Sunday, April 30, 2023

Lemon by Kwon Yeo-Sun


A teenage girl is murdered in Korea in 2002.  The case quickly becomes notorious and is known as the High School Beauty Murder.  Kim Hae-on was known for her beauty, by far the most beautiful girl in her class.  There are two main suspects.  The most popular, richest boy in the class was seen driving Kim Hae-on in his truck that day.  A delivery boy goes to the police and says he had seen her with that boy but he is himself considered a suspect and soon the main one.  Both boys' alibis cannot be shaken and the case goes cold.

The story of this murder is told through the voices of various people impacted by the case.  These include the delivery boy as he is interrogated, the police detective in charge of the case, Kim Hae-on's little sister, the girlfriend of the rich boy who was with Kim that day and the delivery boy's sister.  The timing of the story is split into two time periods; the actual time of the murder and seventeen years afterward when those affected have tried to move on with their lives.

This novel received lots of attention.  It was a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice as well as a Crimereads Best International Crime Novel and a Ms Magazine Most Anticipated Book Of The Year.  It explores the effect of a crime on those who knew and loved the victim and on those suspected of a crime.  As the years go by without a solution, some are able to push the crime into the deepest recesses of their minds while others find themselves unable to move on in their lives.  Kwon Yeo-sun is a South Korean writer whose work focuses on those who are in unconventional relationships and how society views them.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Frog by Mo Yan


Frog is the story of a Chinese playwright in a small village in China.  It follows Tadpole, the man's nickname, as he writes to his former teacher about a play he is writing about his aunt, Gugu.  Gugu was an obstetrician who became an abortionist when the government passed the strict one-child policy.  Even those women who hid their pregnancy and were as much as eight months pregnant would be tracked down by Gugu and given an abortion.  She takes Tadpole's wife at this late stage and the woman dies on the operating table. 

Tadpole later marries Gugu's assistant as his second wife but they are unable to have children.  Gugu marries an artist who spends his life making realistic clay children which are sold in market to women who are hoping to have children or those who cannot have more.  By this time, the policy has shifted a bit and Gugu now regrets all the many children she has prevented from living.  Tadpole and his wife go underground to have a child by surrogate mother, an operation being run out of a frog farm.

Mo Yan is arguably China's most famous author.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012 for his work.  His books give insight into a culture that is often still mysterious and secretive to the average person although some criticize his work as being only that allowed by the government while more independent authors find their work suppressed.   Most people know about the one child policy and some of the social problems it created as these children who were born grew up but Yan gives an insider viewpoint of the pain it caused families in a society that loves children.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, April 28, 2023

1979 by Val McDermid


Allie Burns is working as a new reporter on Glasgow's leading newspaper.  The male administration believes she should be working on fluff stories from the women's desk but Allie wants to be an investigative reporter.  She teams up with another young person at the paper, Danny Sullivan.  Together they form a team dedicated to making their way up the hierarchy at the paper, being known as investigative reporters and maybe working on Fleet Street one day.

Danny has a lead about tax fraud.  He has heard his brother bragging about how his company knows how one can avoid paying taxes and shield money from the tax man.  He and Allie work the story and make a splash but not without costs.  Danny's brother loses his job and his parents cut him off from the family.  Danny is heartbroken about that but still determined to find the next big story.

Allie goes to a meeting she found out about from a woman's group about Scottish independence.  The election to vote on that is coming up and feelings are running high.  When Allie hears three men talking about taking stronger action, she follows them to a pub and eavesdrops.  They are talking about being more like the IRA and using bombs to make their point about Scottish rights.  Danny goes undercover with the group and he and Allie are able to stop the plot and have a huge scoop for the newspaper.  When murder follows, can Allie find the culprit?

This is a new character for Val McDermid who is best known for her Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series.  Allie is a delightful character, spunky and resourceful, kind but always willing to stick up for herself and her career prospects.  I listened to this novel and the narrator had a marvelous Scottish accent that made it all seem even more real.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.  

Thursday, April 27, 2023

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave


It was a day like any other.  Hannah woke on the houseboat in Sausalito with her new husband, Owen, and his sixteen year old daughter, Bailey.  Hannah and Owen have only been married for a year and Bailey isn't on board with it.  Hannah isn't sure what is just being a teenager and what is personal dislike but Bailey makes sure Hannah knows every day that she is an interloper.

But the day doesn't stay normal.  Hannah gets a note from Owen, not a phone call, but a note he had a student deliver to her.  It only says, Protect Her.  Hannah isn't sure what is going on but then the news stories start.  Owen was the chief IT person for a company that had just gone public.  The stories say that the owner of the firm had committed fraud, claiming as revenue sales that hadn't been completed.  He is arrested and the news stories say others in the firm will be also.

But Owen has disappeared.  He left a suitcase full of money and then nothing.  Then law enforcement starts coming.  The first is a U.S. Marshal from Texas.  Then FBI agents.  All believe that Hannah knows something about where Owen is but she doesn't .  She hires an ex-boyfriend as her attorney and starts to investigate Owen's past life to see if she can figure out where he might have gone.  Can she find him before the law does?

