Monday, July 31, 2023

The Overdue Life Of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms


Three years ago Amy Byler's life fell apart.  She had what she thought she wanted, marriage, two kids and a house in the suburbs.  But then John, her husband, went overseas to Hong Kong for business and called her to tell her he wasn't coming back.  Suddenly she was left a single mother who hadn't worked in quite a while.

Amy did the best she could.  She found a job at the children's pricey private school which gave her a tuition discount.  She worked, looked after kids, fell into bed exhausted and did it all again the next day.  John not only wasn't there, he wasn't sending money.  

Now, Amy pretty much has things back on track.  She is tired most of the time but the three of them are doing well.  Cori is talented in diving and thinking about full rides on a sports scholarship.  Joe is a science and math brain and Amy knows he will do great at whatever he picks out.  Then she goes to a drugstore and sees John.  He has come back.

John hasn't come back for Amy, but he does want to get to know his children again.  He talks Amy into letting him have the children for the first week of summer vacation.  She signs up for a librarian conference in New York and calls her best friend from college for a place to stay.  When Amy gets there, her friend Tallia has a plan.  She runs a fashion magazine and they want to do a makeover on Amy.  Once they are through, Amy looks years younger and much more chic.  When John asks for the summer with the children, she reluctantly agrees and stays in New York.

Part of the makeover is dating new men and Amy follows through on the plan.  But her interest has already been piqued by Daniel, a man at the conference all the women call the hot librarian.  He is interested in Amy as well and soon Amy has to decide if this new relationship has any chance of working with him living in New York with his daughter and her in Pennsylvania with her children.  Can things work out?

This is my first novel by Kelly Harms but it won't be my last.  Amy is relatable to any woman with kids and a job.  That translates into exhaustion and putting your own needs after those of the children and your husband.  Starting over and recapturing your youthful dreams seems unlikely if not impossible.  Harms was a literary editor before she started writing and she captures the hopes and feelings of mothers everywhere.  This book is recommended for readers of women's literature.

The Memoirs Of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian Miller


Sven grows up in Stockholm and can't wait to leave.  He is an introvert and lives the life of the mind, not finding fellow souls in his social circle.  He leaves to take a mining contract in Svalbard but a cave-in leaves him disfigured and without an eye.  Fleeing further, he first works as a cook for the miners and hunters and then with the help of a trapper, flees humanity for an isolated fjord where night comes for four months and people are not to be seen.

This then, is the story of Sven's isolation.  He occasionally sees sailors bringing him supplies but can go months without a human face or voice.  He has a dog for company and there is enough game that he need not ever go hungry.  His friends write and sometimes send books and Sven is content.

Then one day a boat arrives and he is shocked to find his sister's daughter arriving with a baby.  She is determined to stay with Sven and he agrees although he doesn't think for a minute she will be able to handle the isolation.  But she stays for several years, finally going but leaving her child behind for Sven to raise.  

This is a debut novel and I'm interested to see what the author will do next.  This book is based on a true story of a man who lived in isolation for almost his entire life in the Artic Circle.  Few of us can imagine such a life although the recent shutdown due to covid gave many of us a taste of it.  We now read stories of how depression has risen in our young people due to that isolation and most had their families around them so it is hard to imagine how Sven handled this for years of his life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

City Of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett


General Turyin Mulaghesh was retired and living by the sea.  She was renowned by some as the hero of the battle of Bulikov and as a war criminal by others.  Her last battles had left her without one of her hands and although she has adjusted to her prosthetic, it's time to give up war.  But the government has other plans.  They send her to the city of Voortyashtan, known as the City of Blades.  Her cover story is that she is there to find out what happened to a government agent who disappeared but the real mission is to find out what those living there are mining and why its being kept a secret.

The city, also known as The City of Blades, was the location of the Divine of war and death.  Turyin arrives to find an old friend is the leader of the city.  Another old friend, Sigrud, has a daughter who lives there and is overseeing the opening of the harbor, which has been closed since the battle that killed the Divine.  She arrives to find that there is a brewing war between the tribes of the coast and those of the mountains, and that everyone seems to be keeping a secret.  As she starts to investigate the mines, news of ritual murders emerge.  Sigrud arrives and Turyin, he and his daughter, join forces to discover all the secrets and save the city and the world from the trouble that is brewing.

This is the second novel in the Divine Cities trilogy.  Bennett is known for his fantasy works and this trilogy is the first that brought him to the notice of fantasy readers.  Readers will remember Turyin and Sigrud and their determination to do whatever it takes to save the world around them even when it antagonizes friends and family.  At the end of this book, Sigrud sails away in disgrace and Turyin vows to return to her retirement.  This book is recommended for fantasy fans.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Third Degree by Greg Iles


Things are not good at the Shields house.  Warren is a doctor and Laurel is a teacher and they have two healthy children and a great house.  All should be well but things are happening.  Warren has been acting strange for a while and Laurel awakes to find that he has been up all night, desperately looking for something he won't disclose.  His partner has been scamming the government and the due date has come; there is an investigation headed their way.  Laurel has her own problems.  She just found out that she is pregnant and doesn't know if it is Warren's or her lover Dan's child.

