Monday, October 2, 2023

The Angel Maker by Alex North

 


When Katie was a teenager, a tragedy happened in her family.  Her brother, walking home, was attacked by a stranger who was caught cutting him severely, leaving him with lifetime scars.  Katie felt responsible as she was supposed to walk home with him, but had sent him off by himself while she spent time with her boyfriend.

Years later, Katie married that boyfriend and now has a baby with him.  Her brother, Chris, hadn't been so lucky.  Scarred physically and emotionally, he ended up turning to drugs to blot out the world and has wasted years in drug addiction.  

Now someone is killing in their town and Katie feels her family being pulled in.  The police believe the killings are somehow related to a serial killer caught in the vicinity years ago known as The Angel Maker as he killed young children, sending them to Heaven.  The latest victim of this killer was an older man who was also Chris' employer now that he has been sober for a while.  But it seems that this killer's next target may be Chris or even Katie or her child.  Can the police and Katie unravel the mystery before another murder occurs?

Alex North has become a dependable name in the suspense genre.  His plots often seem like disparate threads to begin with but slowly weave together, racketing up the terror as they come together.  The roots of Katie's problems go back decades and explores the question of what we owe our original families as we grow up and form new families.  This book is recommended for mystery and suspense readers.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

The Museum Of Failures by Thrity Umrigar

 

Remy has not been back to India since his father died three years ago.  He was always close to his father but his mother had been a silent, criticizing figure and it was easy to push back coming to check on her.  He has come to India to see about adopting a baby although his wife was not able to accompany him on this trip.  A friend's daughter has gotten pregnant and he is here to meet her and see about adopting her baby when it is born.

Remy arrives to find his mother in the hospital, perhaps at death's door.  The doctors aren't optimistic and she isn't speaking or eating.  As Remy cares for her, he feels shame for not taking better care of her over the years, not making sure that the safeguards he'd put in place were working.  Over her hospital stay, Remy and his mother become closer and he rediscovers the love he had for her.  

But there are dark secrets hiding in his family's background.  As Remy discovers them, he realizes that his memories of his childhood were all false, all manufactured.  What will he do with the new information he has learned?  Will he and his mother be another victim of Bombay, The Museum Of Failures?

This is a haunting book that will transport and touch the deepest emotions in the reader.  Thrity Umrigar was born in India to a Parsi family but also grew up around the Catholic and Hindu religions.  She immigrated to the United States when she was twenty-one and has written several best selling novels and has won numerous writing awards.  This book deserves to be one of her best known novels as it explores the meaning of family relationships and the place that friends play in our lives.  She delves into the darkest spaces and relates ways to solve thorny issues that are separating us from those we love.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea


 Avery Mason is looking for a big story to start her news show next season.  She thinks that looking back at the 9-11 attack might be good, especially when she learns that new technology is letting scientists identify victims from small bone fragments.  She contacts the lead scientist who agrees to let her television crew come and film in the lab, using a recent victim who has been identified as the focus.  That victim was Victoria Ford.

But Avery finds that there is much more to this story than she had anticipated.  At the time of her death, Victoria Ford had been the main suspect in the sex murder of a famous author who was her married lover.  She was about to be indicted and was in the Towers that day to meet with a lawyer about her defense.  When Avery visits Victoria's sister, she is adamant that Victoria could never have killed anyone and plays Avery the voice message Victoria sent that day when she knew she wasn't going to make it out.  In that, she proclaimed her innocence and begged her sister to clear her name.

Avery decides this is definitely her story.  She contacts the detective who headed up the case, a former FBI agent.  He agrees to review the case with her and share case file documents but he has a secret and an ulterior motive.  That's understandable because Avery is hiding a big secret as well.  The two become involved and both try to hide their secrets while investigating the long ago murder.

This is my first Charlie Donlea novel but it won't be my last.  There are plenty of twists and turns.  Everyone has a big secret in their past and the slow reveal of these add to the plot.  The novel starts a bit slow but once it gets going is a mystery fan's pleasure.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Morality For Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith

 


Mme Precious Ramotswe has her hands full at her detective agency.  A government official is sure that his brother is being poisoned, probably by his wife.  Another client wants the agency to determine which of the finalists in a beauty pageant is morally worthy of the title.  A young boy, four or five, at the adoption agency which Mme Ramotswe helps as she can, has been recently brought in.  He doesn't talk, smells of lion and is aggressive.  Worse of all, Mme Ramotswe's fiancé, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, has fallen into a depression.

But Mme Ramotswe forges ahead.  She goes to stay at the country home of the government official for several days to determine if a poisoner is still at work.  She leaves her assistant to handle both the detective agency and Mr. Matekoni's garage and work on whichever cases she can.  Matekoni she takes and leaves at the adoption agency where he can rest and where the lady in charge can talk him into going to a doctor.  By the end of the book, all is solved and resolved.

This is the third book in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.  Mme Ramotswe is optimistic and hard-working, sure that she can solve most mysteries with some hard work and the insights she has gained throughout her life.  Her surrounding cast has grown during the series but all are interesting characters who play parts in solving the mysteries.  This book is recommended for mystery and multicultural readers.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Mrs. Queen Takes The Train by William Kuhn


 The Queen is feeling a bit downhearted.  It seems that everywhere she looks, things just aren't right.  Has her life been a waste?  The papers are full of stories about how the monarchy just isn't needed any more or various scandals about the royal family.  The royal yacht has been mothballed and now she learns that the royal train is headed the same way.  

The Queen decides to walk to the stables and visit her favorite horse.  While there, Rebecca, who works with the horses, notices that the queen isn't dressed for the weather and gives her a hoodie.  Dressed in the hoodie and a scarf which shadows her face, the queen makes a decision to walk over to the shops a few streets away and buy more of the cheese that her favorite horse loves.  When she gets there, the young shop assistant, of Indian descent, recognizes her and helps her.  When she decides to go visit the royal yacht, he takes her to the station in a taxi.

Back at the palace, panic has ensued.  Where is the Queen?  Why don't they know where she is?  Several staff spring into action.  The Queen's dresser and her lady-in-waiting band together and decide to go to where the yacht is.  The equerry, a young man back from the Iran war and William, the butler, also team up.  All head off into the night to rescue the queen, although she is sure she doesn't need rescuing at all.

This was the author's first novel, having before this book written nonfiction.  He focuses on the royal family and on Jackie Kennedy for his various books.  This novel is a charming tale told with warmth and love for the queen.  It exposes the daily rivalries between the palace staff and their loyalty to their queen.  It also gives an inside look at what it must be like to be a royal in modern times when it seems that they are just figureheads and perhaps past their time.  This book is recommended for readers of light fiction. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

If She Wakes by Michael Koryta

 

A potential world-changing discovery in energy is rumored to have been made.  But if so, the knowledge is hidden and only two women can unlock the key, both unlikely heroes.

Tara was giving a famous scientist who'd come to her college to give a talk a ride between venues when a wreck occurs.  The man is killed and Tara is left in a coma, completely paralyzed.  When she awakes, she realizes that she is conscious and able to think but everyone around her thinks she is still brain dead.  How can she impart the knowledge she has?