This novel was the Goodreads choice for top mystery in 2022.  The reader will go along with Hannah, learning about Owen's past and coming to the decision point Hannah must make.  Each reader will ask themselves if they would make the same decision that Hannah did knowing what she knew about the past and what the future would look like.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Dog Of The North by Elizabeth McKenzie


Penny Rush's life is a mess.  Her marriage has just fallen apart.  She has gotten calls about her grandparents, each of whom needs attention although they have been divorced for years.  Her grandmother has become a hoarder and is living in a house full of stuff and worse, apparently threatened the social services worker who came to check on her with a gun.  Her grandfather remarried and his wife is only interested in his money.  He had a recent fall and his wife is determined to use that to get him out of his house.

There's nothing to it but for Penny to quit her job and head to the rescue.  She is met by her grandmother's accountant with whom she has created a ruse to get her grandmother out of the house so the team of cleaners Penny has hired can get in and get the house back into some semblance of order while Penny finds and disposes of the gun.  But the plan falls apart when the accountant collapses while in the house and is rushed to the hospital along with Penny's grandmother who was a doctor.

In the meantime, Penny heads to her grandfather's house.  He is about as ready to leave the house as his wife is ready for him to go so Penny helps him arrange a reverse mortgage and check into a senior citizen development.  Five years ago, Penny's parents had disappeared while in Australia visiting her sister and her grandfather wants the two of them to go there and try one more time to find them.  Penny is okay with that but in the meantime, the police have been finding suspicious things on her grandmother's property.  What's a girl to do?

Elizabeth McKenzie is an author whose books I always read.  Her forte is creating offbeat characters that the reader quickly becomes attached to and situations that seem like they could never happen but somehow do.  Penny follows this path as she attempts to take care of her grandparents, find her parents and maybe find love along the way.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Deception On His Mind by Elizabeth George


Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers of Scotland Yard is supposed to be off work after she was attacked and left beaten on her last assignment.  But when her neighbors, a young Muslim girl she has grown fond of and her father, a professor named Taymullah Azhar, are pulled into a racial confrontation in a small town, Barbara decides to go there as well.  The town is a small seaside one named Balford-le-Nez and Barbara and her family used to go there when she was a child on vacation.

But since then, the town has changed.  It lost much of its tourist trade when it became cheaper and more popular to go on vacation overseas.  There is now a significant Muslim population and one of the most successful businesses is a spice and mustard factory owned by a Muslim family.  Efforts are being made to renovate and rejuvenate the town and there are two plans, one from the long time English families and one from the Muslim contingent.  

When a Muslim man, soon to be the son-in-law of the factory owner, is found dead, a racial confrontation threatens to heat up and become uglier.  Charges of racism are shouted and the streets are full of protestors.  Taymullah is the nephew of the factory owner and has worked to represent Muslims in various situations in London.  He agrees to come and help moderate the interaction with the police.

Barbara manages to get herself assigned to the investigation which is headed by one of her friends from the training academy.  There are various suspects and ideas of what went on.  Was it tied to smuggling?  Was the victim, about to marry, actually homosexual which is not accepted in the Muslim religion?  Is there someone who doesn't want to see Muslims and native English couples date?  

This is the ninth book in the Inspector Lynley series although he doesn't appear in this one.  Readers will be interested to see learn more about Barbara and see how she works when she is not with the Inspector.  The deepening friendship between Barbara and the Azhar family is a major focus of the book along with an exploration of how Britain is changing as it becomes ever more multicultural.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

The Breakdown by B. A. Paris


Matthew told Cass not to take the shortcut through the woods at night, especially tonight when a storm was predicted.  But it makes the ride home so much shorter than Cass decides to do it anyhow.  She sees a car pulled over with a woman inside.  Could she be broken down in this rain and need help?  Cass pulls over and waits for the woman to come to her but no one gets out.  Perhaps she already has called for help.  After waiting a while, Cass goes ahead and drives home.

The next morning, she hears that a woman was killed in the woods last night.  Even worse, it was a woman that Cass had recently met and lunched with and was hoping to form a new friendship with.  Cass is immediately overcome with guilt.  She is just getting her life back in order after several years of caring for a mother with dementia.  Matthew was the start of her new life but has she ruined it already?

As the days go by, Cass feels more guilty rather than less.  She starts to feel afraid to be in her house alone as they are the closest house to the woods.  She starts to hear and see things that Matthew insists she is imagining.  Is Cass starting to show the same early onset dementia symptoms as her mother?  Soon packages start to arrive that she doesn't remember ordering and workmen show up with signed contracts to do work that she doesn't remember signing.  She talks things over with her best friend and a doctor but the symptoms keep getting worse.  Is Cass's life about to be over before she can enjoy it?

