Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Final Spin by Jocko Willink


Johnny is a twenty-three year old man still living at home.  Although he is bright, he works as a stockboy at a local grocery along with his best friend, Goat.  His older brother, Artie, is on the spectrum and also lives at home.  He is obsessed with cleanliness and order and wants nothing more than to be allowed to work at his job at a local laundromat where he knows everything about each machine and how to best launder any piece of clothing.

Johnny knows he needs to take care of Artie but he doesn't know what else he needs to do with his life.  He is stuck in a dead-end job and doesn't have any other ideas about what to do or how to get there.  When the owner of the laundromat tells Johnny that he's selling out, Johnny knows it will ruin Artie's life.  He and Goat come up with a plan for buying the laundromat so that Artie will always have  a job there.

This is the first work I've read by Jocko Willink.  He is known for his time in the SEALs military group and his books on leadership and discipline.  In this short novel, he turns to the relationship between brothers.  Artie is a joy for the reader to discover but I had a hard time warming up to Johnny.  Although he seems to have good intentions, his decisions are hasty and not well thought out, leading to disasters. I listened to this book and the author read it as well.   This book is recommended for readers of Willink's and those interested in brotherhood.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Theft by Peter Carey


Five years ago, Michael Boone was an up-and-coming artist, a painter whose work sold as fast as he could produce it.  But then came a divorce and all his work became marital assets and when he tried to get them back, he was arrested and eventually imprisoned.  Now released, his work has gone out of style and he is living out in the country in the house of an ex-patron with his brother Hugh.

Hugh has mental issues.  A giant of a man, who needs to be physically located in any geographical area, he has been the bane of Michael's life, scaring off friends and lovers and constantly getting into trouble in a world that he can't quite fit into.  But under the irritation, it's evident that Michael loves Hugh and the two are intertwined for life.

Into their lives, out of a storm, comes Marlene.  She is the daughter-in-law of a famous artist and her husband the only person who can validate his work.  Unknown to Michael, his neighbor has a Liebowitz, in fact the piece that inspired Michael as a child to become an artist.  When the piece is stolen, his neighbor believes that Michael or Hugh are responsible although they are not.  

Michael and Marlene begin a love affair and it takes them from the country to Sydney and eventually New York.  Michael has been painting and has completed a series that he believes is his best work.  Marlene gets him an exhibition and it sells out.  Michael believes he is headed back to the top but is he instead a dupe of Marlene who has plans for a big score?

Peter Carey is an Australian author who has won the Booker Prize twice.  I've read quite a few of his novels and enjoyed them all.  His writing style is conversational and the reader feels as if they are sitting and listening to a tale told by a master.  The relationship between Michael and Hugh and Michael and Marlene are fascinating and the ending is unexpected.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Memory Man by David Baldacci


Amos Decker's life has changed twice.  The first time was right out of college.  He was drafted into the NFL but on his first play in a professional game, he was hit so hard that it broke several bones and put him into a coma.  When he emerged, his life was forever different.  His career was over but the biggest change was his brain.  He now became one of the few people that never forgot anything that happened.  All past events were stored in his memory like a DVR and he could play them back whenever he chose.

Decker had to choose a new life and he chose to become a policeman.  He had no trouble passing the exams and was promoted to detective quickly where he and his partner had the highest solve rate in the department.  Then the second change came.

Decker came home one day to find his whole family slaughtered.  His brother-in-law, his wife and his nine year old daughter.  The case dragged and no one found a lead not even Decker.  He underwent a crisis, left the department and even became homeless for a while.  Now he lives in a residence hotel eking out a living as a private investigator.

Then he gets the news after eighteen months.  Someone has walked into the police department and confessed to the murders of his family.  It is soon clear that the man is a false confessor as he was in jail in another town when the crimes were committed.  While he is in jail before that is discovered, another tragedy occurs.  The local high school is attacked and six students as well as a coach and the assistant principal have been killed.  

Decker's old boss asks him to help out and it soon becomes clear that the crimes are related to Decker somehow.  The killings continue as Decker, his old partner and a journalist try to find the killer or killers.  Can they stop the crimes before more people are dead?

This is the first novel in the Memory Man series and crime readers will be fascinated by Decker's story.  This is a real condition and Baldacci has turned it into a case where it is useful in crime detection.  Readers will sympathize with Decker and cheer for him to solve the case and find some resolution in his life.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Chase by Candice Fox


When the warden at the Nevada penitentiary is faced with a decision, she makes one no one could anticipate.  A busload of staff and prisoner visitors has been taken ransom and the demand is to let everyone free.  Faced with a calamity, the warden does the unimageable and sets free not only those in for fraud or drugs, but the inmates of death row, rapists and terrorists.

