these articles were written but at the time, it was surely an apt observation.

Readers will be interested in Gibson's notice of and discussion of details in the various topics he explores.  He in interested in what influences society and the future that will come whether or not humanity is ready for it.  He also writes a bit about his childhood and that is also an interesting insight into the author.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers, especially those interested in science fiction.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd

 

This novel moves back and forth between 1564 and 1811 and is based, in part, on a true story.  In 1564, a young man leaves his wife behind to become a sailor to make enough money that they might be able to purchase a farm and live better.  He sails with a fleet that goes to Africa to imprison slaves.  Although he was innocent when he left England, the brutality he is exposed to soon makes him the same.  At one point, he and another man are left on an island where they have an encounter that changes them forever.

The other story is about a series of murders in London.  Two families are totally annihilated from husband to baby and any servants in residence.  Several groups investigate the murders from the river patrol to the start of the formal police force.  Each hears of a tall dark man with a limp.  A man is found, arrested and hung, but is the right man?

This historical novel is interesting.  The reader learns of the naval life, the slave trade, piracy, and the beginnings of English policing.  True figures such as Francis Drake, Henry Morgan, the various policemen and Billy Ablass, the young man who features so prominently in both stories were used.  The switching back and forth between times was sometimes confusing but the story was one that was well told.  This book is recommended for historical fiction and suspense readers. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Because I Loved You by Donnaldson Brown

 



They met and fell in love in a small town in Texas.  Leni is a tomboy, always on her beloved horse, not crazy about school except for art and determined to get out as soon as she can.  Caleb is a typical Texas guy who works on his dad's ranch and plays football but there's something else he wants.  He wants to go to college and study physics and make his life somewhere else.  The two share a love of horses and soon are sure that there is nothing that can end their love.

But fate intervenes.  Both have family issues and Leni goes first.  She leaves behind nothing but a note but goes out of love for Caleb, knowing that he won't go to college as long as she is in the picture.  Caleb can't believe she has gone but it is the spur he needs to go to Princeton where he has a scholarship.  

Fourteen years later, both are living in New York.  Leni is an artist while Caleb is in finance, working with his college roommate on property development.  The two cross paths at a galley opening and suddenly nothing between matters.  They get back together but once again, fate steps in and breaks them apart.  Will they ever be able to fulfill their love?

This is a gorgeously written novel about young love and enduring love.  Although I could have shaken both of them at times, their story is one I won't forget soon.  Brown is able to recreate first love in a way that will take readers back to their own first loves and sympathize with the characters.  This book is recommended for women's fiction readers.

Monday, March 6, 2023

A Funeral For An Owl by Jane Davis

 

Jim Stevens didn't grow up in a comfortable middle-class home, much less a wealthy one.  No one would have predicted that he would grow up to be a teacher in the same school he went to.  With his father gone and his brother lost to gangs and drugs, Jim and his mother lived in a project.  Jim was determined not to go the same route as his brother so he spent his time on his hobby, bird-watching, and drawing the birds he saw.

One day while out and about, he met Aimee, a girl who came from the upscale neighborhood on the other side of the railroad tracks.  The two develop a friendship and he teaches her about the birds, especially the owls.  Aimee claims a white owl as her personal totem.  When she disappears, no one can explain why she left or where she was and the case was never solved.

Now as an adult, Jim tries to look out for the children in his class in whom he sees the same spark he had.  Shamayal Thomas is one of those.  When Jim sees him out roaming the streets in the rain at 3 a.m., he throws the academic rules aside and takes him home to feed him and warm him up.  He learns that Shamayal lives with an alcoholic father who doesn't take care of him and often beats him.  Shamayal has also run afoul of the gangs in the neighborhood.

Ayisha Emmanuelle is another teacher at the school.  When Jim is knifed in a fight at school and ends up at the hospital, she uncovers the story of Shamayal and how Jim is helping him.  Afraid for her job but also full of pity for the boy and Jim, she takes over the care of Shamayal.  

