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.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki


Katrina Nguyen is a young transgender woman who has run away from her abusive home.  Her father hates what she is and is ashamed of her.  He beats her often.  Her often refuge is music and she has a violin that is her most prized possession although she hasn't been able to take lessons outside of YouTube.  She has little self confidence but knows that somehow she must play the violin.

Shizuka Satomi was the most famous violinist of her generation and the most famous violin teacher currently.  She is also the Queen Of Hell, since she has signed a contract to deliver seven violinist souls to Hell which will relieve her of having to give up her own soul.  She has already delivered six students' souls and is looking for her last student.

Lan Tran is a doughnut shop owner and meets Shizuka Satomi there when she stops to buy doughnuts.  But Lan is more than a shop owner.  She is an alien who has shepherded her family to this world to escape war and destruction.  There is an instant spark between Lan and Shizuka although neither knows the other's secret.

The lives of these three women will intersect and change each life.  Shizuka takes Katrina as a student, moving her into her own home and instructing her.  Katrina has a feeling for the music that no student before her has had and Shizuka knows that she could become a star.  But what of the contract she has made with Hell?

This book was a Hugo Award Finalist along with many other awards.  It is a body positive story along with being a love story on many levels.  The three women form a family that supports each individual and helps them find their way and give their talents to the world.  The author, Ryka Aoki, is a transgender woman herself so writes Katrina's story from personal knowledge.  Readers will fall in love with Katrina and keep reading to see how this story will turn out.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction, music lovers and those interested in the difficulties transgender people face in their daily life.  

Saturday, February 4, 2023

The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard


The date is 1830, the location the new West Point Academy to train soldiers.  Life is structured here with calls to arms, marches, school, target practice and other routines.  Cadets live together, eat together and socialize.  It seems like an ordered world until the discovery of a dead cadet.  He is found hanging from a tree and at first it is considered a suicide.  Then the corpse is found mutilated, its heart carved out and gone.

The West Point administration calls on Augustus Landor who lives nearby.  He had been a renowned New York City police detective until he retired to the country for his health.  Landor reluctantly agrees to take on the case.  He starts to familiarize himself with the area and finds a cadet unlike the others.  Edgar Allen Poe is from an undistinguished family and he hasn't distinguished himself at the academy.  He is slight and is much more interested in literature and poetry than marching and soldiering.  He attaches himself to Augustus as the investigation continues becoming Landor's inside view into the barracks and cadet activity.

But the murders continue.  Soon, cadets are only sent out on patrol in pairs as terror stalks the academy.  Even those attached to the school such as the doctor are drawn in.  The doctor has a son whom Landor is not sure about and a daughter whom the cadets are all united in admiration for.  As Landor and Poe delve deeper, suspicions are everywhere.  Can they find the killers?

Louis Bayard often takes a famous individual to center his novels.  This one is currently a movie and it is happenstance that it has made its way to the top of my reading stack.  I always enjoy Bayard's writing which sets the scene perfectly and the tension he is able to bring to the tale.  The reader learns about the early days of West Point while getting a horrific tale of murder and betrayal.  This book is recommended for readers of historical and literary fiction.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Rhoda by Ellen Gilchrist


In this anthology, readers are for the first time able to read all of the Rhoda stories by Ellen Gilchrist.  Before this, the stories have been released at various times and in various media but are finally all collected in one volume.  Rhoda is one of this author's favorite characters.  We see Rhoda starting out as an indulged child, a tomboy who is the only daughter in a family of boys and the apple of her millionaire father's eye.  She feels she is ugly with her red hair, freckles and chunky body. 

Later, we see Rhoda as a teenager.  She has slimmed down and discovered boys.  She is desperate to try sex and has it with the first boy she can.  At college, she goes to another college for a football weekend, meets and sleeps with a man, and soon impulsively marries him.  The babies start arriving, one quickly after the other until Rhoda has three boys and is tired of her husband.

We follow Rhoda over the years.  In her twenties and thirties, she has several husbands and lovers.  She is never an attentive mother, feeling that the children keep her from what she needs to do with her life, although she isn't sure what that is.  The love of her life is a former sports star, a man whose records remain long after he leaves the field.  They have an affair that lasts years, but he is married and has no plans to leave his wife and children.  

Rhoda decides to become a writer and goes to a small college where she writes short stories and starts to get published.  She becomes a novelist and has success but as she ages, she longs for the days when she turned men's' heads.  As she ages, she starts to value her family again and to spend more time with them.  Rhoda is a character readers will remember for a long time.  This anthology is recommended for readers who like short stories.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Indiscretion by Charles Dubow


They were the perfect couple.  Maddy was tall, gorgeous and came from old money.  Harry was an author with a National Book Award in his resume.  They met and fell in love in college and now in their forties, they live in Maddy's family cottage in the Hamptons with their son.

Claire is in her twenties, just starting to make a career in New York.  She is invited out to the Hamptons one weekend by a man she has been dating casually.  She is excited to go but he shows another side of himself away from the business world.  The two meet Maddy and Harry at a party and are invited to a dinner party at the couple's house.  While there, Claire's date is vulgar and then abusive to her and Claire ends up staying with Maddy and Harry leaving her date to go home by himself.  

After that rescue, the couple take up Claire and she becomes part of their circle.  Their next door neighbor is Walter, Maddy's best friend from childhood who is now a lawyer in New York.  There are other couples who are bright and talented.  Claire feels like she has won the lottery.  Then she finds out that Maddy and Harry and their son are headed to Italy for a year.  She is despondent.

When Harry comes back to New York for a quick trip, he and Claire go out to dinner.  Afterwards, they end up falling into bed and soon they are having an affair.  Harry is torn between two women whom he loves but there is nothing but disaster that can lead from this.  

Charles Dubow grew up in the environment he sets this novel in.  He grew up in the Hamptons and had a successful career before he wrote this debut novel.  The narrator of the novel is Walter and this bit of distance from the love affair and the tragedies that lead from its discovery makes the story more effective.  The reader is torn between Maddy and Claire and whether or not to sympathize with Harry.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.