Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The God Game by Danny Tobey


It just seemed like any other computer game.  A group of friends, the techies of their high school, are all sent an invitation to play a game called the God Game.  Peter, the newcomer, a rich boy left on his own most of the time by his successful father, was the first to play and share the game with the others.  Charlie had been a straight A student, sure to be class president and get into an Ivy League school until his mother died and he quit trying to do anything.  Alex was always the weird one but now has tipped over into depression and resentment from being bullied everyday by the school jocks.  Vanhi is the only girl in the group, smart and Charlie's best friend.  Kenny is his parent's dream for the future, the one who needs to do well at everything because his brother dropped out of college to pursue his own dreams.

At first the game seemed benign.  It helped them do mundane tasks and gave them ideas that made their lives better.  Then the tasks started to be more demanding and soon they were being asked to do dangerous things, things that could hurt them or the people around them.  Charlie is the first to try to quit only to find out that when he does, terrible things happen and he has to come back, even as the game demands more and more from them.  Can they find a way to break free?

Danny Tobey writes about what he knows.  He is an expert on artificial intelligence and attended Harvard and both law and medical school.  He could easily have been one of the group that he writes about, a smart guy who is expected to do well at everything.  Artificial intelligence is the latest buzzword and we are in the stage where dire predictions are being made about its effect while most people don't recognize all the ways we are already using it.  The protagonist Charlie is one that most readers will pull for as he navigates what his life should be after he has lost the person most important to him.  This book is recommended for thriller and YA readers.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov


A man named Gustine has opened a 'time shelter' as part of a clinic.  It is used to treat patients with Alzheimer's by returning them to a time and place in which they feel comfortable and in which they have memories.  The first attempts are successful and soon Gustine has his own place with different decades represented on different floors.  The narrator of the novel is a friend of Gustine's and helps him research the various years and find the artifacts and literature that makes it all work.  

Soon others attempt to duplicate Gustine.  More clinics are opened and soon entire towns.  The craze takes over entire countries and soon they are having referendums on what time the countries will choose to be.  The 1980's are the most popular for large swatches of Europe with the 1970's close behind.  Everyone votes for the time in which they were young and the elderly turn out and decide what time the young will be trapped in.  

Georgi Gospodinov is a Bulgarian author.  This book won the 2023 International Booker Prize.  It explores the meaning of time and memory, what we are comfortable remembering and what we choose to forget.  The narrator is never named and by the end of the book seems to be experiencing a mental breakdown.  It is unclear if Gustine exists or if the entire thing is a projection of the narrator's mind.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Death At La Fenice by Donna Leon


During intermission at the opera, a tragedy occurs.  The conductor, Maestro Helmut Wellauer, has been poisoned by cyanide and died.  The opera goes on and Vice Commissario Guido Brunetti, is called. The conductor is renowned as the best at his job and it had been a coup getting him to perform in Venice.  Who could have killed him?

The list of suspects is not short.  There is his wife, who is thirty years his junior and who inherits a fortune although she seems to have been in love with him.  There is the soprano in the opera who Wellauer had been threatening with revelation of her secrets.  The director had been promised a part for a friend and now Wellauer had reneged on his promise.  There were scandals with him and women going back fifty years, any of whom could have retained a grudge.  

This is the first in the Guido Brunetti series.  He is a laid back detective, relying more on interrogations than forensics.  Guido is married to the daughter of a very wealthy Venice family and they aren't thrilled at her choice.  He has two children, a daughter who wants to grow up too fast and a son who doesn't want to grow up at all.  Guido depends on a network of friends and contacts to help him unearth the motive behind the death and the conclusion was one I didn't see coming.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy


This was not the life Maya had planned.  She had planned to love and grow old with her husband, Michael but his death while on a climbing exhibition had changed everything.  She can't go home as her father had disinherited her when she chose to marry Michael outside of their religion.  But the priest who married them finds her a job in a remote Indian village, Ranikhet which lies at the foot of the Himalayas that took her husband from her.  Maya becomes a teacher in the local school and heads up the canning factory that supports the school.

She also makes her own family from the villages.  She lives in a cottage on the lands of a huge estate where Diwan Sahib lives.  He is an old man who once ran the territory but now sits and watches the world from his veranda.  He is rumored to have letters between Nehru and the wife of Lord Mountbatten and Maya is helping him write a biography of another famous man, a hunter who rid the territory of maneaters.  

In another cottage on the estate, an old woman lives with her son and granddaughter.  The granddaughter had been one of Maya's pupils but quit coming to school as she preferred to roam the hills with the family's cattle and goats.  Her father is a drunkard and her mother died so she lives with the grandmother and her uncle.  The uncle is strange; not talking to humans but in synch with all animals.  These people are Maya's new family. 

But things never stay the same.  Diwan's nephew, Veer, comes to stay between his jobs as a guide.  Eventually he and Maya fall in love.  The girl next door, Charu, has also found a love but it is one that her grandmother will never approve.  Diwan gets older and more frail.  Secrets start to emerge until the truth of all these intertwined lives is revealed.