This is my first read of this author.  Like Jim, Jane Davis loves photography.  Her books center around people who are facing moral dilemmas and how they act in these situations.  This book will leave the reader wondering about what happened to Aimee in the past and what will happen to Jim, Ayisha and Shamayal in the present.  It is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Innocent Blood by P. D. James

 

Phillipa Palfrey is the adopted daughter of a wealthy family.  Her father is a psychologist at the university and her mother is cultured.  She is going to Cambridge in the fall but now that she is of age, she is able to indulge her long time ambition to find her birth parents.

But all stories don't have a happy ending.  She finds that her birth parents were murderers, that they killed a young girl.  Her father is dead, her mother imprisoned.  But it turns out that her mother is about to be paroled.  

Phillipa is determined to meet and get to know her mother.  She rents an apartment in London and invites her mother to come and live with her for the summer before she goes to college.  Her mother hesitantly agrees.  The two move in and soon are spending every moment together. Phillipa is fascinated by her mother and begins to dream of giving up Cambridge to stay with her.

But someone else is in the picture.  The father of the girl who was murdered has decided that only death is the appropriate punishment for the crime.  He stalks Phillipa and the mother and makes his plans.  Will he be successful?  Will Phillipa be able to save the day?

P. D. James is considered by many the queen of British crime writing.  She worked for thirty years in the British Civil Service, including police and criminal law departments.  Her twenty books are still used in adaptations on television.  This book is a warning about rosy optimism where reality is put aside and is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Hostage by Robert Crais

 


Jeff Talley was a LAPD crime negotiator.  He gave up that stressful job after years of it etching bitterly into his soul and after a negotiation went dreadfully wrong.  His marriage is in tatters as he went into a depression.  Finally, separated from his wife and daughter, Talley takes a job as police chief in a small bedroom suburb where crime is almost non-existent.

But crime is everywhere.  An ex-con meets up with another and they decide to knock off a small grocery.  They are accompanied by the leader's younger brother.  Things go wrong and they end up killing the grocery clerk.  Trying to get away, they break into a house and take the family hostage.

But they have picked the wrong family to terrorize.  The father is an accountant for the Mob and has hundreds of thousands of their cash in his safe.  The cons are determined to escape and take the money but it's not like the Mob is going to just sit back and let that happen.  Now Jeff must use his former skills to try to navigate between all the players and get the family out safe while capturing the criminals.  Can he do it?

Robert Crais is best known for his series about Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.  This novel is a standalone but is written with the suspense and twists that Crais knows how to deliver.  Talley is a tortured soul but has this one last chance to redeem himself to his family and the job.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Friday, March 3, 2023

To Tell You The Truth by Gilly Macmillan

 

From the outside, Lucy Harper has the perfect life.  Her mysteries, starring a female detective, sell like hotcakes and her husband, Dan, has had to quit work just to manage their money and property.  Dan is the first man she ever loved and she loves him still.  Rich, famous, in love, what a life.

But under the surface, things aren't so good.  What no one except Dan knows is that when Lucy was a little girl her brother, Teddy, disappeared one night when she took him into the woods and then left him sleeping to go watch a bonfire.  Teddy was never found and the family ended up moving away to escape the notoriety.  Her books are selling but she is trapped into writing nothing but mysteries and she is tired of her main character.  Dan is getting more and more remote; when they met he thought he would be the one to break into publishing and that never happened to him.

Now Dan has gone out and bought a house without asking Lucy.  She is appalled to see that it abuts on the woods where Teddy had gone missing.  Dan is doing lots of things without telling Lucy.  She suspects that includes having an affair with their gorgeous neighbor.  Then Dan disappears and Lucy knows her perfect life is about to come down in tatters.  Can she survive another disappearance?

