Saturday, September 30, 2023

The Museum Of Failures by Thrity Umrigar


Remy has not been back to India since his father died three years ago.  He was always close to his father but his mother had been a silent, criticizing figure and it was easy to push back coming to check on her.  He has come to India to see about adopting a baby although his wife was not able to accompany him on this trip.  A friend's daughter has gotten pregnant and he is here to meet her and see about adopting her baby when it is born.

Remy arrives to find his mother in the hospital, perhaps at death's door.  The doctors aren't optimistic and she isn't speaking or eating.  As Remy cares for her, he feels shame for not taking better care of her over the years, not making sure that the safeguards he'd put in place were working.  Over her hospital stay, Remy and his mother become closer and he rediscovers the love he had for her.  

But there are dark secrets hiding in his family's background.  As Remy discovers them, he realizes that his memories of his childhood were all false, all manufactured.  What will he do with the new information he has learned?  Will he and his mother be another victim of Bombay, The Museum Of Failures?

This is a haunting book that will transport and touch the deepest emotions in the reader.  Thrity Umrigar was born in India to a Parsi family but also grew up around the Catholic and Hindu religions.  She immigrated to the United States when she was twenty-one and has written several best selling novels and has won numerous writing awards.  This book deserves to be one of her best known novels as it explores the meaning of family relationships and the place that friends play in our lives.  She delves into the darkest spaces and relates ways to solve thorny issues that are separating us from those we love.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea

 Avery Mason is looking for a big story to start her news show next season.  She thinks that looking back at the 9-11 attack might be good, especially when she learns that new technology is letting scientists identify victims from small bone fragments.  She contacts the lead scientist who agrees to let her television crew come and film in the lab, using a recent victim who has been identified as the focus.  That victim was Victoria Ford.

But Avery finds that there is much more to this story than she had anticipated.  At the time of her death, Victoria Ford had been the main suspect in the sex murder of a famous author who was her married lover.  She was about to be indicted and was in the Towers that day to meet with a lawyer about her defense.  When Avery visits Victoria's sister, she is adamant that Victoria could never have killed anyone and plays Avery the voice message Victoria sent that day when she knew she wasn't going to make it out.  In that, she proclaimed her innocence and begged her sister to clear her name.

Avery decides this is definitely her story.  She contacts the detective who headed up the case, a former FBI agent.  He agrees to review the case with her and share case file documents but he has a secret and an ulterior motive.  That's understandable because Avery is hiding a big secret as well.  The two become involved and both try to hide their secrets while investigating the long ago murder.

This is my first Charlie Donlea novel but it won't be my last.  There are plenty of twists and turns.  Everyone has a big secret in their past and the slow reveal of these add to the plot.  The novel starts a bit slow but once it gets going is a mystery fan's pleasure.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Morality For Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith


Mme Precious Ramotswe has her hands full at her detective agency.  A government official is sure that his brother is being poisoned, probably by his wife.  Another client wants the agency to determine which of the finalists in a beauty pageant is morally worthy of the title.  A young boy, four or five, at the adoption agency which Mme Ramotswe helps as she can, has been recently brought in.  He doesn't talk, smells of lion and is aggressive.  Worse of all, Mme Ramotswe's fiancé, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, has fallen into a depression.

But Mme Ramotswe forges ahead.  She goes to stay at the country home of the government official for several days to determine if a poisoner is still at work.  She leaves her assistant to handle both the detective agency and Mr. Matekoni's garage and work on whichever cases she can.  Matekoni she takes and leaves at the adoption agency where he can rest and where the lady in charge can talk him into going to a doctor.  By the end of the book, all is solved and resolved.

This is the third book in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.  Mme Ramotswe is optimistic and hard-working, sure that she can solve most mysteries with some hard work and the insights she has gained throughout her life.  Her surrounding cast has grown during the series but all are interesting characters who play parts in solving the mysteries.  This book is recommended for mystery and multicultural readers.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Mrs. Queen Takes The Train by William Kuhn

 The Queen is feeling a bit downhearted.  It seems that everywhere she looks, things just aren't right.  Has her life been a waste?  The papers are full of stories about how the monarchy just isn't needed any more or various scandals about the royal family.  The royal yacht has been mothballed and now she learns that the royal train is headed the same way.  