Anuradha Roy is an Indian author.  Her work is full of descriptive phrases that take the reader to the small villages of India and their culture and poverty.  The villagers know everyone and everyone's business and secrets are hard to keep when one is living so close with others.  The remoteness of the village brings the people closer together but makes for a prison for those who have experienced the wider world.  Maya is determined to move on and make another life for herself but is life in a small village what she needs?  This book is recommended to readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy


Franny Stone is a wanderer.  She was born in Ireland and grew up in Australia.  Her mother was a wanderer as well.  Franny needs the ocean and swims in it every day, winter or not.  She emphasizes with the birds and other wildlife and they are more important to her than most people.  While working as a cleaner at a university, saving money to take off again, Franny meets Niall who is a professor of environmental science.  They quickly fall in love and marry but Franny cannot keep her feet from wandering.

Now she is in the Arctic, looking for a sea captain who will buy into her dreams.  Most of the wildlife is gone by now and fish are not an exception.  The profession of fisherman is dying and they are treated as criminals by many.  Franny wants to follow the last of the sea terns from the Arctic to the Antarctic.  She tells the captain she finds that the terns will find the fish for his last big fishing haul.

As the crew and captain start the journey, Franny is considered a liability.  She knows nothing of working on a ship and is considered bad luck and a burden.  As the days go by though, she gains the crew's friendship and loyalty by her ability to work along with them.  She is a sad person, separated from Niall and her daughter by miles and her nature.  We also learn she has been in prison.  Will the ship and Franny find the last big catch?  Will the sea terns make their last migration?

This is McConaghy's debut novel and it gained a lot of praise, both here and abroad.  She has a real feeling for the environment, wildlife and those who work to save it before it is all extinct.  Franny is a mystery and the reader can tell she is driven by secrets which are slowly revealed.  Those who meet her are never the same and she inspires loyalty wherever she goes.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

The Man Who Fell From The Sky by William Norris


Alfred Loewenstein was a financial tycoon in the 1920's, the world's third richest man.  He had homes in various countries and traveled with an entourage, living a lavish lifestyle.  But in July of 1928, on a short airline trip from London to the French coast, he somehow fell out of the airplane.  His body was recovered days later.  Since it happened over international waters, no police agency was responsible and the French police did a one day investigation, merely taking statements from all those aboard.

How does a man fall from an airplane?  Was it an accident as those aboard said?  Was it suicide?  Was it murder?  Investigative reporter William Norris became fascinated by the story and decided to find out what he could.  Why was alcohol found in the body of Loewenstein who never drank?  Why did the plane make a forced landing on a French beach when the nearest airport was less than a mile away?  Why did his wife not attend his funeral but found time to attend the reading of the will? 

William Norris is currently an editor at Washington Monthly.  Before this book, he wrote one about a man who piloted for a cocaine cartel.  He takes the reader through all Loewenstein's life, that of his family, friends and staff as he tries to discover what happened.  There are lots of financial dealings to understand and Norris does a good job of explaining them to those not familiar with the financial world.  At the end of the book, he posits an explanation of what he thought happened and who was responsible.  I listened to this book and the narrator was great.  He had a quality in his voice that made each discovery seem new and exciting and that encouraged the reader to find out more.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Weight Of Ink by Rachel Kadish


A discovery of unseen documents from the 1660's has been found while renovating a house in London.  Helen Watt, a professor of Jewish history, is called to view them by the owner who is a former student.  When she sees the treasure trove, she does two things.  She arranges for an American graduate student, Aaron Levy, to assist her in translating and studying the document and she persuades her university to buy them rather than let them go to auction.

The papers are the work of a Dutch immigrant, EsterVelasquez.  She has come to live in the house of a famous rabbi along with her brother after their parents were killed.  When her brother is also killed, Ester becomes the rabbi's scribe as he is blind from the results of the Inquisition in Spain.  Having a woman who can read and write is almost unheard of but Ester has a mind that loves the philosophy and religious logic that the rabbi debates in his sermons and his letters with other men around the world.  She has no interest in marrying which would force her to give up her reading and interests of the mind.

Helen can relate as she has also put aside love for the life of the mind.  As a young girl she had gone to Israel where she had a love affair with a Jewish man who wanted to marry her.  But in the end, Helen had turned her back on love and returned to London.  Now she is at the end of her career and this could be her greatest triumph if she can stay healthy long enough to find out all of Ester and the rabbi's secrets.  

Rachel Kadish has used this story to delve into the disparity between the way society viewed men and women, reserving education and matters of the mind for men and consigning women to the kitchen and nursery.  It also explores love and whether there are things more important than having the love of a man in one's life.  I'm not sure I agree with the idea that women must choose between the two and if so, that work is more important than love as I'm lucky enough to live in a time when a woman can have both.  This work is recommended to readers of historical fiction.   

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The House Witch by Delemhach


Fin Ashowan has just arrived at the castle in Daxaria where he has been hired to be the new cook.  Fin is an excellent cook but takes control the minute he arrives and puts up the back of the other servants and the knights who like to hang out in the kitchen.  He makes it clear that the kitchen is his domain and no one is allowed that he doesn't approve of.  Fin is a house witch and he doesn't like others to know that.  When someone knows you are a witch, they expect that you will be able to help them whenever they are ill or in a fix and sometimes no one can help.  

Soon Fin is in command and making progress.  Everyone loves his food.  He is able to start teaching the knights how real men behave, not the boorish behavior they are used to.  He doesn't get along with the royal mage as witches and mages are like oil and water but each agrees to stay out of the other's way.  Fin also meets a Viscountess that he immediately is drawn to and soon loves wholeheartedly but a member of the royalty and a cook are not a romantic pairing that would ever be allowed.  