Readers will be torn between sympathy for Cass and a desire for her to shake herself and get on with things.  There are several twists and turns and red herrings before the mystery is revealed and everything gets resolved.  B.A. Paris has written several other mysteries in this vein with women who seem at a loss at how to get on with life and who are easily fooled into believing things that a normal person wouldn't give credence to.  This book is recommended for readers of mysteries.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Silver Alert by Lee Smith


Herb Atlas has lived a good life.  He is quite rich and lives in a mansion in Key West.  He has had a couple of good marriages and children who are now grown.  But as Herb is in his eighties, things are changing.  His beloved wife, Susan, has dementia and needs constant care, something that Herb is not physically able to provide.  Some of the health care professionals he hires Susan likes, some she tolerates and some send her into screaming fits.  Herb is starting to fail physically himself and it's getting tough.

Then comes Renee, really named Dee Dee.  She is a manicurist and has such a sparkling happy personality that everyone is happy around her, especially Susan.  She is the person that can handle Susan's needs the best, although Herb suspects there is more to Renee's background than she is telling.  

Dee Dee is in love.  She met William who lives in a treehouse like apartment.  He seems to do nothing but read and run and make love to her but as time goes on she starts to suspect that he is also from the upper, monied class.  She finds herself pregnant and instead of being happy, William is appalled.

Herb's children all show up and host an intervention.  They insist he can't take care of Susan anymore and they have found a care home that will take them both.  Soon, the house is on the market and everything Herb loves is boxed up to be sold or given to his children.  His life is scooped out from under him.  But is it?  Herb has one more surprise left in him.

Lee Smith is a Southern writing queen.  Very few authors can capture the Southern personality and culture the way that she can.  Her books center on disturbing topics and this one is no different; dementia, child abuse, sexual slavery and fatal illnesses.  But her deft writing comes down on the optimistic sunny side and the book leaves the reader satisfied and full of hope.  This book is recommended for readers of women's and Southern fiction.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Booksie's Shelves, April 21, 2023


Art by RF Skia & Culpeo S. Fox

April is spring and new flowers and it's birthday month in our household.  My birthday is in April and so is that of my daughter and daughter in law.  I've had a good month, lots of books read and my mammogram twenty years post cancer just came back with no issues so that's great.  DH and I are planning a vacation to Siesta Key, Florida soon and that will be fun as it has such a lovely beach and there's so much to do.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

  1. Retrospective, Juan Gabriel Vasquez, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  2. An American Beauty, Shana Abe, historical fiction, sent by publisher
  3. Stash, Laura Cathcart Robbins, memoir, gift
  4. Women We Buried, Women We Burned, Rachel Louise Snyder, memoir, sent from publisher
  5. The Last Word, Taylor Adams, mystery, sent by publisher
  6. Lisey's Story, Stephen King, horror, gift
  7. City Of Dreams, Don Winslow, crime novel, sent by publisher
  8. Three Daughters Of Eve, Elif Shafak, literary fiction, purchased
  9. Thornhedge, T. Kingfisher, fantasy, sent by publisher
  10. Mending What Is Broken, Robert McKean, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  11. The Internationals, Sarah May, literary fiction, purchased
  12. The Ruined Map, Kobo Abe, literary fiction, purchased
  13. Dykette, Jenny Fran Davis, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  14. Exhalation, Ted Chiang, anthology, purchased
  15. Deadly Appearances, Gail Bowen, mystery, purchased
  16. Little Monsters, Adrienne Brodeau, literary fiction, sent by publisher
Here's the ebooks I've purchased since the last Booksie's Shelves:
  1. How High We Go In The Dark, Sequoia Nagamatsu, literary fiction
  2. Fight Night, Miriam Toews, literary fiction
  3. Unsettled Ground, Clare Fuller, literary fiction
  4. Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane, women's fiction
  5. Three Small Bones, Jennifer Chase, mystery
  6. Sabriel, Garth Nix, fantasy
  7. City Of Thieves, David Benioff, crime
  8. Death In The English Countryside, Sara Rosett, mystery
  9. The Museum Of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman, literary fiction
  10. The Pain Tourist, Paul Cleave, mystery
  11. Soulkeeper, David Dalglish, fantasy
  12. Lightning Strike, Willian Kent Krueger, mystery
  13. The Midnight Man, Caroline Mitchell, mystery
  14. John Saturnall's Feast, Lawrence Norfolk, literary fiction
  15. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock, fantasy
  16. The White Wolf, Michael Moorcock, fantasy
  17. The Devil Takes You Home, Gabino Iglesias, crime
  18. We Sold Our Souls, Grady Hendrix, horror
  19. The Getaway, Lamar Giles, horror
  20. Dark Lies, Elliot York, mystery
  21. The Irish Assassins, Julie Kavanaugh, true crime
  22. The Steampunk Bible, Jeff VanderMeer, fantasy
  23. The Hands Of The Emperor, Victoria Goddard, fantasy
  24. The Man Who Died, Antti Tuomainen, mystery
  25. All These Bodies, Kendare Blake, mystery
  26. Something Bad Wrong, Eryk Pruitt, mystery
  27. Horrorstor, Grady Hendrix, horror
  28. Heartstone, C.J. Sansom, mystery
  29. The Trail Of Ted Bundy, Kevin Sullivan, true crimes
  30. Down Cemetery Road, Mick Herron, mystery
  31. Ms. Demeanor, Eleanor Lipman, literary fiction
  32. The Liar's Dictionary, Eley Williams, literary fiction
  33. The Dead Girl In 2A, Carter Wilson, mystery
  34. Final Crossing, Carter Wilson, mystery
  35. Revelation, Carter Wilson, mystery
  36. The Comfort Of Black, Carter Wilson, mystery
  37. The Cold Country, Annabel Davis-Goff, literary fiction
  38. MacGregor Tells The World, Elizabeth McKenzie, literary fiction
  39. The Snake And The Spider, Karen Kingsbury, true crime
  40. One Left Alive, Helen Phifer, mystery
  41. The Promise, Robert Crais, mystery
  42. Either/Or, Elif Batumen, literary fiction
  43. The Prisoner, B.A. Paris, mystery
  44. The Darkening, Sunya Mara, fantasy
  45. Black Summer, M. W. Craven, mystery
  46. The Judging Eye, R. Scott Baker, fantasy
  47. The Cage, Bonnie Kistler, mystery
  48. Desperation Road, Michael Farris Smith, literary fiction
  49. The Winter Solder, Daniel Mason, literary fiction
  50. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, nonfiction
  51. The Relic Bond, Jasper Alden, D.K. Holmberg, fantasy
  52. Four Cold Months, KJ Kalis, mystery
  53. Moriarty, Anthony Horowitz, mystery
  54. What She Knew, Gilly MacMillan, mystery
  55. Vanishing Girls, Lisa Regan, mystery
  56. The Plague Charmer, Karen Maitland, historical fiction
  57. The Raven's Head, Karen Maitland, mystery
  58. The Vanishing Witch, Karen Maitland, historical fiction
  59. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley, literary fiction
Here's what I'm reading:
  1. Pirate Latitudes, Michael Creighton, paperback
  2. Frog, Mo Yan, Kindle
  3. Birnam Woods, Elizabeth Catton, Kindle
  4. City Of Fire, Don Winslow, Kindle
  5. The Sound And The Fury, William Faulkner, Kindle
  6. The Moors Murders, Alan Warren, Kindle
  7. Company Of Liars, Karen Maitland, hardback
  8. The Given Day, Dennis Lehane, hardback
  9. The Dog Of The North, Elizabeth McKenzie, hardback
  10. 1979, Val McDermid, audio
  11. Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lihiri, paperback
  12. Theft, Peter Carey, hardback
  13. What You Left Behind, Samantha Hayes, Kindle
Happy Reading!