Gilly Macmillan is a British writer who specializes in female characters who have encountered a disaster in their lives.  Lucy is a good example.  While the reader may want to just shake Lucy and tell her to stand up for herself, Macmillan does a good job of making her life and decisions seem inevitable.  The writing is fast paced and there are surprises along the way.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Hell Of A Book by Jason Mott

 

This novel revolves around the book tour of an unnamed author.  In every location on his tour, he is told 'that's a hell of a book.'  After a while, the locations run together and he gives the same talk over and over again, in bookstores and on television and radio interviews.  Another thing is the same in every location also; people of color are marginalized and POC males especially must live looking over their shoulder wondering when authority will come down on them.

Jason Mott was born in a small rural town in North Carolina.  He got his education at UNC-Wilmington.  This book has gotten rave reviews from everywhere and was chosen the National Book Award winner of 2021.  It gives those who do not face everyday prejudice a real feel for what it means to live a life where that is a given.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Secret History Of Las Vegas by Chris Abani

 


Las Vegas is a place where people come to reinvent themselves and that is true for the characters in this novel.  There is Sunil, a psychologist who studies psychopaths whose work is desired by the military and who came here from South Africa where he worked in a camp known for torture and death.  There are Water and Fire, conjoined twins who are part of the Downwind Coalition, a group of those who lived close to the nuclear tests of the 1950's and 1960's and whose lives were affected by that.  Asia is a prostitute who Sunil loves but who won't commit to him.   Salazar is a police detective who is about to retire but won't stop until he solves the crimes of a serial killer who periodically does a body dump of multiple victims.  Eskia was a former friend and colleague of Sunil in South Africa but that ended when they both fell in love with the same woman.  Now he has come to the United States with one objective; to kill the man who betrayed his country and his love.

Together they interact in an attempt to achieve conflicting aims.  But one thing is the same for each of them.  They are all searching for redemption and a sense that their existence is worthwhile.  

Chris Abani was born in Nigeria but came to the United States where he got his various degrees.  His first published works were poetry and that work can be sensed in the rhythms of this book.  This novel explores the themes of betrayal and redemption and the effect of government and corporate actions on the lives of those they will never meet and care little about.  It is called a mystery but there isn't as much of that as there is character development and actions that seek redemption.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Killer by Jonathan Kellerman

 

Dr. Alex Delaware doesn't just help out the Los Angeles police.  He also maintains a practice and one of the things he does is to file opinions on child custody cases.  That's what he is doing currently.  Two sisters are fighting for custody of one of the sibling's little girl.  The sister who isn't the mother is a doctor and rich; she claims her sister is a terrible mother and deserted the child with her for three months.  The mother is a former hippie who doesn't have money but loves her child.  Alex meets with them both and gives his opinion that the mother should have her child.

That's the beginning of the big problems.  Before you know it, the woman who lost has taken out a contract on both Alex and the judge.  Luckily, the man the contract went to was a former patient of Alex's and he went to the police.  Soon the murders start.  The doctor who lost the custody suit is killed.  Then a former boyfriend of the mother's is found and another one is shot at.  The mother has disappeared along with the baby.  Has she gone wild due to fear of losing her child?

This is the twenty-ninth book in the Alex Delaware series.  The characters of Alex, his partner Robin and the police lieutenant he helps, Milo Sturgis, are well established.  Alex and Milo make a good detecting crew as each brings different expertise to cases.  There are lots of twists and turns and the solution is one the reader won't be expecting.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

 

This novel is about a wealthy family in India and how their lives fell apart one summer.  There is the grandmother whose pickle recipes started the family fortune and continues to be the mainspring of wealth.  Her husband has died but her two grown children live with her.  Chacko, her son, was a Rhodes scholar but returned to India and runs the pickle factory.  He has one daughter who came from his English ex-wife.  The daughter, Ammu, is divorced which is scandalous.  She has fraternal twins, Rahel her daughter and Esthappen, her son.

One Christmas Chacko's ex-wife and his daughter come to visit.  He is overjoyed.  His daughter is his joy and she tries to play with the twins but they are standoffish as they have been each other's best friend from birth.  All the family members learn to their dismay how one day can change everything and make the rest of life something to be measured as before and after a happening.  Secrets are revealed and the family falls apart never to be reunited.