Things get worse as the day progresses.  Laurel leaves work early with a migraine.  She arrives home to find that Warren is still there and even worse off after no sleep for forty hours.  He confronts her with a love letter and demands to know the identity of her lover.  Laurel has no intention of telling him that and soon finds herself a prisoner.  When the children come home from school, Warren now has three hostages.  

Greg Iles is known for his suspense novels and for writing about his home state of Mississippi.  This novel is full of thrills and the reader doesn't know from one page to the next what will happen next.  Dan is ex-military and the standoff between those locked in the house and the police outside is full of excitement and thrills.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Yellow Dog by Martin Amis


Martin Amis uses the lives of several men to explore what passes for morality in a violent world.  There is Henry, king of England, married to a Queen who is in a coma and forced to give up his latest mistress.  He is facing a scandal from pictures of his fifteen year old daughter in the bath, pictures that he is being told will soon be released.  A novelist, Xan Meo, is attacked while out at a pub, causing him head injuries that change his entire personality.  There is a gang leader who calls for the attack on Xan because he mentioned his name in his latest book.  Then there is Clint, a journalist at a scandal sheet who practices yellow journalism; there is no limit to how far down he will go or what lies he will report.

Amis asks if morality has changed from a time before.  Is our time more violent?  More driven by scandal?  Has the role of men changed?  While he seems to come to the conclusion that we are facing a new reality, looking back I see nothing but violence and scandal, hardly a new environment.  Perhaps every generation thinks theirs is the most violent just as they think the young of their era are clueless and won't come to anything.  Has the male role changed and is it risible to think a man can protect his family?  When even the King of England is faced with his impotence in the face of scandal, the average man can hardly hope to do better.  But is the role changed or is there just new forms of attacks to be thwarted?

Martin Amis has gained prominence as one of Britain's most famous novelists and as the son of Kingsley Amis, a novelist from the generation before.  Martin's work has received two Booker nominations and this was one of them.  This novel was longlisted for the Booker in 2003.  The writing style is breezy and the characters seem to tumble from the pages.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Saga Of Tanya The Evil, Volume 1 by Carlo Zen


A salaryman in Japan dies.  He is astonished to find himself brought back and even more astonished to find he is now an eleven year old girl named Tanya.  Tanya has been recruited into the army and quickly shows an aptitude and willingness to do whatever it takes to win that surpasses her adult peers.  She is promoted and soon is in charge of a battalion of mages.  But as she rises, her superiors are bothered by her cold analysis of events, her willingness to regard her soldiers as nothing more than another resource.  Is she truly suited for leadership?

This novel is the book version of a highly successful manga series that extends to nineteen issues.  Tanya is a survivor and will do whatever it takes to be sure that she does.  The action is fast and furious and the reader will have to decide if they are on Tanya's side.  This book is recommended for young adults and manga readers.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Noonday by Pat Barker


This is the third in a trilogy of books written about the lives of the English during World War II.  It follows three former art students.  Elinor and Paul are married while Kit is back in London following a divorce while his former wife and child are in the United States.  All three met as students at the Slade School Of Art.  Both men fell in love with Elinor but Paul won her heart.

The three are involved in the nightly fight against the bombings by Germany.  Elinor and Kit are ambulance drivers while Paul is part of the teams that search the rubble after the nightly bombing for survivors.  It is grueling, exhausting work and during their days they only want to sleep.  When Paul and Elinor's house is also bombed, they drift apart, Elinor going into the country to stay in a cottage while Paul stays behind and falls into an affair with a woman he works with.  When Elinor discovers this, she comes back to London and takes a flat without Paul, determined to paint and live life on her own.  But Kit sees this as his chance and attempts to win Elinor.

Pat Barker is best known for her World War I trilogy about the men and women who fought this war and the toll it took on them.  This trilogy centers on World War II and she has also written one about the women of the Trojan war.  While set during wars, her novels focus on the everyday lives of those caught up in lifechanging events that affect entire nations.  Although this book of part of a trilogy, I found it works as a stand alone novel as well, although it left me with the desire to go back and read the first two in the lives of Kit, Elinor and Paul.  Of all the wartime novels I've read, this one gives the reader the best idea of what it was like to live in London during the nightly bombings where any day one might wake up and find their home or their family gone forever.   This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Monday, July 24, 2023

The Lost Kings by Tyrell Johnson


Everything changed when her mother died.  Jeanie and her twin, Jamie, were taken in by their aunt and uncle since her father was off in the war.  When he was discharged, it was to take them off without any warning to a remote cabin in the woods of Washington, near the coast.  There he disappeared every day into the woods, drinking and shooting his guns.  Jeanie and Jamie were free to explore the woods and seashore and there they met Maddox who became their best friend.  

Then came the night when Jeanie awoke to find her father coming through the door with blood on his hands.  He sent her to bed but the next morning he was gone along with Jamie.  Jeanie holed up in the cabin, anxiously waiting for them to return but they didn't.  Eventually her situation was discovered and she was returned to her aunt and uncle.  Her friendship and budding romance with Maddox was cut off although they tried to keep it alive.