Abby Reynolds was a famous stock car racer who became a stunt driver in the movies.  But her nerve was shot when she wrecked her car one night with her movie star boyfriend in the passenger seat.  He was left in a coma until his family decided to suspend life support.  Since then, Abby has been a villain on social media and has come back East to decide what to do next in her life.  Somehow, she has been drawn into the web of entanglements and assassins looking for the information on the scientist's phone.  Can she find the knowledge and survive long enough to share it?

Both women have allies.  Tara has her sister, Shannon, who has been by her side protecting her for their entire lives.  Abby has Hank, the man who first sponsored her as a race car driver and who is letting her work as an insurance investigator until she recovers her nerve.  Both are also drawn into the machinations as various entities try to recover the discovery that could mean billions.

This was my first novel by Michael Koryta.  It was extremely suspenseful with lots of twists and turns.  Although he is male and most of the main players in the novel female, he gets their characters perfectly.  There are several villains and they are creepy and scary in the right proportions.  I read this book holding my breath for at least half of it and was surprised by the ending.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Born In A Burial Gown by M.W. Craven

 


Detective Inspector Avison Fluke is newly returned to work.  He has been out for over a year, fighting a blood cancer.  What those around him don't know is that he has not been cleared to return to service and is not healthy.  But his work is what sustains him and if he has to hide the truth, well, there are lots of secrets being held in the police force.

His first case is what appears to be a gangland execution.  The body of a woman has been found on a construction site, in a foundation post due to be filled with cement.  The only reason she was found was that a junkie had been using the construction trailer for his home and happened to look out and see the body disposal when he was sober enough to know what he was seeing.

Fluke pulls his team together.  They are the individuals that his boss never wants on his own team but Fluke knows they are all loyal to him and highly skilled.  One is a friend from his youth who spent years in the military in the top forces.  Another is a woman the boss considers not young or good-looking enough but Fluke knows she is a marvel at organization.  The team soon discovers that the woman was not who she was pretending to be.  She was living under a false name and had gone through extensive plastic surgery to change her looks.  What was her secret?

This is the first novel in the new Avison Fluke series.  M. W. Craven is an English writer who is making a name here in the United States after becoming very popular overseas.  He has traveled the world and has a degree in social work and criminology, both fields that let him write about criminals and those who chase them with authority.  Fluke is an interesting character as are his team and this is a welcome addition to the mystery genre.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Treacle Walker by Alan Garner

 

There are three characters in this novel.  The first is Treacle Walker, a rag and bone man who visits the other main character.  Joe is a small boy who lives alone and has a lazy eye.  Thin Amren is a character who seems to be spiritual; a creature who lives in the nearby bog.

Joe wants Treacle Walker to help him make the world make sense.  He wants a cure for his eye and for his vision to be perfect.  Treacle gives him gifts and some allow Joe to see Thin Amren and help him while others take him into other dimensions.  Joe also is interested in marbles and comics.  His comics often come to life, making them surreal to Joe.

This short novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.  It is full of imagery and nonsense terms.  Alan Garner, who is in his late eighties, is known for his works of fantasy and the use of English folklore in his works.  There can be much discussion about what is meant by the various characters and their traits.  Joe seems to be attempting to find a vision, both his physical vision and a more poetic one that will help him interpret the world.  Treacle Walker is like a favorite uncle, always teasing but indulging one's desires.  This book will be discussed for many years and is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Under An Outlaw Moon by Dietrich Kalteis

 

They meet in Kansas.  Bennie is in his early twenties, Stella only fifteen.  She can't resist the cute guy flirting with her and agrees to go out on a date.  Little did her parents know, she would be married to Bennie before her sixteenth birthday and far from Kansas and her home.

Bennie had been released from prison after a failed bank robbery.  He's sure he can get it right this time and teaches Stella how to shoot and off the two of them go.  Bennie never hurts anyone in the banks and doesn't rob those who are caught there during the robbery.  He buries their loot and looks for the next job and how to please Stella.  Stella only wants a house and kids but that isn't likely when J. Edgar Hoover puts them on the Most Wanted list.

This book is a fictionalized account of the true story of Bennie and Stella Mae Dickson.  The author's retelling of their story is slanted towards the story of their love and their relative nonviolence rather than seeing them as criminals who needed to be hunted down.  I listened to this novel and the narrator was perfect for this kind of story, capturing Bennie's eagerness to do anything to make Stella Mae happy.  This book is recommended for readers of true crime and literary fiction.

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

 


Ray McMillian has loved music and specifically, the violin, since he discovered them as a child.  He plays in the school band but doesn't have the advantages the other students do.  Ray is black and his family is barely scraping by, uninterested in his vocation and not able to provide private lessons or even a violin to practice on.  Ray makes do with the school's violin and practices in the air at night in his room.  Then one Christmas while on the annual family get-together, his grandmother gives him a gift he treasures.  She gives him his grandfather's violin which family history says has been passed down through the family from the former slave who was gifted it by his owner.

Now Ray can practice for hours.  At a state competition, his talent is recognized and he is chosen over many other students.   He is also noticed by one of the judges, also black, who recognizes his talent and arranges for him to be offered a scholarship at the university at which she teaches.  Ray rises to the top there and afterwards is making his way up the ladder in the world of classical music.  When he takes his violin in to be repaired, a miracle occurs and it turns out that the old violin, handed down through generations, is a Stradivarius.  This is a story that makes the news as it is worth around ten million dollars. 

But Ray just treasures it as his violin.  He continues to play it everywhere.  When he is accepted into the Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia, it is an honor he can hardly believe.  No American has won this competition except Van Claiborne and he won in the piano competition.  But before Ray can go, his violin is stolen.  How?  Who?

It's not like others hadn't wanted his violin.  His own family had a lawsuit against him, since once they discovered what had seemed like a beat up fiddle was worth a fortune, they decided they were the rightful owners.  Descendants of the former slave owner had a lawsuit as well and showed up repeatedly, trying to intimidate Ray.  A hotel maid, a baggage handler, anyone could have wanted this violin.  Could Ray possibly win the biggest competition in his life without it?

This is a debut novel for the author and received a lot of buzz.  The theme running throughout the novel is the place that race plays in the opportunities available to black students.  Only 1.8 percent of classical musicians are black and that is a result of the lack of exposure, private lessons, ability to enter and travel to regional and state competitions or to even attend college.  This book was a real touchstone to me as the author was raised in North Carolina where I live and got his degree in music from a university a few miles from me where I also attended and got a degree.  The reader will fall in love with Ray and his fight to be able to do the one thing he was made to do; play classical music and bring a love of music to everyone.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Umbrella by Will Self

 

This novel follows two storylines.  One is the epidemic of encephalitis that occurred after WW I.  It left many of the patients in a stupor, prone to tics that were repeated and an unawareness of surroundings.  This often led to hospitalization in a mental hospital as it was unclear to doctors of that time what was occurring.  Much of the book is set in such a hospital and follows the story of a doctor, Zachery Busner, who brought the patients out of their stupor with the prescription of l-dopa.

