Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Unnatural History by Jonathan Kellerman


When doctor Alex Delaware get a call from his friend, homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis, he knows that Milo has caught an unusual case.  This one involves a photographer found dead in his studio, shot while sleeping.  As they start to investigate they find that the photographer was the youngest son of a reclusive billionaire who had married five times, got each wife pregnant then left her within a year or so.  He has ignored all the children and the siblings barely know each other.  

The victim was working on a photographic series about homeless people.  He would photograph them as they were now and then help them clean up and dress them in the clothes of what they had dreamed to be, occupations such as CEO, fighter pilot, movie star, etc.  He would feed them and pay them five hundred dollars.  Had one of these subjects seen the money in the studio and returned for more?  Had it been someone involved in business with his father??

This is the thirty-eighth adventure of Alex and Milo.  Kellerman keeps the characters fresh while letting readers remember their past cases and relationships.  The plotting is tight and the murderer is a surprise with a motive that isn't easily guessed.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult


Ruth Jefferson has been a labor and delivery nurse in the same Connecticut hospital for twenty years and the day's shift starts like any other.  As she makes her rounds, she is shocked when a set of new parents flinch away from her and ask to see her supervisor.  The parents are white supremacists and insist that their baby not be touched by any African American nurses.  The supervisor assigns the parents to another nurse and puts a note in the child's folder.  Ruth is appalled and shocked that her supervisor has not backed her up but is busy enough.

Then tragedy strikes.  After the baby's circumcision, he is in the nursery.  Ruth has stopped there for a moment's rest and is left in charge of the nursery when an emergency c-section occurs.  When she checks the baby, he seems to be having issues breathing.  She tries to help, but then steps away when her supervisor comes in to avoid being reprimanded.  The baby stops breathing and although everyone there works on him, dies.  

The parents are sure it is Ruth's fault.  They saw her giving him heart compressions and thought it was too hard.  The father goes to the police and files a complaint with them.  The hospital throws Ruth under the bus and she is suspended, as is her license.  How will Ruth live?  What will happen to her son, Edison, about to head off to college?

Ruth is assigned Kennedy, a white public defender.  Kennedy is sure she knows exactly how to win the case and insists that race needs to be left out of the courtroom.  An African American public figure rounds up support for Ruth and the white supremacists are out in force.  It is a volatile situation that could boil over at any second.  

Jodi Picoult is known for writing about social issues and in this novel she takes on race relations.  Not just the overt discrimination that is easy to see and condemn but the hidden discriminations that have minorities fighting for all that comes unbidden to the majority race.  It is a worthy goal and may make some readers consider race in a new light, but misses the boat for those already aware of the issues and working to correct them as it is a bit heavy-handed in the treatment.  Ruth and her allies are everything good while those opposed are everything bad; the nuances lost in the lesson.  This book is recommended for readers of literary ficiton.

Monday, June 26, 2023

 In 1935, nine year old George Weyerhaeuser, part of the wealthy timber family, was kidnapped while walking home from school.  His kidnappers made contact and demanded the largest ransom recorded to date.  He was kept in trunks of cars, chained to trees in the forest and down in a pit, then imprisoned in a small closet.  After the ransom was paid, George was released and reunited with his family.

The kidnappers were a pair of ex-cons and a nineteen year old Mormon girl who had recently married one of them.  Although they threatened to kill the boy, there didn't seem to be any real intent to do so.  Throughout it all, George kept his cool and after his return, seemed remarkably unaffected by the trauma.  

The married couple were quickly caught after passing some of the ransom bills.  The other man, who was the originator of the plan and the leader of the group, evaded capture for a time.  All were brought to trial.  The married man was given forty-five years while his wife, whose lawyer and even the judge believed was fairly innocent, pled guilty and was given a shorter prison sentence.  The leader when eventually captured and tried was given life in prison.

This was an interesting true crime case.  Although I follow true crime fairly closely, I had never heard of this case, although I had heard of the Weyerhaeuser family.  The kidnapping occurred not long after the Lindbergh kidnapping and that case influenced both the family in its decision to pay the ransom and in the actions of the local law enforcement and the FBI who were involved.  Readers will learn much about the creation of the FBI and how J. Edgar Hoover viewed crime and criminals. George grew up to lead the family business and surprisingly, gave a job to the married man when he was released from prison.   The epilogue followed all the participants through later years.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Anything's Possible by Elizabeth Strout


This book is a collection of character sketches for various people loosely tied together by some connection with Lucy Barton who grew up, left her small town and became an author.  There is the neighbor who was the janitor at Lucy's school and who visits her brother, a recluse who reveals a dark secret.  There are Lucy's cousins, Abel and Dottie, who each get their own chapter.  Patty was part of the family of daughters known as the Pretty Nicely girls.  She has lost her husband and has her eye on a man in town who always seems sad.  Another woman goes to Italy to visit the mother who left them and moved there with a man twenty years younger.  Lucy herself comes back for a visit and the reader learns about the abuse she and her siblings endured as children.

