Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Bewilderment by Richard Powers


Theo Byrne isn't sure he's doing things right.  He is an astrophysicist and spends his life searching for signs of life in the universe.  But his son, Robin, is struggling.  Robin is nine and different from other kids.  He feels too much and has trouble controlling his emotions.  He is prone to temper tantrums that are getting more violent and has recently been hurting other students at school.  Theo's wife was killed in a car accident and he just isn't sure he knows what to do to help Robin.  The only time that Robin is at rest and engaged is when he is out in nature so Theo takes him camping and hiking when he can.

Then possible help arrives.  Another scientist at the university tells Theo about research he is doing.  Patients are given MRIs in which they are exposed to the MRI brain scans of people who are calm or happy or just generally emotionally stable.  After exposure, some have become more like the people whose images they have imprinted on.  Perhaps that would help Robin.

Theo is hesitant but after Robin breaks a child's nose at school, he is desperate to try anything.  Robin goes to the therapy and soon appears to be calmer.  He continues to improve until after a while, he seems like a different child.  He is happy and engaged and outgoing with other people.  He is the program's success story and soon word starts to leak out about him.

First, scientists are interested then the scientific journals and television programs.  Once the mass media gets involved, Robin becomes the lynchpin of the program and his and Theo's privacy is gone.  Theo is thankful for the improvement but still feels that Robin is too worried about the earth and climate change and the destruction of species.  His fears are realized when the improvements start to wane and Robin is left even more upset than before.

Richard Powers is known for his interest in science and how humans are changing the world.  He has written several books about the medical frontiers that humans are exploring and how these interventions are playing out in real life.  His work has been recognized with one book winning the Booker Prize and this one was nominated for another Booker and longlisted for the National Book Award.  Readers will agonize with Theo about the best thing to do for Robin whose emotions seem too raw to ever successfully live in this world.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The Road To Roswell by Connie Willis


Francie never thought she would end up in Roswell, New Mexico, during the UFO convention week.  But her college roommate is about to make a grievous mistake and marry a true UFO believer and Francie has agreed to be the maid of honor although she really means to go and talk her friend out of getting married.  

Francie doesn't believe anything about aliens and spaceships and invasions.  That is, until she is abducted by an alien who looks like a tumbleweed and made to drive him somewhere.  Where is unclear as they can't communicate but he has one tentacle around her wrist and another pointing which way to go.  

Before it all ends, Francie has picked up a haphazard crew to help.  That includes Wade, a hitchhiker who is a conman, off to the convention to sell antiabduction insurance policies, Lyle a rabid believer, Joseph who gave up his job and bought the biggest RV he could find to fulfill his dream of visiting the West and all the locations in the hundreds of Western movies he owns and Eula Mae who is a card counter and slot machine expert while looking like a little old lady.  

Francie and Wade figure out how to communicate with Indy, which is their name for the alien.  He needs to go help a friend of his and they are willing to take him.  But the FBI,  the sheriff and all the state police are soon looking for them as they careen around the West, visit Las Vegas and finally find Indy's friend.  Where will it all end?

Connie Willis is a celebrated science fiction writer.  She has won ten Hugo awards and six Nebula awards and is a grand master of science fiction writing.  This book combines adventure, romance and a peek into the world of alien believers and the reader will be entertained as well as educated.  It is recommended for science fiction readers.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

 In 2017, Hogarth Publishing asked a series of authors to rewrite Shakespeare's plays into modern retellings.  This book is one of that series and is Tracy Chevalier's retelling of Othello.

She sets this retelling in a private school in Washington, D.C.  The characters are all sixth graders who will be off to a new school next year and who are experimenting with love and with being the powerful students at their current school.  

Dee is the most popular girl and considered the prettiest.  She is a people pleaser and the teachers favor her since she can be relied on.  Her best friend is Mimi who suffers from migraines and is considered a bit strange.  Blanca is determined to break into their friendship and is the most interested in boys and sex, a loud, pushy girl.  

Casper is the most popular boy.  He is off and on with Blanca although many think he should be with Dee.  But Dee and Casper are just friends.  Ian is the schoolyard bully who delights in pushing around the others, stealing lunch money and dealing out blows.