This was a debut novel which is astounding.  It is written with many small details that take the reader to another land.  It talks about forbidden loves and the result when they are revealed.  It talks about family bonds and how once they are broken, there is really nothing else to live for.  It won the Booker Prize in 1997 which is an amazing accomplishment for a debut novel.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

 


Joan is a ballet dancer but she knows she will never be the best.  She is in the corps in the New York ballet and that is probably the height of what she will accomplish.  But dance is all she knows; she focused on it as a young girl and has spent her whole life striving for perfection.  It has given her joy; she has been all over with the troupe and has spent a year in Paris dancing there.  While in Paris, she met and had a brief affair with the Russian superstar, Arslan Rusakov, who has been loaned by his government to the Paris ballet for a short appearance.

Later, Joan is astonished to be contacted by Arslan.  He has decided to defect and has chosen Joan to help him.  She drives to Canada where he is dancing and spirits him away to New York.  The two live together for a while but Arslan is determined to discover everything the freedom in America gives him and that includes other women.  Joan is heartbroken and turns to Jacob, the boy from high school who was her best friend and who has always loved her.  When she gets pregnant, she marries Jacob and leaves the dance world.

The couple move to the Southwest.  Jacob is in education and identifies gifted children.  They meet the neighbors and their son, Harry, and the couple's daughter, Chloe, become best friends.  They both start to dance and become obsessed with it, but Harry is much better than Chloe.  When he goes to New York on a summer intensive, Harry falls under Arslan's spell and soon becomes a soloist with the troupe.  

This is a novel that every woman who ever danced as a girl can relate to.  It is full of that striving for perfection, that obsession with making one's body do what seems impossible.  It is also full of loves and betrayals, friendships and shunning.  Maggie Shipstead writes strong female characters and her women are determined to live life on their own terms and love wherever it takes them.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.  

Thursday, February 23, 2023

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

 

Ciera and Oliver meet in Dublin, both newcomers to the city.  They go on a date or two and it seems to go well.  Then it hits.  Covid has come to Ireland and there's a mandatory shelter in place for two weeks. Oliver suggests that Ciera come to his apartment to stay during that time and she agrees.

But neither are what they are pretending to be.  Both are in Dublin under false names and both are hiding a big secret.  What neither knows is that the secret is about the same event.  

Years before, Oliver had been a killer as a child.  As is normal, his name was protected and he when he was released he should have been able to go about his life.  But even if his name didn't make the papers, there are always people who knew who he was, who knew his family and remembered him from before the crime.  He had been in London for a while but left when he was about to be outed there.  Now he is desperate that the same thing doesn't happen in Dublin.  

Ciara knows Oliver is hiding things, but what he doesn't know is that he is also.  There is also a woman in another apartment in the building who seems to know exactly who Oliver is and who wants to talk with him.  What will be all the secrets end up causing?

This is an excellent thriller.  There are surprises I didn't see coming, many of them.  Each character's background and secrets are slowly revealed.  The story is told in flashbacks, going back and forth between the present day and various days and what happened then in the time Ciara and Oliver know each other.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Goldengrove by Francine Prose

 

The summer of Nico's thirteenth year changed her and her family forever.  One minute she was rowing in a boat with her beloved older sister, Margaret.  The next Margaret had dove into the water, never to emerge alive again.  The word from the doctors was a heart condition that stopped her heart but Nico knows she stopped their family forever.

Margaret had been the elder, the beautiful one, the outgoing one, the singer who brought audiences to their feet in standing ovations.  Nico was the introvert, the girl who loved science and books.  No one knew what to say to her or her family.  She drew back from her few friends, sure that no one else in the world knew what they were feeling, what changes had been wrought.

Except one person.  Aaron was Margaret's boyfriend, an artist as talented as she had been.  Nico had been their accomplice, going to movies alone when her parents thought she was tagging along with Margaret and Aaron, giving them time and space to make love, to be alone.  Aaron is the only other person she knows would understand but he is much too old to hang out with and wouldn't it be too weird for words?