These are unsparing character sketches.  Some people have attained their childhood dreams, most have not.  Some have grown up to a better life while others are so scarred by their childhoods or other traumas that they can't move beyond them.  Regardless of who they are and where they have landed as adults, Strout outlines their lives and gives hope in a few pages. It is a New York Times 100 Notable Books selection.    This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Booksie's Bookshelves, June 24, 2023


Art by RF Skia and Culpeo S. Fox

Somehow, the year is half over.  At this point, I've read 139 books.  My challenges are moving along nicely and the stacks of books all over the house are slowing getting smaller.  Our youngest grandchild will be one on the last day of the month.  Our youngest child is moving out again after living with us for three years after college so we're about to learn how to empty nest once again.  Here's what has come through the door lately:

  1. The Child's Child, Barbara Vine, mystery, purchased
  2. Mrs. Fletcher, Tom Perrota, literary fiction, purchased
  3. The Majority, Elizabeth L. Silver, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  4. With A Kiss We Die, L.R. Dorn, mystery, sent by publisher
  5. My Name Is Iris, Brando Skyhorse, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  6. After The Forest, Kell Woods, fantasy, sent by publisher
  7. The Stark Beauty Of Last Things, Celine Keating, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  8. The Many Lies Of Mama Love, Lara Love Hardin, memoir, sent by publisher
  9. The Unusual Life Of Tristan Smith, Peter Carey, literary fiction, purchased
  10. Bliss, Peter Carey, literary fiction, purchased
  11. Leap, Terry Tempest Williams, literary fiction, purchased
  12. Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory, science fiction, purchased
  13. Blackwing, Ed McDonald, science fiction, purchased
  14. The Immediate Prospect Of Being Hanged, Walter Walker, mystery, purchased
  15. The Summer Of A Dormouse, John Mortimer, memoir, purchased
  16. Small Town Sins, Ken Jaworowski, mystery, sent by publisher
Here are the ebooks I've purchased:
  1. Memoirs Of A Midget, Walter De La Mare, literary fiction
  2. Seige Of Darkness, R. A. Salvatore, fantasy
  3. The Dirty South, John Connolly, mystery
  4. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy, literary fiction
  5. The Brother Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, literary fiction
  6. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky, literary fiction
  7. The Girls In The Water, Victoria Jenkins, mystery
  8. Look At Me, Jennifer Egan, literary fiction
  9. Summer Knight, Jim Butcher, fantasy
  10. The Collector, John Fowles, literary fiction
  11. My Year Of Rest And Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh, literary fiction
  12. The Namesake, Jhumpi Lahiri, literary fiction
  13. The Netanyahus, Joshua Cohen, mystery
  14. Trespasses, Louise Kennedy, literary fiction
  15. Fox And I, Catherine Raven, memoir
  16. Don't Say A Thing, Tamara Leitner, true crime
  17. Caste, Isabel Wilkerson, nonfiction
  18. She's Gone, David Bell, mystery
  19. Heart Of The Crown, Paul Bennett, fantasy
  20. Servant Of The Crown, Paul Bennett, fantasy
  21. Sword Of The Crown, Paul Bennett, fantasy
  22. The Devil's Cliff Killings, Simon McCleave, mystery
  23. The Dee Valley Killings, Simon McCleave, mystery
  24. Cactus Jack, Brad Smith, literary fiction
  25. Portrait In Sephia, Isabel Allende, literary fiction
  26. The Boo, Pat Conroy, memoir
  27. The Case Of The Murderous Dr. Cream, Dean Jobb, true crime
  28. The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers, literary fiction
  29. The Land Of Fire And Ash, Sarah Dalton, fantasy
  30. The Undertaking Of Hart And Mercy, Megan Bannon, romance
  31. Parable Of The Sower, Octavia Butler, literary fiction
  32. The Sword Of Bedwyr, R.A. Salvatore, fantasy
  33. A Little Hatred, Joe Abercrombie, fantasy
  34. The Perfect Girl, Gilly Macmillan, mystery
  35. A Warrior's Burden, Jacob Pepper, fantasy
  36. Zeroes, Chuck Wendig, espionage
  37. Invasive, Chuck Wendig, science fiction
  38. The Turning Of Our Bones, Ed James, mystery
  39. Love Lies, Amanda Lamb, true crime
  40. On Fragile Waves, E. Lily Yu, literary fiction
  41. The Good Lord Bird, James McBride, literary fiction
  42. The Dao Of Drizzt, R. A. Salvatore, fantasy
  43. Strange Threads, Sam Bowring, fantasy