Now Jeanie is living in Oxford, England, where her mother lived.  She left money so Jeanie is able to buy a house, but that's the only stable thing in her life.  Ignoring her intellectual gifts, she drops out of Oxford and works in a pedestrian job, drinking too much, having an affair with a married man and sleeping with other men to have some semblance of closeness.  Then Maddox appears telling her he has found her father.  Will Jeanie finally get answers?

Tyrell Johnson burst on the literary scene a few years ago with his book, The Wolves Of Winter.  This book has that same strong writing that pulls the reader along and makes them care about the characters Johnson has created.  Jeanie has never gotten over her childhood, pushing away everyone who cares for her, rejecting them before they can reject her.  She has a hole in her heart for Jamie and a longing to know what happened that night he and her father disappeared.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski


This is a postmodern novel unlike most novels I've read and I suspect, most readers have encountered.  It is a layered work.  At the heart lies a house free of time and space limitations, where one might start down a short staircase and have it lengthen until it takes eight days to get to the bottom.  A hallway may extend until it takes days to travel.  The owners of the house and his friends go on expeditions to try to ascertain what is happening and the story of their explorations makes up the Navison Record, which is in turn, written by a blind man named Zampano.

A man studying to be a tattoo artist tells the story of finding Zampano's text.  His name is Johnny Truant and he tells the story, mostly in footnotes, and mixed with his fight with drugs, sex with various people he meets, and other self-destructive acts.  The text is full of references to scholarly works and is thrown on the page, sometimes upside down or diagonal, maybe one sentence in a page followed by pages of close-written text.  It is a challenge to read and a many layered story that makes the novel one that the reader feels a sense of accomplishment in finishing.  As unlikely as it may seem for such a surprising novel, it is Danielewski's debut novel.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

The Disappeared by C.J. Box


Joe Pickett, game warden, has a reputation.  He was able to help the last governor with several issues and now people think he is a detective of sorts.  When the new governor asks for his help, Joe is very reluctant.  This governor is a very sort than the last, a man who got the office because he was a wealthy man who could buy votes.  He doesn't ask for help, he demands it and Joe doesn't know why he wouldn't just use the police forces at his disposal.

A wealthy English woman has gone missing and it has made headlines internationally.  She was a guest at the fancy guest ranch where Joe's daughter is working.  She was seen leaving the ranch but never arrived at the airport to catch her flight.  Joe packs up and goes to the town nearby and starts to look.  The game warden in that area has suddenly disappeared and that is another mystery.  Can Joe find her?

This is my first exposure to the Joe Pickett series.  He and his friend Nate manage to solve most mysteries by talking to people and relying on the game warden network.  Joe is a happily married man and that is a strength to him and to his character.  Readers who liked the Longmire series will likely like this one as well.   This book is recommended to mystery readers.

Friday, July 21, 2023

The Boys From Biloxi by John Grisham


They were best of friends, these twelve year old boys.  Keith Rudy and Hugo Malco were the stars of the baseball team and they were sure they would be friends forever.  But as they grew older, their paths diverged and by the time they were grown they were barely speaking.

Keith Rudy's father was a successful lawyer and Keith's mentor.  When his father became the district attorney, Keith was left to run the office as he had become a lawyer also.  His father was determined to clean up Biloxi, to close down the clubs that were havens for prostitution, drugs, gambling and other crimes.  

Hugo Malco was part of that club scene.  His father, Lance, was the king of the Biloxi crime scene and Hugo couldn't wait for the day when he could take over for his father.  He got that chance when Jesse Rudy put his father behind bars for nine years.  Surrounded by muscle and killers, he was determined to get retribution for his father's jailing and it didn't take long.  Far from being best friends, the two men were now enemies, both determined to end the other's way of life.

John Grisham is known for his legal thrillers and this book is marketed that way.  But the underlying story is that of a friendship that started in childhood and how the two boys grew into men who became enemies.  There is lots of legal action for those interested in how the law works but this seems more of a story of how revenge can ruin so many lives.  This book is recommended for readers of legal thrillers and literary ficiton.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

God's War by Kameron Hurley


Nyx is a former Bel Dame, a paid government assassin made up entirely of women.  The men are all at war, a war that has lasted centuries and wiped out entire generations of men.  No one really remembers what started the war but everyone agrees there is no stopping it.  

But Nyx has always been a rule breaker, living on the edge.  When she does something the Bel Dames consider over the limit she loses her Bel Dame affiliation and is sent to jail for a year.  Now she is just a bounty hunter, considered one of society's lowest creatures, fighting with other bounty hunters to bring in those with a price on their head.

She has a band of helpers.  Khos is a shapeshifter, able to turn into a large dog at will.  Anneke is another mercenary whom Nyx stole from her greatest rival.  Taite is a gay man who handles their communications.  He has brought his sister, Inaya, over the border, heavily pregnant and judgemental of everyone's lives.  Rhys is from the other side, a man who would have been a mullah if he had stayed but left rather than go to the front of the war.  He is the team's magician.

Nyx is summoned by the queen and offered a commission that would see her wealthy and able to retire and might even give her back her Bel Dame license.  An alien woman is here and wants to gain this world's knowledge to enable her people to rule the universe.  Nyx needs to bring her in.  But with so many enemies gunning for her, can she do it?