Most are caught right away, either on the road after stealing cars and heading for Vegas or in the desert practically begging for help.  But some get away and they are some of the worst.  A huge man who is a serial killer.  A man who is in prison for killing his whole family.  A white supremacist who wants to make a statement that will never be forgotten.

Celine Osbourne who is the death row supervisor is determined to catch the men who had been under her control.  She especially wants to catch John Kradle, the man who killed his wife, son and sister in law because of a tragedy in her own past.  She pairs up with a man in prison for fraud as her best chance of understanding what Kradle is about and where he might go.  As she tracks him, she starts to think that maybe what John has steadfastly maintained for five years is true and he is not the killer of his family.  Meanwhile, the white supremist has reunited with his group and they are ready to pull off a massacre.  

Candice Fox is known in the mystery/thriller genre as an author who always delivers a fascinating tale that pulls the reader along.  Celine is an interesting character due to her background and John Kradle is the man everyone will end up pulling for.  The side stories of the other prisoners are interesting and give some insight into what a prison guard faces every day.  I listened to this book and the narrator was perfect for all the action.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.    

Friday, May 26, 2023

The King's English by Betsy Burton


In this delightful memoir, Betsy Burton talks about starting a bookstore in Salt Lake City and the years of running it.  She and a friend were both authors and had rented space in which to write.  Talking one day, they decided to expand their goals and start a bookstore.  That started Burton's life work and she shares it with the reader.

Running an independent bookstore is not a career for everyone.  Burton tells about the financial challenges, partners who weren't a good match in plans, the rise of online booksellers, and her personal challenges.  But she also shares her pleasure in hosting and meeting authors, telling about some of the most prominent.  She delights as does the staff in matching each patron with the perfect book (or two or three) for them.  

This is an older book and may not be easy to find but it is a joy that readers will enjoy from the first page to the last.  At the end of each chapter, Burton lists books that she personally recommends in the topic of the chapter.  These lists also make the book a reader's dream.  I've purchased several already and plan to buy many more.  This book is recommended for readers.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri


In this anthology, Jhumpa Lahiri gives readers eight stories about families and the immigrant experience seen through the prism of Indian families.  Most of the stories show a readiness to move to other places to improve life and education for the children and a desire to move back to the cultural home later in life.  The Indian ethos of doing for others one knows and sacrificing for family members is prominent in these stories.

My favorite stories were several that tied together two families.  One family had welcomed the other when they were just arrived in the United States and helped them acclimate and navigate life in a new country.  The first family moved back to India for the father's career but is now returning.  Of course the second family is willing to host them as they return and find a new house.  But the relationship is strained and the second family feels that their hosting is not appreciated and the other family looks down on them.  The teenage daughter of the hosts has a crush on the visiting family's son but never voices it.  The second story in this triad explores the life of the returning family after they purchase a house and move there.  We find that the mother is severely ill and that caused much of the strain.  Years later, in the third story, now adult son and daughter meet each other in Italy and form a relationship.

Jhumpa Lahiri is an Indian author whose books and anthologies have won praise.  She has won the Pultizer Prize, had several books on the New York Times Notable list and other literary awards.  This anthology won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award as well as being named a best book of the year by publications such as the New York Times Book Review, the Los Angles Times and the Washington Post.  The stories are intriguing and introduce those not familiar with the Indian culture to the major role that families and friends play in the lives of the culture.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

What You Have Left by Will Allison


Holly grew up on her grandfather's farm.  Her mother was killed in a water skiing accident when Holly was five.  Her father dropped her off with her grandfather after the funeral and that was the last time Holly saw him.  She grew up wondering why she wasn't important enough for him to come back for her and why he didn't love her enough.

Now she is grown and married to Lyle, who had worked on some house renovations for her grandfather.  Holly has an antique mall but spends most of her time gambling on the slots.  Outside of gambling, she longs to finally find her father and ask him her questions.  

Knowing that his marriage is faltering, Lyle decides that maybe finding Holly's father would improve things.  He manages to do that and now Holly must decide if she will finally go see him and find the answers to her questions.

Will Allison has written a story of human relationships.  There are Holly and her grandfather, Holly and Lyle, Holly and her daughter and finally Holly and her father.  The novel is set in Columbia, South Carolina, which is a familiar location to me and makes the book feel more realistic.  Allison is accurate at exploring family ties and capturing the feeling of the South.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Strega by Johanne Lykke Holm


Nineteen year old Rafaela feels like she is lucky.  Each year, nine girls are chosen to go live and work at the majestic Olympic hotel and this year Rafaela is one of the nine.  The hotel is in the Alps and near the remote village of Strega.  She arrives and meets the eight other girls.  They are shown to a dorm room where they will all sleep together in cots.