  44. Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi, literary fiction
  45. Deadheads, Reginald Hill, mystery
  46. Ruling Passion, Reginald Hill, mystery
  47. Exit Lines, Reginald Hill, mystery
  48. Evil In Mind, Trevor Negus, mystery
  49. Taken To Die, Trevor Negus, mystery
  50. I Am Number Four, Trevor Negus, mystery
  51. The Devil's Breath, Trevor Negus, mystery
  52. One Deadly Lie, Trevor Negus, mystery
  53. Dead And Gone, Trevor Negus, mystery
  54. Tied In Death, Trevor Negus, mystery
  55. Kill For You, Trevor Negus, mystery
  56. A Cold Grave, Trevor Negus, mystery
  57. A Sweet Revenge, Trevor Negus, mystery
  58. In Place Of Fear, Catriona McPherson, mystery
  59. Wintersmith, Terry Patchett, fantasy
  60. Damaged, Pamela Callow, mystery
  61. When You Trap A Tiger, Tae Keller, Newberry Award winner
  62. Starr Bright Will Be With You Soon, Joyce Carol Oates, literary fiction
  63. The World Of Lore, Aaron Mahnke, fantasy
  64. Perdido Street Station, China Mieville, fantasy
  65. The One That Got Away, J.D. Kirk, mystery
  66. Island Beneath The Sea, Isabel Allende, literary fiction
  67. Stone Eater, D. F. Bailey, mystery
  68. Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King, horror
  69. Inker And Crown, Megan O'Russell, fantasy
  70. The Birds Of The Air, L. H. Arthur, horror
  71. Sins Of Empire, Brian McClellan, fantasy
  72. The Viaduct Killings, Wes Markin, mystery
  73. The Lonely Lake Killings, Wes Markin, mystery
  74. The Halfling's Gem, R. A. Salvatore, fantasy
  75. A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms, George R. R. Martin, fantasy
  76. Ghost Eaters, Clay Chapman, horror
  77. Heliopolis, James Scudamore, literary fiction
  78. Pravda, Edward Docx, literary fiction
  79. Hamnet, Maggie O'Farrell, literary fiction
  80. The Thousandfold Thought, R. Scott Bakker, fantasy
  81. The Darkness That Comes Before, R. Scott Bakker, fantasy
  82. Glass Houses, Louise Penney, mystery
  83. Law And Disorder, John Douglas & Mark Olshaker, true crime
  84. Blameless, B. A. Shapior, literary fiction
  85. The Lost, Simon Beckett, mystery
  86. Shadow Of A Broken Man, George Chesbro, mystery
  87. Serial, Casey Hill, mystery
  88. Very Cold People, Sarah Manguso, literary fiction
  89. Trailed, Kathryn Miles, true crime
  90. Nine Liars, Maureen Johnson, mystery
  91. This Tender Land, William Kent Krueger, literary fiction
  92. Murder In An Irish Churhyard, Carlene O'Connor, mystery
  93. Hanging Hill, Mo Hayder, mystery
  94. The Unholy Consult, R. Scott Bakker, fantasy
  95. The Great Ordeal, R. Scott Bakker, fantasy
  96. Of Killers And Kings, Will Wight, fantasy
  97. Of Darkness And Dawn, Will Wight, fantasy
  98. City Of Light, Will Wight, fantasy
  99. The Crimson Vault, Will Wight, fantasy
  100. House Of Blades, Will Wight, fantasy
  101. Of Kings And Killers, Will Wight, fantasy
  102. Of Dawn And Darkness, Will Wight, fantasy
  103. Of Sea And Shadow, Will Wight, fantasy
  104. Reaper, Will Wight, fantasy
  105. Dreadgod, Will Wight, fantasy
  106. Free Fall, Robert Crais, mystery
  107. The Clinic, Jonathan Kellerman, mystery
  108. Summit Lake, Charlie Donlea, mystery
  109. Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks, literary fiction
  110. Many Rivers To Cross, Peter Robinson, mystery
  111. The Bleeding, Johana Gustawson, horror
  112. The Second Death Of Goodluck Tinubu, Michael Stanley, mystery
  113. Sophie's Choice, William Stryon, literary fiction
  114. Betrayal Of Trust, J. A. Jance, mystery
  115. The Secret History, Donna Tartt, literary fiction
  116. The Punishment She Deserves, Elizabeth George, mystery
  117. The Wall Of Storms, Ken Liu, fantasy
  118. The Blood Doctor, Barbara Vine, mystery
  119. The Sixth Wicked Child, J.D. Barker, mystery
  120. Memphis, Tara Stringfellow, literary fiction
  121. The Gap, Ninie Hammon, mystery
  122. Tess Of The Road, Rachel Hartman, literary fiction
  123. Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie, fantasy
  124. Justice, Larry Watson, literary fiction
  125. Properties Of Thirst, Marianne Wiggins, literary fiction
  126. Bone, George Chesbro, mystery
  127. If You Could See Me Now, Peter Straub, mystery
  128. The Contessa Of Mostul Ubar, L. James Rice, fantasy
  129. Ashes Of The Sun, Django Wexler, fantasy
  130. Lost, Michael Robotham, mystery
  131. The House Of The Spirits, Isabel Allende, literary fiction
  132. Ember And Stone, Megan O'Russell, fantasy
  133. Black River, Matthew Spencer, mystery
Here's what I'm reading:

  1. The Moonlight Child, Karen McQuestion, mystery, audio
  2. Anything Is Possible, Elizabeth Strout, literary fiction, paperback
  3. Sabbatical, John Barth, literary fiction, hardback
  4. Pieces Of Her, Karin Slaughter, mystery, paperback
  5. The Overdue Life Of Amy Byler, Kelly Harms, women's fiction, Kindle
  6. The Murder Book, Lissa Marie Redmond, mystery, Kindle
  7. The Night Sister, Jennifer McMahon, mystery, Kindle
  8. Unnatural History, Jonathan Kellerman, mystery, Kindle
  9. House Of Leaves, Mark Danielewski, literary fiction, paperback
  10. Abide With Me, Elizabeth Strout, literary fiction, hardback
  11. Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult, literary fiction, Kindle
  12. The One That Got Away, J. D. Kirk, mystery, Kindle
Happy Reading!

Thursday, June 22, 2023

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami


Toru Okada is figuring out what comes next in his life.  He has recently left his job in a lawyer's office and is deciding what he wants to do.  His wife Kumiko is supporting them.  The couple has been married for six years and they live in his uncle's house with their cat.  The cat goes missing and as Toru looks for it, he finds an abandoned house and meets a teenage neighbor girl, May.  

Then tragedy strikes.  His wife leaves for work one morning and doesn't return.  She eventually writes and tells him that she has left him for another man but Toru wants to talk with her.  He feels there is more to the story but she is being kept away by her brother, an up and coming politician who Toru despises.  Toru meets an older gentleman who is sent his way by a psychic Toru and Kumiko had befriended.  The man tells Toru a story of his time in the military and being thrown down a well from which he barely escapes with his life.

Toru remembers that the abandoned house has an old dry well and he decides to go down and think about his life.  He gets down easily but then May comes along and takes away his ladder and he is imprisoned there.  He thinks about his life and marriage and about a strange pair of sisters he has recently met who seem to be part of the issue as they have connections with the brother-in-law.  Eventually, Toru is able to get out of the well.  He meets a mother and son who buy the house and start a business where Toru helps women with migraines and tension.  As Toru continues his life, he remains adamant that he wants to bring Kumiko hack but can he?

This is a famous book by the author who is one of the best known Japanese authors.  It is not a straightforward telling of a story but more of a dreamlike one, with items thrown out and then eventually woven in chapters later.  It all ends up connecting but it is unclear at the end of the book where Toru's life will take him next.  This book, considered a masterpiece, is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg


Mazie Phillips comes to New York as a child.  Her big sister Rose rescues Mazie and her sister Jeanie from their alcoholic parents and raises them along with her husband Leo.  Mazie grows up wanting to have a big life, to love lots of men, to drink and have a good time.  Instead, she ends up trapped in the ticket booth of Leo's movie theatre twelve hours a day, her true love a seagoing captain who she only sees occasionally when he is in the area. 

As time goes on, Mazie becomes the strength of her family.  Rose starts to have mental issues as she gets older and after Leo's death.  Jeanie runs away to star in a dance revue.  Mazie keeps everything going although it is at the sacrifice of the life she wanted.

When the Depression hits, Mazie is appalled at the state of her beloved New York and especially what is called the Bowery.  Where others see nothing but 'bums' who lay in the streets, hungry or drunk, sick and sleeping outside in all weathers, Mazie sees men who have fallen on hard times.  She starts to take care of them.  Every night after work she walks the streets, giving money to men to buy a bed or food or even a drink if that is what they need.  She calls the ambulances when men are too sick and need a hospital.  She supplies dignity and warmth to lives that have none.  Mazie becomes known as the Queen Of The Bowery.