This is my first read by Kameron Hurley but it won't be my last.  I finished this book today and immediately bought the next two in the trilogy.  Hurley does a fantastic job of world building, a world that is half destructed, torn apart by war. Insects are used as weapons and protection, an entire society built on their powers and those who can control them. Boxing is also a big part of the world and those successful in the ring are honored.   Nyx is not a typical hero; she uses everyone she meets in her quest to complete missions and lives her life as she chooses without worrying about the opinions of others.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Grave Secrets by Kathy Reichs


Dr. Tempe Brennan is in Guatemala with a forensic team from that country, uncovering and documenting victims killed by military during the civil unrest twenty years ago.  They are concentrated on a well in a small village where twenty three bodies, women and children, are found.  The work is draining both physically and emotionally but Brennan feels a need to document what was done there.

The violence isn't over.  Two of Tempe's colleagues are attacked, one killed, one left in a coma.  Young women are disappearing in Guatemala City.  Four have vanished and one is the daughter of the Canadian ambassador.  Is there a serial killer at work?  Tempe is approached by the police and asked t consult on the case.

This is the fifth book in the Temperance Brennan series.  Readers will learn about forensic techniques along with a suspenseful uncovering of missing girls and what has happened to them.  Tempe has two love interests in the story and it is unclear which man she will pick.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout


The small New England town of West Arnett is not sure what to make of their minister.  When Tyler Caskey arrived with his family, the congregation couldn't believe their luck.  He was a large man, full of love for his God and fellow man and was a breath of fresh air after their last minister who had grown old in his job.  The congregation wasn't as sure about Tyler's wife as ministers' wives shouldn't be that beautiful but came to like her.

But things have changed.  Tyler's wife had become ill and died, leaving him with two young daughters to raise.  The youngest was just a baby and is living with his mother, coming to visit on the weekends.  Katherine, his older daughter, is not speaking or at least not at school.  But she is screaming, and writing notes about how she hates her teacher.  Tyler is called into the school but refuses to believe that his daughter is anything but a grieving child.  

The teacher starts it.  She is upset that Tyler didn't take her word for his daughter's condition and tells her friends he was rude to her.  Then the organist becomes angry that Tyler won't support her wish for a new organ or that he doesn't follow up when she comes to him for counseling.  Soon the town is abuzz with rumors about him and when he finds out, the grief he has suppressed takes him over and he is unsure if he can remain in such a place as this.

Elizabeth Strout writes books set in her native New England which delves into relationships and how people manage to get through life with all its disappointments and blows.  Her work has won awards such as the Pulitzer and Orange Prize.  While her writing is spare with no added flourishes, it lays bare the human emotions and small kindnesses that allow us to get through life.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.  

Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Midnight Child by Karen McQuestion


Sharon Lemke thought her life would be quiet now that she is retired.  But she soon finds out differently.  The first big change is when her daughter asks her to give a foster child, an eighteen-year old named Nikki, a room for a few days.  Sharon reluctantly agrees but after she meets Nikki the two decide to make the change full time.

The second change involves Sharon's neighbors in the back.  The Flemings moved to the neighborhood a few years ago.  The father is a doctor and the mother looks like a society woman, always dressed to the nines and hair and makeup just so.  They have one son, Jacob, who is in high school.  But if that is so, why did Sharon see a small girl washing dishes one night at eleven?

She and Nikki decide to investigate.  After a couple of attempts when the Flemings denied a small child being in the house, they decide to turn the case over to the social services department.  But when that agency starts to investigate, the Flemings panic, worried that their dirty secrets will come spilling out?  Is there really a child there and what will become of her?

Karen McQuestion has written a novel that delves into dysfunctional family relationships and how easily some children can fall through society's cracks.  There is drug abuse, hidden secrets and a woman's rage that controls all those around her.  This is my first book by the author.  She started in self publishing and was the first self-publisher to sign an Amazon contract that led to a movie deal.  Since then she has written numerous books that have a large audience.  This book is recommended for mystery and women's fiction readers.

Confederates In The Attic by Tony Horwitz


Tony Horwitz grew up enchanted by the Civil War.  Although he grew up in the city, he imagined being on the battlefields.  Like most little boys, he put his childhood games aside as he grew up.  But he found himself still interested and in the late 1990's, he decided to spend time visiting the South and the sites of the war.

He spent a year or so visiting all aspects of the war that tore the nation apart.  He visited battle sites and visited with people who still spend their time caught up in the war, glorifying their ancestors' parts in it.  He lived for a weekend with some hard-core re-enactors who insist on wearing authentic uniforms and living on the meager supplies that the Confederate army had to rely on.  He visited those who glorify the Confederate flag, both as a symbol of the men who fought under it and as a tool to signify racial divide and hate.  He spent time at hospitals and prisoner-of-war camps and he got into the controversy surrounding the Confederate statues that dot the South, although this book is too soon to see the recent removals of many of those statues.  He visited with representatives of the historical societies that keep the records of those times, both the male and female versions.  

Although I grew up and live in the South, I learned a lot from this book.  One of the largest hospital camps in the South is about forty-five minutes from me and I never knew that.  I learned that the Confederate flag was never a governmental flag but was only ever a battle flag, but these days it has received different meanings and most people don't want to be associated with it.   Horwitz's description of his time on the battlegrounds sent chills up my spine and hope that we will never be that divided again.  This book is recommended for readers of nonfiction books.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood


The economy has collapsed, leaving Stan and Charmaine living in their car once both their jobs disappear.  Roving gangs of thugs are always an issue, ready to use violence to get any money or food they can find.  Stan is despondent while Charmaine tries to make the best of things which is also irritating to Stan.