But Aaron seems to want to hang out with Nico.  He also feels that lack of anyone who truly understands what he has lost.  They start hanging out, going out for ice cream as the three of them used to, driving for hours in his van visiting the places dear to Margaret.  They watch old movies that Margaret loved.  Nico started to wear Margaret's clothes.  Was she in danger of turning herself into her sister?

This is a lovely book that touches the feeling of grief when a truly loved person passes away.  Nico is lost in time, remembering Margaret and slowly but surely falling in love with Aaron, a dangerous liaison she knows is not right but can't pull herself away from.  Prose gets the feeling of a young teenager right and the writing's pacing and tone are perfect.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Guilt/The Purity Of Vengence by Jussi Adler-Olsen

 


In this fourth retelling of Department Q, DI Carl Morck of the Copenhagen Police and his two assistants are facing another cold case that has slid beneath the notice of the force.  They start looking into a missing person case and soon realize that not only had that person gone missing but six people had gone missing the same day.  Not totally out of character, except that none of them were ever found and all of them have a connection to a right wing group that is rising in political power.

This group is determined to, as groups have over the years, purify civilization by forcibly sterilizing young women who are determined either to be less than normal intelligence or just too sexually active. They are sent or go for an abortion and while under anesthesia they are given hysterectomies.  Now that the organization is getting political power, they want to hide all evidence of this practice several decades ago.  Can Department Q shine light on them instead?

This is the fourth book in the series and has been released under two titles.  My copy was titled Guilt but it is also released under The Purity Of Vengence.   Morck is just starting an affair with a co-worker and his horrid wife has finally agreed to a divorce.  He has a former policeman who was injured along with Morck in a former case living with him as he is a quadriplegic and needs constant care.  Morck's two assistants, Assad and Rose, still have their quirks but are true helpers.  Assad in particular takes this case very personally and this is the case that makes Morck acknowledge to himself how much these two individuals have come to mean to him.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, February 20, 2023

The Cold Millions by Jess Walters

 

Gig and Ryan find themselves riding the rails and living the hobo life.  Gig is in his twenties and responsible for Ryan, sixteen, after the death of their parents.  Gig, a dreamy idealist, is caught up in union activities, appalled at the disparity between the lives of workers and those of the capitalists who grow rich on the work of others.  Ryan just wants a home and people he can love and who love him.

The two find themselves in Spokane, Washington, where even day laborers have to kick back part of their wages to get a job.  When there is a protest, the brothers go and both end up in jail.  Ryan is released fairly quickly due to his age but Gig is imprisoned for weeks.  He comes out a broken man and hits the rails again, leaving Ryan behind.

Ryan isn't sure what he thinks about the union and its activities but he knows he loves Gig and will do anything to get him released.  He finds himself in company with a fiery union activist, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, used by her and the union as an example of what the other side will do even to a child.  He helps Flynn travel and even sneaks out her articles to a newspaper but ultimately decides he wants a steady job.  Along the way, he meets characters such as a bar singer who Gig loves but who is on the take with a local tycoon, detectives who want to bust the union and lawmen who seem to love justice only for the rich.

This book was named a best book of the year by many publications such as Kirkus, NPR, many newspapers and libraries.  It portrays the fight in the early twentieth century between capitalists and union workers when it was a fight just to have a union.  Workers were treated as just another form of capital and little concern was given to their needs.  Life was hard for the many and extravagant for the few who owned the factories and wharves that made the money.  It is based on some true characters such as Flynn.  Readers will learn history along with cheering for Ryan and his hopes for a stable life.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

The End Of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas

 

Ariel Manto is a graduate student working on her doctoral thesis.  She has landed at this university because her doctoral supervisor is the only other person she has heard of that knows who Thomas Lumas is.  Ariel is focusing on nineteenth century scientists and Lumas was in that category.  He wrote a book called The End Of Mr. Y that is impossible to find; there are rumors that there might be one copy in a German library but it is unsubstantiated.  