This book is based on a true life woman, Mazie Gordon.  Attenberg has imagined a life for her, giving her friends and lovers and describing a life based on her search for love wherever it is to be found.  The story is told through the entries in Mazie's diary and interviews with those who knew her.  Readers will be interested in seeing New York City through the eyes of someone determined to bring her beloved city back to life and will be influenced by Mazie's love for those surrounding her.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne Valente


Arcadia Gardens is the perfect place to live.  Everything is of the highest quality and kept that way by strict rules.  Sophia loves living there with her husband.  She knows she was made just for him.  But why does he leave her alone in her huge mansion so much?  Why is the door to the basement kept locked with a key she doesn't have access to?  Why do the neighbors seem to never be able to quite meet her eye and change the subject so quickly when Sophia asks questions?

This novel has gotten several awards such as a Shirley Jackson Award finalist and a Locust Award finalist.  It is a mashup of the stories of the Garden Of Eden and Bluebeard.  When Sophia finds the courage to explore her world and get answers, they aren't answers she would have wanted.  This book is recommended for horror fans.

Monday, June 19, 2023

The Book Of Strange New Things by Michel Faber


Peter has been chosen for a space mission by the mysterious corporation, USIC.  He is to go to a station galaxies away and serve as the pastor for the native population there.  Peter isn't sure why he was chosen since he is just the pastor for a small church and he is married to Bea who is not allowed to accompany him.  But the couple agree that it is a chance to be a missionary not given to many and he should accept. 

When Peter arrives, he is amazed to find that the natives made a request for him; they had another pastor who is no longer there.  They were so adamant that they refused to supply the food the mission depends on until they had another pastor.  The rest of the USIC employees call their home Freakville and the natives have no face as we know it although they do shuffle on two legs.  But they know a bit of English from the first pastor and they seem determined to learn about God and Jesus.

But things are not going well back home.  Bea's communications are full of natural disasters as Earth starts to be affected by climate change.  Soon those disasters feed into a breakdown of law and order and it begins to seem to be dangerous anywhere.  As Peter is consumed with his new duties, a rift opens between the married couple.  Will they find their way back to each other?

This is not a straightforward novel.  Readers may wonder if the purpose is the salvation story of the native population or is it the relationship between Peter and Bea and what one will do to save a primary relationship?  Faber's writing is always good and the book flows but the reader is unsure where it is flowing to.  This book was released soon after the death of his wife and at the time he said he couldn't imagine ever writing anything again so perhaps her illness and death affected his normal writing.  Regardless, there is much to think about in the story of Peter, Bea and those he finds across galaxies.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain


Life has been hard for Carly Sears.  Her husband Joe, her childhood sweetheart, had gone to Vietnam and been killed two weeks later.  That knocked the pins out from under Carly's world.  She gives up her physical therapist job and goes to live with her sister and brother-in-law in the family's beach cottage in Nags Head, North Carolina.  The family support and familiar surroundings start to help Carly find her footing and then she finds that she is pregnant.  All her hopes are now focused on the baby which will be her living tie to Joe.

But fate isn't done with Carly yet.  In a routine checkup, she gets horrific news.  Her baby has a heart defect and will only live a few days after birth.  Reeling, Carly is about to give up when her brother-in-law, Hunter, comes to her with a strange story.  Hunter had come into her life as a patient when he was found with a broken ankle and hospitalized.  Carly worked with him and got him back on his feet and introduced him to her sister.  Now Hunter tells her something that she cannot believe.

Hunter's background has always been a bit mysterious, something he won't talk about.  Now he tells Carly that his mother had perfected time travel and he has come back from the future in the early 2000's.  When he fell in love and married, he decided to stay but he can get Carly to the future where her baby's heart can be operated on in utero and fixed before birth.

Carly can't believe it but decides to trust Hunter.  Everything works as he promises and her baby is born and starts doing well in the newborn intensive care.  Carly has to go back but vows to return quickly to her baby and bring her back to the coast.  But when Hunter sends her forward again, instead of returning to 2001, she ends up in 2011, her baby long gone.  Carly tracks the baby down and finds a way to meet her.  Her daughter is now a lovely, healthy ten year old with loving adopted parents.  Should Carly stay with her daughter?  Should she take her back with her to the past?

Whenever I read a time travel book, I just suspend disbelief since the science is never going to work out.  To me, this was a book about a mother's love for her daughter and about what one will do for the people they love.  Carly always makes the best out of what life throws her and is focused on those she loves and what is best for them.  This book is recommended for readers of women's fiction.

Friday, June 16, 2023

A Taste For Poison by Neil Bradbury, PhD


In this fascinating nonfiction book, Dr. Neil Bradbury takes the reader through the story of various poisons and how they were used by murderers over the ages.  Poisons used to be very difficult to identify and measure and many deaths were assigned to natural causes that were instead murders.  These days, poisoning someone is not as common as before as it is much easier to determine when someone has been poisoned.  Those who might have chosen one of the common poisons before can now use something like fentanyl and have the death put down as a drug overdose.