The couple can't believe it when they are asked to come and test for a new living community named Consilience.  If they are accepted, they will be given a house inside a walled community and provided with food and safety.  There is a prison in the community and the scheme works this way.  Every house is shared by two families.  One month the first couple is on the outside working a job provided by the community while the other couple spends the month in prison doing work that benefits the prison.  The next month the two couples trade places.  Once you are in, you cannot leave.  Stan and Charmaine eagerly accept.

At first, it's like a dream come true.  Then doubts start to set in, especially when Stan finds out that Charmaine has been meeting the other couple's man on switchover days for an affair.  The longer they are there, the more they start to see things going on in the prison that aren't right.  Things like people who disappear.  Things like Charmaine's job which is to administer a final shot to those whose time is up.  Soon they realize that they have signed up for a nightmare but how to escape when every move and word they speak is monitored?

This is a lesser known Atwood novel but it fits in the dystopian genre and as a message against governmental authority.  Everything is exaggerated but sometimes that is what it takes to make a point.  There are sexbots, knitting circles, men and women who dress up like either Elvis or Marilyn Monroe and whose time can be rented, organ transplants for sale and lots of other plot points that demonstrate what happens when one trades freedom for security.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction and dystopian fiction. 

Friday, July 14, 2023

The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers


The Wayfarer has seen better days.  It is a tunneler ship, one that patches wormholes for other ships to use to locations that don't have them, a purpose that means long journeys without seeing civilization.  Luckily, the crew has become something of a family.  There is Ashley, the captain who sets the tone and makes sure everything is moving along.  Sissix is the reptilian pilot.  Kizzy and Jenks are the techs; Kizzy is outgoing and Jenks is in love with the AI that runs the ships communications.  Doctor Chef feeds everyone and makes sure they are healthy.  There is a man who maintains the fuel and a dying navigator.

Ashley has been trying to do the work of several individuals for years and he finally hires an assistant.  Rosemary Harper is running from her family's past and soon settles into the crew.  The Wayfarer has accepted a new job that will set them up for years but it involves creating tunnels into a place no one has gone before and to a location that has warlike inhabitants.  Will they make it?

This is the first book in the Wayfarers series which won the Hugo for Best Series.  This book was also nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction as well as many other awards.  It is the start of an engaging series.  Each crew member has an interesting background.  There are love affairs, clashes with the law, enemy forces who are determined to end the mission and the love and cooperation between a diverse set of individuals to attain a worthwhile goal.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen


Annamarie Zimmer had been a teenager on her way to the Olympics the last time she rode.  That was the day her horse broke his leg in competition, throwing Annamarie.  Her horse, her love was put down and Annamarie was left paralyzed, in a coma.  When she emerged, it was to months of paralysis and physical therapy until finally she was able to walk again.  But she has never gotten on a horse since that day.

Now Annamarie is in her forties, going through a divorce.  When she hears that her father had a fatal disease, she takes her daughter, Eve, with her.  Eve has been affected by the divorce and has turned into a sullen teenager who is not shy about her anger.  Annamarie's father has ALS and is losing more bodily function each day.  Annamarie decides that she and Eve will stay and run their riding academy so that her mother can concentrate on helping her father.

But she isn't the manager her mother is.  She is still torn about her ex-husband and seeing her high school boyfriend, Dan, who is now the local vet doesn't help.  She forgets to order hay and feed, alienates the stable hands and clashes with the customers.  All that is nothing once she sees a horse that Dan rescued from a kill pen.  The horse, damaged, looks so much like her former horse that Annamarie believes he has to be a brother to her horse.  Can she find out about the horse and can she find a new life on her childhood stable home?

Sara Gruen has centered her writing on stories about animals and how they affect the lives of the humans who care for them.  Readers will remember her big hit, Water For Elephants, and she has written numerous others.   This novel is the first in a series of two.  I'm not sure I really liked Annamarie who seemed to alienate those around her and was still in a battle with her parents in her forties but it was interesting reading about her journey.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy novels about family relationships.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Murder Book by Lissa Marie Redmond


Things are going well professionally for Lauren Riley.  She recently accepted a job in the cold case division of the homicide bureau and she is enjoying the work.  There is not as much time pressure and she doesn't miss being called out in the middle of the night to view a body with all the signs of violence a murder brings.  She has a partner, Shane Reese, who she gets along with.  At home, she has an empty nest as her daughters are grown and gone but she's learning to live with it.

One case that has haunted Lauren is that of a teenage immigrant who was shot and killed on the street a decade or so ago.  The case was investigated closely at the time but no suspect was ever identified.  Lauren and Reese are looking at the case.  When Lauren stays late one night to work on it, she hears someone behind her.  Before she can turn around, she is knifed, then kicked in the head as she falls to the floor.  

When she wakes up in the hospital, she can remember little about her attacker.  But who could it be in the middle of the police station?  The files on the case she and Shane were working or what they call the murder book is missing from her desk.  Why would that case be so important to someone else?  Could her attacker be another policeman?