Into this mix comes Osei.  He is a diplomat's son and this is his fourth school in six years.  He knows how to be the new boy and he knows that he needs an ally.  Dee steps forward and the two quickly form a friendship that soon turns into a romance.  Dee thinks Osei is fascinating, the only black person she has met, who has lived in many places and knows so many things she doesn't.  Being with him also gives her an avenue for rebellion and a way to break free of the good girl label she has come to resent.

Ian is outraged that Dee would choose Osei.  He is determined to break the two up and soon thinks of a way to come between them and make Osei question whether Dee is really who she seems to be or if this is just an elaborate joke on him.  As the day progresses, Osei goes from quiet and fascinating to sullen and violent as he tries to determine what is truth.  

Readers will be fascinated with this retelling of Othello.  Many know Tracy Chevalier for her historical novels, the most famous of which is Girl With A Pearl Earring.  This novel is a master author at her best, writing outside her normal field and telling a story that goes from romance to tragedy all within one day.  This novel is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, November 24, 2023

The Hanging Valley by Peter Robinson


A hiker's body is found in a small village in DCI Alan Banks territory.  It turns out to be the body of a local man, one who grew up just outside the village and who was living in Canada.  He was back on a visit and the gravesite was one of his favorite boyhood haunts.  Banks wonders if this death is connected to one five years ago of a private investigator who came to the valley for what purpose no one knows, or at least is saying.  Around that time, a local woman dating the most prominent citizen also disappeared.  What is going on in this little village?

The village is focused around two brothers who own the biggest house and the factory where most of the locals work.  Steven runs the factory and Nicolas does whatever he wants which is usually chasing the local women.  There is a pub where all the men gather each night and a bed and breakfast run by a couple who came to the village around five years ago.  He is desperate to be accepted by the locals and she is a woman who exudes sexual desire although she seems unaware of it and only wants to be left alone.  

Banks is making no progress and when the superintendent's nephew, who lives in Toronto where the victim had also been living, says he is going to a conference and his apartment can be used, decides to track down the story in Canada.  His investigation has also uncovered the fact that the missing woman has been sighted in Toronto and she may know something of the murders.  He goes and finds some pieces that send him to Oxford on his return where the story seems to have started.  Will Banks find the answers?

This is the fourth book in the Peter Robinson series.  Banks solves his cases by thinking and interviewing with very little forensic work used.  He is adept at working out what happened and is tenacious and won't let go until he solves everything to his satisfaction.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

French Braid by Anne Tyler


This is a novel about the Garrett family in the 1950's until the present.  Mercy is an artist, married to Robin who lives for tools and projects.  They have three children.  Alice is the oldest and does a lot of the cooking and child care when Mercy is caught up in a project.  Lily is the middle child, cute and always ready to meet another guy.  David is the youngest by quite a bit.  

When the children grow up and leave home, so does Mercy.  She never comes out and tells Robin she is leaving but rents a garage apartment to use as a studio and starts sleeping there more and more.  Alice has married a man as steady as she is.  Lily had a quick first marriage and then met and married a man who the family likes.  David doesn't marry for years and when he does it is to a woman a decade older than him with a child.  

Anne Tyler is known for her writing about family relationships.  Most of her books are centered around Baltimore where she also lives and this one is part of that tradition.  The Garretts learn how to accept family members that are different than what they think is 'normal' and to support each other regardless of choices.  Tyler's novels have won a Pulitzer Prize and been nominated multiple times for both the Booker and the Women's Prize for Fiction.  She is a natural treasure and readers will enjoy her comforting books.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge


It happens every year.  Hordes of boys, 16, 17 or 18 fill the streets because this is the night that the October Boy makes his run for the church.  He is a scarecrow with a pumpkin head come to life, a creature that grows in the cornfield.  Tonight he runs through the streets with a machete and the boy that manages to kill him before he makes the church is a hero, his family rewarded with free food and electricity and a new car.  But it is a deadly game.  Each year, some of the boys will never go home as the October Boy takes his victims before he is, in turn, killed.

This year's October Boy is determined to break the cycle.  One of the boys in the town is also determined to break out, to leave town with his sister and a girl he rescued tonight from the streets.  Her parents were killed by the men who organize the October Boy run and she's willing to go anywhere to get away.  But who will win this year, the boy who sees through the game or the October Boy?