The other storyline is that of the Death family.  One member goes to serve on the front in the war.  Another member, Audrey, was one of the patients in the mental hospital and her tics and jerks were the repetitive movements she had learned as she worked in a war industry factory.  The last member of the Death family was another son, who was intelligent and had risen high in the government overseeing the production and distribution of munitions.

This is not an easy book to read.  It is full of stream of consciousness language, moving on quickly and repetitively, reminiscent of the mutterings of the patients in the mental hospital.  The viewpoint shifts constantly between Audrey, her brothers and the doctor, often in the middle of a sentence, so the reader must attend closely to the story.  The language is babbling and full of imagery.  This novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and for those willing to surrender themselves to its flow, is a rewarding look at the time period between the two world wars.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

 

Irene had hoped for some rest after her latest mission for The Library where she is a field agent, sent to retrieve books in various Alternates.  But as soon as she arrives and makes her report, she is given another mission, to an alternate London where she is to retrieve a book of Grimm's Fairy Tales that is different than other copies; it has a different story to end on.  Irene takes off with a new assistant, a gorgeous young man named Kai who she isn't sure will be of any help or not.

Irene and Kai arrive to find that the book they are to retrieve has itself been stolen from it's last owner, who was murdered in the process.  Now they must not only locate it but do so before those who are also interested in it can find it.  Their rivals for the book include a representative from the Fae, a rival of Irene's who wants to steal her mission and a rogue agent who now roams the world on the side of evil and who delights in killing agents.  They do pick up an ally, a detective whose logic and bravery helps in their mission.  Oh, and Kai turns out to be a dragon.

This is the first book in the Invisible Library series of which there are currently eight novels.  Irene is a delightful heroine, strong and independent.  The world building could use more work but the magic used is interesting and based on language as one might expect from a world based on books.  Readers will want to read more of Irene and Kai's adventures to see what happens next in this fantastic world.  This novel is recommended for fantasy readers.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love by Oscar Hijuelos

 


They arrived in New York City from the rural countryside of Cuba.  Cesar Castillo and his brother Nestor have come to America to make their success.  They both are musicians and soon find work in various clubs.  They create their own orchestra, The Mambo Kings, and soon they are playing constantly, winning applause and the regard of women.  This was the time of Latin music, of Desi Arnez and Xavier Cugat.  Their crowning accomplishment was when Arnez came to one of their sessions and invited them to a guest spot on his television show.

Cesar is the typical macho Latino.  He goes from woman to woman, thinking of nothing but making love to every woman he meets and never sticking to one too long.  Nestor is the sensitive one, always longing for his first love, Maria.  His love for her leads to the pair's biggest hit, 'Beautiful Maria Of My Soul'.  Nestor marries and has children but he spends his life pining for Maria.  

This book, portraying the Latin culture in the 1940's, won the Pulitzer Prize.  It is full of descriptions of the spicy food, the sex and the women, and the importance of family and friends.  Cesar is an overwhelming figure, always ready to give whatever he can to anyone he knows.  The writing is sensual and transports the reader to another time and place.  After the 1940's and the end of the Latin music heyday, the book becomes less interesting as Cesar has to make the best of his life after his reason for performing and living large disappears.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Hello, Transcriber by Hannah Morrissey

 

Hazel Greenwood is not in a good place in her life.  She is stuck in Black Harbor, Wisconsin, a dark and dingy city.  She is in a loveless marriage to Tommy, who spends all his time hunting and fishing and drinking with the occupants of the other side of their duplex.  Hazel had thought by now she'd be an author but that didn't work out either.

But she can type and gets a job as a police transcriber, working overnights in the deserted police station.  She is good at her job and starts to take interest in the cases she writes up and the detectives that solve them.  One in particular, Nick Case, catches her interest and he seems interested in her as well.  

Nick is working several deaths.  The first is a nine year old boy who overdosed on drugs and was disposed of in a dumpster.  He suspects a drug dealer nicknamed The Candy Man and it turns out that Hannah's neighbor, Hank, was the one who put the child in the dumpster although he insists The Candy Man made him do it and he refuses to identify him.  Then there is another overdose and then the death of Nick's best informant, a woman he is rumored to be having an affair with.  As the deaths pile up and Hannah gets more entangled in the case and in Nick's company, she begins to believe she can solve the case and write a novel that will take her away from this life she hates.

This is a debut novel for Hannah Morrissey.  She lives in Wisconsin and was an actual transcriber which lends her work authenticity.  The pacing in this novel is spot on and there are twists and turns that keep the reader guessing.  Hazel makes every mistake a woman in love can make and it almost costs her the life she wasn't sure she wanted.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, September 18, 2023

The Story Of Lucy Gault by William Trevor

 

The time is the 1920's and the Gault family is living on their family estate, Lehardane, in Ireland.  The Gaults have one child, Lucy, who is nine.  She has grown up running on the land, visiting the sea which abuts the estate and exploring the forest and fields.  But Ireland is roiled with trouble and estates are being burnt as Irish rebels try to free themselves of English rule. 

One night, Captain Gault sees three men creeping towards the house.  He shoots and wounds one, but is then horrified to see that these are only teenage boys.  There are tins of gasoline so he has stopped their proposed crime but he and his English wife are sure that this will bring more retribution.  They decide that they must leave the estate and move to England.

Lucy is appalled at the thought of leaving all she knows and loves.  Several days before the proposed date of leaving she packs a bag and runs away.  She only plans to go to the home of a former servant, thinking that when she is returned her parents will surely change their decision to leave if it means that much to her.  But she trips and falls, injuring herself, and cannot make it either to the servant's house or back home.  This sets up a cascade of miscommunication that sears the lives of all involved for the rest of their existence.

William Trevor wrote many novels, four of which were nominated for the Booker Prize, this being one.  The writing is gorgeous, transporting the reader to another time and place.  It portrays sadness and regret as few authors can master and leaves the reader melancholy.  Love is everything and people will do whatever they think will bring love to their lives.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

The Restraint Of Beasts by Magnus Mills

 


An Englishman is given a promotion to supervisor at a fencing company.  He is excited until he is told that his crew would exist of Tam and Richie.  They were known throughout the company as the slackest workers, the ones who could easily turn a two hour job into a day's work.  But there's a big job in England and Donald, the boss, doesn't trust the two to go by themselves.

Towing a caravan, the three set off.  The foreman is well aware of his crew's work habits, having to accompany them to redo a local job in Scotland before they leave.  Once they get to the job site, he has to find ways to get them up in the morning, make them eat, then keep them working as they expect to take a break to smoke every few minutes.  At night, they expect to go to a pub where they borrow money from the foreman and get totally drunk.  In the caravan, they don't clean anything, just scraping food off the dirty plates and pans they haven't cleaned whenever they need to cook something else.