This is the second book in the Cold Case Investigations series.  Lauren is an interesting woman, a professional who has put romance aside to concentrate on her career.  It is a police procedural focusing on an area that many police units have created, the cold case area where cases from years ago can now be solved using modern police investigative tools and forensics such as DNA analysis that was not available at the time of the crime.  The book also highlights the disgust that other police feel when they find a corrupt officer in their ranks.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Someone Loves You by Mona Arshi


Ruby grows up in England in a Pakistani immigrant family.  She has her mother and father and an older sister.  When Ruby is six, she stops talking.  There is no physical reason but although her parents send her to several counselors, no one can convince her to speak again.  

Ruby loves her older sister more than anyone.  She has a best friend, David, who lives across the street.  She loves her mother but realizes early on that occasionally her mother disappears for several months at a time.  Later, she knows that these disappearances mean her mother has been hospitalized again for depression.

The novel follows Ruby's life as she grows.  She is hospitalized with a viral illness that almost kills her and leaves her legs unable to function for a time.  She watches her sister become popular and an artist who insists on her right to view and portray the world according to how she perceives it.  And over time, she works out a relationship with her mother that works for them both.

Mona Arshi has worked as a human rights lawyer but is known best as a poet.  That occupation shows through in this debut novel which is written in short, descriptive chapters.  The language is reminiscent of poetry and finds a way to demonstrate what is happening in Ruby's life with sparse, eloquent verbiage.  The main topic is coming of age and family relationships.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

The Dead Of Winter by Stuart Macbride


It's bad enough that everyone else is huddled at home during this blizzardy weather.  But policeman don't have that luxury and DC Edward Reekie is on the job.  He's just gotten a new boss, DI Victoria Montgomery-Porter and he's not sure how that will work out.  His current assignment is to take a dying prisoner to a place where he can live his last few months.

The place is Glenfarach and it's not the cozy village it appears to be.  It is a place for prisoners to be housed, either because they are on their last days or because they wouldn't be accepted anywhere else.  There are security cameras everywhere, everyone living there has an ankle monitor and every ex-prisoner is checked on every day at least once.

Edward and his boss are snowed in but that's not the worst.  They find a former prisoner murdered in their home and the murders are just starting.  Each murder is gruesome and obviously the deaths were preceded by torture.  What's the reason?  Is there a serial killer just killing to satisfy his urges or is there a secret that is being extracted?   

Most readers know Stuart Macbride from his Logan McRae series.  This new series shows promise of becoming another beloved one by his fans.  Reekie is sometimes clueless but comes through in the end.  Victoria is rude, arbitrary but brilliant.  The formula sounds a bit like those of the Logan McRae series but is different enough to be enjoyable.  Macbride's trademark breezy style and dark humor is definitely in place and I enjoyed the tale and look forward to more in this series.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson


In this book, author Isabel Wilkerson states that American society is based upon a caste system similar to the caste system seen in India and Nazi Germany.  In our case, the caste system is used to differentiate those who is allowable to treat differently, those of the African American race. It is a systemic issue that permeates throughout all aspects of society, housing, education, the job market,  the legal system and the acceptance of casual violence against those in the lowest caste.

This book is thoroughly researched and most can find things they didn't know about the history of race relations in the United States.  It might be the lynchings that took place as scores and sometimes hundreds watched the brutality.  It might be the parallels between how the Nazis treated the Jewish population, basing their treatises on American examples.  It could be the personal stories sprinkled throughout the book of Wilkerson's own experience living as an African American in the United States.

This book garnered praise in many places.  It was the Time #1 nonfiction book of the year.  It was a National Book Award longlist nominee, a National Book Critics Circle finalist and many other literary awards.  Wilkerson was the first black woman to win the Pulitzer for journalism.  Her first book, The Warmth From Other Suns, told the story of the black migration north and won many awards.  She has also taught and lectured at many universities.  Readers will find this to be an important book that gives them material to focus their thoughts on race and how our society needs to be changed to give all Americans equal opportunities.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Pieces Of Her by Karin Slaughter


Andrea is in a rut.  Thirty-one years old, she went to New York after college hoping to break into the art world.  That never happened and instead she worked three part-time jobs and shared a small apartment with several roommates.  When her mother Laura developed breast cancer she went home to Florida to be with her and help her during her treatment.  Now she is still there, working a night shift as a police dispatcher and living in an apartment over her mom's garage.

Then something happens.  Laura and Andrea are having lunch in a local restaurant when a boy bursts in and starts shooting.  He has killed several people when he gets to them.  To Andrea's shock, her mother disarms the boy and when he keeps coming with a knife, takes that away and kills him.  The whole thing is captured on film and soon it is nationwide, some calling Laura a hero and some a killer.  

Andrea is further shocked when her mother tells her that she must leave.  She gives her directions to a storage shed in a city hours away and tells her that she should drive the car she finds there instead of her recognizable one.  When Andrea gets there, in addition to the car she finds a suitcase full of money.  Who is her mother?  Why are there people trying to find her?  Why are they willing to kill Andrea to find Laura?