This novel won a Bram Stoker award for horror writing.  It has also been made into a movie.  I listened to this book and the narrator did an excellent job.  His deep voice and slow narration created tension and suspense and built them up to an exciting climax.  Readers will be cheering for the October Boy when they learn the secrets behind the game and for Pete, the boy who is determined to leave the town forever.  This book is recommended for horror readers.

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley


The Loney is a horror novel that explores the relationship between two teenage brothers.  Hanny, the elder brother, has been born mute and is considered intellectually challenged by many.  His younger brother, nicknamed Tonto, is the only person who can interpret what Hanny is communicating and serves as his protector and guardian.  The boys' parents, especially their mother, is determined that Hanny can be cured by the miracle of God and spends their breaks desperately visiting Catholic shrines.

This break the family along with their priest and several other parishioners has come to the Loney.  It is a desolate coastline where there is a shrine and a well with water that is rumored to be healing.  The group has come here several times but this time it seems unwelcoming.  They somehow get on the wrong side of several local inhabitants who seem threatening at times.  There are things hidden in the forest that are horrific.  There is a family living in a house cut off at high tide; the daughter is a teenager like the boys but confined to a wheelchair and hugely pregnant.  Hanny mistakes a wave from her as love and tries to go there constantly.  Will the trip be successful?

This novel won the Costa Award for best first novel.  It is not a gory horror tale but one that slowly builds suspense and maintains a constant sense of terror, low level at first but steadily building and exploding at the end of the story.  The reader isn't sure how Hanny becomes cured but there is both the drinking of the water and some arcane ritual at the girl's house which the reader doesn't witness which rackets up the suspense.  The story is told as a man looks back at that summer and what he and his brother went through and so much of the story is unclear as he never understood everything going on around him.  This book is recommended for horror readers and those who are interested in debut novels.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Rabbit Hunter by Lars Kepler


The Swedish Foreign Minister is killed in his home.   The story of the only witness doesn't make sense so the police and national security know that they need the help of one man.  Joona Linna, who had been one of the best police detectives around, is currently in prison as the result of a case that went tragically wrong.  But this case is critical and he is released to work on it.

More murders occur.  As Joona tries to tie the victims together, he realizes that they all knew each other as young men when they all attended the same private boarding school.  Something happened there that is creating revenge thirty years later.  Can Joona and his team discover what it was and save the rest of the victims already slatted for murder?

This is the sixth book in this series.  Lars Kepler is the pen name of a husband and wife team and this series has sold millions internationally.  The tension starts in the first chapter and never stops.  I had to occasionally put the book down and walk around a few minutes before I could go on.  I plan to go back and start at the first book in the series and read all the rest of the currently nine books in this Swedish series that is the best of Nordic Noir.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg


Patrik Hedstrom, a local Swedish detective, has just received news that no policeman wants to hear.  A body has been found and it is that of a six year old girl.  Patrik, who has just had a baby girl with his girlfriend, is affected more than usual by the news and especially after he views the body and sees that it is the daughter of his girlfriend's best friend.  

There are plenty of people to look at.  The parents, a local doctor and his wife, are in a strained marriage and the father doesn't seem to have an alibi.  The maternal grandmother with whom the family lives is caught up in a years long feud with her next door neighbor.  Would that neighbor kill a child to get back at her?  She has reported the neighbor's son to the police several times.  That son, grown, lives in a cottage on his parent's land and has Asperberger's which makes him suspicious to those who don't understand the syndrome.  The doctor's is estranged from his parents and his father is especially furious with him and caught up in religion.  Could there be something there?  And of course, there is always the possibility of a stranger murder.  Can Patrik solve the case?

This is the third novel in the Patrik Hedstrom series.  It is interesting to see how police procedure differs in another country.  Lackberg gives a lot of backstory to each character and the reader can see how family situations affect other parts of characters' lives.  It is hard to read about a young child's murder but it is treated in a way that allows the reader to do so.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, November 17, 2023

The Night Is Deep by Joe Hart


Liam Dempsey drops everything when his friend, Owen, calls and says he needs Liam's help.  Owen's wife, Valerie, has been abducted.  Is this a straightforward kidnapping as Owen is wealthy?  Or is the reason darker?  Years ago Valerie's sister died a tragic death.  It was determined to be suicide but the family never believed that; they think she was murdered.  Is this crime linked to that one?