The Queen decides to walk to the stables and visit her favorite horse.  While there, Rebecca, who works with the horses, notices that the queen isn't dressed for the weather and gives her a hoodie.  Dressed in the hoodie and a scarf which shadows her face, the queen makes a decision to walk over to the shops a few streets away and buy more of the cheese that her favorite horse loves.  When she gets there, the young shop assistant, of Indian descent, recognizes her and helps her.  When she decides to go visit the royal yacht, he takes her to the station in a taxi.

Back at the palace, panic has ensued.  Where is the Queen?  Why don't they know where she is?  Several staff spring into action.  The Queen's dresser and her lady-in-waiting band together and decide to go to where the yacht is.  The equerry, a young man back from the Iran war and William, the butler, also team up.  All head off into the night to rescue the queen, although she is sure she doesn't need rescuing at all.

This was the author's first novel, having before this book written nonfiction.  He focuses on the royal family and on Jackie Kennedy for his various books.  This novel is a charming tale told with warmth and love for the queen.  It exposes the daily rivalries between the palace staff and their loyalty to their queen.  It also gives an inside look at what it must be like to be a royal in modern times when it seems that they are just figureheads and perhaps past their time.  This book is recommended for readers of light fiction. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

If She Wakes by Michael Koryta


A potential world-changing discovery in energy is rumored to have been made.  But if so, the knowledge is hidden and only two women can unlock the key, both unlikely heroes.

Tara was giving a famous scientist who'd come to her college to give a talk a ride between venues when a wreck occurs.  The man is killed and Tara is left in a coma, completely paralyzed.  When she awakes, she realizes that she is conscious and able to think but everyone around her thinks she is still brain dead.  How can she impart the knowledge she has?

Abby Reynolds was a famous stock car racer who became a stunt driver in the movies.  But her nerve was shot when she wrecked her car one night with her movie star boyfriend in the passenger seat.  He was left in a coma until his family decided to suspend life support.  Since then, Abby has been a villain on social media and has come back East to decide what to do next in her life.  Somehow, she has been drawn into the web of entanglements and assassins looking for the information on the scientist's phone.  Can she find the knowledge and survive long enough to share it?

Both women have allies.  Tara has her sister, Shannon, who has been by her side protecting her for their entire lives.  Abby has Hank, the man who first sponsored her as a race car driver and who is letting her work as an insurance investigator until she recovers her nerve.  Both are also drawn into the machinations as various entities try to recover the discovery that could mean billions.

This was my first novel by Michael Koryta.  It was extremely suspenseful with lots of twists and turns.  Although he is male and most of the main players in the novel female, he gets their characters perfectly.  There are several villains and they are creepy and scary in the right proportions.  I read this book holding my breath for at least half of it and was surprised by the ending.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Born In A Burial Gown by M.W. Craven


Detective Inspector Avison Fluke is newly returned to work.  He has been out for over a year, fighting a blood cancer.  What those around him don't know is that he has not been cleared to return to service and is not healthy.  But his work is what sustains him and if he has to hide the truth, well, there are lots of secrets being held in the police force.

His first case is what appears to be a gangland execution.  The body of a woman has been found on a construction site, in a foundation post due to be filled with cement.  The only reason she was found was that a junkie had been using the construction trailer for his home and happened to look out and see the body disposal when he was sober enough to know what he was seeing.

Fluke pulls his team together.  They are the individuals that his boss never wants on his own team but Fluke knows they are all loyal to him and highly skilled.  One is a friend from his youth who spent years in the military in the top forces.  Another is a woman the boss considers not young or good-looking enough but Fluke knows she is a marvel at organization.  The team soon discovers that the woman was not who she was pretending to be.  She was living under a false name and had gone through extensive plastic surgery to change her looks.  What was her secret?

This is the first novel in the new Avison Fluke series.  M. W. Craven is an English writer who is making a name here in the United States after becoming very popular overseas.  He has traveled the world and has a degree in social work and criminology, both fields that let him write about criminals and those who chase them with authority.  Fluke is an interesting character as are his team and this is a welcome addition to the mystery genre.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Treacle Walker by Alan Garner


There are three characters in this novel.  The first is Treacle Walker, a rag and bone man who visits the other main character.  Joe is a small boy who lives alone and has a lazy eye.  Thin Amren is a character who seems to be spiritual; a creature who lives in the nearby bog.