The girls are trained in their duties but one thing is missing.  There are no guests.  The girls assume that the guests will be coming later.  They learn tasks together, work together, eat together and sleep together.  Their supervisors soon reveal a hidden cruel side and often physically chastise the girls but they continue on.

Finally, guests are to arrive.  There will be a play for them and one girl is chosen to dance in a featured spot.  The guests arrive and the party becomes wild.  Afterwards, one girl is missing, the dancer.  Did she leave with a guest?  Did something more sinister happen?

Johanne Lykke Holm is a Swedish writer.  Her novel is about the place of women in the world and how they are trained to accept what comes, even when it is a crime against them.  An early quote states that every woman's body is a crime scene and the book plays out this scenario.  The girls don't seem to be that worried about the missing girl; neither the girl's parents or the police are called as if she had just departed with a party guest even after her belongings are found in the forest surrounding the hotel.  The atmosphere is eerie and gothic and events are often hinted at, leaving the reader to decide what happened.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.  

Friday, May 19, 2023

The Whispering Swarm by Michael Moorcock


Michael Moorcock is known as one of the masters of science fiction and fantasy.  He started early and by age sixteen was running a magazine of fantasy tales in London.  He has written over eighty novels and this one is the first in a new trilogy, The Sanctuary Of The White Friars.

Moorcock has chosen a memorable structure for this novel.  It is a mixture of biography and fantasy.  He tells the story of his own early life and life in London in the 60's.  He talks about other fantasy and sci fi authors he knew and about the music scene as he is also a guitarist and played in several bands.  It talks about the sexual revolution and his own love life, his eventual marriage and his children, two little girls.

But as he tells it, a monk he met in one of the publishing houses asks him for tea one day to continue a conversation they had started. He takes Moorcock to a place he could never have imagined, the Alsacia.  The Alsacia is a place out of time, a neighborhood set in the past, maybe the 1700's or 1600's.  There are old taverns, highwaymen, and the Sanctuary of White Friars, of which the monk is a member.  Soon Michael is caught up in a love affair with a woman who robs coaches and a plot to rescue Charles I from Cromwell and the execution he is facing.  Michael goes back and forth between his modern life and the one hundreds of years before.

This is a fascinating book.  Readers will learn about London, both centuries ago and in more modern times.  Comingling the two worlds is an interesting concept and using his own life as a basis is a unique choice.  Either story would have made a good book and intertwining them is something it takes an author such as Moorcock to pull off.  The book could have used some editing as there seems to be repetition at times but fantasy readers will welcome another series by Moorcock.  The second novel in the trilogy is being released in early summer 2023.  This series is recommended for fantasy readers.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Our Little Secret by Kiersten Mogdlin


Cason Glen is a small town where most who live there grew up there as well.  They went to school together, played sports together, partied together and eventually, married each other and had children.  Everyone knows everyone and pretty much everyone's business.  But there are secrets hiding under the surface.

Jude is the town sheriff.  He is married to Michelle and they have one daughter Caroline.  Stephanie is married to Ted and they have twin sons.  But Ted went missing a couple of months ago and Stephanie and the town don't know if he ran off with another woman or if something else happened to him.  Enzo is the town mayor.  His wife was killed a few years back when she interrupted a burglar or at least that's what the police decided.  

Jude gets a late night call that takes him to the lake.  Stephanie reported that coming home from work she saw a car driving into the lake.  That wasn't true but what is true is that the lake holds secrets.  Secrets like a gun used to kill Enzo's wife.  Secrets like bodies that have remained hidden but are about to be revealed.  

This is my first read by this author.  There are lots of twists and turns.  I grew up in a small town like this one where everyone knew everyone else and what they were doing so I could relate to the claustrophobic feeling of a small town.  There are lots of twists and turns, some the reader can predict and others they can't.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The Invisible Life Of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab


Addie is a French girl growing up in a small village.  She runs away to the forest on the day of her wedding, sure that she is making a mistake.  She wants more than to be a farmer's wife.  She wants a big life with exciting events and fascinating people.  She is visited there by a demon who promises her an exciting life that will last as long as she wants in exchange for her soul.  Addie agrees, but she doesn't realize that along with that, she is giving up on anyone remembering her for even two minutes.  As soon as she walks into another room, it's like the person she was with has never seen her.