Liam and Owen became friends in police academy.  Owen had thought he would become a policeman but later changed his mind and moved back to his hometown where he became a lawyer who is now running for mayor.  Liam is not a policeman anymore either but in his case it's the result of a case that went wrong and caused his dismissal.  But he is still the best detective Owen has ever met and he wants Liam there.

The police working the case are not thrilled to have Liam show up but Owen insists on him being included.  As Liam works with them and helps turn up leads, they become resigned to his help.  Other murders start to occur and each seems to be linked to that of Valerie's sister.  Can they find her before she is killed?

Joe Hart is a prolific thriller writer.  This is the second Liam Dempsey novel but the series seems to stop here.  Liam is a sympathetic character with a girlfriend back home and a newly adopted son from the first novel.  He sees through the plots and secrets of the kidnappers and finds clues that the police on the case miss.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Gallows View by Peter Robinson


Chief Inspector Alan Banks has moved from London to a small village, Eastdale, in Yorkshire.  He had anticipated that there would be less violence and an easier job but that hasn't proved true necessarily.  Currently, he is faced with finding a Peeping Tom before he escalates to more violent sexual crimes, a pair of thieves who are breaking into elderly women's homes to rob them and are assaulting them, and finally, a murder of another elderly woman.  

Alan is offered the help of a police psychologist to assist in the Peeping Tom case.  This is Jenny Fuller, who in addition to being intelligent and professional is gorgeous and there is a spark between the two.  That causes tension in Alan's marriage and with his wife, Sandra.  He also has two children. 

This is the first of twenty-eight Alan Banks novels.  Alan is an interesting character, mad for opera and intensely moral.  He has moved his family to a small village because he believes that it will be a better environment for the children to grow up in.  This is a police procedural and the violence is not dwelt on in a gory way nor is the sex there for sex's sake.  The emphasis is on solving the case and making the village safer.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Hyde by Daniel Levine


In this novel, the reader gets to hear the famous Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde story told from the viewpoint of Hyde.  Dr. Jekyll has returned to London after a scandal in France that resulted in the death of a patient with three personalities that Jekyll was treating.  He experiments on himself to see if he can determine what went wrong and why some have other, darker personalities lurking.  In their case, the father had sexually abused them as a child and that was when Hyde first appeared.

Now Jekyll injects himself whenever he wants to let Hyde loose.  He sets up a bank account for him and changes his will so that if he disappears everything goes to Hyde in case he can't return to the body.  Hyde rents a house and tries to live as a normal man.  He falls in love and brings his lover and her little sister to his house.

But he doesn't always remember what happens when he prowls at night.  Is he responsible for the actions that seem to occur then?  Men murdered, girls gone missing?  He sends the girls at his house away so that he can never hurt them.  Things start to spiral out of control and someone may be setting him up as he is getting cryptic messages and finding things in his rooms.

Readers will find this an interesting take on the original tale.  It fills in some of the gaps that was in the first story and gives background on how Hyde may have developed as a protector for Jekyll as a helpless child.  This was Levine's debut novel and it garnered praise as one of the best thrillers of the year.  It is recommended for horror and suspense readers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Generosity by Richard Powers


What if there was a happiness gene?  Russell Stone is an adjunct professor at a Chicago university, teaching creative writing to a group of night students.  One student in particular, Thassa Amzwar, catches his attention.  An immigrant from a war-torn country, her family decimated by violence leaving her the only survivor, she is the most content person Russell has ever met.  The entire class focuses around her and she draws attention wherever she goes.

She is seeing a counselor, Candace.  Candace thinks she might have a rare condition that leaves the individual happy and refers her.  Soon a nanotechnologist working on mapping genes to find cures for diseases hears of Thassa and tests her extensively, claiming to have found the genes in her makeup that correlate with happiness.  

Now everyone wants to know this woman and see if they can also find a way to claim some of her happiness.  She is hounded by strangers, writing and calling, showing up at her dorm just wanting some of her attention, hoping that she will provide answers to their lives.  Russell is fired for his role in making Thassa vulnerable and Candace is warned that she faces the same fate if she doesn't separate herself from Thassa.  Russell and Candace who have become a couple, reluctantly back off from Thassa, leaving her on her own to face her new fame.