Joe wants Treacle Walker to help him make the world make sense.  He wants a cure for his eye and for his vision to be perfect.  Treacle gives him gifts and some allow Joe to see Thin Amren and help him while others take him into other dimensions.  Joe also is interested in marbles and comics.  His comics often come to life, making them surreal to Joe.

This short novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.  It is full of imagery and nonsense terms.  Alan Garner, who is in his late eighties, is known for his works of fantasy and the use of English folklore in his works.  There can be much discussion about what is meant by the various characters and their traits.  Joe seems to be attempting to find a vision, both his physical vision and a more poetic one that will help him interpret the world.  Treacle Walker is like a favorite uncle, always teasing but indulging one's desires.  This book will be discussed for many years and is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Under An Outlaw Moon by Dietrich Kalteis


They meet in Kansas.  Bennie is in his early twenties, Stella only fifteen.  She can't resist the cute guy flirting with her and agrees to go out on a date.  Little did her parents know, she would be married to Bennie before her sixteenth birthday and far from Kansas and her home.

Bennie had been released from prison after a failed bank robbery.  He's sure he can get it right this time and teaches Stella how to shoot and off the two of them go.  Bennie never hurts anyone in the banks and doesn't rob those who are caught there during the robbery.  He buries their loot and looks for the next job and how to please Stella.  Stella only wants a house and kids but that isn't likely when J. Edgar Hoover puts them on the Most Wanted list.

This book is a fictionalized account of the true story of Bennie and Stella Mae Dickson.  The author's retelling of their story is slanted towards the story of their love and their relative nonviolence rather than seeing them as criminals who needed to be hunted down.  I listened to this novel and the narrator was perfect for this kind of story, capturing Bennie's eagerness to do anything to make Stella Mae happy.  This book is recommended for readers of true crime and literary fiction.

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb


Ray McMillian has loved music and specifically, the violin, since he discovered them as a child.  He plays in the school band but doesn't have the advantages the other students do.  Ray is black and his family is barely scraping by, uninterested in his vocation and not able to provide private lessons or even a violin to practice on.  Ray makes do with the school's violin and practices in the air at night in his room.  Then one Christmas while on the annual family get-together, his grandmother gives him a gift he treasures.  She gives him his grandfather's violin which family history says has been passed down through the family from the former slave who was gifted it by his owner.

Now Ray can practice for hours.  At a state competition, his talent is recognized and he is chosen over many other students.   He is also noticed by one of the judges, also black, who recognizes his talent and arranges for him to be offered a scholarship at the university at which she teaches.  Ray rises to the top there and afterwards is making his way up the ladder in the world of classical music.  When he takes his violin in to be repaired, a miracle occurs and it turns out that the old violin, handed down through generations, is a Stradivarius.  This is a story that makes the news as it is worth around ten million dollars. 

But Ray just treasures it as his violin.  He continues to play it everywhere.  When he is accepted into the Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia, it is an honor he can hardly believe.  No American has won this competition except Van Claiborne and he won in the piano competition.  But before Ray can go, his violin is stolen.  How?  Who?

It's not like others hadn't wanted his violin.  His own family had a lawsuit against him, since once they discovered what had seemed like a beat up fiddle was worth a fortune, they decided they were the rightful owners.  Descendants of the former slave owner had a lawsuit as well and showed up repeatedly, trying to intimidate Ray.  A hotel maid, a baggage handler, anyone could have wanted this violin.  Could Ray possibly win the biggest competition in his life without it?

This is a debut novel for the author and received a lot of buzz.  The theme running throughout the novel is the place that race plays in the opportunities available to black students.  Only 1.8 percent of classical musicians are black and that is a result of the lack of exposure, private lessons, ability to enter and travel to regional and state competitions or to even attend college.  This book was a real touchstone to me as the author was raised in North Carolina where I live and got his degree in music from a university a few miles from me where I also attended and got a degree.  The reader will fall in love with Ray and his fight to be able to do the one thing he was made to do; play classical music and bring a love of music to everyone.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Umbrella by Will Self


This novel follows two storylines.  One is the epidemic of encephalitis that occurred after WW I.  It left many of the patients in a stupor, prone to tics that were repeated and an unawareness of surroundings.  This often led to hospitalization in a mental hospital as it was unclear to doctors of that time what was occurring.  Much of the book is set in such a hospital and follows the story of a doctor, Zachery Busner, who brought the patients out of their stupor with the prescription of l-dopa.