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez


Olga has created a successful life for herself.  Although her mother deserted the family when Olga was a girl, her grandmother and brother were still there and their close Puerto Rican family buffered the blow.  Her mother ran off to join a militant Puerto Rican group dedicated to making Puerto Rico an independent state even if it takes a revolution.  Her father died of AIDS after becoming a junkie.

But that was in the past.  Now Olga runs the most successful wedding planning business in New York.  Still living in Brooklyn where she grew up, her brother is now representing the neighborhood on the City Council and running for Congress.  They have both grown up successfully except....

Except Olga, while she has plenty of male attention, never lets anyone get close.  Except her brother is in the closet about his sexuality and worried that he also might have AIDS.  Except their mother is now writing and making demands on the children she knows she miss her and want to please her.  Can Olga find a way to fix all these issues?

This debut novel was a New York Times Notable Book as well as winning several other literary prizes and garnering praise from many sources.  It is a romantic book that delves into serious issues and brings the tribulations of the Puerto Rican existence into prominence.  Olga starts as a closed off woman haunted by her past and as she changes and opens herself to love and family, she blossoms and the reader is allowed to ride along.  This book is recommended for readers of multicultural novels and women's fiction.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

 Allen Karlsson is turning one hundred.  The rest home where he is living these days is planning a celebration but Allen wants none of that.  He has two interests in life, explosives and vodka and neither are available at the rest home.  So he climbs out of his ground floor window and takes off.

Over the years, Allen's interest in explosives has taken him all over the world and he has met many world leaders.  He has worked for the United States Manhattan Project as a janitor who solves the last issue stumping the nuclear engineers and meeting Harry Truman.  He meets Stalin and dislikes him, especially after he puts him in the Gulug for five years but he unfortunately has already given them knowledge that lets them develop their own atomic program.  He works for a while for Franco in Spain and for his opposition.  He works for Mao and the leader of North Korea.

But now he just wants to get away.  But nothing is easy in Allen's life.  Before he knows it, he has ended up with a suitcase with millions inside.  He forms a new group of friends which includes an elephant.  There are deaths along the way since the criminals he stole the money from want it back.  The police are also involved, first as they think it is an elder alert, then in a manhunt as they decide Allen and his friends are the criminals.  Throughout it all, Allen wanders and affects the lives of all around him.