This book is prescient.  It was written in 2009 but now many of the things Powers writes of are here.  Gene mapping, using nanotechnology to cure diseases such as sickle cell and the public clamoring for more and more successes are now in the news everyday with scientists winning the Nobel Prize for their work in the field.  Powers questions whether such gene manipulation is moral or is it more immoral to not use the knowledge available to ease suffering when available.  His projections of the future form the base of his writing which often uses scientific work to predict the future and explore moral questions that weren't issues a few decades ago.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Monday, November 13, 2023

The Mimicking Of Known Successes by Malka Older


A man has gone missing at a remote station on Jupiter where the human race has landed after ruining Earth for inhabitation.  Did he step off into space or was he pushed?  Investigator Mossa has been sent to find out what happened.

Mossa enlists the help of her former girlfriend, Pleiti.  Pleiti has stayed at the university where the two met, now as a researcher into Earth's former ecosystems in the hope that one day humans can recreate the Earth as it was and return.  There is still tension over their breakup but Pleiti agrees to help and soon is caught up in Mossa's work.

Someone doesn't want the answers found.  Mossa is attacked at the planet's only zoo by a carnivore who has been set loose and it's obvious some of the people they are talking to are lying to them or at least not telling the entire truth.  Can the two women find out what happened?

This is the first in Older's science fiction series.  The two women are very different yet they have a strong attraction to each other and can almost read each other's minds.  Humans have made a mess of things on Earth and are desperately trying to find a way to get back and reestablish life as it was.  The book is reminiscent of Victorian mysteries and readers won't quickly figure out the mystery.  This book is recommended for both science fiction and mystery readers.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Four Seasons In Rome by Anthony Doerr


The Rome Prize is one of the most desired in literature.  It comes with a stipend and a year in Rome.  Anthony Doerr found out that he was the recipient of the Rome Prize the day he and his wife welcomed twin boys into their family.  

Off they went, not knowing Italian and with two twins in tow.  This is a memoir by Doerr of that year.  At first, they were like most new parents times two, little to no sleep, wondering how they would handle their babies.  But little by little, they got into the swing of being parents and found a nanny to help so that they could explore a bit.  They took long walks with the boys in their stroller and found the Italian people entranced by babies.  

Much went on that year.  The current Pope died and a new one was elected.  The funeral for the Pope was the largest in the world with people lining up for over twenty-four hours to file past the body and celebrities and world leaders coming from everywhere to pay respect.  Then there were the monuments and churches, the art and everything that Rome has to offer.  The boys learned to crawl and then to walk.  They all survived the burning hot Roman summer and learned enough Italian to get around and converse in stores and restaurants.  This is a charming book that gives the reader an insight into Rome and new parenthood and is recommended for memoir readers.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Between The World And Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates


This book is written by Coates to his son, to explain where he has come from and how being black will affect his life in the world.  His main point is that black people know that others can have sovereign over their bodies.  The United States economy was built on the backs of black people who were enslaved with all the horrors of that institution.  Even now, black people know that in a confrontation, they will be assigned the blame and if that confrontation is with the police, it can lead to imprisonment or death.

Coates starts with his childhood and how he was shocked by a young friend who casually pulled a gun as a group of kids was standing outside a store.  He grew up loving to read but was not a fan of school as such.  He chose to go to Howard University and there he found the acceptance and network that he had been looking for.  It was where he had his first loves and as a young man, his son was born, changing him forever.  Another life-changing event was a young man in his circle was followed across three counties by the police and eventually shot to death, reinforcing Coates' knowledge that the world was not safe for black people.  

This book was a National Book Award winner and a Pulitzer Prize finalist.  Readers who are white will be shocked to read the everyday world of a black man, even one as accomplished as Coates.  They hopefully will start to see why there is mistrust between the races and how society and wealth were built by those who often received none of its benefits.  Those who are parents will be sobered by a look into the scary world of those who know they cannot protect their children from the prejudice of society.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers and those hoping to understand the gap between races.    

Friday, November 10, 2023

Observations By Gaslight by Lyndsay Faye


This is an anthology of stories that happen in the world of Sherlock Holmes.  But these are not stories told by Dr. Watson.  Instead, they are stories from the people surrounding Holmes.  Stories are told from the point of view of Irene Adler, Inspector Lestrade, one of the Baker Street Irregulars now grown and successful, another Scotland Yard detective working on his first case and Mrs. Hudson.  