Then Ariel's supervisor disappears.  While she is at loose ends, she visits a bookstore she hasn't seen before and finds a copy of The End of Mr. Y.  Elated and unable to believe her luck, she purchases it with her next month's rent and hurries back to her apartment.

There she finds that Lumas had found a recipe that lets someone go to another sphere of existence.  Ariel debates whether she should but ends up making up the recipe and off she goes.  She sees others there.  Some are helpful but some want to kill her if that's what it takes to get the book and its recipe.  She falls in love with Adam, a former priest and together they try to figure out what is going on.

Scarlett Thomas is known as a postmodern author.  This novel was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and I bought my copy over a decade ago.  I typically stay away from metaphysical and postmodern fiction but I was drawn into this one.  Ariel is a woman who is determined to find the truth no matter what it costs her and she refuses to delegate her authority to others.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Winders by Ryan O'Nan

 


Charlie Ryan has had a tough start to life.  His mother died young, leaving him in the foster system.  Luckily, Gram was one of the good fosters and Ducky was a brother for life.  But Charlie didn't tell even them about what had happened two months before his mother died.  They had had a wreck that left her dead but somehow Charlie had used his mind to reverse the accident and bring their car back up the embankment in time to miss the car that had plowed into them.  He was so young that these days he doesn't know if that really happened or if he dreamed it.

Juniper Trask knows it was no dream.  Charlie is a Winder just as she and her whole family are.  In fact, Juniper has been raised as a Winder and has risen to the top of the heap, a member of the ruling council that sets the rules.  Her brother has left the Winders after being demoted from the enforcers, but he hasn't given up his powers.  He somehow finds Charlie and brings him to New York where the Winders are gathered.

Charlie can't believe what Eamon tells him, but several demonstrations leave him believing that he is indeed a Winder.  That means he can wind time back for seconds up to a minute or so, reversing actions that didn't turn out the way he wanted.  He isn't sure what he thinks about it.  There is a war going on between the Winders and the Faders and he wants no part of that, although he is pulled into it.  There is also an internal war going on between the Winders and when that strikes close to Charlie, he is forced to use everything he has learned to save the day.

This is a debut novel but Ryan O'Nan is not a debut author.  He has worked mainly in television on shows like Queen Of The South and Legions.  The story is told in alternating viewpoints between Charlie and Juniper.  I listened to this novel and the alternating voices worked to show each character's story.  Readers won't be able to help thinking about what their lives would be like if they had the ability to roll back bad actions and relive them to make them turn out better.  The book ends with a setup for further adventures with these characters so this may be the start of a series.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

 

He was born Damon Fields but not under a lucky star.  His father was killed in an accident before he was born.  His mother fell to pieces and was a junkie.  He was born into a poor county with his household being one of the poorest.  But kids seldom know they are poor and less than; they just know if they are happy.  Demon was happy and spent his hours playing next door with his best buddy, who he nicknamed Maggot.  Maggot lives with his grandparents and Demon starts to think they are his grandparents as well.

As he gets older, things deteriorate.  His mother, who got sober so she could keep Demon, marries a man who is determined to make sure Demon follows all of his rules.  He terrorizes Demon and his mother with physical and mental abuse until Demon is taken away and put into state care.  He bounces from foster home to foster home, always hungry, always in ill-fitting clothes, often smelly from the physical labor he is doing with few opportunities to bathe.

His last foster assignment turns things around.  He is put under the care of the local football coach who is a town hero.  He sees the potential for athletic stardom in Demon and soon Demon is the talk of the town, making touchdowns look like child's play.  When his knee is shattered in a game, even this is taken away.  He is put on painkillers and before he knows it, is addicted.  It seems that life is over early for Demon but is it?

