Friday, March 31, 2023

Five Minutes Alone by Paul Cleave


Theodore Tate, known as Teddy, is finally getting his life back.  When his wife and daughter were hit by a car, his daughter killed and his wife left in a coma, Teddy went into a tailspin.  He started drinking heavily and ended up losing his job as a police detective in Christchurch, New Zealand.  He became a private investigator and after a successful case, ended up in the hospital himself.  But he is healed physically and his wife has woken from her coma.  Teddy even gets his job back and he thinks all is well.

His former partner, Schroder, didn't do as well.  He ended up damaged after a case, shot in the head.  The doctors weren't able to remove the bullet and Schroder is living under a death warrant.  One day the bullet will migrate in his brain and that will be his end.  He is off the police force, sitting in his house wondering what to do with the rest of his life.

But crime goes on no matter who is on the police force.  When called out to a man dead on the railroad tracks, Teddy and his new partner assume it is a suicide until the coroner tells them the man was dead before he was placed on the tracks.  Upon further investigation, it turns out that the man was a vicious rapist who had recently been released from prison.  Often after a rape or murder, the police are asked by the victim's family for 'just five minutes alone' with the perpetrator.  Had someone gotten their five minutes?

That begins to seem likely as other murders start to occur.  In each case, the dead men are former rapists or murderers, guilty of vicious crimes that for whatever reason they managed to get out of.  Christchurch has a vigilante and Tate is put in charge of the investigation.  But he suspects that his worst fear is true; his former partner is now a killer.  

This is the fourth in the Theodore Tate series.  Teddy is a man who fate has tossed around but it finally seems that he is getting his life back together.  Readers cannot help but be on his side as he tiptoes a fine line between rounding up murderers and killing them.  There is violence and gruesome descriptions in this book that bring the work of a homicide detective into reality for the reader.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

No Less The Devil by Stuart MacBride


Things aren't going well for Detective Sergeant Lucy McVeigh.  The serial killer The Bloodsmith has been killing people for eighteen months and the police are no closer to catching him.  Lucy has just come back to work recently after a horrific episode that impacted her life and shook her confidence in her ability to protect herself and her friends.  

But she is back at work and with the help of her partner, the Dunc, determined to make progress and finally catch the serial killer.  He seems to be targeting those who won't, for whatever reason, be missed.  Some of his victims are male, some female.  Some are homeless, some are wealthy but all are separate islands who keep to themselves.  

In her investigation, Lucy is faced with a private school that only takes the best and brightest.  She had a chance to attend there, but her father couldn't afford the fees so she went another way.  But it is bittersweet to see what she could have had and how her life would have been different if she had attended there.  She also finds a professor at another college who ran a study about loneliness.  Then there are the perverts the police know about and the knowledge that for every one they know about, there are many more who have escaped the notice of the law.  Can Lucy and Dunc find the killer before another murder occurs?

Readers are familiar with Stuart MacBride for his Logan McRae series and most will still have their loyalty to him.  But Lucy McVeigh is a new character with her own backstory and ability to cut through police red tape to follow her instincts and find killers.  I loved her sidekick and hope he gets more story in the next chapter of this series.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A Spindle Splintered by Alix Harrow


Not every fairy tale is as magical as it seems in the telling.  That's a lesson Zinnia Gray discovers.  Zinnia was involved in an environmental disaster that means she is living under the promise of an early death.  In fact, no one with her condition has lived past twenty-one.  Once Zinnia was old enough to understand her fate, she fell in love with the story of Sleeping Beauty.  If only she could sleep for a hundred years while someone found the answer to her medical issues.

Her best friend Charm throws Zinnia a party on her birthday in a tower decorated with rose petals and a spinning wheel just like in the fairy tales.  But when Zinnia pricks her finger on the spindle for a joke, she finds herself transported to another land where Princess Primrose is about to undergo a hundred year sleep although she wants no part of a Prince Charming coming to wake her with a kiss.  Even worse, in older and darker versions of the tale, the prince does more than kiss the woman who has no ability to consent and that is Princess Primrose's greatest fear.

Together, Zinnia and Primrose are determined to do whatever it takes to disrupt the fairy tales and the medical prognoses and find a way to live the life they want, not the one that is granted to them regardless of their personal desires.  Readers will be fascinated with this feminist retelling of how society hems in young women and forces them into shapes and lives they never asked for.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson


This debut book is a compilation of pieces that give the reader a feel for what it is like to grow up as an African-American in the United States.  The longest piece is the title one and takes place in a country that has been torn apart and people set adrift to find supplies and refuge.  Da'Naisha, who is a descendant of Sally Hemming and Thomas Jefferson, takes to the road with a group of people that includes her grandmother who raised her as well as Knox, her white lover and Duncan, her first lover.  The group ends up at Monticello where Da'Naisha worked one summer as an intern while attending University of Virginia.  The group settles in there but there are others on the roads and organized groups of men who are burning houses and killing black folks.  This piece is a novella and takes up the majority of the book.