Henry Strauss made a different bargain with the same demon three hundred years later.  He exchanged his soul for a year where everyone will love him and agree with him.  When Addie shows up at his bookstore, he is the first person in centuries to remember Addie.  The two fall in love, but where is such a love headed?  Complicating matters, the demon is also in love with Addie and determined that she will be his forever.  What is the worth of a soul?

This book got a ton of buzz.  It is an interesting proposition; what would you give to have your fondest wish come true?  Schwab is a fantasy author who currently lives in Scotland.  She has created a memorable figure in Addie and a love story that will grab hold of the reader and compel that one reads to the end to find out what happens to Addie and Henry.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

We, Jane by Aimee Wall


Marthe grew up in Newfoundland.  She was restless and glad to leave for university in Montreal.  While there, she met a man and got pregnant.  Not ready to have a child, she got an abortion and later the relationship broke up.  Marthe dropped out of college and worked waitressing, her days aimless and without a purpose.

Then she met Ruth at a meeting about women's rights.  Ruth introduced her to the concept of Jane, an organization that passed on knowledge about abortions and how to perform them so that women would always have an option regardless of laws and so that rural areas would have access.  Marthe has found her purpose and she and Ruth go back to Newfoundland where Marthe will receive her training.

There are issues with the group.  There are personal disagreements.  One woman brings a friend for an abortion but the woman is really there to further her story about underground abortions and the Jane organization and when she writes her expose, the head of the Janes is arrested.  Marthe questions if this is what she wants to do.

This is a debut novel based on reality.  There was a Jane organization in Chicago which serves as a model for other groups.  All the women in the organization are called Jane to give them some shelter from the law.  This book was longlisted for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize as well as being shortlisted for other awards.  It outlines a relevant social issue at a time when abortion rights are in flux with old laws being overturned and new ones being legislated.  This book is recommended for readers of womens fiction.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

The Shore by Sara Taylor


Sara Taylor uses her own childhood geography to set this epic family narrative.   It is set on one of the small islands on the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Virginia.  Most people, if they know of these islands, have heard of Chincoteague, home of wild ponies.  But there are other, small islands.

The narrator of the novel is a women from one of the original families in the area.  Her ancestors go back to a half Native American woman who fled her racist home only to marry a man who was just as racist and tried to kill her to marry a more acceptable women he met later.  The women in her family were rugged and strong and none is stronger than she.  As a small girl, she saw her father kill her mother and bury her in the backyard.  Holly's goal in life is to protect her younger sister so she tells no one what she knows.  Instead she protects her sister from their father and the meth-addicted friends he brings around.  Then something happens that cannot be overlooked and the family is burst asunder.

Now Holly has returned to the island.  She wants to find anyone who knew her parents and to get the true story of her family and all that happened to bring about the childhood she is still trying to reconcile with her adult life.  She finds more than she wanted but she needed to know it all.

This is Sara Taylor's debut novel.  Her assured recreation of the environment brought her a nomination on the Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction.  Her characters are strong and willing to do whatever is needed to survive while making sure the family will go on.  The narrative spans more than a century and close attention is needed to keep all the family lines straight and determine how each character is related to each other.  The timeline also goes back and forth a bit and again requires close attention from the reader.  But the beauty and uniqueness of this novel richly rewards any effort needed.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

The Dragon Behind The Glass by Emily Voigt


The most expensive fish in the world is the Asian Arowana, also known as the dragon fish.  Especially prized are the red ones, although there are also silver and green varieties.  For years, this fish was just a food fish but once the vanity breeders got into the business, most of the arowanas in the wild were captured, and the fish was put on the endangered list.

The stir around acquiring a specimen is amazing.  Traders have been robbed and even murdered.  A single fish can bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars.  There are trade conventions and secret farms where the fish is raised in captivity.

Emily Voigt won a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship and was fascinated by the story of the arowana enough that she chose to spend her time trying to locate one in the wild.  She met several of the top traders.  She went on expeditions to the Amazon and Borneo as well as other Asian countries.  While she was writing this book, a new variety which appears to have text written on it was discovered.

There is a controversy in the environmental field about the endangered list.  Some feel that as an animal or fish or bird becomes scarce, it needs to go on the list for protection.  Others, and this includes most of the traders, feel that putting a breed on the endangered list only makes it more valuable for the market as collectors try to get something that is so rare that it is endangered.  Voigt is on the side that supports the list but she does understand the arguments of the other side.  Regardless, readers will be fascinated to read on a topic probably unfamiliar to them and to see how it all plays out.  This book is recommended for nonfiction and science readers.

Friday, May 12, 2023

North Of Sunset by Henry Baum


A serial killer is stalking Hollywood.  He's known as the Vanity Plate Killer as he only targets those vain enough to have a vanity plate on their car which he takes along with their life.  It seems like Hollywood should be a place that wouldn't have a serial killer; it's the city of dreams not nightmares.