But overall, they are good at their jobs when they can be corralled.  Except, of course, for the 'accidents' that seem to leave bodies behind them wherever they go.  

Magnus Mills was a bus driver who became an author.  This novel, his first, was nominated for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Prize.  He wrote several other novels and some short story anthologies.  His concentration was on the working class and their foibles, told with humor and gritty detail.  Authority is to be avoided when possible and ignored when not in sight.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Something To Hide by Elizabeth George

 

An English policewoman has been killed.  She worked in a unit that fought the crime of female genital mutilation or FGM which had become an issue with the large number of immigrants from cultures that still practiced it on their daughters.  Her secret, which very few knew until her death, was that she herself had been a victim of this practice.

There are plenty of suspects.  The policewoman had just managed to close down a clinic where FGM was performed.  She was having an affair with her boss so both he and his wife had motives.  Her ex-husband was still in love with her and wanted her back although she was resisting his advances.  Her sister was in an affair with her ex-husband, willing to soothe his wounded feelings.  

Then there is a Nigerian family through whose eyes we see the reasons why FGM has remained an issue and how it tears apart families.  There is a young girl, Simi, whose parents both are planning to have the operation performed on her.  Simi's big brother, Tani, is determined that this will never happen to his little sister and is willing to stand up to his parents to make sure that doesn't happen.

All the main characters are in this novel.  DCI Lynley heads up a team investigating the murders with Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata assisting.  Deborah and Simon, Lynley's best friends,  hide the young girl in their home and Deborah is working with a group that shelters the young girls slated for this operation.  

This is the twenty-first book in this series.  Fans of George will enjoy this one with its intensive research into this issue and the twists and turns that emerge as the story unfolds.  Some may question whether focusing on an issue unique to specific cultures is wise, but George has chosen to do so and to highlight all sides of the problem.  This book is recommended for mystery fans.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Notes On A Scandal by Zoe Heller

 

When pottery teacher Sheba Hart joins the teaching staff in a London school, the established teaching staff are agog.  Sheba is lovely and dresses in floating layers, not the staid costumes of her peers.  There is competition for her friendship but Barbara Covett, an older teacher who has been there for much of her career, refuses to be as open as the others.  

Barbara slowly starts a friendship with Sheba and soon manages to push out the other rivals for Sheba's attention.  Barbara is sure that she and Sheba are soulmates so it is a shock when she learns that Sheba is having an affair with one of her fifteen year old students and furthermore, that she thinks that it is a love story and a love that will endure.

When the affair becomes public, as it must, only Barbara remains at Sheba's side.   Her husband asks her to leave the house and her only access to her daughter and son is at his pleasure for a few hours weekly.  Her job is gone and the papers are full of this delicious scandal.  Barbara starts taking care of Sheba, cooking and cleaning and making sure Sheba gets up and takes care of herself.  But has Sheba traded one relationship prison for another?

Zoe Heller comes from a writing family, with her brother, father and grandfather all being writers as well.  This novel was nominated for a Booker Prize and was made into a movie.  It explores the dark side of female friendships and how a misfortune for one party can establish an unhealthy dependence on the other.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 


In this Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner, Colson Whitehead has written a story that makes the reader feel the horrors of slavery.  Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia.  The owner is cruel and when he dies and his even crueler brother takes over, Cora agrees to run away with another slave.  He has a connection with the underground railroad and they are soon out of Georgia.

Their first stop is South Carolina where they decide to stay as it seems as if former slaves are treated well there.  They are given jobs and dorms in which to live.  There is plenty of food.  But it turns out that there is an ulterior motive behind the kindness and Cora moves on.  Her next stop is North Carolina where there is no expectation of kindness.  Public lynchings are town entertainment and she spends months hidden in the attic of a former underground railroad participant.  But the slave hunters come to search and Cora is captured and on her way back to the plantation where she expects a hideous, torture-filled death.

But fate intervenes and Cora is once more on the road.  She ends up in Indiana where there is a large farm that offers shelter to runaway slaves as long as they can contribute.  She settles into a life there where slavery is not legal and even finds love.  But dreams don't always come true.

Colson Whitehead has become the voice of the racial sins experienced by African Americans.  This book was the winner of numerous awards and another of his novels, The Nickel Boys, also won the Pulitzer.  He uses an actual railroad in this book, a figurative device that shows just as the train was destined to overtake horse-drawn vehicles, slavery was destined to eventually be stamped out.  Unfortunately, prejudice cannot be outlawed and it remains with us even today.  This book is recommended to readers of literary, historical and diverse voices fiction.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

 

They meet at the Paris School Of Ballet as young girls.  Delphine is the 'nice' one, a girl whose mother was a ballet star.  Margaux is her best friend and they are the two best dancers.  Lindsay is an American and comes when she is twelve.  She quickly becomes friends with the others and they become a trio for life.  Only other dancers can understand their lives; the daily hours of practice, the quest for perfection, the competition to rise in the field they have chosen.

The story picks back up when the trio is thirty-six, almost at the end of a dancer's career.  Delphine is just returning to Paris after thirteen years in St. Petersburg.  She followed a man there and became a choreographer.  When she broke away from him, she returned to the Paris Ballet and is working to establish herself in her career.  Margaux has come out as gay, is married and is a secret alcoholic.  Lindsay married a journalist and is still fighting to make her mark.  She dances fearlessly but has never been popular with those in power at the Ballet.  

The friendship of the three women picks back up but has to adjust.  They realize that a grown friendship has to be different than that of girls.  In their case, each is struggling to come to terms with what comes next in their lives and fighting to throw off the expectations of men.  They have come to see that their live have been dominated by men and what they want, what they find appealing, what they are willing to let women have.  Can their friendship adjust to a more mature footing?

Rachel Kapelke-Dale grew up in the world of intensive ballet training so she knows the inside story of what these women go through to become the best in the world at what they do.  But more importantly than one field of endeavor, the book explores the world of female friendships and how they change as we grow and how the best of them sustain those involved.  She also talks about how women's dreams and goals are often constrained by the men around them and the struggle to live free of others' expectations.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Sunday, September 10, 2023

In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut

 

In this short novel, Damon Galgut talks of travel and those we meet along the way.  It is split into three stories.  In the first, he and a man he met by chance on another trip agree to go hiking together for several months in the mountains of Middle Europe.  As they hike they realize they didn't know each other well enough to undertake such a journey and there are power struggles.  In the second, he goes to Africa and meets up with a trio of travelers, two men and a woman.  He falls in with them but comes to despise them for their treatment of the poor people they encounter and the servants that help them.  In the last, he goes to India and takes a friend who has been having mental issues.  He thinks it will do her good to get away in a relaxing place away from the stresses of her normal life but he doesn't know that she is much sicker than he knew and that her main goal in life is to end it.