I read all of Barbara Kingsolver's novels and this is definitely one of her best.  She knows the land and the people she writes about as it is her home and I grew up very close to this area as well.  I know guys like Demon, stuck in poverty and addiction but still with a honest, sweet core to them.  He is a 'good ole boy' and in our part of the world, men like him will always help you if you have a flat tire, a yard that needs mowing or a fence that needs repair.  But they are often troubled underneath and prime victims for alcoholism and drug addiction to block out the fact that our area of the world is looked down upon, that we're seen as less than, rednecks and hillbillies.  The reader will be attracted to Demon and wonder if he will be able to pull out of the pitfalls that his locale and life has given him.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies

 

Arabella Godwin is born into a wealthy New York trading family.  But her life changes forever when her mother dies of consumption and her father takes his own life soon afterward.  Her older brothers are sent off to boarding school and she and her little brother, Lewis, are sent to live with her grandparents.  But they decide that they can't handle two young children and send them to upstate New York to live on a farm with poor relatives.

Arabella's cousin Agnes decides the first day that she doesn't like Arabella.  She makes Arabella's life a misery by causing her to make mistakes that cause punishment and by telling lies about Arabella.  Both girls are attracted to a neighbor boy, Jeptha.  He chooses Arabella and they are to be married until she encounters a tragedy which causes him to desert her.

She and Lewis move to New York City but have no money and little prospects.  Lewis soon gets in trouble with the law and Arabella becomes Belle Cora, a madam of a high-end prostitution house in order to gain Lewis's freedom and to get wealthy.  As word trickles in about the Gold Rush in California, she and Lewis both go there.  After a short time, Belle once again becomes the most well-known madam and has the most expensive house and lots of influence with wealthy, powerful men.  Through the years, she ricochets between Jeptha and a gambler, Charlie Cora.  

This book is based on a real person and many of the other figures in the novel are also historically founded.  It is a real treatise on the Gold Rush and how California cities such as San Francisco were built.  Belle was scorned by a sanctimonious society yet was always loyal to those she loved.  This book is recommended to readers of historical fiction. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

 


If he'd walked by five minutes later, his life would have remained the same.  Charlie Reade has a pretty normal life for a teenager.  He plays sports at school, is getting ready for college and has his eye on girls although he doesn't yet have a girlfriend.  But walking home one day, he hears frantic barking at the old house where the recluse lives.  Charlie goes to investigate and finds elderly Howard Bowditch lying on the ground after falling off a ladder.  Charlie calls for help and agrees to take care of the dog, Radar, while Howard is in the hospital.

By the time Howard is released, its clear he will need help for a while.  Charlie moves in and takes care of both Howard and Radar.  He gives up sports because he wants to feel needed and needed he is.  Slowly Howard and he develop a friendship and Howard lets him in on some of his secrets.  He has a safe upstairs full of golden beads and cashing those in is how he survives.  He tells Charlie of another world where people don't age and that he is actually over a hundred.  Charlie doesn't believe any of that but listens anyhow.  When Howard dies, he leaves everything he has to Charlie. 

By then, Radar is getting older and slower and Charlie isn't ready to give him up.  He decides to check out Howard's story of another land where Radar can be restored to a young dog.  He knows where Howard said the passageway was and one day he and Radar take it.  To his shock, there is another land although it's not the wonderful place Howard talked about.  

A tyrant has taken over the country and released a disease on the land.  People turn gray and their faces melt but slowly prolonging the misery.  Charlie manages to find the carousel to turn Radar's age back but he is soon captured and imprisoned in a dudgeon with others not affected by the graying.  These prisoners are used for live battles to the death and Charlie knows they can't stay if they don't want to all die.  Can he get back to his own world?

This is one of Stephen King's best novels in my opinion.  Charlie is a likeable hero and the worlds he inhabits are richly imagined.  Readers will fall in love with Radar and cheer for Charlie to be successful in freeing himself and the country from the tyranny of its king.  This book is recommended for suspense and fantasy readers.  