There are eleven chapters and each discusses a different poison.  Many are common names and readers will have heard of arsenic, cyanide and strychnine.  Several poisons are still commonly used by the medical profession such as insulin and digitalis.  These drugs are useful in prescribed dosages but deadly when too much is given.  For example, a small dose of digitalis speeds up the heart beats in a patient whose heart is too weak but an overdose speeds up the heart to the point of failure.

Each chapter is laid out the same.  The poison is identified, a case or several of poisoners whose crime was detected is discussed, the way that the poison works inside the body is explained and then how it is counteracted if that is a possibility.  Some of the crimes are famous ones while others are further back in history and many readers will not have heard of them.  Some have been solved and others are still unsolved.  Many poisoners were tried, convicted and executed but others escaped justice as juries found there was not enough evidence.

Neil Bradbury was raised in Britain where he received degrees in both biochemistry and medical biochemistry.  He has an engaging writing manner as he mixes true crime, medicine and history for the reader who will know much more about poisons after finishing this book.  This could be a dry topic but the author makes it engaging with stories of philandering spouses, assassinated spies and medical professionals who use their access not to heal but to kill.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers, especially those interested in true crime.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley


Ginny is the oldest daughter of farmer Larry Cook.  Larry is considered a good farmer, one that others look to for advice.  Ginny thought about moving away when she was young, but ended up marrying Ty and staying on the farm where Ty helps Larry.  Rose is the second daughter and also lives on the farm with her husband Pete.  The mother died young and Ginny and Rose raised Caroline the youngest daughter.  Caroline moved away, went to college and is now a lawyer.

As Larry gets older, he starts to think about what will happen to the farm when he is gone.  The local banker is recommending that farmers in his situation turn over the assets before they die, and Larry decides to give the farm to his daughters.  When Caroline disagrees with the plan, he cuts her out and gives everything to Ginny and Rose.

This starts a sequence of events that end tragically.  The family is split apart, Caroline getting married and the sisters only finding out by reading it in the newspaper.  Larry soon regrets his decision and starts drinking and arguing with everything done on the land.  Soon he is at open warfare with his two daughters and takes them to court to try to get his farm back.  In the process of the story, dark secrets are revealed and new decisions lead to tragedies.  

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize.  It is a retelling of the King Lear tragedy with his three daughters and like that play, ends on a tragic note.  No one escapes the drama and disagreements that tear the family apart.  Readers will learn what farming was like in the 1970's and how local bankers can influence an entire region and affect all that live there.  The reasoning behind each step the sisters take is given from their viewpoints although readers may well disagree with the decisions they ultimately make.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

The Devil You Know by Wayne Johnson


David Geist, fifteen, lives with his mother and little sister, Janie.  David is finding his way after his parents split up.  His father had been abusive those last months at home and David isn't sure why.  The abuse seemed to have little to do with him, coming out of nowhere late at night.  But he knows that its up to him now to protect his mother and sister.

Then his mother and father start talking about getting back together.  To try to win the children back, Max, the dad, proposes a canoeing/camping trip on one of the big lakes around.  David is leery but agrees to go. It's clear as they leave that his dad doesn't know much about canoeing or camping and has gotten a lot of the wrong equipment.  David is able to talk him into letting him go to the outdoors store and get them things that will work better but it sets a strain as his father has to acknowledge that David knows more about camping and he is the type of man who doesn't like anyone to know more than he does.

Right before they set out, Max has a confrontation with four men who are also there to camp.  The men are drinking and most people would give them a wide berth but Max gets into it with them.  David, Janie and Max leave but his father decides they will go a different way than the plan they filed with the rangers in case the men try to follow.  It turns out that the men are not just there to camp; they are there to commit a crime to hide their other crimes at work.  They decide that the Geists need to be taught a lesson and take off after them.

The men know more about camping and there are more of them.  They burst into the Geists campsite at night and at the end, Max is injured, Janie is hurt and one of the men is dead.  It is now up to David to get them home and find a way to avoid the men who are now even more determined to find them and kill them.  Can he do it?

Wayne Johnson has written a survival novel that also explores the father/son relationship and the way that men are always jockeying for position and the upper hand.  David starts the trip as a boy who isn't sure of himself and who loves his sister and ends a more confident man who knows now what he is made of.  The action is compelling and frightening at times, violent as men can be in a fight.  The reader will admire David and hope that he can make it through.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Mending What Is Broken by Robert McKean


Peter Sanguedolce is stuck and he knows it.  He also knows he needs to do something about it but isn't sure what.  It seems like yesterday that he was the head of the business he inherited and brought back from the edge of poverty.  He was married to a woman he loved and had a daughter, Jeanette,  that he adored.  Then things went wrong.  The business failed during an economic downturn and he had to lay off all the workers, some of whom had worked there for decades.  His wife had an affair with her law partner and left Peter to marry him.  Now he only sees his daughter for proscribed periods and it seems that Elliot, the new husband, has more say about her than Peter does.  He still lives in his childhood home with the same furnishings he grew up with and tons of maintenance needed.