Damon Galgut is a South African author.  He has been nominated for the Booker Prize three times and his novel The Promise won the award in 2021.  His works tend to be short and focus on the relationship between people and the power struggles that most relationships turn into.  He is a traveler as these stories reflect and his work leaves the reader thinking about the emotions he relates.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

 


Michael and Scottie have just arrived in Siena, Italy.  It is the 1950's, eleven years after the war.  The pair are newlyweds and both have big secrets.  Michael is there to open a Ford dealership in tractors, but the real reason he is there is that he is working for the CIA.  Scottie, not really the young innocent she seems, is secretly pregnant with another man's baby and hoping to fool Michael into thinking it is his.

The two start their marriage and start to know each other a bit.  Besides working for the CIA, Michael is also living a lie as he is gay but cannot let anyone know as he would lose his job and face disdain from society.  Scottie, who needs affection, soon finds it in the men around her.  Michael has been told his job is to insure the Communists don't win the mayoral election so that he can save Italy, and the world, from extinction.  That puts pressure on him and he has little time for Scottie.  He hires a young teenager to accompany Scottie during the days and teach her Italian.  All is moving along when Robertino disappears.  As Scottie tries to find him, she meets police and noblemen, aristocratic expatriates and many people of the town.  Did he run away?  Has he been killed for the secrets he knows? 

This novel is an interesting one.  It delves into Italian society after World War II but it also exposes the dangers of secrets and how a relationship can only be founded on honesty.  As the couple's secrets emerge, they start to grow closer.  Scottie is a joy and through her, Michael begins to shed some of his reclusiveness and secrecy.  This book is recommended for readers of literary and historical fiction.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

The Suspicions Of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale

 

In 1860 a horrible crime occurs in England.  During the night, a three year old boy, Saville Kent, is kidnapped, his throat cut and stuffed down an outside privy.  He lived with his parents, a sister and three stepsisters and a stepbrother, along with several servants.  Mr. Kent had married the governess of his first family when his first wife died and they had two children plus the second wife was pregnant again.  All of England was shocked.  Who would kill a small boy in such a horrific fashion?

It was the infancy of detection and there were only eight detectives in London and none elsewhere.  The best of these eight was Jonathan Whicher and he was sent to the countyside in order to solve the crime.  He soon determined that the crime had to be committed by someone who lived in the house but who would do such a thng?

As the days went by, Whicher's suspicions settled on fifteen year old Constance Kent.  She had a missing nightgown and several of her friends reported that she thought her stepmother treated the new family better than the first.  But could she have done this without detection?  Did she have help?

Kate Summerscale has focused her career on recreating Victorian crimes.  This murder and the detective that worked the case were used as examples in the writing of Charles Dickens and William Wilkie Collins.  The book is extensively researched and the reader learns about Victorian society, the rise of the detective and the lives of all involved.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and true crime.

Monday, September 4, 2023

The Whereabouts Of Eneas McNulty by Sebastian Barry

 

Eneas McNulty is born in Sligo, Ireland.  He is the eldest of four children, two other sons and a daughter.  As he grows up, he has a best friend, Jonno.  But life is not always fair.  When Eneas grows up, there are no jobs to be had.  He joins the police in a neighboring town but that puts him at odds with the men fighting for Ireland's freedom and they put him on their blacklist.

To avoid death, Eneas must leave his childhood home, his family and his love, Viv.  He wanders for the rest of his life, as each time he comes home he finds that the blacklist is still in force and the men who hate him still plan to kill him.  He fights in World War II, sails on ships, spends several years in Africa where he meets his best friend and finally ends up back in England where he runs a hotel for other old sailors and soldiers.  He never marries, never has a family of his own for the hate that is endemic to Ireland will never let him settle. 

Barry is considered one of the premier Irish novelists and served as Laureate For Irish Fiction for several years.  His books have been nominated five times for the Booker Prize.  This novel is the start of a trilogy about the McNulty family.  Barry is known for his poetic writing with imagery that takes the reader immediately to the places he writes about.  It explores the chaos of the Irish Rebellion and the start of the Troubles where friend is pitted against friend and brother against brother.   Once one is designated as a traitor their life in Ireland was over.  It also outlines the need for family or friends and how an individual deprived of them is the saddest person ever.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

 


Lux has been drifting through life.  She had been in college but left when her mother got sick and then spent her time nursing her through her end.  Now she is waitressing and trying to decide what to do next when Nico walks in.  He is gorgeous and seems to want to be with her.  After a few weeks together, Nico suggests that they get on his ship and sail to Hawaii.  Months later, Lux is in another dead end job while Nico spends his time at the marina.  That changes when two girls, Brittany and Emma, offer him $50,000 to take them to a deserted island.

Meroe Island is gorgeous but has a haunted reputation.  Over the years, those stranded there have not survived or survived by means they aren't willing to discuss later.  It served as a military airstrip during the war and that occasionally brings travelers to visit but they don't stay long.  But the four arrive and are entranced with the views and the sheltered cove they find.

The only fly in the ointment is that another ship is there, but Jake and Elisa are Australians who are great mates, willing to share their food and drink and soon the six of them are all friends, spending their days sunning and swimming and their nights partying.  But as the days go by, secrets start to emerge and tensions start to bubble up.  Then the first person goes missing, then another....

This is my first Rachel Hawkins novel and she is a great suspense writer.  Each character has their own backstory and there is also an underlying class theme going on.  There are secrets and betrayals and realliances until the end story is played out.  This book is recommended for readers of psychological thrillers.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Disordered Minds by Minette Walters

 

Dr. Jonathan Hughes has written a book about false confessions and uses several cases to illustrate his point.  One is the case of Howard Stamp, a young man, shunned because of his disability, a harelip and stuttering.  When his grandmother is found slashed to death in her house, Stamp is quickly arrested and after hours of interrogation, he confesses.  He later disavows his confession but is found guilty and sent to prison where he commits suicide.

Jonathan is contacted after the book's publication by many people, but he is intrigued by one, a local council woman named George.  He agrees to meet her in a pub and after a bad start, they agree to look into the case.  A few days before the murder, a local girl, thirteen, had gone missing just a few streets away from the murder scene. There was talk that the girl had been gang raped shortly before her disappearance. She has never been found although thirty years has gone by.   Could the two cases be connected?

The two work on the cases along with the help of Jonathan's agent.  They realize that the owner of the pub where they met, a man who had befriended George, was living in the same neighborhood as all the crimes.  Was he involved?  One of his ex-wives looked like the missing girl and went by her nickname.  What was her part in all this?

Minette Walters was known for her eerie mystery novels when she started out, although lately she has been concentrating on historical fiction.  Whenever I find one of her mysteries I haven't read, it is like a present as her novels are intriguing and different from that of others.  In this one, the two cases which had always been treated as separate crimes, turn out to be twisted together.  It also illustrates the way that crimes against women are often not taken seriously, especially when the victims are teenage girls who are known to not be the best of witnesses.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, September 1, 2023

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry

 

Winona Cole is a Lakota child, brought from the killing fields of the West to Tennessee where her adoptive fathers, John Cole and Thomas McNulty, have settled on the farm of one of their friends.  She is raised as any other girl would be, except that she is given an education and except that she is raised with the knowledge that her family was massacred and that in American society she is seen as less than human, a little better than an animal.