The other storyline is that of the Death family.  One member goes to serve on the front in the war.  Another member, Audrey, was one of the patients in the mental hospital and her tics and jerks were the repetitive movements she had learned as she worked in a war industry factory.  The last member of the Death family was another son, who was intelligent and had risen high in the government overseeing the production and distribution of munitions.

This is not an easy book to read.  It is full of stream of consciousness language, moving on quickly and repetitively, reminiscent of the mutterings of the patients in the mental hospital.  The viewpoint shifts constantly between Audrey, her brothers and the doctor, often in the middle of a sentence, so the reader must attend closely to the story.  The language is babbling and full of imagery.  This novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and for those willing to surrender themselves to its flow, is a rewarding look at the time period between the two world wars.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman


Irene had hoped for some rest after her latest mission for The Library where she is a field agent, sent to retrieve books in various Alternates.  But as soon as she arrives and makes her report, she is given another mission, to an alternate London where she is to retrieve a book of Grimm's Fairy Tales that is different than other copies; it has a different story to end on.  Irene takes off with a new assistant, a gorgeous young man named Kai who she isn't sure will be of any help or not.

Irene and Kai arrive to find that the book they are to retrieve has itself been stolen from it's last owner, who was murdered in the process.  Now they must not only locate it but do so before those who are also interested in it can find it.  Their rivals for the book include a representative from the Fae, a rival of Irene's who wants to steal her mission and a rogue agent who now roams the world on the side of evil and who delights in killing agents.  They do pick up an ally, a detective whose logic and bravery helps in their mission.  Oh, and Kai turns out to be a dragon.

This is the first book in the Invisible Library series of which there are currently eight novels.  Irene is a delightful heroine, strong and independent.  The world building could use more work but the magic used is interesting and based on language as one might expect from a world based on books.  Readers will want to read more of Irene and Kai's adventures to see what happens next in this fantastic world.  This novel is recommended for fantasy readers.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love by Oscar Hijuelos


They arrived in New York City from the rural countryside of Cuba.  Cesar Castillo and his brother Nestor have come to America to make their success.  They both are musicians and soon find work in various clubs.  They create their own orchestra, The Mambo Kings, and soon they are playing constantly, winning applause and the regard of women.  This was the time of Latin music, of Desi Arnez and Xavier Cugat.  Their crowning accomplishment was when Arnez came to one of their sessions and invited them to a guest spot on his television show.

Cesar is the typical macho Latino.  He goes from woman to woman, thinking of nothing but making love to every woman he meets and never sticking to one too long.  Nestor is the sensitive one, always longing for his first love, Maria.  His love for her leads to the pair's biggest hit, 'Beautiful Maria Of My Soul'.  Nestor marries and has children but he spends his life pining for Maria.  

This book, portraying the Latin culture in the 1940's, won the Pulitzer Prize.  It is full of descriptions of the spicy food, the sex and the women, and the importance of family and friends.  Cesar is an overwhelming figure, always ready to give whatever he can to anyone he knows.  The writing is sensual and transports the reader to another time and place.  After the 1940's and the end of the Latin music heyday, the book becomes less interesting as Cesar has to make the best of his life after his reason for performing and living large disappears.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Hello, Transcriber by Hannah Morrissey


Hazel Greenwood is not in a good place in her life.  She is stuck in Black Harbor, Wisconsin, a dark and dingy city.  She is in a loveless marriage to Tommy, who spends all his time hunting and fishing and drinking with the occupants of the other side of their duplex.  Hazel had thought by now she'd be an author but that didn't work out either.

But she can type and gets a job as a police transcriber, working overnights in the deserted police station.  She is good at her job and starts to take interest in the cases she writes up and the detectives that solve them.  One in particular, Nick Case, catches her interest and he seems interested in her as well.  

Nick is working several deaths.  The first is a nine year old boy who overdosed on drugs and was disposed of in a dumpster.  He suspects a drug dealer nicknamed The Candy Man and it turns out that Hannah's neighbor, Hank, was the one who put the child in the dumpster although he insists The Candy Man made him do it and he refuses to identify him.  Then there is another overdose and then the death of Nick's best informant, a woman he is rumored to be having an affair with.  As the deaths pile up and Hannah gets more entangled in the case and in Nick's company, she begins to believe she can solve the case and write a novel that will take her away from this life she hates.