Michael Sennet is Hollywood's leading man.  He is the star of whatever movie he is in, his face instantly recognizable.  He is recognized wherever he goes and everyone loves him.  But Michael isn't happy.  He wants something more.  His marriage is stale and he wants to direct but is pigeonholed into the acting role.  When he strays from his marriage in a moment of pique, he is photographed and then blackmailed.  

Michael can't have that.  He is the king not some pitiable victim.  He kills his blackmailer and mimics the Vanity Plate Killer.  He gets away with that but then there's the neighbor who saw something, the real serial killer who isn't happy about someone stealing his fame, those who keep Michael from doing what he wants.  Plus killing is more fun than he ever expected.

Readers will be swept along with this narrative.  While it is not as tightly plotted as some books, it has a rapid pace that is intriguing.  The story is told through the narratives of various characters; Michael, the man who runs the studio, Michael's wife, the blackmailer, the serial killer, Michael's wife and the detective.  There is not really a mystery as it is known all along who does each murder but there is a need to continue reading to see how everything turns out.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.  

Thursday, May 11, 2023

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane


The place is Boston, the time the period following the first World War.  Lehane writes a sweeping epic abut the period through following two families and specifically two men.  One is Danny Coughlin, a white Irish beat cop with a father high up in the police administration.  Luther Laurence is an African American man who has left everything he holds dear to come to Boston after he gets involved in a situation that left men dead.

Danny is a natural leader, destined to rise in the police force.  But two things change him.  One is his love for Nora, an immigrant who works for the Coughlins until her past is exposed.  He chooses Nora over his family and is estranged from them.  The other is an assignment where he is sent undercover to penetrate the various groups that are advocating communism and unions.  He is shocked to realize that far from despising these men, he feels more at home with them than with his other friends and coworkers.  The police are woefully underpaid and overworked with no benefits and nothing is set to change.  They start to talk of unionizing and Danny is one of the leaders.

Luther is in Boston to lay low but his character makes him stand out.  He also works for the Coughlins and forms a friendship with Nora and less so, with Danny.  When Nora is forced out, Luther continues to be her friend, her only one.  He left behind a wife he loves dearly who is pregnant with their first child and he wants to get back to them but needs to find a way that won't endanger them as he is wanted by the drug dealing establishment where they are.  He gets involved with the local leaders of the NAACP.  But he is asked to betray them by a policeman who has found out his secret and is holding it over his head.

This is the first novel in the Coughlin series.  Along with the stories of Danny and Luther, there are short chapters that follow the life and career of Babe Ruth and how he sympathizes with the unions as well.  Other characters include J. Edgar Hoover at the start of his career and various individuals from the communist party and early labor leaders.  Readers will learn much about the period as well as having two main characters that they will sympathize with.  This book is recommended for historical fiction readers.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

An Elderly Woman Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten


Maud is eighty-eight but thank goodness she still has her health and a lively mind.  She spent her life teaching and taking care of her family and now is her time to enjoy herself.  But death follows Maud wherever she goes.

In this anthology of six interconnected stories, Helene Tursten follows Maud's life and her murders.  Whether it is due to taking care of her sister, having a job Maud wants, committing a crime or just becoming a nuisance to Maud, those who cross or inconvenience Maud seem to end up dead.  And really, who would suspect a little old lady?

Maud takes a trip to South Africa on a tour.  Capetown is her favorite city and she can always find something to do there.  Events transpire that mean she will soon be spending more time there than ever.  Maud may have finally found happiness at age eighty-eight.

This is the second book in this series.  Helene Tursten is a Swedish author who worked in various medical jobs before becoming an author.  She has joined the group that is riding the elderly genre in literature that is currently popular.  Maud is cunning and knows exactly when to hide behind her age and the assumptions others make about the elderly.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, May 8, 2023

What You Left Behind by Samantha Hayes


Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher is ready for a vacation.  She and her daughter, Stella, head to Lorraine's home village to stay for the week with her sister, Jo and Jo's son, Freddie.  Jo's husband, Malcolm, works and stays in London during the week and Lorraine's husband, Adam, is also in the police and working this week so the two sisters plan for a week together to renew old ties.

But Lorraine's visit isn't as relaxing as she'd hoped.  Eighteen months ago, the village had been shaken by a series of six teenage suicides, including the son of Jo's best friend in the village.  Freddie has been withdrawn since then, spending most of his time in his room and far from the outgoing teenager he had been previously.  Jo is worried about him, even more so since she and Malcolm have just split up.