Jonasson was a journalist in Sweden for years before he started writing novels.  This book is a comedy of misadventures where Allen roams and makes changes in the world around him.  He befriends easily and is happy as long as he has his vodka.  The coincidences pile up but he can always call on a network of friends around the world when he needs a favor.  This novel is recommended for those who enjoy a light-hearted adventure.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

All The Right Mistakes by Laura Jamison


They met at Dartmouth University almost twenty years ago.  The five women are about to turn forty and have retained their friendship.  Their lives have changed as they have moved into professions.  One is a doctor who no longer practices, two are attorneys.  One has stayed at home with an absentee husband and another has a star-studded life as a CEO at a tech startup.  

They come together for their annual vacation.  They stay at the California friend's Carmel house although she didn't make the reunion this year.  She is busy writing a book.  So busy in fact, that when one of the women loses a family member, she can't be bothered to attend the funeral.  

But that's not her worst act.  The book is an expose, based on what the author calls the four mistakes women make.  She uses each of her friends as an example, and while she doesn't name them, she uses their initials and family facts so that they are easy to identify for anyone who needs them.  The other women are outraged and they feel that her book has made things more difficult for them at work and in their families.  

But as they turn forty, each of them finds a way to carve out a life they want.  One divorces and finds a new lover while another finds a way to have the baby she has wanted for years.  One adopts a child and another finds a way to take a job on her own terms with almost twice her prior salary.  Another starts her own law firm which is highly successful.  

Laura Jamison has written a book about female friendships and how women must fight for the lives they want.  While it is interesting, many readers will not be able to relate to these five women with tons of money and huge houses and professional careers.  The husbands all agree to either cut back on their professional jobs or become consultants so that they can help more at home which doesn't seem that realistic to most women's lives.  This book is recommended for readers of women's fiction who are interested in female friendships and how to nurture them and on how to get the life you want.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers


At first they didn't think he would live.  Twenty-seven year old Mark Schluter flips his truck one icy Nebraska winter night.  It was a while before the wreck was found and a while before they got him to the hospital where he lingered in a coma.  His only family, his older sister Karin, comes back to Nebraska to be there if he wakes or to plan a funeral if he doesn't.

Mark does emerge from his coma but not unharmed.  He insists that his sister is an imposter, an instance of a traumatic brain injury named Capgras Syndrome.  He recognizes others but also insists his beloved dog has been substituted.  As time goes on, he develops wilder and wilder delusions, that he is being constantly watched, that some entity has spent time and money to build a substitute life for him.  His doctors don't seem to have any idea how to help with this syndrome so Karin reaches out to a famous neurologist, an author known for his approachable works explaining the brain and its functions.

The neurologist comes to Nebraska but leaves having no real ideas to help.  He is undergoing his own crisis, his research methods becoming obsolete and his time in the limelight fading as new discoveries are made in the lab to explain the brain.  Karin gets support from an old boyfriend, Daniel, who used to be Mark's best friend but who Mark refuses to have around.

This novel was the National Book Award winner in 2006.  It explores the ideas of reality versus delusion, of what it is to be an individual and how we recognize ourselves in the world.  The concept of family and what sacrifices can reasonably be expected are discussed as well as a lot of brain discoveries and how our brain defines our personalities and our reality.  There is a subtheme about climate changes and how species are being pushed out of existence by development and change.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Cold Cold Heart by Tami Hoag


When Dana awakes this time, she is in the back of the killer's car.  He is taunting her, telling her that he is taking her to her grave.  Bound and tortured, barely conscious, somewhere Dana finds the will to get herself free and to grab one of his torture instruments and kill him instead.

She is out from under his plans, but hardly free.  He left Dana, a rising television reporter, disfigured and fearful.  She spends several months in rehabilitation then returns home.  Every step forward is matched by one backward and she struggles to return to her old self.  Her mother wants to baby her and wrap her in tissue paper, refusing to acknowledge that Dana is strong and can be independent.  Her stepfather cannot even look at her.  She starts to recognize people from her past, old friends she went to high school with before she got herself out of this small town and out into the world.

She also remembers what happened to her best high school friend.  Casey disappeared the summer after they graduated high school and has never been heard from again.  The police investigation went nowhere.  Casey had dated John, who has also returned to town after an army stint that left him with medals and PTSD.  Dana had dated Tim who is now back in town and a policeman.  Can Dana solve the mystery of Casey's disappearance and will it put her in more danger?

Tami Hoag is known for her suspenseful thrillers and this one is no different.  Dana is a resilient character and the reader will be cheering for her to make a new life after what has been dealt to her.  The suspense and pace are appropriate and there are twists and turns that keep the reader's attention.  This book is recommended for mystery and thriller readers.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell


Mary Doria Russell continues her Western series with this novel about Tombstone and the fight at the OK Corral.  It is the story of the Earp brothers and their time in Tombstone trying to uphold the law in a town full of cowboys and gamblers.  The Earp men were involved in the gambling industry as well as being lawmen.  Some were city lawmen, some were state.  Wyatt was the Earp leader although he was not the oldest or the most vocal.  But there was something about him that made other men do what he suggested.