Other pieces are included.  One tells of a professor who as a sociologist, compares the life path of his own unacknowledged son with that of white boys of the same economic background.  Another is the story of a woman who drops out of college after going abroad and meeting a photographer.  They marry and soon the woman is left with children to raise and a husband who is rarely there, taking assignments all over the world.  Yet another piece tells of growing up black and attending school and how that is different from the academic experiences of other ethnic groups.  

This book has won several awards and is an outstanding start for the career of this writer.  I listened to this book and the various narrators added much to the stories of the lives of African Americans and their experiences in our country.  African Americans should find relevance in this work and those of other ethnicities will start to understand on a basic level the everyday experiences of others.  This book is recommended for readers of multicultural works and literary fiction. 

Monday, March 27, 2023

South Of Broad by Pat Conroy


It is the end of summer, 1969.  Leo King is about to start his senior year and today will be one of the most momentous of his life.  He meets the friends that will be in his life forever after.  Leo has had a rough childhood so far but he is determined to change that and make his mother, the high school principal, proud of him.  He doesn't worry about his father as he knows he has his love but his mother, an ex-nun, has such high expectations of him that he constantly fails to satisfy them.

He starts by going across the street and welcoming the newcomers to the neighborhood, one of Charleston, South Carolina's better ones.  Sheba and Trevor Poe are twins and will set the high school on fire with their outgoing personalities.  Both are beautiful.  Sheba wants to be an actress and does that after high school, becoming one of Hollywood's best known stars.  Trevor is gay and an accomplished musician.  

Integration has come to Charleston and this year is the first that a black coach will be heading up the football team.  Leo's mother sends him to meet Coach Jefferson and his son, Ike.  Leo and Ike will become co-captains of the football team and friends for life.  Leo has lunch at the country club where Chad and Fraser, children of one of Charleston's most renowned families, are meeting the principal of the school they will attend for their senior year after being kicked out of their private school.  Along with them comes Molly, another daughter of a socialite family who is following Chad to the school.  Leo isn't impressed with Chad or his family except for his sister Fraser.  He finds Molly beautiful but knows she is out of his league.

Finally, he goes to the orphanage where several new students are waiting.  When he meets Niles and Starla Whitehead, they are chained to a chair, as Niles will not let anyone near Starla.  Leo convinces the staff to unchain them and offers friendship and an introduction to the school to the siblings who have been orphaned since they were five and six and who grew up before that in the North Carolina mountains.  Another senior this year is a black girl named Betty, full of anger and determination.  

This group of individuals will be in each others' lives for the rest of time.  They pair off and marry and have parties and lunches and family occasions together.  Leo ends up as a journalist on the paper he used to be a paperboy for, while Ike and Betty become police officers and Niles becomes a teacher.  There is love and a determination to always be there for each other.  But it isn't all light and goodness.  There is betrayal, adulteries, parents getting older and needing care, mental illness and a psychopath who is determined to kill his children and the rest of the group.  There is the AIDS epidemic and hurricanes but through everything the group holds on to friendship and love.

Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors and he can spin a story like no other.  His stories are often about battered families and incredible hurts that somehow people rise above, searching and finding happiness and fulfillment.  His characters are totally believable and leave the reader wishing that they could be in this circle of friends.  I've had this book for years but I save Conroy's books so that I can savor them slowly over the years.  This one is wonderful as are everything I've read by him and I can't recommend him more highly.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in family relationships and a book that explains the South and its culture. 

Sunday, March 26, 2023

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich


Tookie hasn't always had a life this good.  After a desperate childhood, she grew up only to be tricked by a friend and ended up in a federal prison for years.  But these days are better.  She is married to Pollux, who was the police officer, also Native American, who arrested her and has a stepdaughter, Hetta with whom she has a delicate relationship.  Best of all, she has a job in Birchbark, the real-life bookstore owned by Louise Erdrich and good friends from the other employees.  Tookie got through her imprisonment by reading and she now delights in recommending titles to her customers.

But things always change.  The change in Tookie's life begins when Flora dies.  Flora was a white woman who was constantly in Birchbark.  She also desperately wanted to be Native American and spent time and money trying to find a connection.  Now even in death she refuses to leave.  She begins to haunt the bookstore and Tookie in particular.  This is not a benign haunting; she wants to take over Tookie's body and life.

Other things are amiss in the environment in Minnesota.  Police kill George Floyd and the world explodes.  There are days of protests which become violent.  Hetta, who had returned home with a surprise baby, is drawn into the protests, as are Pollux and Tookie and her friends.  The days of police violence against people of color are now front page news rather than hidden.  

Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite authors and this novel does not disappoint.  Tookie is an interesting character, haunted by her past, happy with her present but unsure if happiness can ever remain.  Pollux was my favorite character and his love for Tookie blazes from the pages.  The story of Flora and her attempted appropriation of a background that isn't hers is reminiscent of characters in the news.  The riot scenes after the death of George Floyd are vivid and take the reader into that dangerous, violent environment.  Readers get an extra bonus when Erdrich ends the book with a reading list of her favorite books.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers and those interested in reading about the lives of Native Americans.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schmacher


Jason Fitger is a tenured English professor at Payne University.  As such, he says what he thinks and doesn't care if the rest of the college likes him or not.  Fitger is teaching creative writing as the English department and other liberal arts departments are seeing budgets and positions cut.  Adjunct professors make up over half the faculty in his department while departments with wealthy graduates such as Business and Economics are given tons of money for research and travel and sumptuous surroundings.

Jay as he signs himself, claims to have written over 1200 letters of recommendation.  These are done for former students, other employees at the college and colleagues at other universities.  He never holds back.  If he barely remembers a student, he quickly says so.  He rambles on about what they wrote about and he considers most of his students stuck in writing about monsters and superheroes.  He questions why this student would be considered for various positions.  He tells other universities that his collogues are too good for their university.  He tells his superiors that the English department is dying on the vine, forced to work in a construction zone that is endangering their health.  He is sarcastic and surly, the kind of email one hesitates to open when seeing it in your queue.  

This is a delightful book.  The epistolary style doesn't always work and some readers dislike it, but in this novel it works wonderfully.  The reader slowly gets to understand Fitger and his frustrations.  While he is generally disparaging of most, he spends a lot of time trying to help his graduate assistants find work and help collogues who have fallen on hard times.  The writing is sprightly and sings on the page and the reader will find themselves laughing out loud.  Those readers in academia will read each page nodding their head at how aptly the author has captured the academic environment.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.   

Friday, March 24, 2023

The Stolen Baby by Diney Costeloe


1941 and the sirens are wailing, indicting another bombing attack on Plymouth and its harbor from the Nazis.  The Shawbrook family rushes to the public shelter.  They have seven children with five living at home.  Everyone has their job to do when the sirens sound.  Mrs. Shawbrook gets the little ones together and takes them to the shelter.  Vera, who is seventeen, grabs up baby Freddy and meets the others there.

But things go massively wrong this night.  Vera is coming home late from her job when the sirens go.  She rushes to the shelter, assuming her mother got Freddy.  When her mother tells her that she thought Vera had Freddy, Vera rushes out of the shelter trying to get back to the house before the bombs fall, but she is unsuccessful.

In another house, Maggie doesn't care enough to go to the shelter and just goes to her basement.  She already feels like the unluckiest person in the world.  Earlier this year, after several miscarriages, she finally carried a baby to term.  But her son died the next day and life has not seemed worth living to Maggie since.

After the sirens stop, the work of cleaning up and rescue starts.  Unbelievably, the public shelter took a direct hit and all the members of the Shawbrook family there are killed.  David Shawbrook is a warden and cannot believe his family has all been wiped out.  He doesn't know that Freddy somehow survived in the damaged house and was rescued by a young boy and a police sergeant.  

The policeman was Maggie's husband and he brings Freddy home for the night as the public assistance homes are overwhelmed.  Maggie is overjoyed and wants to keep the baby.  Of course, her husband says no but in a twist of fate, he is killed himself the next day.  Maggie decides to keep the baby and name it the same as her son.

It turns out that Vera survives after being hurt in the street.  She, her father, and a sister who was a nurse in another city but who moves home, go to the police and try to find Freddy.  But Maggie is determined to move heaven and earth to keep him.  Who will end up with the baby?

This novel is based on a true story.  Readers will get a sense of the panic and hardship that civilians went through during World War II and the bombing of cities.  Those of us in the United States have been lucky enough to avoid the bombing and misery of modern warfare directed against our country and it is instructive to read of the tragedies and heartbreak that happened elsewhere.  This book is recommended to readers of historical fiction.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta


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

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

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Twist Of A Knife by Anthony Horowitz


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

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

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2023

An Image In The Lake by Gail Bowen


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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Butcher by Jennifer Hillier


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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith


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

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

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

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

Friday, March 17, 2023

The Once And Future Witches by Alix Harrow


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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 16, 2023

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver


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

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

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Dust Child by Nguyen Phan Que Mai


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Booksie's Shelves, March 13, 2023


Art by RF Skia & Culpeo S. Fox

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

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

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

Saturday, March 11, 2023

12 Rose Street by Gail Bowen


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

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

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

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

Friday, March 10, 2023

Her Last Breath by Robert Dugoni


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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Distrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd


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

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

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Because I Loved You by Donnaldson Brown


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

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

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

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

Monday, March 6, 2023

A Funeral For An Owl by Jane Davis


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Innocent Blood by P. D. James


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Hostage by Robert Crais


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

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

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

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

Friday, March 3, 2023

To Tell You The Truth by Gilly Macmillan


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Hell Of A Book by Jason Mott


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

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