This is a stand alone Karin Slaughter and has been made into a television series.  It has the typical Slaughter twists and turns and a back story that will have the reader continuing to turn pages.  Andrea seems a bit old to still not have figured out her life yet but that's a small criticism.  This book is recommended for thriller readers and delivers plenty of chills and excitement.   

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Noughties by Ben Masters


Tonight's a special night.  Eliot Lamb and his crew of friends are celebrating the end of their time at Oxford and their entry into adulthood.  Eliot isn't sure what's next for him; two of his friends are taking a year to travel and others are starting careers.  There's Eliot's best friend, Jack, two other guys Scott and Sanjay, Ella, the girl both Eliot and Jack think they might love and a few other girls.  Together they go out to celebrate.

There is a code of celebration.  First they go to the pub for preliminary drinks.  Then to the bar for more serious ones and then to the club where they indiscriminately drink and dance.  Both Eliot and Jack want to use this night to make their case to Ella.  The two friends have had a strained year as both pursue her and both think tonight might be the night.  Eliot is also still emotionally involved with his first girlfriend, Lucy, and he's really not sure which he would like to have.

The author of this debut novel was twenty-five when he wrote it in 2012.  It's sad to think that college life is such an alcoholic event for so many but that seems to be the culture in England and other college venues.  Ella holds a dark secret.  Both Eliot and Jack believe they are the cause but the reader will soon see through the clues to who is responsible for Ella's secret.  I'd be interested to read another novel from Masters now that he is in his thirties and see how his writing has changed.  This book is recommended to readers of literary fiction.  

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Sabbatical by John Barth


A married couple take a year out of their lives and go sailing.  Fenwick Scott Key Turner is in his early 50's and has recently left the CIA.  Susan Rachel Allen Seckler, his wife, is twenty-five years younger and a professor of English.  It is her sabbatical from teaching and they have spent it on the seas.  Both of them are twins.  Susan's twin has had a hard life; she has been raped and captured overseas and tortured and leads a life of whatever comes, comes.  Fen's twin also worked for the CIA and was a higher-up there.  Susan's mother became a couple with Fen's twin and he raised she and her sister so it is almost as if Fen married his niece.

The two have gone on the journey to make decisions.  What will their marriage look like going forward?  Will they have children?  What will Fen do next in his career?  But they haven't made any decisions and the year is almost over.  Things happen as they return to the Chesapeake Bay.  After a year of sailing, they find an island close to home that isn't on their charts and from which they are fired upon.  Fen loses his lucky hat.  The CIA makes approaches to Fen, asking him to come back.  Fen's twin and his son, Susan's half brother have both disappeared and Fed suspects that the CIA may be involved.  Where will their lives lead?

John Barth is a postmodern writer whose most influential works were in the 1960s and 1970s.  This novel was written in 1982.  He has won the National Book Award and his writing is known for wordplay and satire along with repetitive themes that reoccur during the work and are brought together at the end to either make a point or illustrate a concept.  His work is often focused on the Tidewater of Virginia and Maryland where he was born and lives and on sailing, his great love.  It also often features twins and Barth himself is a twin.  He is not considered an easy read but the reader will be rewarded with new ideas and engaging characters.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger


In 1932, four orphans take to the Mississippi River to flee the horrible conditions they have been living in.  Odie and Albert are brothers.  Odie is high-spirited and spend a lot of time in the solitary room, a shed with no comforts and usually a beating beforehand.  Albert fares a bit better as he is a mechanical whiz.  Mose is their best friend, a huge boy of Indian descent who was found in a ditch when he was four with his dead mother, his tongue cut out.  Emmy is recently orphaned, her mother dead in a tornado.  All are fleeing from the Lincoln Indian Training School where a cruel couple is in charge and the children there are treated as nothing more than money machines.

The four decide to run away and take Emmy's father's canoe down the river to Saint Louis.  Odie and Albert's aunt lives there and they hope she might be able to take them in.  Along the way, they encounter lots of people they will always remember, both good and bad.  They are fugitives, both from the school and from the death of one of their tormentors that Odie might be responsible for.  They meet a man living alone with his demons, an Indian who teaches Mose about his heritage, families living in a Hooverville and members of a revival show.  They learn from each individual they meet and when they make it to Saint Louis, they learn the truth about their family background.  

Krueger is best known for his mystery series featuring Cork O'Connor, an Indian/Irish sheriff.  This work is a stand alone novel set in his favorite state, Minnesota, and details the lives and relationships of these four children who have formed a family that transcends blood.  Readers will fall in love with Odie who narrates the story and cheer for the children to find a life that is normal and loving.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss


Sylvie's father is abusive, beating both Sylvie and her mother frequently.  They never know what will set him off but there seems to be a long, long list.  The only time Sylvie feels close to him is when he takes her on long hikes and shares his archeological knowledge of the ancient tribes of Britain with her.  This summer, the three of them are spending his bus driver's vacation with a local university group that wants to know what it is to live like those early inhabitants.

There are both boys and girls in the group, along with the professor.  Sylvie's mother does the cooking for them all.  Sylvie's family camps in hide tents with animal furs for covers while the university kids camp in modern tents.  They also sneak off occasionally to the nearest town to get snacks and smokes.