All is not good however.  War is threatening and his Viscountess is in danger as a spy for the country.  The Queen is pregnant and has a long history of miscarriages and Fin saves her life one night when another threatens.  Soon the King is using Fin and his magic as a resource and perhaps the love affair will work out.  Who knows?

This is my first work by Delemhach who is a Canadian author.  The work is humorous and a romance fantasy so light and enjoyable.  Fin can't believe in his powers or his ability to make others' lives better but as the days go by, he starts to realize his power and the gift of the chosen family he makes in Daxaria.  The only thing I didn't care for was the abrupt ending that left everything up in the air with the main plot points unsettled until the reader gets the next book.  This work is recommended for fantasy readers.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Blood At The Root by Peter Robinson

 It was a horrific murder.  A young man, home for the weekend to visit his parents and play football on the local team, is found dead in an alley.  He has been beaten and kicked to death.  Who could have done such a thing?  The man and a friend had been in an encounter earlier that night with three Pakistani youths and there was bad blood between the two groups.  Were they the culprits?  Was it someone who thought he might have money and be an easy target as he stumbled drunk from the pub?  Where was his friend and did he have anything to do with it?

As DCI Alan Banks and his team start to investigate, secrets start to be uncovered.  The victim had led a secret life, letting his parents think he had a job and an apartment in the next town over.  But he had lost his job months ago and moved.  He was a Neo-Nazi and a true believer in their philosophy.  Had that hate filled life been at the root of his death?  Banks thinks that may be most likely but he also has issues going on in his personal life.  His wife of many years has suddenly asked for a separation and left to go live with her parents.  Is everything falling apart?

This is the ninth book in the DCI Banks series.  The reader is taken to Amsterdam where Banks reminisces about his early years and learns more about the Neo Nazi movement.  There is an undercover policeman in the local group and Banks has to step carefully not to put him in danger.  The victim was not a sympathetic one but a policeman works on every case, not just the ones that appeal to him.  The book ends with a showdown with Banks and a superior who has never liked him and Banks feels that he is losing everything in his life.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay


Four people plunge to their death in an elevator in New York.  While the accident is reported, it is assumed to be just that, a horrific accident.  Then the next day, another death, this time of a Russian diplomat.  Suddenly the mayor is getting nothing but questions about elevators at his press conferences, especially from his arch enemy, a reporter named Barbara Matheson.  Matheson seems to spend all her time looking for stories to disparage the mayor and this is a big one.

Suddenly, everyone is unsure about the elevators in a city that relies heavily on them.  When the mayor shuts down all the elevators until they can be inspected again, it causes other issues.  Disabled people are stuck in their apartments.  Heart attack deaths occur as people try to climb forty or more sets of stairs.  Some elevators are found to have boxes attached to them that allows them to be manipulated from elsewhere.  Who is behind this scheme and when will it stop?

This is my first Linwood Barclay novel.  He is a Canadian former journalist who now writes thrillers.  This one will hit home for many people as fear of elevators is a common phobia both for those with claustrophobia and those who need to always be in control.  The plot has lots of characters, the mayor, his son, Barbara and her estranged daughter, the mayor's staff and several police assigned to the case.  The plot turns on how the various characters react to the continuing elevator incidents and the investigation into who is responsible.  This book is recommended for thriller readers. 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

The Falls by Ian Rankin


The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Rebus has a new chief, a former girlfriend named Gillian.  But their relationship doesn't stop her from finding his tendency to go rogue something that needs to be nipped in the bud.  She is determined to make good in her new job and it doesn't matter who else gets hurt along the way.

As always, a new case comes along.  The daughter of a wealthy family has gone missing.  Is it a kidnap?  Something worse?  She had been headed out to a bar to meet some friends but never got there.  But she had argued with her on again, off again boyfriend that day also.  Was she taken off the street?  Murdered by her boyfriend?

As Rebus and the team investigate, something strange occurs.  A small wooden coffin is found at the falls outside the family's estate.  Rebus goes to pick it up and then discovers that there is a set of cases going back over several decades where women went missing and small coffins were found.  The cases were far apart and no one had put them together.  Was there a serial killer working who had never been detected?  Was this another case?  Rebus meets Jean, who works at the museum and who curates a collection of small coffins suspected of being attached to the Burke and Hart resurrection men case.  Is that connected?

This is the twelfth novel in the Rebus series.  Rebus is a typical Scotsman, fond of drinking and often morose.  He refuses to fit into the typical police mold but is so well connected and so good at solving the cases that mystify others that he has been allowed to keep his job.  Readers who already know the series will be thrilled to read another Rebus case, those who are new to the series have a treat ahead of them.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn


They were a magical couple.  Amy was beautiful, intelligent and rich.  Nick was charming and the kind of handsome women longed for.  Nick was a writer and Amy worked at a magazine setting quizzes.  They had a place in New York City fully paid for and a life of fun, friends and joy.  Their love and marriage was the one others held up as an example.

But things change.  As newspapers and magazines went under or online, both of them lost their jobs.  Amy's parents, authors who had made their fortune by a series of books called Amazing Amy and featuring Amy, had little call for books now that Amy was an adult.  They lost their money and borrowed almost all of Amy's trust fund.  