Then things seem to be starting again.  One boy, Dean, seems to have committed suicide by driving a stolen motorbike into a tree.  Another, Lenny, is found dead on the railroad tracks.  Each left a note behind.  Then Freddie goes missing.  Lorraine is desperate to help her sister find Freddie and to insure that the other boys' deaths have been investigated properly.  

Samantha Hayes genre is psychological thrillers, based on family situations.  There are always twists and turns but the reader can imagine the events actually happening to them or someone they know.  This book is no different.  Marriage breakups and moody teenagers are normal although frightening to those going through them and teenage suicide is a crisis in many countries.  Readers will be interested in how the events play out and what the solution will be.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo


Anna is a woman in her forties, living in London.  She is adrift.  Her daughter is grown and doesn't need her as she once did.  She and her husband have separated due to his infidelity and Anna isn't sure if she should go through with a divorce.  Her mother, who raised her alone has recently died.  Anna is the child of a white mother and an African father but her father returned to Africa before she was born and she never met him or knew much about him.

Cleaning out her mother's house to put it on the market, she comes across a box of her mother's mementos.  Within it, Anna finds her father's diary of his time in England.  Entranced, she reads it and decides that with the money from the sale of her mother's house, she will go to Africa and find him if he is still alive.

Researching him, she finds some of his friends and acquaintances from that time in London.  She also discovers that after he returned, he joined a resistance group that overthrew the government and that he became the first African President of their small country.  Some would say he was a dictator and there are rumors of deaths associated with him.  Others praise him and point to his accomplishments during his time as the head of government.

When Anna finally meets him, she is not sure what to think.  One day he ignores her, the next he takes her to various sites in the country that have meaning for him and that he wants to share with her.  She meets some of his children, a half sister who is a judge and a half brother.  One welcomes her, one is suspicious of her and believes she is out to get something from their father.  Through it all, Anna tries to figure out who her father really is so that she can decide who she really is.

This novel was a Reece Book Club Pick along with other accolades.  I listened to this novel and the narrator was perfect with the various accents of the people in Anna's life.  The book explores themes of colonialism and whether those who overthrow governments end up any better.  It follows Anna as she tries to fill in the blanks of her family life and to decide if she wants to incorporate her African family into her life.  It also follows her journey for self determination and how finding out who we are can happen at any age.  This book is recommended for readers interested in family and multicultural stories.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Shutter by Ramona Emerson


Rita Todacheene was raised on the Navajo reservation by her grandmother.  Her mother had left for the wider world knowing her daughter would be safe with her mother.  That's where Rita learned to take pictures; both her grandmother and mother were photographers.  Rita left the reservation to live with her mother when she got older but her grandmother's house was always home.  Only her grandmother and the medicine man know Rita's secret.  Rita can see the dead and they talk to her.  

Grown, Rita is now a forensic investigator for the Albuquerque police department.  She is known as the best photographer but the work is dragging her down.  The hours are brutal and she is surrounded by death every day.  She solves cases no one else can because the dead talk and she gets clues about what really happened when they died.

But this death seems different.  A woman is found on the highway, apparently a suicide who jumped from the bridge above.  The detective in charge of the case is a man Rita tries to stay away from, a racist man who despises women as well.  He is lazy about his cases and declares the death a suicide with no investigation.  But Rita sees that the woman was thrown from above by a man.  The ghost of this woman is not like the others.  She is furious, demanding that Rita get her case designation solved so that her daughter won't go to social services and her murderer will be punished.  She lets in other ghosts all demanding that Rita do their bidding.  Her gift has become the thing that could kill her.

This is a debut novel but one that was listed for the National Book Award longlist and the Edgar Award for best debut novel.  Emerson is from the Dine tribe and is a videographer, writer and editor.  She uses her talent to write stories of her people in modern times, outlining the issues they continue to face and highlighting their triumphs.  This novel grabs the reader immediately with an opening scene that gives a peek into Rita's life and difficulties.  It describes her culture while giving the reader a look into the cartels that are in New Mexico and the police corruption that allows that.  Rita is a sympathetic character and the reader will be cheering for her.  This book is recommended for mystery readers and those interested in multicultural reads.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe


The detective has been given an assignment which he welcomes.  Things have not been going well for him as his marriage has recently broken up.  He is assigned the case of Mr. Numuro who disappeared six months ago.  His young, attractive wife has just hired someone to look into the case as she has heard nothing from him.  Her brother has been looking but hasn't come up with anything.