This is a debut novel for Hannah Morrissey.  She lives in Wisconsin and was an actual transcriber which lends her work authenticity.  The pacing in this novel is spot on and there are twists and turns that keep the reader guessing.  Hazel makes every mistake a woman in love can make and it almost costs her the life she wasn't sure she wanted.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, September 18, 2023

The Story Of Lucy Gault by William Trevor


The time is the 1920's and the Gault family is living on their family estate, Lehardane, in Ireland.  The Gaults have one child, Lucy, who is nine.  She has grown up running on the land, visiting the sea which abuts the estate and exploring the forest and fields.  But Ireland is roiled with trouble and estates are being burnt as Irish rebels try to free themselves of English rule. 

One night, Captain Gault sees three men creeping towards the house.  He shoots and wounds one, but is then horrified to see that these are only teenage boys.  There are tins of gasoline so he has stopped their proposed crime but he and his English wife are sure that this will bring more retribution.  They decide that they must leave the estate and move to England.

Lucy is appalled at the thought of leaving all she knows and loves.  Several days before the proposed date of leaving she packs a bag and runs away.  She only plans to go to the home of a former servant, thinking that when she is returned her parents will surely change their decision to leave if it means that much to her.  But she trips and falls, injuring herself, and cannot make it either to the servant's house or back home.  This sets up a cascade of miscommunication that sears the lives of all involved for the rest of their existence.

William Trevor wrote many novels, four of which were nominated for the Booker Prize, this being one.  The writing is gorgeous, transporting the reader to another time and place.  It portrays sadness and regret as few authors can master and leaves the reader melancholy.  Love is everything and people will do whatever they think will bring love to their lives.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

The Restraint Of Beasts by Magnus Mills


An Englishman is given a promotion to supervisor at a fencing company.  He is excited until he is told that his crew would exist of Tam and Richie.  They were known throughout the company as the slackest workers, the ones who could easily turn a two hour job into a day's work.  But there's a big job in England and Donald, the boss, doesn't trust the two to go by themselves.

Towing a caravan, the three set off.  The foreman is well aware of his crew's work habits, having to accompany them to redo a local job in Scotland before they leave.  Once they get to the job site, he has to find ways to get them up in the morning, make them eat, then keep them working as they expect to take a break to smoke every few minutes.  At night, they expect to go to a pub where they borrow money from the foreman and get totally drunk.  In the caravan, they don't clean anything, just scraping food off the dirty plates and pans they haven't cleaned whenever they need to cook something else.

But overall, they are good at their jobs when they can be corralled.  Except, of course, for the 'accidents' that seem to leave bodies behind them wherever they go.  

Magnus Mills was a bus driver who became an author.  This novel, his first, was nominated for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Prize.  He wrote several other novels and some short story anthologies.  His concentration was on the working class and their foibles, told with humor and gritty detail.  Authority is to be avoided when possible and ignored when not in sight.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Something To Hide by Elizabeth George


An English policewoman has been killed.  She worked in a unit that fought the crime of female genital mutilation or FGM which had become an issue with the large number of immigrants from cultures that still practiced it on their daughters.  Her secret, which very few knew until her death, was that she herself had been a victim of this practice.

There are plenty of suspects.  The policewoman had just managed to close down a clinic where FGM was performed.  She was having an affair with her boss so both he and his wife had motives.  Her ex-husband was still in love with her and wanted her back although she was resisting his advances.  Her sister was in an affair with her ex-husband, willing to soothe his wounded feelings.  

Then there is a Nigerian family through whose eyes we see the reasons why FGM has remained an issue and how it tears apart families.  There is a young girl, Simi, whose parents both are planning to have the operation performed on her.  Simi's big brother, Tani, is determined that this will never happen to his little sister and is willing to stand up to his parents to make sure that doesn't happen.

All the main characters are in this novel.  DCI Lynley heads up a team investigating the murders with Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata assisting.  Deborah and Simon, Lynley's best friends,  hide the young girl in their home and Deborah is working with a group that shelters the young girls slated for this operation.  

This is the twenty-first book in this series.  Fans of George will enjoy this one with its intensive research into this issue and the twists and turns that emerge as the story unfolds.  Some may question whether focusing on an issue unique to specific cultures is wise, but George has chosen to do so and to highlight all sides of the problem.  This book is recommended for mystery fans.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Notes On A Scandal by Zoe Heller


When pottery teacher Sheba Hart joins the teaching staff in a London school, the established teaching staff are agog.  Sheba is lovely and dresses in floating layers, not the staid costumes of her peers.  There is competition for her friendship but Barbara Covett, an older teacher who has been there for much of her career, refuses to be as open as the others.  