Surprisingly, Sylvie's dad and the professor become close.  The professor respects the dad's knowledge and that gives him a sense of power that he normally never feels.  He is in a good mood until he catches Sylvie taking a bath in a nearby stream whereupon the abuse continues and he beats her until she can barely move. 

As time goes by, the two men become more and more entranced with the rituals and sacrifices that the old tribes used to worship their gods.  The men decide they need to recreate some of the old rituals but who will be their sacrifice?

This is an interesting exploration of power dynamics between the sexes and how victims of domestic abuse must filter every action and word through the sieve of another person's anger.  Sylvie just wants to be like the other kids she is associating with and her father is determined to control her every action.  This novel was nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction in 2019 and has won other awards.  The book is short but every sentence advances the story and is drenched in anticipated abuse.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Monday, July 3, 2023

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon


There was no better place to be that summer than at Amy's.  Piper and Margot lived in a boring condo with their mother but Amy lived with her grandmother at what had been the family's livelihood, the motel.   Once a thriving business when Amy's mother and aunt had been girls, the building of an interstate spelled the end of things as visitors had no reason to stop there anymore.  Now it was a decaying wreck.  The girls were sure that there were plenty of mysteries there to be solved.  Amy's aunt Sylvie had run away when she was sixteen and was never heard from again.  Surely there were clues to be found.

Beside the twenty-eight rooms of the motel, Amy's grandfather had built a small replica of the Tower Of London.  It had three stories and turrets on top and made a marvelous clubhouse or a place to hide from Jason, the guy who hung around wanting to be included in the girls' activities.  When the three found Sylvie's suitcase hidden there, they knew they were close to solving the mystery.  Or were they?

Time passes and things change.  The three girls were not friends after that summer.  Piper grew up and moved to California.  Margot stayed in town and married Jason.  Then Amy returns with her family after years away.  Margot is on bed rest with a troubled pregnancy and Piper comes home to take care of her.  Before Piper can get over to see Amy, tragedy occurs.  Amy, her husband and her young son are found dead in a bloodbath; her daughter the only survivor as she managed to get out on the roof and so was spared.  What happened?

Jennifer McMahon was raised in Connecticut so she knows the area she is writing about.  The characters are instantly familiar to any girls who spent their school summer vacations bored and willing to follow a charismatic character.  As the story unfolds, supernatural elements start to emerge and when the final revelations are made, they are stunning.  This book is recommended for thriller readers. 

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Calculated In Death by J. D. Robb


When a female lawyer is killed on her way home, Lieutenant Eve Dallas is called out.  Normally she wouldn't be called out for what appears to be a mugging gone wrong but the victim's sister-in-law is a judge.  Eve and her team quickly establish that this is no ordinary mugging although it has been staged to look like one.  This woman was murdered for a personal reason.

As the investigation begins, Eve discovers that the lawyer was working on accounts for various firms that had a deadline.  These accounts weren't normally hers but two other members of the firm had been injured in a car wreck so their case loads had been distributed to the remaining staff.  Was there something in the accounts that a firm didn't want to come to life?  Could it be serious enough to cause a murder?  Or had there been a more personal reason in the lawyer's life to cause her death?

This was my first J.D. Robb mystery.  Eve and her team are an interesting mix and Eve is married to a billionaire finance man, Rourke.  Theirs is a marriage based in love and lots of sex and cooperation between his business contacts and her legal ones.  J. D. Robb is the pseudonym for Nora Roberts and the action is set a few decades in the future which is an interesting choice as things in the novel didn't change much from what is normal now.  Readers of the series which is now fifty-eight novels will be interested to see Eve and Rourke solve another mystery.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Shipwreck by Louis Begley


John North has an enviable life.  He is a successful author and is married to the love of his life, Lydia.  They have an apartment in New York, a house on the Cape and another house on the shore.  Lydia is a successful research doctor and money is never an issue.

But North is hit with midlife malaise.  He starts to think that nothing he has is worth having and that he is an imposter who will shortly be revealed.  His work he puts down as pedestrian and unworthy of the accolades he has received.  When he goes to Paris to discuss business with his French agent, he is moody and unsatisfied.

Then he wins a major award while in Paris.  His last book is optioned for a movie.  Suddenly his fame and success has multiplied.  He meets a journalist, Lea, and when she ends up at a dinner with one of his friends, he offers her a ride home and starts an affair with her.  He intends it to be a fling but Lea is determined that it will be much, much more.

Suddenly, John is obsessed with Lea.  He makes excuses, first to stay longer in Paris and then to make repeated trips there, telling Lydia it is all business.  He spends hours in bed with Lea and the erotic delights she provides have him mesmerized.  Lea begins demanding more and more of John.  She wants to be invited to his home, to meet Lydia and become friends with her.  How can this end well?

Louis Begley was born in what was then Poland, now part of the Ukraine in 1933.  His family remained there throughout the war and afterwards lived in Paris before emigrating to the United States when Begley was eleven.  He attended Harvard Law School and worked for many years as an attorney.  His most famous works are the Schmidt trilogy.  In this novel, he explores how quickly one can become obsessed with another person and how erotic love can lead to disaster.  The beloved becomes the pursuer from which one finally only wants to flee.  This was a new author to me and as his work has been reissued, I plan to read more by him.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.