But that doesn't stop the men of the nearby town from desiring her.  A clerk in the general store courts her and soon declares her as his fiancée.  That doesn't sit well in the Tennessee a decade after the war.  Those who would have been rebels have gained the governor's mansion and most of the local offices and prejudice and night riding are back in style.  

When Winona comes home bloodied and raped from a trip into town, her fathers want to take off immediately and kill the man who did it.  Winona has a blackness in her mind and can't remember who it was or even exactly what happened.  But suspicion falls on her former fiancée and when he is killed the law comes for Winona.  Will she end up on the hangman's platform?

This is the second book in Sebastian Barry's Days Without End series.  Fans of the author, of whom I claim membership with, will recognize the McNulty name from his series about the Irish troubles.  Barry has been nominated for the Booker three times, the most recently this year, and is known as one of the premiere Irish writers of our time.  Readers will sympathize with Winona and recognize John and Thomas from the earlier book and from history of those times.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Booksie's Shelves, August 31, 2023

 

Art by R.F. Skia & Culpeo S. Fox

It's the last day of August and summer is hopefully winding down.  It's my least favorite season and I look forward to cooler days.  In the meantime, I've been reading and buying backlists of some authors I've enjoyed lately.  My husband and I went to see our family in Georgia over the weekend and I got to spend my son's birthday with him for the first time in many years.  All of our grandkids are thriving and I have one avid reader!  Here's what's come through the door lately:


  1. The Madman's Tale, John Katzenbach, mystery, purchased
  2. Next Of Kin, John Boyne, literary fiction, purchased
  3. A Traveler At The Gates Of Wisdom, John Boyne, literary fiction, purchased
  4. Crippen, John Boyne, mystery, purchased
  5. This House Is Haunted, John Boyne, mystery, purchased
  6. Lamb, Bonnie Nadzam, literary fiction, purchased
  7. Lost, Sharon Bolton, mystery, purchased
  8. The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane, nonfiction travel, purchased
  9. In The Heat Of The Summer, John Katzenbach, mystery, purchased
  10. State Of Mind, John Katzenbach, mystery, purchased
  11. The Pleasure Seekers, Tishani Doshi, literary fiction, purchased
  12. This Mournable Body, Tsitsi Dangarembga, literary fiction, purchased
  13. The Shadow King, Maaza Mengiste, literary fiction, purchased
  14. The Shadow Man, John Katzenbach, mystery, purchased
  15. The Wrong Man, John Katzenbach, mystery, purchased
  16. Day Of Reckoning, John Katzenbach, mystery, purchased
  17. Who They Was, Gabriel Krauze, literary fiction, purchased
Here's the ebooks I've bought lately:

  1. This Much Is True, Miriam Margolyes, memoir
  2. Promise Me, Jill Mansell, women's fiction
  3. Fatal Charm, Carlton Smith, true crime
  4. Hell's Kitchen, Jeffrey Deaver, mystery
  5. Once Gone, Blake Pierce, mystery
  6. The Collected Enchantments, Theodora Goss, anthology
  7. Grimm Up North, David Gatwood, mystery
  8. The Great And Secret Show, Clive Barker, horror
  9. The Valley Of Lost Children, David Barbur, mystery
  10. The Seventh Victim, Michael Wood, mystery
  11. Gone Tomorrow, P.F. Kluge, mystery
  12. The Woods Out Back, R.A. Salvatore, fantasy
  13. The Last Confession Of Thomas Hawkins, Antonia Hodgson, mystery
  14. A Death At Fountain's Abby, Antonia Hodgson, mystery
  15. The Long Kill, Reginald Hill, mystery
  16. Little Girl Missing, J.G. Roberts, mystery
  17. One Last Step, Sarah Sutton, mystery
  18. Lyrics Alley, Leila Aboulela, literary fiction
  19. The Muralist, B.A. Shapiro, literary fiction
  20. Shadow Falls, Wendy Dranfield, mystery
  21. Into The Narrowdark, Tad Williams, fantasy
  22. A Declaration Of The Rights Of Magicians, H.G. Parry, fantasy
  23. My Mother, A Serial Killer, Hazel Baron, true crime
  24. Where Lost Girls Go, B.R. Spangler, mystery
  25. Sentinals Awake, Helen Garraway, fantasy
  26. The Last Of The Stanfields, Marc Levy, literary fiction
  27. The Eldritch Tome, Stephen Blumberg, fantasy
  28. Dinner At Deviant's Place, Tim Powers, fantasy
  29. The Confessions Of Franny Langton, Sara Collins, literary fiction
  30. Bring Me Flowers, D.K. Hood, mystery
  31. The Northminster Mysteries, Harriet Smart, mystery
  32. The Changliing, Victor Levalle, horror
  33. Nobody Walks, Mick Herror, thriller
  34. Unsolved No More, Kenneth Mains, true crime
  35. The Blue Blazes, Chuck Wendig, fantasy
  36. Banished, Michael Wisehart, fantasy
  37. Imperfect Magic, C.N. Rowan, fantasy
  38. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi, literary fiction
  39. The Dark, Sharon Bolton, literary fiction
  40. The Whereabouts Of Eneas McNulty, Sebastian Barry, literary fiction
  41. The Roof Walkers, Keith Henderson, literary fiction
  42. The Madness Of Crowds, Louise Penny, mystery
  43. Last Respects, Catherine Aird, mystery
  44. The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi, fantasy
  45. How To Catch A Killer, Katherine Ramsland, true crime
  46. Medusa's Ankles, A.S. Byatt, anthology
  47. A Murder Of Crows, Tom Lowe, mystery
  48. A False Dawn, Tom Lowe, mystery
  49. The Serial Killer's Wife, Robert Swartwood, mystery
  50. My Lover's Love, Maggie O'Farrell, literary fiction
  51. Dragon Mage, ML Spenser, fantasy
  52. Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson, fantasy
  53. Farmer, Jim Harrison, literary fiction
  54. The Marrying Of Chani Kaufman, Eve Harris, literary fiction
  55. Buzz Cut, James W. Hall, mystery
  56. Nevernight, Jay Kristoff, fantasy
  57. A Darker Shade Of Magic, V.E. Schwab, fantasy
  58. A Gathering Of Shadows, V.E. Schwab, fantasy
  59. A Conjuring Of Light, V.E. Schwab, fantasy
  60. Off To The Side, Jim Harrison, memoir
  61. The Bridesmaid, Ruth Rendell, mystery
  62. The House Of Stairs, Ruth Rendell, mystery
  63. The Silence, Kendra Elliot, mystery
  64. In The Pines, Kendra Elliot, mystery
  65. On Java Road, Lawrence Osborne, literary fiction
  66. Wither Thorn, Joy Lewis, fantasy
  67. The Inheritance, Samantha Hayes, mystery
  68. The DCI Bone Collection, TG Reid, mystery
  69. The Echo Chamber, John Boyne, literary fiction
  70. His Majesty's Dragon, Naomi Novik, fantasy
  71. The Other Side Of Silence, Bill Pronzini, mystery
  72. Floating Staircase, Ronald Malfi, horror
  73. Pearl, Sian Hughes, literary fiction
  74. Dead Beat, Val McDermid, mystery
  75. Kick Back, Val McDermid, mystery
  76. And So It Begins, Rachel Abbott, mystery
  77. The Girls On Chalk Hill, Alison Belsham, mystery
  78. The Piper's Children, Iain Henn, mystery
  79. The Bone Ship's Wake, RJ Barker, fantasy
  80. Call Of The Bone Ships, RJ Barker, fantasy
  81. The Birds Fall Down, Rebecca West, mystery
  82. Sundog, Jim Harrison, literary fiction
  83. Wolf, Jim Harrison, literary fiction
  84. Sisters Of Shiloh, Kathy and Becky Hepinstall, literary fiction
  85. The Kingless Crown, Sarah Cradit, fantasy
  86. Amongst Our Weapons, Ben Aaronovitch, fantasy
  87. Field Of Blood, Denise Mina, mystery
  88. The Dead Hours, Denise Mina, mystery
  89. Scrublands, Chris Hammer, mystery
  90. A Good Day To Die, Jim Harrison, literary fiction
  91. Kieron Smith, Boy, James Kelman, literary fiction
  92. Genome, Matt Ridley, nonfiction science
  93. Say You're Sorry, Michael Robotham, mystery
  94. The White-Luck Warrior, R. Scott Bakker, fantasy
  95. The First Day Of Spring, Nancy Tucker, literary fiction
  96. The Mermaid, The Witch and The Sea, Maggie Tokuda-Hall, fantasy
  97. Divided House, J M Dalgliesh, mystery
  98. Whispered Bones, N.C. Lewis, mystery
  99. The Sinister Booksellers Of Bath, Garth Nix, fantasy
  100. The Cut, Chris Brookmyre, thriller
  101. Immortal Sins, Maurice Winterborn, fantasy
  102. The Three Dahlias, Katy Watson, women's fiction
  103. Believing The Lie, Elizabeth George, mystery
  104. Heir To The Crown, Paul Bennett, fantasy
  105. The Good Girl, Mary Kubica, mystery
  106. The Other Wife, Michael Robotham, mystery
  107. Bleed For Me, Michael Robotham, mystery
  108. The Vanishing Point, Val McDermid, mystery
  109. The Serpent Stairs, Dan Michaelson & DK Holmberg, fantasy
  110. A Persistent Echo, Brian Kaufman, literary fiction
  111. Hunted, Elizabeth Heiter, mystery
  112. Hidden Norfolk, JM Dalgliesh, mystery
  113. The Delphi Murders, Nic Edwards & Brian Whitney, true crime
  114. The Heatwave, Kate Riordan, mystery
  115. Blood Of Cain, Tom Lowe, mystery
Here's what I'm reading:
  1. The Whereabouts Of Eneas McNulty, Sebastian Barry, Kindle
  2. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead, Kindle
  3. The Italian Party, Christina Lynch, paperback
  4. The Suspicions Of Mr. Whitcher, Kate Summerscale, paperback
  5. Disorderly Minds, Minette Walters, paperback
  6. The Kingless Crown, Sara Cradit, Kindle
  7. The Fourth Turning Is Now, Neil Howe, hardback
  8. The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich, hardback
  9. March, Geraldine Brooks, Kindle
Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The National Road by Tom Zoellner