Barbara slowly starts a friendship with Sheba and soon manages to push out the other rivals for Sheba's attention.  Barbara is sure that she and Sheba are soulmates so it is a shock when she learns that Sheba is having an affair with one of her fifteen year old students and furthermore, that she thinks that it is a love story and a love that will endure.

When the affair becomes public, as it must, only Barbara remains at Sheba's side.   Her husband asks her to leave the house and her only access to her daughter and son is at his pleasure for a few hours weekly.  Her job is gone and the papers are full of this delicious scandal.  Barbara starts taking care of Sheba, cooking and cleaning and making sure Sheba gets up and takes care of herself.  But has Sheba traded one relationship prison for another?

Zoe Heller comes from a writing family, with her brother, father and grandfather all being writers as well.  This novel was nominated for a Booker Prize and was made into a movie.  It explores the dark side of female friendships and how a misfortune for one party can establish an unhealthy dependence on the other.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead


In this Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner, Colson Whitehead has written a story that makes the reader feel the horrors of slavery.  Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia.  The owner is cruel and when he dies and his even crueler brother takes over, Cora agrees to run away with another slave.  He has a connection with the underground railroad and they are soon out of Georgia.

Their first stop is South Carolina where they decide to stay as it seems as if former slaves are treated well there.  They are given jobs and dorms in which to live.  There is plenty of food.  But it turns out that there is an ulterior motive behind the kindness and Cora moves on.  Her next stop is North Carolina where there is no expectation of kindness.  Public lynchings are town entertainment and she spends months hidden in the attic of a former underground railroad participant.  But the slave hunters come to search and Cora is captured and on her way back to the plantation where she expects a hideous, torture-filled death.

But fate intervenes and Cora is once more on the road.  She ends up in Indiana where there is a large farm that offers shelter to runaway slaves as long as they can contribute.  She settles into a life there where slavery is not legal and even finds love.  But dreams don't always come true.

Colson Whitehead has become the voice of the racial sins experienced by African Americans.  This book was the winner of numerous awards and another of his novels, The Nickel Boys, also won the Pulitzer.  He uses an actual railroad in this book, a figurative device that shows just as the train was destined to overtake horse-drawn vehicles, slavery was destined to eventually be stamped out.  Unfortunately, prejudice cannot be outlawed and it remains with us even today.  This book is recommended to readers of literary, historical and diverse voices fiction.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale


They meet at the Paris School Of Ballet as young girls.  Delphine is the 'nice' one, a girl whose mother was a ballet star.  Margaux is her best friend and they are the two best dancers.  Lindsay is an American and comes when she is twelve.  She quickly becomes friends with the others and they become a trio for life.  Only other dancers can understand their lives; the daily hours of practice, the quest for perfection, the competition to rise in the field they have chosen.

The story picks back up when the trio is thirty-six, almost at the end of a dancer's career.  Delphine is just returning to Paris after thirteen years in St. Petersburg.  She followed a man there and became a choreographer.  When she broke away from him, she returned to the Paris Ballet and is working to establish herself in her career.  Margaux has come out as gay, is married and is a secret alcoholic.  Lindsay married a journalist and is still fighting to make her mark.  She dances fearlessly but has never been popular with those in power at the Ballet.  

The friendship of the three women picks back up but has to adjust.  They realize that a grown friendship has to be different than that of girls.  In their case, each is struggling to come to terms with what comes next in their lives and fighting to throw off the expectations of men.  They have come to see that their live have been dominated by men and what they want, what they find appealing, what they are willing to let women have.  Can their friendship adjust to a more mature footing?

Rachel Kapelke-Dale grew up in the world of intensive ballet training so she knows the inside story of what these women go through to become the best in the world at what they do.  But more importantly than one field of endeavor, the book explores the world of female friendships and how they change as we grow and how the best of them sustain those involved.  She also talks about how women's dreams and goals are often constrained by the men around them and the struggle to live free of others' expectations.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Sunday, September 10, 2023

In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut


In this short novel, Damon Galgut talks of travel and those we meet along the way.  It is split into three stories.  In the first, he and a man he met by chance on another trip agree to go hiking together for several months in the mountains of Middle Europe.  As they hike they realize they didn't know each other well enough to undertake such a journey and there are power struggles.  In the second, he goes to Africa and meets up with a trio of travelers, two men and a woman.  He falls in with them but comes to despise them for their treatment of the poor people they encounter and the servants that help them.  In the last, he goes to India and takes a friend who has been having mental issues.  He thinks it will do her good to get away in a relaxing place away from the stresses of her normal life but he doesn't know that she is much sicker than he knew and that her main goal in life is to end it.