Amy and Nick went back to his home in Missouri which Amy despised.  Nick opened a bar with his twin sister, Margo, using the last of Amy's money.  His mother was dying of cancer and his father had dementia and was in a nursing home and he felt that he needed to be there.  Amy did nothing and soon there were cracks in the perfect marriage and then fissures and then canyons.  The pair quietly came to detest each other then not so quietly and soon there was open warfare.

Then came the morning that Amy wasn't there.  Nick reported her missing but soon the police started to suspect him.  It was the same story to them, stale marriage, wife missing, husband the perpetrator.  Amy's parents came to Missouri to show support and then suspicion.  Nick and Amy's secrets started to come out.  Nick had been having an affair for over a year.  Amy confided in a friend that she was pregnant and Nick didn't want the baby.  The police found Amy's diary in which she wrote that she was afraid of Nick.

An easy case or was it?  Nick insisted he was innocent and that Amy was out there somewhere, having set him up.  Could that be true?  Nick finds other victims of Amy's wrath over the years and they tell stories of a vindictive woman who could wait months or years to roll out a plan for punishment if she felt wronged.  What's the truth?

This book has been a blockbuster and made into a movie.  For whatever reason, I never read it until now but it was marvelous.  The characters of Nick and Amy are finely drawn and the reader sees how they were perfectly wrong for each other rather than the perfectly right impression they made.  The story is told by the alternating voices of Amy and Nick and the twists come hard and fast.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Dark City Lights edited by Lawrence Block


This anthology is a collection of stories that all happen in New York City.  Some are crime stories, some are not but all are excellent.  Some of the authors most readers know are Parnell Hall, Jonathan Santlofer, Jane Dentinger, S.J. Rozen and Lawrence Block, who also edited the collection.  Other authors who may be less familiar include Ed Park, Thomas Pluck, Warren Moore, Jerrold Mundis, Jim Fusilli, Robert Silverberg, Elaine Kagan, David Levien, Jill D. Block, Erin Mitchell, Peter Carlafter, Tom Callahan, Eve Kagan, Bill Bernico, Kat Georges, Annette Meyers, Brian Koppelman and Peter Hochstein.

Some of the stories resonated with me.  Jim Fusilli's The Safest Form Of Conveyence is about being stuck in an elevator and the fear that can bring.  Erin Mitchell's Old Hands is about a former nurse who gave up her profession after a huge mistake.  But my favorite story was Jonathan Santlofer's The Garmento And The Movie Star which is a lovely story about a teenage boy who meets Marilyn Monroe when she comes to his father's garment factory to be fitted for dresses.  It is lovely and nostalgic and very typical New York.  This book is recommended to short story fans.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Fall Of The Core by Ryk Brown


Something strange is happening on Earth.  A new virus, the Klaria virus, is attacking the population and there is no cure.  At the same time, a technical virus named Twister is also on the rise.  Hannah, a reporter who has been in the business for a decade or so, starts to believe that the two viruses are connected.  She is considered a rogue and someone wasting everyone's time when she starts to ask questions about the two viruses and their possible connection.  But Hannah is correct and the author of the viruses contacts her, telling her that she is correct and agreeing to work only with her.

Several weeks in, billions of humans have died.  Other characters are introduced.  One is a rookie female policewoman.  Another is a spaceship captain who has outlived all his Earth family by taking long space voyages and remaining in suspended animation.  The two characters are related as the female policewoman is the space captain's great great granddaughter and he returns to Earth long enough to rescue her and Hannah along with some soldiers from the disaster on Earth.  Will they end up as the sole survivors of the human race?

Ryk Brown has created an entire universe which he calls The Frontier Sagas.  There are over forty books in the series and this one is a prequel which explains the origin of the universe he has created.  The characters and the plot are both intriguing and the action is fast and furious. The plot of a virus that kills off much of the world is quite reminiscent of the Covid pandemic the world has recently gone through.   I listened to this book and it a great choice as the narrator was perfect.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.  

Saturday, January 13, 2024

The Devotion Of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino


Yasuko Hanaoka has a problem.  She hasn't seen her abusive ex-husband since she divorced him but he has found her and shown up at her work and at her home.  He has been abusive not only to her but her teenage daughter and she can't have that.  In a fit of rage and protection, she and her daughter strangle him, then are faced with the enormity of what they have done.

Their next door neighbor, Ishigami, has heard the fight.  He is a math teacher and has long had a crush on Yasuko.  He knocks on the door and tells them not to worry that he will take care of everything and he does.

When the police find the body and come to question Yasuko, she has an alibi ready.  She and her daughter know exactly what to say, their every word preplanned by Ishigami.  The inspector knows something is off but can't break Yasuko's alibi.  He consults his friend, a scientist who occasionally helps him.  It turns out that this man and Ishigami were friends.  He tells the inspector that Ishigami is a genius and since he is a friend, declines to help the police this time.  

This is a classic locked room mystery played out over the landscape of a city.  It also has many of the hallmarks of Japanese culture.  Every one is quite formal with each other.  The inspector relies more on asking questions of his suspect than forensic data or lie detectors.  Each statement is checked repeatedly looking for discrepancies.  The mental competition between Ishigami, the inspector and the scientist who is friends with them both, plays the major role in this book.  