Monday, February 13, 2023

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zavin

 

They met in a California children's hospital.  Sam was there for damage to his leg after the wreck which killed his mother.  Sadie was there because her parents needed to be there for her sister who had leukemia.  They became best friends in the children's game room as each of them were gamers.  But after a misunderstanding, their friendship came to an end.

Years later, they meet again by chance in Boston where both had chosen to attend university.  Their past quarrel forgotten, they become friends again and decide to create a game together.  Sam's roommate, Marx, supplied the third person who took care of all the business, scheduling and coordination needed to make a project successful.  Successful it was with the game, Ichigo, becoming a multimillion dollar best seller.  The three of them are young and successful and rich.  Their company moves to California and turns out hit after hit.

Over the years, Sam and Sadie's friendship waxes and wanes.  Sometimes they are closer than anyone else in their lives and sometimes they are barely speaking.  Each of them have lovers but their relationship is always there.  

This book has received rave reviews from everyone and I loved it.  It feels like a realistic portrayal of a long-term friendship and the gaming world in which it was set was interesting to me.  Most people will fall in love with Marx, who is a good guy who holds everything together and who keeps the two friends on an even keel.  There is laughter and tears, love and betrayal, closeness and distance in this story of three peoples' lives over the years.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Eeny Meeny by M.J. Arlidge

 

DI Helen Grace is known as a cold, efficient policewoman.  She has risen quickly in the ranks and intends to keep her reputation.  That is, until the newest murder lands in her lap.

A young couple is reported missing.  The police look everywhere but can't find them or even a hint of a reason anyone would want to harm them.  Then the girl, Sarah, reappears without her fiancĂ©.  She tells a horrific story getting a ride from a woman and then nothing until they were waking up to find themselves in a room without food or water.  They got a call that said they would be left there until one used the gun which was the only thing they had to kill the other.  After days of no food and drink, Sarah eventually killed her boyfriend and was released.

The story seems fantastic, a fairy tale that couldn't be true.  That is, until the next couple was taken.  This one was two attorneys, a young man and his supervisor.  They told the same story except they had run out of gas and were offered a ride to a gas station.  They described the woman totally different from the way the first couple had.

As the murders continue, Helen starts to sense that these were not random choices as they appeared to be.  Instead, at least one of each couple has some tie to Helen herself.  Is this someone she put away during her career?  Someone who knows her dark secrets?  Can she find the answers before more victims are killed?

This is the first novel in the Helen Grace story.  The reader doesn't learn that much about Helen as she is very reserved and doesn't interact with many people outside of work.  She has a supportive staff and the reader will be interested to see the story of this police force deepen over subsequent cases.  There are many twists and turns and the answer to the madness is one that the reader won't see coming.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The Only Game by Reginald Hill

 


DI Inspector Dog Cicero is new to this beat.  He had served in Northern Ireland in the military, but left after he and his fiancĂ© were involved in a car explosion.  She had died and Dog had been left with a face that told the story of what he had experience.  He isn't sure that being a policeman is what he really wants but is giving it a go.  

Jane Maguire is a single mother new to the area.  When her son, Noll, is kidnapped, she rushes to the police for help.  But her story doesn't add up.  She talks about a new teacher at the kindergarten she spoke with but the head of the school says no such person exists.  Jane has a reputation for being short tempered and sometimes taking her frustration out on Noll.  Add in the fact that she seems fairly well heeled for a single mother without a job and bells start ringing.

Although the police look askance at Jane, Dog believes her story of the abduction, especially after she voluntarily comes into the police station and confesses to killing Noll.  Dog doesn't believe that story at all.  The secret service guys are milling around and why would they care about a local crime without security implications?  As Dog works the case, he runs up against both his country's secret service and the men from Northern Ireland who were responsible for his tragedy.  

Reginald Hill is best known for his Dalziel and Pascoe series but his stand alone novels are wonderful as well.  He is always strong on plot with lots of twists and turns and on building characters that the reader can believe in.  The relationship between Jane and her son, and between Dog and Jane are believable and the action is fast and exciting.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.