Along with the Earp brothers, Doc Holliday plays a large part in the novel.  He was friends with the Earps, especially Wyatt and Morgan.  Although he was riddled with tuberculosis which kept him bedridden at times, he was a deadly shot and always willing to back up the brothers.  The money men behind the mines and large cattle ranches were desperate to bring the outlaws under control.  These men would rustle cattle and shoot up towns.  They had an in with the Tombstone sheriff and were able to continue their lawlessness under his eye.  The money men were on the side of the Earps and told them they would back them if any legal issues came up.

The most famous gunfight was the one at the OK Corral when three men were killed.  The Earps and Doc Holliday were brought up on murder charges although they were the law enforcement and the cowboys were lying in wait for them but the charges went nowhere.  The entire fight took less than two minutes but has gone down in history as the epic battle defining the West.

Along with the law issues, Russell relates the romantic lives of the various players.  Most of the Earp brothers were in long term relationships or marriages.  Wyatt had gotten mixed up with a opium addict but ended up with the past lover of the sheriff.  Most of the women in that town at that time had been involved in prostitution and the Earp women were no different.

Russell also follows Holliday and the Earp brothers after Tombstone.  Wyatt and Josie, his long time lady, ended up in California in Los Angeles.  Wyatt's story was interesting to the movie makers and biographers but he was through with that life and wasn't interested in talking about it.  But Josie always felt that the couple had been cheated and constantly tried to make money from Wyatt's story.  Readers will be interested in this thoroughly researched history of the Old West and its main characters.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

A Calling For Charlie Barnes

 The average person wouldn't consider Charlies Barnes' life a success.  He has been married five times and divorced four.  He has three children but only has a relationship with one of them.  He has constantly drifted from job to job, often get-rich schemes that only last a while and then fail.  

Now he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one of the worst kinds.  He is facing an early death at age sixty-nine and not ready to go.  He calls and informs family and friends and his youngest son, an author, rallies and comes home to take care of Charlie.  Is this Charlie's end?  When his son writes a book about Charlie's life, everything and everyone is upset.

Readers will find themselves liking Charlie in spite of himself.  Although he was a terrible husband with a roving eye, he also was always there for his children, taking them into his home without a murmur when their living situations got bad.  Although he wasn't successful in business, he tried to make sure no one else was hurt.  He is willing to do anything for his current wife, Barbara Two, even though she doesn't care for any of his children.  Charlie is a dreamer and sometimes dreams come true.  I listened to this novel and the narrator had a matter-of-fact narration that was perfect for this tale.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers interested in family relationships.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

The Jewel That Was Ours by Colin Dexter


A tour group from America has come to Oxford.  There's nothing unusual about that but this group is distinctive.  One lady has come to Oxford to bring a treasure to the Ashmolean Museum, the Wolvercote Tongue, that her late husband had acquired and bequeathed to the museum in his will.  But minutes after the group arrives at the hotel, the jewel is stolen and the women is found dead in her room.

The case is given to Inspector Morse and his long-suffering sergeant, Inspector Lewis.  There is plenty to investigate.  There are suspicious Oxford dons, mysterious tour members and various Oxford criminals.  Soon more bodies start to pile up and Oxford is starting to look like a murder capital.  Can Morse solve the case?

Most readers know Inspector Morse from the television series.  This Morse is a bit rougher around the edges and not above getting drunk on duty or sleeping with an inviting suspect.  But the mystery is intact and the twists and turns are all in place.  The final solution will surprise all.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Blue Nile by Virginia Morell


When one hears the word Nile, the mental image is that of the large, broad river flowing through Egypt.  But there is another Nile, the Blue Nile, that starts in the mountains of Ethiopia and flows through remote lands until it joins up with its sister Nile.  It is full of dangers, rapids and waterfalls, crocodiles and other wildlife and militants who are still fighting for freedom.  The Blue Nile is so remote that it was not fully mapped until the 1920's. 

In 1999, National Geographic magazine sponsored a trip which would be the first to travel by boat from the start of the Blue Nile to its ending.  Virginia Morell jumped at the chance to be on the trip and write an article about it for the magazine.  She had spent time in Ethiopia many years before and welcomed the chance to visit the country again.

Armed with supplies and an entire packet of authorizations from local and state governments, the expedition took off on three rafts.  The guide was a whitewater expert who had been on some of the rapids and falls, especially one gorge that had taken the life of one of his expedition.  He was cautious and leary of the natives although the writers and photographers wanted nothing more than to meet and learn about the native inhabitants in these remote regions.  That created some internal tension for the trip.

Many of those who lived along the river had not seen boats before.  They did not travel the river but were mostly farmers.  They would walk hours to sow their crops along the river with its richer land.  In 1999, most were still uneducated about the world around them and most had never seen a white person.  There was fear at first but the native people were generous and interested in those traveling through their lands.

Virginia Morell spent her career writing about remote lands for different publications.  This is an older book but still full of interesting observations about Ethiopia at the turn of the century and about the people who live there.  Readers, most of whom will never travel in this area, will have an outlook on the area's geography and culture.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

The Dark Room by Minette Walters


Jinx Kingsley comes to in a hospital bed.  She is told that she ran her car into a cement post and is on suicide watch.  Jinx doesn't remember anything of that nor of a prior attempt in her garage with carbon monoxide.  In fact, Jinx, doesn't remember anything of the past week.