Keigo Higashino is a well known author in Japan.  He has won many literary awards there and several of his books have also been nominated for the Edgar Award.  The work is less about chases and serial killers and more about classic mysteries that only can be solved with the application of much mental work.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, January 12, 2024

How The World Really Works by Vaclav Smil


In this 2022 published book, the author makes several points from a scientific viewpoint.  The first is that we can not totally avoid using fossil fuels for at a minimum, decades.  He states that the four most important materials in our world are ammonia which is used in fertilizer to feed the world, plastic used in almost everything we use or touch, steel and concrete used for building infrastructure.  All of these necessary materials use fossil fuels and it is impossible to get away from that.  His last major topic is global warming.  He believes that the current atmosphere is overstated.  There is definitely a problem but there are things we can do that would alleviate the problem.  

Vaclav Smil is a former professor in Canada.  He has written over forty books on these topics and specializes in food production which has skyrocketed so that less than ten percent of the population now is necessary for farming, risk assessment where he gives realistic facts to sustain any predictions, environmental and population change and public policies.  His admirers include Bill Gates and all of Smil's conclusions are backed by mathematical proofs.  He occupies the place where I feel most comfortable, the middle.  Yes, there are problems but it is unrealistic to give doomsday projections.  There are almost always intermediate steps that can be taken in order to alleviate issues until they can be solved.  The media is focused on the worst case scenarios and realistic, scientific facts are short in supply to the average person.   This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Where Lost Girls Go by B.R. Spangler


Detective Casey White comes to the Outer Banks in North Carolina for a few days to get away.  Her boss had insisted after her stress had caused her to almost shoot another policeman.  White had a tragedy in her past.  She had seen her two year old daughter kidnapped and the girl was never found.  Casey joined the police and specializes in lost and missing cases, always hoping to find the answers in her own daughter's case.

But this won't be a vacation.  Casey is driving down a back road when she sees a girl stumble onto the road.  She rushes her to the hospital where it is determined she had just given birth and that she had been buried alive.  At the same time, two girls were found on a deserted yacht, one dead and one overdosed and comatose.  Obviously, the area can use some of Casey's expertise.

With the help of a marine officer and one of the local force's IT experts, Casey discovers there are several cases going on.  Missing girls from years ago have been kept in the area and buried in the woods.  Meanwhile, girls from a local correction center are being auctioned off as sex slaves.  There are also hints that Casey's daughter has been seen in the area.  Can Casey solve the cases and find her daughter at long last?

This is the first in a series of eleven.  The action is fast and furious and White's own tragedy fuels her drive to help missing girls and their families reunite.  There are some unlikely elements such as girls being taken while on vacation with their families and the cases never related or investigated that much.  It is more likely that such a story would go nationwide and get state and federal resources.  Then the fact that these crimes, undetected for years, would all come to a crisis point within a week or so after Casey starts investigation.  But this is a first novel in the series and I'll definitely read more to see if things are tightened up in the next one.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Innocent Graves by Peter Robinson


A sixteen year old girl has been found murdered in the local church cemetery.  She is the daughter of a wealthy family and had been walking home from her private school.  As DCI Banks and his team work the case, they must first determine if this was a random victim or if she was targeted specifically.  The body was posed as if it was a sexual attack but there was no evidence of interference.  

Soon all the evidence starts to point in one direction.  A local schoolteacher, who taught at the girl's school, seems to be the culprit.  He was in the vicinity of the crime and some of his hair was found on the victim.  A former girlfriend says that he attacked her and that he had perversions.  Banks arrests him and he is sent to trial.  Did they get the right killer?

This is the eighth book in the series.  Banks has his doubts but a new inspector is determined to make his mark and he is the one who uncovered the teacher's presence in the area.  Banks is an old school inspector and he is being challenged by younger men who have gone to universities and done training courses Banks didn't have access to.  But Banks has a natural ability to untangle the twisted skeins of a case and find the perpetrator.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Booksie's Shelves, January 9, 2024


Art by RF Skia & Culpeo S. Fox

January weather doldrums.  We have an all day rain event with predicted high wind gusts.  Still, if it was snow it would be a foot or more and that's a natural disaster in North Carolina where we don't know how to handle snow and where the city doesn't scrape the roads in neighborhoods but waits for it all to melt.  I've cleaned all week so today I can sit and read without guilt.  January won't be a big reading month with both the NFL playoffs and ACC (most notably, the UNC Tarheels) men's basketball heating up.  Most of what's come through the door is Christmas presents with one big catch up on books I missed order from me.  Here's the list:

  1. Death At La Fenice, Donna Leon, mystery, purchased for book club read
  2. In Zanesville, Jo Ann Beard, women's fiction, purchased
  3. Maggie O'Farrell, The Distance Between Us, literary fiction, purchased
  4. Fruit Of The Dead, Rachel Lyon, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  5. Asunder, Chloe Aridjis, literary fiction, purchased
  6. My New American Life, Francine Prose, literary fiction, purchased
  7. The Cat's Table, Michael Ondaatje, literary fiction, purchased
  8. The Black Hour, Lori Rader-day, mystery, purchased
  9. Time Shelter, Georgi Gospodinov, literary fiction, purchased for book club read
  10. The Heart Of The Circle, Keren Landsman, fantasy, purchased
  11. The Ministry Of Time, Kaliane Bradley, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  12. Absolution, Patrick Flanery, literary fiction, purchased
  13. Whispers Underground, Ben Aaronovitch, fantasy, gift
  14. The Prophets, Robert Jones, Jr., literary fiction, purchased
  15. The Shallows, Nicholas Carr, nonfiction, purchased
  16. A Day At The Beach, Geoffrey Wolff, nonfiction, purchased
  17. The Good Girls, Sonia Faleiro, true crime, purchased
  18. Ali Smith, Summer, literary fiction, gift
  19. City Of Saints And Madmen, Jeff Vandermeer, fantasy, gift
  20. Four Lost Cities, Annalee Newitz, nonfiction, gift
  21. Moon Witch Spider King, Marlon James, fantasy, gift
Here's the ebooks I've purchased:
  1. Flower Net, Lisa See, literary fiction
  2. Radio Silence, Alyssa Cole, mystery
  3. Redemption, Phil Williams, mystery
  4. The Passengers, John Marrs, mystery
  5. Silver In The Bone, Alexandra Bracken, fantasy
  6. Silent City, Carrie Smith, mystery
  7. Sweetpea, C.J. Skuse, mystery
  8. One For My Enemy, Olivie Blake, fantasy
  9. Fifty Grand, Adrian McKinty, mystery
  10. The Surgeon, Karl Hill, mystery
  11. Imaginary Friends, Alison Lurie, literary fiction
  12. Silenced Girls, Roger Stelljes, mystery
  13. Queen Bee, Ciara Geraghty, literary fiction
  14. Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harafi, nonfiction
  15. Independence, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, historical fiction
  16. The Sun Walks Down, Fiona McFarlane, historical fiction
  17. Doppelganger, Naomi Klein, nonfiction
  18. Songs In Ordinary Time, Mary McGarry Morris, historical fiction
  19. The Bones At Point No Point, D.D. Black, mystery
  20. The Sea Of Zamira, D.L. Blade, fantasy
  21. Of Ice And Heartbreak, Marianne Scott, fantasy
  22. A God's Promise, Kayla Maya, fantasy
  23. Diary Of A War Crime, Simon McCleave, mystery
  24. Marvel And A Wonder, Joe Meno, literary fiction
  25. Dance Of Thieves, Mary Pearson, fantasy
  26. Vow Of Thieves, Mary Pearson, fantasy
  27. King Of Ashes, Raymond Fiest, fantasy
  28. Master Of Furies, Raymond Fiest, fantasy
  29. Mother Of God, Paul Rosolie, nonfiction, travel
  30. Overboard, Sara Parentsky, mystery
  31. The Big Sort, Bill Bishop, nonfiction
  32. The Unpersuadables, Will Storr, nonfiction
  33. The Misinformation Age, Cailin O'Connor and James Weatherall, nonfiction
  34. The Deficit Myth, Stephanie Kelton, nonfiction
  35. The Secret Place, Tana French, mystery
  36. Daddy Love, Joyce Carol Oates, literary fiction
  37. Lay Your Body Down, Amy Suiter Clarke, mystery
  38. Blessing Of The Lost Girls, J.A. Jance, mystery
  39. Trust The Plan, Will Sommer, nonfiction
  40. To Shape A Dragon's Breath, Moniquill Blackgoose, fantasy
  41. Cicadas Sing Of Summer Graves, Quinn Connor, literary fiction
  42. This Little Piggy, J.D. Kirk, mystery
  43. Indian Killer, Sherman Alexie, mystery
  44. Stringers, Chris Panatier, science fiction
  45. All That Was Left Unsaid, Jacquie Underdown, mystery
  46. One For Sorrow, Sarah Denzil, mystery
  47. Speaking In Tongues, Jeffrey Deaver, mystery
  48. Red Christmas, Reginald Hill, mystery
  49. The Case Has Altered, Martha Grimes, mystery
  50. Confessions Of An Accidental Lawyer, Michael Stockham, legal thriller
  51. Rabbit King, Keith McCabe, horror
  52. An Immense World, Ed Yong, nonfiction
  53. Jane And Edward, Melanie Edwards, literary fiction
  54. See No Evil, B.A. Shapiro, mystery
  55. King Of The City, Michael Moorcock, fantasy
  56. A Boy Of Good Breeding, Miriam Toews, literary fiction
  57. What She Left, H.K. Christie, mystery
  58. One Cold Heart, KJ Kalis, mystery
  59. Happiness, Aminatta Forna, literary fiction
  60. Judgement Day, Penlope Lively, literary fiction
  61. Almost Surely Dead, Amina Akhtar, mystery
  62. Last Night, Luanne Rice, women's fiction
  63. Scared To Live, Stephen Booth, mystery
  64. I'll Take You There, Wally Lamb, literary fiction
  65. Boy Parts, Eliza Clark, literary fiction
  66. Fragile, Lisa Unger, mystery
  67. Creepy Crawly, Andrew Lowe, mystery
  68. A Fatal Obsession, Faith Martin, mystery
  69. A Sea Of Troubles, Donna Leon, mystery
  70. A Midsummer Tempest, Poul Anderson, fantasy
  71. Birds In Flight, Anni Taylor, mystery
  72. Probability Moon, Nancy Kress, science fiction
  73. Eden, W.A. Schwartz, literary fiction
  74. A Cavern Of Black Ice, J.V. Jones, fantasy
  75. Rough Justice, Andrew Klaven, mystery
  76. A Fairly Dangerous Thing, Reginald Hill, mystery
  77. A Thousand Recipes For Revenge, Beth Cato, fantasy
Here's what I'm reading:
  1. How The World Really Works, Vaclav Smil, hardback
  2. An Innocent Grave, Peter Robinson, paperback
  3. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, Kindle
  4. The Devotion Of Suspect X, Keigo Higashino, paperback
  5. The Weight Of Ink, Rachel Kadish, Kindle
  6. Where Girls Go, B.K. Spangler, Kindle
  7. The Fells, Ian Rankin, hardback
  8. Dark City Lights, edited by Lawrence Block, paperback
Happy Reading!