 


From the time Tom Zoellner got his driver's license as a teenager, he loved to hit the road and drive.  He didn't like the interstates as much as the little known roads, the small monuments most people never visited, the small towns most had never heard of.  In this book, he shares his travels and tells of his life as a journalist.  It is a collection of essays about various things he has seen or been involved with.

He starts by telling of his visits to Mormon shrines and in the telling, talks about the religion.  Those not familiar with the history of the Mormons will find much of interest here as he roams as they did, as they were forced out of various towns and pushed westward until they settled in Salt Lake City.  He talks about the best places to sleep outside or in one's car.  He talks about the porn industry, the state of journalism and how it could have avoided the dwindling down of its industry.  

Other essays talk about visiting every state's capitol or the highest peak in the state.  He talks about the divisions in the country and how they seem to be increasing.  A poignant essay talks about the destruction of his family home where they had lived since before the state was a state and how it was bought to be torn down to build a Macmansion.  

Tom Zoellner has written quite a few nonfiction books on various topics.  This one is not only a travelogue but a view into his own life and his time as a journalist on various newspapers.  One of his books on the end of slavery in Britain won the National Book Critic's Circle Award for the best nonfiction book of 2020.  This one is softer and readers will enjoy getting to know the authors as well as the places he visits.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Crazy Horse And Custer by Stephen Ambrose

 

When you mention Crazy Horse or George Armstrong Custer, what most people think of is the battle of Little Bighorn where Custer and all his troops were massacred.  But Stephen Ambrose has, in this book, concentrated on these two leaders' lives leading up to that meeting.

Custer was brave and impetuous.  He often went against orders if he thought he had a better plan and that characteristic had taken him far in his military career, both in the Civil War and in the Indian Wars against the Sioux.  He was vain and desirous of fame but one of the best soldiers the Army had as he could train his troops to a high level, view a field of battle and make successful adjustments on the fly and his stamina was noteworthy.  He had gone to West Point and made many contacts there.  The love of his life was his wife Libbie.

Crazy Horse was his exact opposite.  He was a quiet man, reserved and went into battles not with a full headdress but with one feather in his hair.  He wasn't a chief but was a battle leader and his words were taken with seriousness.  He and his peers were fighting for the survival of their way of life.  

On the day the two finally met, Custer made another of his quick decisions but this one was fatal.  He had split his forces into three parts and his section had around two hundred and fifty men.  One of the other sections did not attack as ordered and the other was too late.  Custer tried to get to the top of a hill where he could defend successfully until reinforcements arrived, but Crazy Horse and his fifteen hundred men got there first and swept down, massacring every man.

Stephen Ambrose has made his reputation writing historical books.  He was a historian by trade, a history professor.  He wrote over thirty books, many of which were bestsellers and adapted for movies and tv series.  In this book, as he contrasts the two men throughout their lives, showing how each lived as a child, a young man, a beginning leader and then a respected leader, he shows the strengths and fatal flaws of each man.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.

Monday, August 28, 2023

A Solitude Of Wolverines by Alice Henderson

 

When Alex Carter took a job in Montana to study wolverines and if they were existent in that part of the country, she thought it was a perfect job.  She had been in Boston for quite a while and missed being out in the wild country.  The work was interesting and although most people would hesitate before living alone in a deserted ski resort, Alex thrived on solitude and feeling like she was contributing to the environment.

But although Alex saw her work as worthwhile, it didn't seem the population around did.  Whenever she went into town for supplies, she was stared at.  Someone tried to run her off the road.  One of her camera traps was destroyed and she found evidence of both poaching and cattle grazing on the reserve's land.  