She is sent to a rehabilitation center where the head of the clinic tries to help her remember what happened.  Everyone tells her that she did this after her fiance Leo, told her weeks before their wedding that he was leaving her for her best friend, Meg.  Jinx doesn't think she would have cared enough to kill herself over Leo.  She didn't kill herself when her first husband was bludgeoned to death, did she?

Complicating matters is the fact that Leo and Meg have disappeared.  They told their families they were going overseas until the scandal died down but two bodies have been found.  Did Jinx kill them in a fit of rage?  Did her millionaire father, Adam Kingsley, who made his fortune as a thug, avenge his family's honor?  Did Jinx's useless brothers do it to set her up?  Did one of Meg's other men get jealous and kill his lover and his rival?  Jinx needs to get her memory back before she shares the same fate.

Minette Walters is one of the best English mystery writers although she has focused lately on historical fiction.  Her mystery work has won the American Edgar Allen Poe Award and the British Golden Daggar award.  Readers will follow Jinx on a trip through the past as she attempts to remember what happened and a police investigation that is focusing on her as the prime suspect.  There are twists and turns and Jinx refuses to be the poor pitiful victim as she tries to figure out how to solve the mystery and start her life again.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter


It's 1974 and in Atlanta, Georgia, it's still a man's world.  Kate Murphy, from the wealthy Buckhead neighborhood, is looking for purpose in her life after her young husband is killed in the military.  She hates secretarial work and joins the police force which is recruiting women.  The existing force, mainly white men, don't want the women.  They look down on women, blacks, gays and all other minorities.  White men have the power and they don't intend to share it.  They sexually harass the women with no compunction.  

But someone is determined to change the force.  The Shooter has killed five policemen and its only by a miracle the sixth has escaped.  Maggie Lawson, Kate's partner, is from a police family with her uncle and brother both on the force and both determined to get Maggie off of it.  Jimmy is the sixth policeman who escaped The Shooter.  As a survivor, he's in the best position to give a description but his account of what happened doesn't ring true.  What is he hiding?

Most readers will know Karin Slaughter for her series about Grant County and the one featuring Will Trent.  This novel is a stand-alone and it depicts a police force that is full of racism and casual violence, of men who drink on the job and have affairs while on duty.  Kate Murphy is a young woman trying to find her place, running into walls wherever she turns but determined to make a go of being a police woman.  The only quibble I have is that Kate finds herself in an affair with a man who clearly doesn't love her or even value her and she could do much better than that.  The mystery of The Shooter is full of twists and the reader will be surprised as much as anyone at the denouement.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, April 7, 2023

A Net For Small Fishes by Lucy Jago


This novel takes place in the court of James I of England.  Frances Howard, a beauty and daughter of the influential Howard family, was married to the Earl of Essex in an attempt to bury the enmity between the two families.  Frances had a waiting lady and dress designer named Anne Turner who was good friends with her.  Anne was married to the court physician when the two women became friends.

Frances's marriage to the Earl Of Essex was never a success and she grew to hate him for his cruel treatment of her.  Frances fell in love with the king's favorite, Robin Carr, and Anne helped her with a plan to get her marriage annulled so that she could marry Carr instead.  Sir Thomas Overby, another influential court advisor, was against the marriage and tried to talk Carr out of it.  He ran afoul of the king and was imprisoned in the Tower where he died.  While there, accusations were made that his death was caused by poison sent by Frances and Anne.

Several years later, individuals were accused of this death.  Richard Weston was a confidant of Anne's and a guard at the Tower.  He confessed that he was given poison by Frances and Anne to kill Overby.  Weston was executed along with several other small players.  After Anne's trial, where she refused to testify against Frances, she was hung.  Frances and Robin were found guilty and sentenced to the Tower for life but later pardoned by the king.

This novel is based on this true story.  The author, Lucy Jago, is sympathetic to the woman, seeing them as confident and independent women not willing to be subservient to the men in their lives.  Frances was used as a pawn by her family and Anne was betrayed by the lover who fathered her three youngest children.  Jago also emphasized the friendship between the two women and the comfort that they were to each other.  I listened to this novel and the narrator was perfect to invoke the English court and it's protocols.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction. 

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Half A King by Joe Abercrombie


Yarvi's life has been bitter so far.  Although the youngest son of the king, he was born with a deformed left hand so was considered weak and useless.  He was ignored or condescended to his whole life.  Then when he was older, he was sent as an apprentice to the Magistrate and found his calling.  He was about to take the test to give his life to the service when his uncle burst in with news.  Yarvi's father and brother had been killed in a battle and Yarvi was now the king.

But what if you don't want it?  That wasn't an option and soon Yarvi finds himself at the head of the army, off to get revenge for his father's death.  But instead of victory, he finds betrayal and soon finds himself a slave, condemned to row on a trading ship full of vicious overseers, doomed to do that until he is used up and dies.