Monday, January 8, 2024

Unforsaken by John Dwaine McKenna


Texas Ranger Boyd Pirtle has been chasing an outlaw for several years.  The man goes by Frank Reynolds but he has many names.  Reynolds has terrorized the West for years, robbing, raping and murdering wherever he goes along with his Mexican partner and their gang.  But Pirtle has lost the trail and he suspects that Reynolds has gone solo and changed his appearance.

Then Pirtle gets a clue.  He finds an ad in a newspaper from a woman looking for her brother and the picture looks like Reynolds.  He visits Ella Stringfellow and discovers that Frank Reynolds is really her twin brother.  He left home two days after his father, a Mormon bishop, was shot down in the street and Ella hasn't seen him since.  But lately, she has been receiving money from someone identifying himself only by an initial.  As Ella gives Boyd the information she has, she also gives him groundshaking information.  Her father had been undercover and was involved in a Mormon plot to take over the government.  Her father had traded Mormon land for positions in the Rangers and in political bodies like legislatures and even governorships.  This kind of information has to investigated immediately and sent on to higher-ups.  

After the Mormon investigation is finished, Boyd and his partner pick up the trail of Reynolds.  He has been sighted in Colorado Springs and they head that way.  But Ella, who gets her brother's location from Boyd, also travels that way, hoping to find her brother before the Rangers do.  Who will get there first?

John Dwaine McKenna writes novels about the Colorado area where he has lived for over fifty years.  His portrayal of the West in 1901 when oil had just been discovered in Texas and when the Old West was winding down will be interesting to readers.  The relationship between Ella and Boyd is strong yet they have differing ends that will draw them apart.  The writing is strong and draws the reader in.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and books about the West.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

His Favorites by Kate Walbert


Jo was in the 'in crowd', living the country club life and tons of friends.  That all ended the night she and two of her friends stole a golf club which they wrecked, killing one of the girls.  Jo was driving and she and her family became the town's pariahs.  People they had known for years would pretend not to see them and they were ignored everywhere they went.

Jo's mother decides that it would be best if Jo went to a boarding school far away.  Instead of Maryland, her new school was in Maine, cool and distant.  Jo fit in well enough until she became one of the English teacher's favorites.  Mr. M was considered cool and handsome and he always had a favorite.  When he started making physical advances to her, Jo tried to struggle.  He talked about how he could make sure she got into a good college and when she wasn't impressed, talked about how he could make her life at the school miserable.  She finally succumbed and he had sex with her multiple times.  When she reported him, the headmaster wanted only to keep things quiet and told her that she had her side but the teacher would have his and the school would decide who was telling the truth.

This short novel talks about an issue that is far too common.  Those in power over young people sometimes use that power for their own twisted desires.  When the victims finally manage to get enough courage to report the crime and are not believed, it warps their sense of justice and belief that the world will protect them, often for life.  Those who are vulnerable, as Jo was after her accident, are usually the ones victimized further.  Walbert captures the feelings of the victim all too honestly and the reader will live the shame and outrage along with Jo.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Destiny And Desire by Carlos Fuentes


Two young men find each other as teenagers.  Both are without families.  Josue lives in a mansion with no one but a dour housekeeper, Jerico lives in an apartment by himself.  Neither knows anything about their families or their circumstances but they form a friendship that will endure throughout their lives.  As they grow, their paths diverge.  Josue goes to work for the country's most powerful entrepreneur, Max Monroy.  Jerico becomes the country's President's right hand man.  

Along the way, they meet many strange characters.  There is the prisoner who rules the prison and stays there to avoid killing his father who deserted him.  There is the aviator whose life is a mystery and who lives with Josue for several years.  There is their friend whose mother is killed by the woman who becomes his stepmother; a woman who was a former prostitute enjoyed by both the young men.  There is the dead woman who talks to Josue about her son Max and how she sacrificed everything for him.  Will the two find out their backgrounds?

Carlos Fuentes was one of the most influential Mexican novelists.  He was the son of a diplomat and a diplomat himself.  He was credited along with several other Latin American authors with bringing the literature of the region to the attention of the world.  He won many awards and prizes including the highest one of his country.  In this book, he uses magic realism to pit the two friend's lives against each other along with the influence of business versus politics.  The novel is narrated by one of the young men who has been murdered and decapitated.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Friday, January 5, 2024

The Absence Of Nectar by Kathy Hepinstall


Alice and Boone had a great life.  They lived with their father and mother, Meg, in a small town.  But their father left their mother one day, sending her into a depression.  That opened the door to a smarmy man named Simon who entered their lives and made it clear he wanted all of Meg's attention.  He barely tolerated Alice and Boone and as the months went on, the two were sure he wanted to get rid of them, permanently.  Meg said they just had wild imaginations but they saw the evil side of Simon he kept hidden from her.