The detective is not convinced that this case is legitimate.  The wife, who seems to be an alcoholic, doesn't seem that worried about her husband.  She can tell him nothing.  Her brother seems reluctant to share anything that he has learned and as the detective works the case, he trusts the brother less and less.  The brother seems to be caught up in the underworld of crime; perhaps that plays into his brother-in-law's disappearance?

The detective is left with only a few clues.  There is a matchbox from a nearby diner that has two different types of matches in it.  There is a slip of paper with what appears to be a telephone number on it.  He goes to the diner but gains no knowledge.  He is slowly pulled into the underground of Japanese crime and its territorial inhabitants.  His boss is pressuring him while reminding him that he will be fired if he gets into anything illegal.  He becomes confused, losing his own identity as he searches unsuccessfully for his missing man.

Kobo Abe is a well known Japanese author whose work is full of surrealism. This novel is considered one his most accessible yet the reader may feel that he is reading through a fog, that there is much that is hidden and just out of reach that would solve the mystery.  The main character, the detective, is never given a name which increases the feeling of unreality.  Readers will see how the detective starts to lose his own identity and question what our identity really is and how we come to define it.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck


How did I ever let so much time go by before reading this masterpiece?  John Steinbeck in a few short pages has written a classic story of two migrant workers and the American Dream as well as exploring the concept of friendship and what we owe each other.

George and Lennie have been together on the road.  They grew up together and George knows that Lennie, while a huge man who can outwork anyone, is simple and childlike and needs help and direction.  They ride the rails, stopping to work on ranches and farms.  They usually don't stay long enough to get a stake ahead as Lennie tends to do things out of ignorance for the consequences of his actions that get them both in trouble.

The two men have a dream.  They want to save up enough to buy a small farm that George knows about.  They will have a few cows, some chickens and just enough crops to feed them and have a bit to sell for things they can't make or grow themselves.  They will have rabbits and Lennie wants nothing more than to take care of the rabbits.  

But this ranch may not be the place to make their dreams come true.  The other ranch hands seem pretty much okay and they understand Lennie's limitations.  But the son of the owner is a mean man, a little man who has married a beauty who only wants to be discovered and make it in the movies.  Barring that, she wants male attention and will do anything to get it.

Steinbeck wrote about the underside of the American Dream.  He wrote of men like George and Lennie, migrant workers whose only comfort was the friendship they found in each other.  He wrote of how getting old in an America that only values money is heartbreaking and cruel.  He wrote of what we all owe each other and how kindness is the only gift some people can give.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

The Pessimists by Bethany Ball


This novel follows the lives of three couples in a wealthy Connecticut town.  Trip and Virginia are a popular couple with one child.  But no one knows that Trip has become a survivalist with a basement full of guns or that Virginia has breast cancer and that she isn't treating it even though her mother died of the same disease. 

Richard and Margot have three boys.  Richard is Trip's best friend but has had a crush on Virginia for a while.  He majored in literature and Virginia wrote a published novel plus she is beautiful.  Margot is focused on whether to move her boys to the Petra school instead of the public schools they attend.  She also wants another child as they had a daughter who died of SIDS.

The last couple, Gunther and Rachel, are the newest ones to come to town.  Gunter is German and older than most of their circle.  Rachel is working from home in design but both find the town suffocating and wonder if they were too hasty in leaving the city.  Gunther starts out opposed to the Petra school but later becomes one of its leading advocates.

The Petra school is a focus point of the town.  It has strong ideas about how children should and shouldn't be taught.  It focuses on cooperation not competitiveness so sports are out as are academic pressure and competitions such as spelling bees.  In fact, in the lower grades children who already know how to read are pressured to not do so because it might make their peers feel badly.  As the year goes by, several of the parents start to wonder if anything is actually being taught there except how to feel good about yourself.

The couples are entering middle age and facing issues such as the waning of sexual desire for each other, worries about money, fading of the love that brought them together and a last gasp for the freedom to be the individuals they always wanted to be.  It seems likely that some of them will not make it as couples.  The moms worry about fitting into the social norms of the mom groups while the men fret about their careers.

Bethany Ball has captured many of the issues and thoughts that affect married couples as the first rush of love and lust for each other starts to fade as career and child rearing take precedence in a couple's life.  The reader will find someone in these men and women to relate to and will want to read to the end to see how everything turns out.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang


Ted Chiang is known for his science fiction/fantasy short stories.  In Exhalation, nine of his stories are collected, two of which have never been published before.  There is a story about the parrots of Puerto Rico and how they long to communicate with humans.  A story about software beings who are given life brings up the idea of freedom and whether any being has the right to determine the life of another.  A third story explores the functions of the brain and how it works to give us consciousness.