We get to see Sherlock Holmes from the outside from those whose lives intersect with his but who aren't writing from the viewpoint of his best friends.  While the cases are interesting what is more interesting is seeing Holmes from these alternate views.  He is seen as a remote character but one who has a hidden reservoir of kindness and willingness to help others.  In particular, his relationship with Mrs. Hudson and with Dr. Watson seen by others is interesting.  

Lyndsay Faye is known for her work in this world.  She has written several novels that intersect with the Victorian world of Holmes and her writing is a worthy continuation of the narratives of Watson.  My favorite story was the one of the young detective asked to solve the murder of a young girl as his first case and how the various characters came together to create a successful answer to the case.  I listened to this anthology and the two narrators both did an excellent job.  This book is recommended for mystery readers and those fascinated by Sherlock Holmes. 

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Pilgrim by Timothy Findley


The year is 1912 and a new patient is admitted to a mental health residence in Zurich, Switzerland.  He is known only as Pilgrim and has been admitted due to repeated suicide attempts.  He is assigned to the institute's rising star, Dr. Carl Jung.  Pilgrim is mute for weeks but slowly Jung gets to know him, mainly through his journals.  Pilgrim believes that he cannot die and that he has lived many lives, as a model for Da Vinci whom he hates, and many others.

Jung is able to slowly gain Pilgrim's trust and talk with him.  But Jung is also undergoing issues.  He is not sure if his approach, so different from the other doctors, is appropriate.  He is also involved in an affair that leaves him estranged from his wife and children and that will continue until 1953.  

Readers will learn much about Carl Jung and the other historical figures that are used in the book.  They will also be introduced to the interesting individual known as Pilgrim who regards his time in the institute as imprisonment and who is determined to leave and live his life as he chooses if he can't put an end to it.  The world is about to undergo the changes of the first world war along with all the other changes in things such as psychiatric treatments that had stayed stable for decades.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Factfulness by Hans Rosling


In this book, Rosling who was a doctor and international health expert, gives the case that the world is much better off than many people think.  He also points out that most people think that things are much worse than is the fact in reality.  Some examples include: 80% of the world's population have some access to electricity, 80% of 1 year olds have been vaccinated, the majority of the world's population live in middle-income countries, life expectancy worldwide is age 70 up from age 30 several generations ago and the world population living in extreme poverty has decreased by more than half.  Yet when asked, most people give the wrong answers about these statistics and in fact, do worse than a random group of chimpanzees.  

Why do people think things are so much worse than they are?  Our attention tends to catch on negative news and most positive news never makes to our attention.  Journalists are expected to report interesting news and negative events such as riots and wars and natural disasters are more exciting than news that is positive.  Individuals are ignorant of the true facts and few are interested in researching various topics.  This leads to things like missing business opportunities and misappropriation of resources.  

Hans Rosling died shortly after this book was finished.  He worked with his son and daughter in law on this book and they continue his work.  It is an eye-opening story that more people should be aware of and I've ordered copies of this book to give others.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

In The Fold by Rachel Cusk


When Michael is invited to his university roommate's home, he is entranced.  Adam lives on a country estate, with land and animals.  When they arrive, two women are in the kitchen.  One is Adam's mom, who was the first wife.  The other is Vivian, the second wife.  But there seems to be no rivalry between the two and Adam's mom comes to the farm most days.  Adam has two siblings and then two stepsisters.  Along with five children, two wives, the patriarch, there are countless friends and artists roaming in and out.  Egypt, the estate's name, is known for huge parties that last through the night into the next day.  Michael is instantly entranced and sets this lifestyle in his mind as his dream of what adulthood should be.

But life is rarely like our dreams.  Sixteen years on, Michael and Adam have fallen out of touch.  Michael is living in Bath, in a house his in-laws own and have given to him and his wife Rebecca along with their toddler.  Michael is a lawyer but rather than making big money has chosen to work in a nonprofit while his wife runs her father's art galley.  The marriage is strained and Michael isn't sure if it will survive.  He contacts Adam and is asked to come to Egypt as Adam's father is in the hospital and it is lambing time.