Damon Galgut is a South African author.  He has been nominated for the Booker Prize three times and his novel The Promise won the award in 2021.  His works tend to be short and focus on the relationship between people and the power struggles that most relationships turn into.  He is a traveler as these stories reflect and his work leaves the reader thinking about the emotions he relates.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

The Italian Party by Christina Lynch


Michael and Scottie have just arrived in Siena, Italy.  It is the 1950's, eleven years after the war.  The pair are newlyweds and both have big secrets.  Michael is there to open a Ford dealership in tractors, but the real reason he is there is that he is working for the CIA.  Scottie, not really the young innocent she seems, is secretly pregnant with another man's baby and hoping to fool Michael into thinking it is his.

The two start their marriage and start to know each other a bit.  Besides working for the CIA, Michael is also living a lie as he is gay but cannot let anyone know as he would lose his job and face disdain from society.  Scottie, who needs affection, soon finds it in the men around her.  Michael has been told his job is to insure the Communists don't win the mayoral election so that he can save Italy, and the world, from extinction.  That puts pressure on him and he has little time for Scottie.  He hires a young teenager to accompany Scottie during the days and teach her Italian.  All is moving along when Robertino disappears.  As Scottie tries to find him, she meets police and noblemen, aristocratic expatriates and many people of the town.  Did he run away?  Has he been killed for the secrets he knows? 

This novel is an interesting one.  It delves into Italian society after World War II but it also exposes the dangers of secrets and how a relationship can only be founded on honesty.  As the couple's secrets emerge, they start to grow closer.  Scottie is a joy and through her, Michael begins to shed some of his reclusiveness and secrecy.  This book is recommended for readers of literary and historical fiction.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

The Suspicions Of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale


In 1860 a horrible crime occurs in England.  During the night, a three year old boy, Saville Kent, is kidnapped, his throat cut and stuffed down an outside privy.  He lived with his parents, a sister and three stepsisters and a stepbrother, along with several servants.  Mr. Kent had married the governess of his first family when his first wife died and they had two children plus the second wife was pregnant again.  All of England was shocked.  Who would kill a small boy in such a horrific fashion?

It was the infancy of detection and there were only eight detectives in London and none elsewhere.  The best of these eight was Jonathan Whicher and he was sent to the countyside in order to solve the crime.  He soon determined that the crime had to be committed by someone who lived in the house but who would do such a thng?

As the days went by, Whicher's suspicions settled on fifteen year old Constance Kent.  She had a missing nightgown and several of her friends reported that she thought her stepmother treated the new family better than the first.  But could she have done this without detection?  Did she have help?

Kate Summerscale has focused her career on recreating Victorian crimes.  This murder and the detective that worked the case were used as examples in the writing of Charles Dickens and William Wilkie Collins.  The book is extensively researched and the reader learns about Victorian society, the rise of the detective and the lives of all involved.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and true crime.

Monday, September 4, 2023

The Whereabouts Of Eneas McNulty by Sebastian Barry


Eneas McNulty is born in Sligo, Ireland.  He is the eldest of four children, two other sons and a daughter.  As he grows up, he has a best friend, Jonno.  But life is not always fair.  When Eneas grows up, there are no jobs to be had.  He joins the police in a neighboring town but that puts him at odds with the men fighting for Ireland's freedom and they put him on their blacklist.

To avoid death, Eneas must leave his childhood home, his family and his love, Viv.  He wanders for the rest of his life, as each time he comes home he finds that the blacklist is still in force and the men who hate him still plan to kill him.  He fights in World War II, sails on ships, spends several years in Africa where he meets his best friend and finally ends up back in England where he runs a hotel for other old sailors and soldiers.  He never marries, never has a family of his own for the hate that is endemic to Ireland will never let him settle. 