Two things get Peter moving.  After his daughter has an accident while under his care, his visits with her are reduced to supervised times of two hours, supervised by Elliot.  His wife is now pregnant with Elliot's child and she and her new husband have decided that they will send Jeanette out of state to boarding school.  Peter's lawyer thinks they have a chance of fighting that decision but tells Peter he needs to sell off the remaining business assets and get himself in order.  Peter knows he is right but is still unsure what to do.  He starts a relationship with a new woman but knows it is temporary.  He visits the boarding school and impresses the headmistress but is that what he wanted to do?  He is the key figure in reconciling his old neighbor with his estranged daughter but why can't he do the same for himself?

Robert McKean has written a wonderful novel about family relationships and the necessity of adjusting to life changes as we age.  Peter is a loveable character, stuck but trying to do the best for his daughter and his life.  He is a great friend to those who need him and even his wife comes back to him for advice and comfort at times.  The reader will cheer for Peter and follow his adventures hoping that things will turn out well for this man who always did what he thought was right but whom life hit in the face.  I was left with warm feelings and hope for Peter and his daughter in the future and I loved seeing him change over the course of the novel.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers and those interested in family relationships.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean


When Devon is born and as a small girl, she is told she is a princess.  Her family are part of a network of families who are book eaters; they get their nourishment from eating books and everything they eat they know forever.  But Devon learns the true story of being a princess when she is old enough to marry off.  Marriages are only meant to last for three or four years.  Every night she is forced to have her husband in her bed forcing himself on her until she is pregnant.  After the child is born, she is given three years to wean them and then her baby will be taken away and she will be given in marriage to another man to repeat the cycle.

Devon's first child is a girl and she thinks she will die when her daughter is taken away.  Her second son is Kai and he is what the book eaters dread; a mind eater.  Instead of eating books, he eats the minds of living people after which they are dead.  There is a group of soldiers called the knights to keep the mind eaters in control and make sure marriages happen as they are planned.  Mind eaters are also called dragons and Devon is determined to make sure that Kai is not taken from her and given to the knights to be raised as a monster with the other dragons.

As Devon goes on the run with her son, she meets another woman who is there to help her.  This woman knows how to get the only medicine that can calm Kai's hunger for humans.  She takes Devon and Kai to her family home where others like Kai live and indulge their birth gifts.  Is this the answer for Devon?

This fantasy novel has elaborate world building and characters that are relatable.  Devon's brother is the head of the knights and he is in charge of hunting her and Kai down.  It turns out that Devon is gay making her marriages even more of a horror and she is determined to break free of her family and to save Kai no matter what it takes.  The novel was chosen as a Best Book of 2022 by such organizations as NPR, Goodreads and Book Riot.  Readers will be transported to a world they could never imagine by themselves and firmly on Devon's side as she tries to save her son.  I listened to this novel and the Scottish narrator added intrigue and mystery to the narration.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Friday, June 9, 2023

The Furies' Bog by Deborah Jackson


Archeology student Felicity Crachett is sent to Alaska to retrieve some bodies found in a bog there.  Another student, Frank, is sent to Florida on the same mission.  Both are students of professor Dayna Lugan and are rivals to become her top student.  Both are astounded when their respective bodies turn out to come from a common geographical location and even more astounded to find out that these bodies are evidence of a new type of humanoid, one with its beginnings in Aftica.  

Meanwhile, on Mars, the first astronauts have landed.  Scientists believe that Mars will be the next planet for humans to inhabit and have started changing its environment so that there are lakes and rivers and plant life.  The three astronauts have landed without permission and explore until a simmering argument breaks out between them.  These two plotlines intersect as the book goes on but how?

Deborah Jackson is fascinated by science and the frontiers being pushed back in various fields.  This novel is perhaps a bit ambitious and covers several continents and even planets to bring a story of scientific discovery and jealousies.  The book could have used some editing to make it tighter and bring the various storylines together more quickly but science fiction readers will find it an interesting premise.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith


As Cormoran Strike is visiting his aunt and uncle in Cornwall, he is approached on the street by a woman.  She explains that she has recognized him and wonders if he can help her.  Her mother, Margot Bamborough, disappeared forty years ago.  Strike thinks it is unlikely he can help but agrees to listen.