Boone was saintly, always wondering what God would want him to do.  That led him to write to Persely, a teenager in a mental hospital who had poisoned her parents and killed them.  Persely is an escape artist and on one of her escapes, comes by to visit Boone.  When the kids decide to run away from home, they take Persely with them and hide out on a nearby island.  Once there, they find out they are connected in ways they had never expected and Boone experiences his first love.  

Kathy Hepinstall is one of those authors who has never broken out into the top tier of authors but whose books are each fascinating to me.  They often feature women who are victimized by either the times or the men in their lives and this one is no different.  The story is told by Alice and as she starts to realize the truths around her, she begins to change from a child to a young woman.  Simon is a villain whose evil is easy to believe in as he attempts to control everyone around him while pretending to be religious.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The Middle Sister by Jesse Miles


When Jack Salvo is hired by a rich woman in Los Angeles to find her middle child, he doesn't think the case will be that difficult.  The girl, Lillie, is mad because her mother had just cut her allowance and downgraded her car after yet another car wreck.  Jack figures she is probably staying with a boyfriend or one of her friends and it won't take long to discover where she is.  

Lillie runs with a fast crowd.  Most are trust fund babies, rich and spoiled.  But there are also hangers on who want the money the others have and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it.  Then there are the drug dealers who make their living off the high living crowd.  But when Jack finds Lillie, she is dead, an overdose say the police.

Jack isn't sure it's that pat of an answer.  As he continues to investigate, he runs into a former exercise queen who is down on her luck and trying to befriend Lillie.  The owner of Lillie's favorite nightclub used to run organized crime and many believe he still does.  Then there are various boyfriends and envious friends.  Who is the culprit?

Salvo is an interesting character.  He is tough enough but not so tough that he becomes unbelievable.  He'd rather talk and figure things out than get involved in fistfights or gun fights.  The character of the former exercise queen looms large in the novel and will prove interesting to readers.  She is reminiscent of the Jane Fonda type of exercise leader, hoping for a tv show that lasts and an empire of streaming and DVDs for at home users.  The plot twists and turns enough to maintain interest and it ends with a twist.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

IQ by Joe Ide


Sometimes life throws you a whammy.  That happened to Isaiah Quintabe, known as IQ.  He was a typical teenager, living with his big brother and headed for a full ride college scholarship because he was bright as the sun.  Then his brother was killed in a hit and run accident.  IQ fell apart.  He dropped out of school and while trying to figure out how to make the rent and feed himself, even fell into crime for a while with an acquaintance named Dodson.  But when a gang war left a young boy orphaned and brain damaged, IQ pulled himself together and went straight.

He realized that he wanted to help others.  IQ became a private detective helping those around him.  Been bamboozled by a con man?  IQ can find him and get your money back.  Rebellious teen gone missing?  IQ was your man.  He took whatever his clients could afford to pay him.  

But now IQ has a shot at some real money.  Dodson is doing better these days and he has heard of a situation that would be perfect for IQ.  One of the best rappers in LA is holed up in his house after an attempt on his life.  Who was trying to kill him?  Was it his vengeful ex-wife?  Another rapper who is jealous of his success?  Someone he dissed on his way to the top?  IQ starts the investigation and soon encounters the guy who has been hired to carry out the murder.  He is a stone cold man who raises pit bulls to attack and kill, a man who now has IQ's life in his bullseye.  Can IQ solve the case before he is killed himself?

Joe Ide grew up in the same neighborhoods he writes about in this novel.  He had a varied career before starting to write crime novels and his IQ series has been a great success.  The book moves between IQ's current case and his backstory which is fascinating.  IQ's intelligence and loyalty to his friends makes him an admirable character and readers will be ready for more of his adventures once they finish this case.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Welcoming 2024 And Looking Back At 2023


Another year has rolled around.  It's time to take stock of what has gone on and what is to come.  2023 was a good reading year for me.  I read 290 books although I had hoped to read 300.  I read a good amount from my shelves and gave away what I read.  I joined another book club so I'm now in four; a mystery, a science fiction, a reading around the world and a literary fiction group.  I did my first book challenges the 52 Books and Reading Around The United States with the Book Girls.  My daughter moved out to her own apartment so DH and I are empty nesters once again.  Here, in no particular order, were my favorite reads of the year:

  1. Starling House by Alix Harrow
  2. The Enchantress Of Florence by Salman Rushdie
  3. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell (a reread)
  4. Museum Of Failures by Thirty Umrigar
  5. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  6. The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
  7. City Of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett
  8. The Lost Kings by Tyrell Johnson
  9. South Of Broad by Pat Conroy
  10. The Once And Future Witches by Alix Harrow
  11. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
  12. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
  13. Tomorrow And Tomorrow And Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zavin
  14. The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
  15. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
  16. Thistlefoot by Gennerose Nethercott
Here are my goals for 2024:
  1. Read from my shelves again and give away what I've read
  2. Read Middlemarch and one other classic
  3. Read an entire science fiction series, an entire mystery series
  4. Finish all my challenges for 2024
  5. Write seventy-five reviews for Netgalley.
As always, Happy Reading!