But maybe not.  Yarvi finds a way to escape with a group of others.  There are the two men who rowed with him, the ship's store master who took Yarvi's place on the oars, the woman who was the ship's navigator and a slave who had spent a decade scrubbing the ship's deck with a brick.  Can this group outrun those determined to hunt them down and can they find a way to get Yarvi's kingdom back?

This is the first novel in the Shattered Seas series and my first novel by Joe Abercrombie.  It is one of my favorite fantasy tropes, that of a group of ruffians and n'er do wells who band together and become like family.  Yarvi does a lot of growing up and the reader will be on his side all the way.  There are other interesting characters and lots of twists and turns that make this a fantasy classic.  This book is recommended for fantasy fans.

Monday, April 3, 2023

A String Of Beads by Thomas Perry


Jane Whitfield's life is calm these days.  She is married to her surgeon husband and lives quietly, cooking and shopping and other wifely pursuits.  Her past life was as someone who helped those who had to disappear, women who were stalked by ex-lovers or husbands, those who fell afoul of criminals and other cases.  Very few knew of this other life and that is the main thing that keeps Jane safe.

But Jane has to put that stable life aside when she returns to her house one day to find visitors.  All of the head women of the eight clans of Jane's tribe are waiting for her.  She invites them in and after pleasantries, finds out that they have come on a mission.  Jimmy Sanders, a man who Jane knew as a boy, is wanted by the law.  He got in a bar fight and was arrested.  A month later the man who attacked him in the bar is murdered and the police come after Jimmy.  He takes off and the women want Jane to find him and bring him home.

Jane knows she has no choice but to do this.  She leaves the next day, planning on finding Jimmy and talking him into giving himself up.  But things change.  She hears that there a men who have gotten themselves arrested just to wait in jail for Jimmy to arrive where he will be killed.  As Jane and Jimmy travel, an organized group is also on their trail and Jane realizes that Jimmy is caught up in something bigger than she ever expected.  Can she keep them safe and bring them home safely?

This is the eighth in the Jane Whitfield series.  Thomas Perry has researched extensively the ways that someone can drop out of their lives and create a new one and it is interesting to read about that.  Jane is resourceful and brave and a female character who it is always fun to read about.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

2009 The Best American Travel Writing edited by Simon Winchester


This anthology of travel articles is edited by Simon Winchester famous for his own nonfiction writing.  The articles are not constrained to travel within the United States but instead the majority is about travel in other countries.  Articles focus on Cuba, Burma, Lagos, Italy, Greenland, Lebanon, Rwanda, India, Chad, Bolivia, Bulgaria and Argentina.  There are several articles unique to the United States, discussing travel on the Mississippi River and the river in the movie Deliverance, barbeque cooking in Texas and the world of Walt Disney.

International topics include the state of the revolution in Cuba, disappearing penises as a belief, a man eating tiger reserve, a war torn Middle East, the cult of having servants in poor countries, traveling across the oceans via cruise ships, the rise of female wrestlers in South America and the dream of retiring for almost nothing in other countries.  Readers will be able to visualize countries and practices that they are not familiar with.

Authors in this year's edition include Calvin Trillin, Patrick Symmes, Frank Bures, Bronwen Dickey, Andre Aciman, Chuck Klosterman, Tony Perrottet, Lynne Cox, Matthew Power, Seth Stevenson, Tom Sleigh, Jay Kirk, Kiran Desai, Caroline Alexander, Paul Salopek, Eric Weiner, Aima Guillermoprieto, Roger Cohen, Karrie Jacobs, Mark Schazker, Dimiter Kenarov, Jay Cowen, Elisabeth Eaves and Daniel Alarcon.  Each writes on a topic that reflects their interests and own travels.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers interested in travel writing.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Winter by Ali Smith


Art has a dilemma.  He has promised his mother, Sophia, to come home for the Christmas holidays and bring his long time partner, Charlotte. His mother who ran a set of shops that were known by everyone, lost money when her enterprise failed and left London for a rambling country house with fifteen bedrooms that Art has never seen.  He was dreading the visit but then he and Charlotte broke up.  He doesn't want to tell his mother all about that so he hires a student, Lux, that he meets on the street to accompany him and pretend to be Charlotte.

When Art and Lux arrive, they find a falling down house that is freezing.  Sophia is very very thin and there is no food in the house.  She states that there is no room for Charlotte and she must sleep in the barn but although she is unwelcoming she will only respond to Lux.  Art is appalled and doesn't know what to do.  When his mother seems to deteriorate further and have a medical episode, he ends up calling her sister, Iris, who Sophia has been alienated from for decades.

Iris arrives with food and help.  Iris was a die hard liberal, spending her life living in communes and attending protests against war, bombs, the Brexit exit and other liberal causes.  Slowly as the two sisters start to talk, the truth of each of their lives emerge along with the reasons they have been estranged.

This is the second in Ali Smith's Seasonal Quartet.  Although each is centered around a season, the novels are stand alone and have different characters.  In Winter, Smith explores the concept of family and what obligations we have to those we are related to.  She also delves into hidden family secrets and whether truth is owed to others.  Readers will find much to relate to in the novel with talk of Brexit and American politics as touchpoints.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.