Margot was a doctor and left the practice after dark one evening to meet a friend for a drink.  For many years, the assumption of the police and everyone else was that Margot had been kidnapped off the street walking to the pub one night by the serial killer, Dennis Creed.  But there is no actual proof that Creed killed Margot and there are other suspects.  There is the husband with whom Margot is estranged at the time of her disappearance.  There is the ex-boyfriend who is back in the picture.  There is a receptionist at the practice whom Margot was helping to escape from her violent gangster boyfriend.  A recent patient seemed to have a crush on Margot and disappeared after she did.  A man with mental issues talked about doing magic that killed Margot.  Any of these individuals could have been involved but who was?

The book spans the year that Strike and his partner Robin work on the case.  Robin is still in the throes of her divorce from her husband, Matthew but the feelings between Robin and Strike are getting stronger.  Cormoran's aunt, who along with his uncle, raised him for long periods of his childhood, is dying of cancer and he needs to divide his time between taking care of her and his practice.  Many associated with the case have died over forty years and others claim to know nothing about it.  The leading detective had a mental breakdown as he investigated the case but his ravings in his private journal supply some clues which have to be interpreted.  The ending is a surprise but fits well in the story.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Solitude Creek by Jeffery Deaver


One minute the crowd was enjoying themselves, anticipating the start of the concert in the small nightclub beside Solitude Creek in Monterey.  The next there was a stampede as smoke drifted in and people rushing for the exits found them blocked.  People were killed and many more were injured.  Worse, Kathryn Dance, investigator for the California Bureau of Investigation, finds that the stampede was deliberately set.

Who could do such a thing?  The police suspect perhaps one of those killed were targeted and when that doesn't pan out, they suspect maybe it was the location.  But another stampede occurs at a book signing, people jumping out windows into the frigid bay below or landing on the jagged rocks.  It has all the hallmarks of the first tragedy and then others continue.  There is one at an amusement park then a hospital elevator.  Dance and her co-workers need to find this man.

Things are also unstable at home.  Dance is a widow, her husband killed in a car accident a few years before.  Her young daughter is showing signs of anxiety and her son, a few years older, has new friends Dance is not sure about.  Then there is her romantic life.  She has been dating Jon but is unsure if she should move things forward and merge their lives with his.  

This is the fourth novel in the Kathryn Dance series.  As with all Jeffery Deaver novels, there are twists and turns that will take the reader by surprise and a satisfactory resolution.  The killer is part of a group from the Dark Net that most readers have no experience with or have even heard about.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Exit The Actress by Priya Parmar


Ellen lives with her sister, mother and grandfather in London.  Money is tight and her mother is an alcoholic and perhaps a prostitute.  Her sister is a marvelous seamstress but it is easier to follow in her mother's footsteps.  Ellen is determined not to do the same.

Charles II is a fan of the theatre and there are playhouses throughout the city.  Ellen manages to get a job selling oranges during the plays and she is fascinated by this world she never knew of.  Soon, she has managed to get on the stage herself and is called Nell by the audience.  She starts an affair with one of the other actors and he is jealous of the attention other men give her.  Eventually, the affair ends but by then Nell is a star.

She catches the attention of Charles II.  His wife has not been able to give him children but he has many children outside of his marriage as he always has a mistress or two in tow.  They all demand titles and houses and riches.  Nell catches his eye and she is determined to be the one who never asks for anything but his attention.  They start an affair that continues for the rest of her life.

Priya Parmar is making herself known in the world of historical fiction.  Besides this novel, she has written one about Virginia Woolfe and her family.  In this novel, readers will learn about the world of the stage and the surrounding lives of those who live and work in Covent Garden.  The story is told through the pages of Nell's diary and the letters of Charles II both to Nell and to his sister and mother in France.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson


An airplane flight often leads to short term acquaintances talking about things they would never tell anyone else.  That was the case with Ted and Lily.  Both were returning from London to Boston and seated next to each other, they began talking.  After a while, Ted starts to talk about his marriage to Miranda and how he is sure it is headed to divorce.  Maybe she just married him for his money, he thinks, as he has recently caught her in an affair with the contractor they are using to build Miranda's dream house in Maine.  Sometimes he'd like to kill her, he says.  But he isn't ready for Lily's offer to help him if he'd like.

What Ted doesn't know about Lily is that this wouldn't be her first murder.  In fact, she has a long history of murder but her beauty and youth has so far allowed her to escape legal notice.  Now she and Ted come up with a plan to rid him of Miranda without losing all his money in a divorce and setting up Brad, the contractor, as the villain.  With this work out?

Peter Swanson is known for his imaginative mysteries and this one is no different.  There are tons of twists and turns and the reader is never quite sure what will happen next.  Peter Swanson has written nine novels and won numerous awards in this genre.  He has recently released a followup book to this novel named The Kind Worth Saving that brings back some of the same characters.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.