Michael is sure that a week away will be good for him and Rebecca.  Off he goes with his son in tow as Rebecca doesn't like to be tied down with childcare.  But Egypt is much different seen through adult eyes.  Adam is living in a suburb with a stepdaughter he doesn't get along with, a baby and his wife.  It is located close to Egypt.  The farm is looking ratty and disheveled, and all the carefree children have grown up to adult lives and issues.  Adam's brother is still living on the farm, raising chickens and unable to live elsewhere due to his introverted nature.  His sister has moved to a commune while his stepsisters have married and have lots of kids.  As Adam and Michael spend the week lambing, Michael is there for the big revelations about the farm and who will inherit it next.

Rachel Cusk is known for her experimental fiction and social satire.  In this book, no one has the life they thought they would growing up and everyone must make adjustments to reality.  The whole idea of wealth and landed estates is satirized along with expectations of inheritance.  Each character has had to make adjustments in their marriages and their adult expectations and yet they soldier on, making a life for themselves and their families.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, November 6, 2023

A Child's Book Of True Crime by Chloe Hooper


Kate Byrne has just graduated as a teacher and has her first assignment in Tasmania.  She is living in her grandparent's cottage where she spent many happy summers as a child.  But Kate isn't a child anymore.  She has fallen into an affair with one of her student's father, her first experience of sex and it has her blind to the consequences of what may follow.  

Her lover's wife is a novelist and is working on a book about a famous murder case that happened in Tasmania.  In that case, a young girl had an affair with a veterinarian and was found murdered.  Was it her lover's wife who disappeared after the murder?  Or was it her lover who killed both his young love and his wife to start over fresh?  Kate isn't sure but becomes entranced with the case, even to the point of writing her own book about it, in her case a book meant for young children told by animals.

But Kate will soon learn that actions have consequences.  She starts to get threatening notes telling her that her secret is known.  The women she works with and the other parents seem to know what is going on and treat her scornfully.   Soon, she is being stalked at her cottage and her car is being vandalized?  Will Kate survive her affair?

Chloe Hooper's writing has won numerous awards, both in Australia where she was born and worldwide.  This novel was nominated for the Orange Prize, the former name of the Women's Prize for Fiction.  It outlines the rapture of a first sexual affair and the blindness to those around one while caught up in the new experience.  It also outlines the lengths that the scorned wife may attempt to rectify the situation from her viewpoint.  This book is recommended for literary and mystery readers.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout


A woman talks about a time in her life when she was hospitalized for over two months after an everyday operation went wrong.  She was married to a man named William and had two small daughters.  Her name was Lucy Barton and she was alone most of the time in the hospital.  Her husband had all he could do to handle the two girls by himself and keep working.  Finally, he called her mother and paid for her to come for a visit.

Lucy had left her family early when she was the only one in the family to go to college and had never returned.  Her family was desperately poor and Lucy and her siblings were teased and humiliated in school and elsewhere.  Their clothes were hand-me-downs and the entire family lived in an uncle's garage for many years.  

Lucy's mother comes and stays with her, talking about the town Lucy had left and all the people she had known.  She remains for a week or so and it is more attention from her than Lucy could ever remember having in her entire life.  Lucy remembers the good things about her childhood but occasionally, memories of the horrific things her parents did also rose to the surface.  Both good and bad had contributed to who Lucy was.

This book garnered a lot of praise.  It was nominated for both the Booker and Women's Prize for Fiction and was named one of the best books of the year by numerous media outlets.  The slow reveal of Lucy's childhood is enticing to the reader and the more they read, the more they learn about what Lucy's early years had been.  This is the first of four novels that focus on various stages of Lucy's life and that of her husband, William and is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

The Blame Game by Sandie Jones


Naomi came to England with her husband when his American visa ran out.  She is a psychologist and they are living on a large estate where Leon is managing events.  Leon is Naomi's only family.  Her father murdered her mother in one of his rages when she was a child and her sister was lost to her in a world of drugs.  She was glad to leave the States and start anew.

Naomi specializes in domestic abuse cases.  Leon says that she is overinvested in her patients but Naomi sees it as doing whatever she can.  She currently has two such cases.  Anna is deciding if she needs to leave her abusive husband.  Jacob is a more uncommon case.  He has been married and abused physically, emotionally and psychologically for years by his wife, Vanessa.  Naomi offers Jacob the use of a cottage she and Leon own which is over the line.  She also meets him one night at a local hotel to calm him down when he believes his abusive wife has found his new residence.  When Jacob goes missing, the police focus in on Naomi and believe that she has been having an affair with Jacob and is responsible for his disappearance.  