Ted Chiang graduated with a computer science degree and still works in the industry.  This background allows his stories to be based in the most up to date discoveries in the field and allows him to talk with authority on topics like artificial intelligence.  His work has garnered awards such as multiple Hugo and Nebula awards and this book was a New York Times Best Book Of The Year.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction and those interested in anthologies.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Company Of Liars by Karen Maitland


In 1348, a group of nine travelers come together to travel safely as they attempt to find a village or monastery safe from the Black Plague that has come to England.  Camelot is the leader of the group, an individual who sold religious relics, some of which he made.  There is a musician and his gay apprentice, Rodrigo and Jofre from Italy.  A painter and his young, pregnant wife, Osmond and Adela, join the group, obviously from a wealthy background.  Zophiel is a magician and sideshow displayer, traveling with a mermaid corpse.  Narigorm is a young child, very blonde, who tells the future with runes and seems to not like anyone.  Pleasance is an older woman who travels with Narigorm and watches over her.  Cygnus is a storyteller, a man with a swan's wing instead of a left arm.  

In normal times, villages were glad to see such a group come to their location to entertain them.  But when the plague is raging, every traveler is viewed with suspicion.  There were those who blamed the illness on the Jews or on magicians or on anyone different or from another land.  The group finds it difficult to find food and shelter and spends many nights camping outside.

Then the deaths start.  Some are suicides, or are they murders?  A wolf is following the group and is implicated in another death.  Another one gets afoul of the local villagers who may have killed him.  As the group starts to shrink, Camelot is determined to get this group to safety and to have Adela deliver a healthy baby.  But is that possible?

Maitland has written an intriguing tale that is reminiscent of both the Canterbury Tales and Agatha Christie's Then There Were None.  Maitland is a historical novelist whose novels show the intensive research that was done so as to portray another time and place.  The characters are each clearly drawn and the conflicts that arise between them seem logical for the stress and hardship the group is traveling with.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

The Moors Murderers by Chris Cook


Many people have heard of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, often referred to as the evilest couple in English history.  In the 1960's, they had a two year murder spree as they kidnapped, tortured and then killed young children, burying them on the nearby moors.  In this book, Chris Cook outlines the case after extensive research, delineating each murder victim and the murder timeline.

Myra Hindley was an average girl growing up but changed after she met Ian Brady at work.  He was a moody, temperamental man who was unpopular at work but she was attracted to him.  Soon they were a couple and remained so for several years.  Myra would do anything Ian told her to do even though he was also physically and mentally abusive to her.  He was racist and idolized the Nazis and Adolf Hitler.  He seemed to want to kill someone just for the thrill of it and to have a secret that others knew nothing about.

In all five murders can be tracked to the couple although police feel that there were more than that.  The young victims, ten to fourteen, were buried on the moor.  The couple took other children to the burial spots but did not kill them.  They also took numerous photographs and audio tapes of the murders which helped the police find the graves.  They were caught when they killed an older victim in front of Myra's brother-in-law, assuming that he would be on board with their plans.  Instead, he and his wife went to the police the next morning and turned the couple in.  

This is the first book and is about the actual murders.  A second book covers the trials and the imprisonment years of the couple.  They remained enthralled with each other for years after their sentencing, writing to each other in code to relive their memories of murder.  This book has been extensively researched with photographs of the couple and their victims, many of which have not been available prior to publication.  The evil of this couple will ensure that they go down in the annals of true crime as models of depravity and horror yet to the average eye they seemed a common couple.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.  

Monday, May 1, 2023

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton


The time is 1665.  Spain holds sway on the oceans with their mighty Armada which transports the gold and silver they are steadily extracting from the New World.  Captain Charles Hunter, sailing under the English flag, is sure that the treasure would be much happier with him and his crew.  Sailing out of Jamaica, he searches for a ship to attack.

News reaches him of a huge ship that has put into shore, probably for repairs.  It is at a secluded bay which is protected by a fortress that has never been successfully attacked.  But that doesn't stop him.  As he and his trusted gang spy on the fort, they discover that a woman has been captured, probably for ransom.  When they attack and get the treasure, they also rescue her only to discover that she is the niece of Jamaica's governor.

Returning to Jamaica, Hunter finds everything changed.  His mentor, the governor, is under 'protection', his office being appropriated by his subordinates.  They immediately arrest Hunter and his crew and after a mock trial, sentence them to death.  Is this the end of Hunter?

This is a posthumous book written by Michael Crichton.  It has his trademarks of exhilarating adventure and a plot that could have easily been adapted for a movie.  Readers will easily guess at the plotline but it is always fun to go along for the ride with Crichton.  This book is recommended for readers of thrillers.