Barry is considered one of the premier Irish novelists and served as Laureate For Irish Fiction for several years.  His books have been nominated five times for the Booker Prize.  This novel is the start of a trilogy about the McNulty family.  Barry is known for his poetic writing with imagery that takes the reader immediately to the places he writes about.  It explores the chaos of the Irish Rebellion and the start of the Troubles where friend is pitted against friend and brother against brother.   Once one is designated as a traitor their life in Ireland was over.  It also outlines the need for family or friends and how an individual deprived of them is the saddest person ever.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins


Lux has been drifting through life.  She had been in college but left when her mother got sick and then spent her time nursing her through her end.  Now she is waitressing and trying to decide what to do next when Nico walks in.  He is gorgeous and seems to want to be with her.  After a few weeks together, Nico suggests that they get on his ship and sail to Hawaii.  Months later, Lux is in another dead end job while Nico spends his time at the marina.  That changes when two girls, Brittany and Emma, offer him $50,000 to take them to a deserted island.

Meroe Island is gorgeous but has a haunted reputation.  Over the years, those stranded there have not survived or survived by means they aren't willing to discuss later.  It served as a military airstrip during the war and that occasionally brings travelers to visit but they don't stay long.  But the four arrive and are entranced with the views and the sheltered cove they find.

The only fly in the ointment is that another ship is there, but Jake and Elisa are Australians who are great mates, willing to share their food and drink and soon the six of them are all friends, spending their days sunning and swimming and their nights partying.  But as the days go by, secrets start to emerge and tensions start to bubble up.  Then the first person goes missing, then another....

This is my first Rachel Hawkins novel and she is a great suspense writer.  Each character has their own backstory and there is also an underlying class theme going on.  There are secrets and betrayals and realliances until the end story is played out.  This book is recommended for readers of psychological thrillers.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Disordered Minds by Minette Walters


Dr. Jonathan Hughes has written a book about false confessions and uses several cases to illustrate his point.  One is the case of Howard Stamp, a young man, shunned because of his disability, a harelip and stuttering.  When his grandmother is found slashed to death in her house, Stamp is quickly arrested and after hours of interrogation, he confesses.  He later disavows his confession but is found guilty and sent to prison where he commits suicide.

Jonathan is contacted after the book's publication by many people, but he is intrigued by one, a local council woman named George.  He agrees to meet her in a pub and after a bad start, they agree to look into the case.  A few days before the murder, a local girl, thirteen, had gone missing just a few streets away from the murder scene. There was talk that the girl had been gang raped shortly before her disappearance. She has never been found although thirty years has gone by.   Could the two cases be connected?

The two work on the cases along with the help of Jonathan's agent.  They realize that the owner of the pub where they met, a man who had befriended George, was living in the same neighborhood as all the crimes.  Was he involved?  One of his ex-wives looked like the missing girl and went by her nickname.  What was her part in all this?

Minette Walters was known for her eerie mystery novels when she started out, although lately she has been concentrating on historical fiction.  Whenever I find one of her mysteries I haven't read, it is like a present as her novels are intriguing and different from that of others.  In this one, the two cases which had always been treated as separate crimes, turn out to be twisted together.  It also illustrates the way that crimes against women are often not taken seriously, especially when the victims are teenage girls who are known to not be the best of witnesses.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, September 1, 2023

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry


Winona Cole is a Lakota child, brought from the killing fields of the West to Tennessee where her adoptive fathers, John Cole and Thomas McNulty, have settled on the farm of one of their friends.  She is raised as any other girl would be, except that she is given an education and except that she is raised with the knowledge that her family was massacred and that in American society she is seen as less than human, a little better than an animal.

But that doesn't stop the men of the nearby town from desiring her.  A clerk in the general store courts her and soon declares her as his fiancée.  That doesn't sit well in the Tennessee a decade after the war.  Those who would have been rebels have gained the governor's mansion and most of the local offices and prejudice and night riding are back in style.  

When Winona comes home bloodied and raped from a trip into town, her fathers want to take off immediately and kill the man who did it.  Winona has a blackness in her mind and can't remember who it was or even exactly what happened.  But suspicion falls on her former fiancée and when he is killed the law comes for Winona.  Will she end up on the hangman's platform?

This is the second book in Sebastian Barry's Days Without End series.  Fans of the author, of whom I claim membership with, will recognize the McNulty name from his series about the Irish troubles.  Barry has been nominated for the Booker three times, the most recently this year, and is known as one of the premiere Irish writers of our time.  Readers will sympathize with Winona and recognize John and Thomas from the earlier book and from history of those times.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.