Sandie Jones is known for psychological suspense novels.  This one features a main character who might have been as well off being treated for her issues instead of treating others.  She crosses the professional line and as one might expect, it is a disaster for all concerned.  There are lots of twists and turns and the reader won't be sure until the end who is lying and who is telling the truth.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, November 3, 2023

Lions by Bonnie Nadzam


Lions, Colorado is dying.  Started over a century ago with high hopes, it never grew as other towns and cities did.  The land wasn't good for farming and industry or mining never got started.  Now it is a wreck of a town with only a handful of families still holding on.

The Walker family is one of these.  John Walker is a welder and could make much more money anywhere else as he is an acknowledged master.  His wife and son, Gordon make up the rest of the family.  Gordon is about to leave for college along with his longtime girlfriend, Leigh.  Leigh's mother runs the town cafe.  The two have spent years talking about getting out of Lions and making their lives in the wider world and its about to happen.

Then John Walker dies unexpectedly.  Gordon is torn between leaving with Leigh or staying behind to take care of his mother and the business.  There has always been a rumor that the Walker men are cursed to forever take care of a ghost who resides north of the town.  Is that keeping Gordon locked to Lions?

Readers will be haunted by this story.  It is the story of many towns, started in glorious anticipation and left to decay as industries flee and jobs become scarce.  It creates an insular environment where romantic entanglements are almost written in stone as there is a dearth of possible candidates and where residents must decide if they will continue until the very end or find the strength to move on and make another life.  The writing is lovely and descriptive with a hint of mystery around the ghost who may or may not exist.  It also explores the question of what we owe our nuclear families as we in turn grow up.  This novel is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Tandem by Andy Mozina


Mike Kovacs didn't mean to get drunk.  It had been a rough slog lately; a divorce that left his son barely speaking to him and tensions at work.  But today had been a great day.  He had gotten good news at work that meant his career was ready for a boost and he and his friends wanted to celebrate.  When he left the bar, he noticed that he was not really at his best for driving but his home was near so he decided to drive home.  On the way, he thought about the state park and how he might meet someone at a lakeside bonfire so decided to go there.  That was his big mistake.

As he enters the park, out of the fog come two people on a tandem bike.  Mike hits them and when he gets out of his car, he realizes that they both are dead.  Two young people, a young guy and a girl are gone forever.  Shocked but defensive, Mike clears up the scene and drives his damaged car home.  In the weeks that followed, he continues to hide his crime, buying a second car like his damaged one and eventually buying parts to fix the car himself.  He discovers that the young girl was a neighborhood girl, just home after her first year of college.  His family knows hers and his son and the girl had shared rides and outings.  Mike is wracked with guilt but doesn't want to confess and lose his comfortable life.  He convinces himself that the best outcome would be to live his life henceforth helping others and being the best person he can.  But life doesn't work that way.  He becomes entangled in a relationship that defies logic.

Andy Mozina has written a book that explores morality.  We all think we know what we would do in various situations but when they occur we are often surprised at what we actually do.  Can one ever put right a wrong so deep?  Is confession always the best route?  Readers will put themselves in Mike's shoes and may find him understandable or despicable but he will provide a basis for much contemplation.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

The Librianist by Patrick DeWitt


Bob Comet isn't sure this retirement thing is working out.  He spent his life in the library, helping patrons and enjoying being in the book world.  He married but his marriage lasted only a year until his wife ran off with his best friend.  Now that he is retired, he is feeling the lack of human contact.

One day while visiting the store he finds a woman who seems stuck in front of the refrigerated drinks.  The clerk says that she has been in the same place staring for over an hour.  Bob talks to her and discovers that she lives in a nearby senior assisted living house and he takes her back there.  

Bob likes the place and starts to volunteer there.  Now his days are full and he feels that he is helping others.  He makes friends and soon can't imagine being anywhere or doing anything else.  But when he discovers that his past life has intruded on this current one, he is unsure what he should do next.

Patrick DeWitt is known for writing novels on the quirky side that illuminate life stories that most people had never considered.  This is another of those novels.  Most people, meeting Bob Comet, would just see an everyday elderly man and never stop to think about or learn his life story.  DeWitt makes it interesting showing that each of us has a story to tell and experiences that make us unique.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.