As the weeks went on, she found evidence of wolverines but the trouble continued and grew.  She started to feel stalked when she was out checking the land and found an injured man who then disappeared.  Was someone determined to run her off and could they succeed?

This is the first book in a series about the adventures of Alex Carter.  Alex is one of the most resourceful women I've ever read about, well prepared to spend months on her own in a hostile environment and able to quickly use whatever resources were around to get her way out of trouble when necessary.  The author is herself similar to Alex in that she studied in the same fields and also does wildlife surveys and is committed to saving local habitats for animals.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Friday, August 25, 2023

The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick

 


Everyone knows the legend of King Arthur.  But what most people know is the later legend, once Arthur is king and has his knights of the Round Table.  In this first book of a trilogy about his life, Helen Hollick gives the reader what came before that time.  It follows Arthur from the time he was fifteen until he eventually becomes king.

Arthur is the unacknowledged son of Uthr Pendragon, treated as the child of an unmarried maid.  This was done to protect him but it left him feeling less than those around him and unworthy.  When Uthr dies in battle, the secret comes out and Arthur becomes Pendragon but is not ready to rule.  He has met Gwenhwyfar as a child when they played together all one summer and pledged themselves to marry.  But reality and politics intrude.  Arthur makes a political match, marrying the current king's daughter, Winifred, although he detests her.

As Arthur grows older and stronger, he starts to make moves towards becoming king of all England.  He has never forgotten Gwenhwyfar and returns to her home after a battle injury, spending a summer with her and taking her as his wife by the old customs.  But there is still the king and Winifred, who both scheme and fight against him.  

Helen Hollick is known as a historical author specializing in English history.  This first book sets the stage for the later ones, establishing the love between Arthur and Gwenhwyfar and the political and military environments.  Hollick says in an afterward that there is no historical proof that any of these people existed but the legend of Arthur is one of the most enduring in English history.  This book is recommended for historical fiction readers.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

 

Every ten years he comes.  The Dragon is a wizard who lives near the village, there to hold back the Wood.  The Wood that is home to strange and frightening things like Walkers that are seven feet tall and will steal children.  Anyone caught overnight in the Wood emerges changed forever, corrupted into something different and deadly.  So the village allows the Dragon to choose a servant girl every ten years, a girl that will never come home to the village after her decade of servitude.

Everyone is sure that this year Kasia will be the Dragon's choice.  She is smart, kind and beautiful.  But instead he chooses her best friend, Agnieszka when he senses that she has magic in her.  Agnieszka and everyone else is shocked.  She was the last one anyone would have suspected would be chosen.  She is messy and scatterbrained but she is his choice.

At first the Dragon is not sure if he made the right choice.  Agnieszka burns his meals, goes around in peasant clothes instead of the fine wardrobe he provides and worse, doesn't seem to be able to do the simplest spells.  Worse, she dares to speak her mind and talk back to him.  But slowly, Agnieszka starts to find her own magic, a more organic magic that can't always be found in books but must be sensed. 

When Kasia's mother comes to the tower with the news that the Walkers have taken Kasia, Agnieszka begs the Dragon to help her rescue her.  He doesn't believe it is possible but agrees and they manage to retrieve Kasia from the heart tree she has been captured in.  But it has left its mark on her and the rule is to kill anyone with a Wood mark.  But Agnieszka spends weeks fighting the Wood's corruption and she and the Dragon finally managed to free Kasia of the corruption.

That brings more trouble.  Twenty years ago the Queen was captured  Now the Prince and court want the Dragon to free her.  Once he and Agnieszka do that, it's expected that they remove the corruption.  Can that be done?  

This was my first book by Naomi Novik and I've discovered another great fantasy writer.  This is a retelling of Polish fairy tales and is at times romantic and others so tense the reader will grit their teeth while reading.  It won a Nebula Award and was a Hugo Award finalist.  Agnieszka is a spunky girl who discovers her strength and the fact that she can have the things she has dreamed of.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Kala by Colin Walsh

 

The six of them were an entire world and they didn't need anyone else.  The girls were Kala, Helen and Aoife.  Kala and Aoife have been friends since kindergarten.  Helen moves to town as they are all fifteen and slowly the other girls take her into their tight friendship.  The guys are Joe, Mush and Aidan.  Joe is the golden boy, top of his class and sports teams, good-looking.  Aidan is the wise guy with relatives who are on the shady side.  Mush is everyone's best friend, a chill guy who likes everyone.  Together they are invincible and take on the world, adventuring every day.  Kala and Joe are a couple but the rest are just friends.

But teenage friendships tend to fall away when adult lives intervene.  Joe became a rock star and has been living abroad in Hollywood.  He is also an alcoholic but that's a secret.  Aoife grew up, married and moved away.  Helen is living in Canada working as a free-lance journalist.  Aidan is no longer alive.  Mush was injured in an accident that left his face disfigured and these days just runs the cafe with his mom.  And Kala.  Kala disappeared at the end of that magic summer when they were all fifteen and no one knows what happened.

But now the gang is back together.  Helen's father is marrying Mush's aunt and Joe is also back in town.  They tentatively reunite but there's news no one expected.  Human remains have been found and soon they are identified as Kala's.  She was murdered.  Who would have done that and is the killer now looking for one of them?

This is a debut novel and Colin Walsh gets it right.  His recreation of teenage years when one is just finding their way and friends are everything is spot on.  The tension builds until I had to put the book down periodically and walk around a bit before reading more.  This is a debut novel from an Irish author noted as one of the best rising authors of his country.  The revelation about what really happened is a page-turner and the reader will remember the characters long after the book is finished.  This book is recommended for thriller readers. 

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Swashbucklers by Dan Hanks


 

Back when Cisco was a teenager, he and his friends saved his town, and the world, from disaster by closing a Hell Mouth opened by an evil  pirate and killing him.  Of course, no one knew except them and that suited them just fine.  They grew up, got jobs, married and had children.  Now Cisco has returned to town, divorced and with a five year old son.  He has noticed things are starting to appear again and there have been several suspicious deaths.  It looks like the pirate wasn't really killed and is strong enough after all this time to make another attempt to destroy the world.

But not everyone is ready to save the world.  Cisco's friends now have jobs and responsibilities.  It's not easy to fit in world saving around child care, meetings at work and spouses who aren't on board.  Even worse, for some reason his friends don't even remember saving the world but as Cisco tells them about it and things start to happen around them, they slowly start to remember and agree to help him kill the pirate once and for all. 

With their help plus the help of a talking fox and other magical beings such as fairies and gnomes, Cisco goes for to face the pirate for a final showdown.  He is helped by a girl he met back then who was trapped on the other side of the portal and who has the sword that the pirate has been looking for all this time.  Can they defeat the pirate and once again save the world?

Dan Hanks is an English author and an archaeologist whose work is in the fantasy genre.  He captures the spirit of the eighties in this novel and the longing of adults to return to their younger days with no responsibility.  It takes another worldwide disaster for Cisco to realize what is most important in his life; his son and his friends.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.