Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Veselka


Thirty some years ago, two women got pregnant by the same man who then disappeared.  They made a pact that both would carry their babies to term but one would leave afterwards, giving her baby to the other to raise along with her sister.  Those babies, both girls, are Cheyenne and Livy.  They don't know which woman is the mother of each.  The father went on to become successful and rich but never contributed to the upbringing of his children.  Along the way, the family also took in a boy from the streets and adopted him as well.

Now everyone is struggling.  Cheyenne is back home after a failed marriage.  Livy is working a series of low-paying jobs, saving every cent she can to go fish in Alaska which is her dream.  Essex, their brother, joins the military so that he can get some steady money and benefits to help his family.  When the sisters find out the other woman's name, Cheyenne goes on a road trip to try to find her.  

The book follows each individual as they try to gain their dreams.  Livy makes it to Alaska and falls in love.  Cheyenne discovers that the other woman is not motherly and she has nothing to offer the sisters.  Essex finds that he likes the military but falls afoul of its rules.  

Vanessa Veselka is an American author who seems to share the restless lives of her characters.  She has been a train hopper, a student of paleontology, a mother, a teenage runaway, a musician and a labor organizer.  Her interest is in those living on the edge of poverty, those who can't quite reach the American Dream.  This novel was her second and was a National Book Award nominee.  The characters live out their lives on the edge of poverty, always trying to become more stable.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Winter In Madrid by C.J. Sansom


Harry Brett never expected to find himself back in Madrid.  He had gone there during the Spanish Civil War to try to find a childhood friend, Bernie.  Bernie was always a Communist and had gone to Spain to fight.  He was reported missing and suspected dead after a horrendous battle.  Harry met Bernie's lover, Barbara, and together they searched but had to admit defeat and the loss of Bernie.

Now it's 1940 and Harry has been taken out of the military due to injuries he sustained at Dunkirk.  But there are still ways to serve his country.  He is approached about returning to Madrid as a spy.  Another childhood friend, Sandy Forsyth, is there and the English government suspects that he has information about Spanish gold reserves that could make the English blockade of goods and food less effective.  Harry reluctantly agrees to go.

Sandy seems thrilled to see Harry again.  Harry is shocked to discover that Sandy is living as a married couple with Barbara.  There does seem to be a big gold project that Sandy is working on and he invites Harry to invest in it as well.  In the meantime, Barbara discovers that Bernie is still alive, secretly imprisoned in a Spanish prison camp and starts to make plans to help him escape.  How will this all work out?

C.J. Sansom is an English author who focuses on historical works and is best known for his historical mystery series set during Henry VIII's reign.  In this work, he focuses on the Spanish Civil War which is an area that will be new to many readers although most will be familiar with Franco who emerged victorious from that conflict to rule Spain for many years.  Harry is a decent English man who is at a loss as to what his life will be next.  He, Bernie and Sandy all attended one of the many English private boarding schools that make up many English males lifetime friends and network.  The privations and hardships of the Spanish population after the war are not well known by most readers and Sansom makes it real.  This book is recommended for historical fiction readers.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Spring by Ali Smith


This is the third novel in Ali Smith's seasonal quartet.  She uses a medley of characters to discuss Britain's immigration policies.  There is Brittany King who has given up her dreams of writing to become a guard at an immigration detention facility.  There immigrants may linger for months or years even though the policy is no more than 72 hours.  They are treated as warehoused objects rather than individuals.  There is Richard Lease who has lost his old friend and mentor and isn't sure he wants to continue living in a world without her.  Then there is Florence.  She is a twelve year old girl who seems magical.  She can walk into a detention facility, into the office of the man who supervises the entire facility and get him to have the filthy communal toilets steam cleaned.  She doesn't need tickets to ride trains or other public conveyances and she can be invisible when she wants.  

These characters unite at a railroad station.  Richard is on the tracks, having decided that life is not worth living.  Florence saves him and he agrees to go with her and Brittany north to a place where he can honor his mentor.  It is unclear exactly what Florence's agenda is and Brittany is apparently taken to open her eyes to her life as it is now and what she wanted it to be.  

Ali Smith is a Scottish author who grew up in poverty.  She managed to shine academically and ended up at Cambridge.  She has been given various literature awards and is a CBE of the British Empire.  Her work has been short-listed four times for the Booker Prize and has won the Bailey Prize For Women.  She writes in an unique fashion, with short chapters and what seems random sentences that comes together to make a united point.  This work is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Passerby by Britney King


Ruth barely has time to think.  She runs a bed and breakfast in a tourist town with the help of her brothers Johnny and Davis.  But Johnny has a full time job and Davis isn't much help so almost all the work falls on Ruth.  She doesn't even have time for romance although Cole, Johnny's best friend, would love to have a relationship.

Then disaster strikes.  Davis goes on a road trip and brings back a woman, Ashley.  Ruth dislikes her on sight but everyone else is fascinated by her.  She is beautiful but Ruth doesn't trust her and suspects there is a story behind her smiles.  Ashley invites herself along on Ruth's errands and the two of them are attacked on the road by a man in a truck with a gun.  They manage to escape and Ruth is sure it is someone from the family her own family had a running feud with.

Then the deaths start.  The first is the brother of a bride who is having her wedding at Ruth's venue and who got into a fight with Davis at the reception.  The second is the son of the family the feud is with.  Ruth is afraid that Davis will be suspected or even worse arrested.  She spends her time trying to figure out the killer along with all her other work.  Then the climax; two bodies in the house right before Davis and Ashley's engagement party.  Who is trying to set up her family?

This is my first Britney King novel.  She specializes in psychological thrillers.  I listened to this novel and the narrator was the perfect Ruth, from whose eyes the story is told.  Ruth isn't a goodie two shoes; she is often sarcastic and rude to others and she clearly sees the defects in her brothers although she loves them dearly.  The ending was not as strong as the beginning but all ends satisfactorily.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Beartown by Fredrik Backman


Beartown is a hockey town.  It's the first thing anyone would tell someone.  The entire town is consumed with the play of the junior league and the adult A-team.  The stars of the junior league, who have made it to the semi-finals so far this year, are Kevin, the main scorer and Benji, his best friend and defender on the ice.  Their coach is David and most of the team has played for him for years.  They regard him as a father and would do anything for him.

Peter Andersson is the general manager of the teams.  He played here growing up, made it out to the NHL and when his career was over, returned to his hometown.  He and his wife have two children, Maya, fifteen, and Leo, twelve.  

On the night of the semifinal victory, the team meets at Kevin's place for a party.  Things get out of hand and a crime occurs there, a crime that would put Kevin, the star, in jeopardy of not being able to play anymore.  The town immediately takes sides, most on Kevin's side as he carries their hopes and dreams on his back.  Will goodness triumph over self interest?

This book is immensely popular and it is well deserved.  Backman gets the intensity of team sports exactly right, the way the athletes devote their lives to it, the loyalty of the team to its members, the love for teammates and coaches.  Backman is a Swedish author and his novel outlines the controversy between evil and team sport loyalty as well as talking about the secrets various members of the team keep to themselves to fit in.  This book is recommended to readers of literary fiction.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Z by Therese Ann Fowler


This is the story of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Zelda was a Southern girl and meets Scott as he is sent to her town for training before going overseas for World War I.  But time intervenes and he is never sent there.  He returns to New York and proposes to Zelda.  She refuses to marry him until he finishes his first book and starts to get established.

But once they are married, they become New York's Golden Couple.  They go out every night, partying and dancing and drinking.  They meet everyone and Scott continues to write and climb the ranks of successful authors.  They travel to Paris, to Italy, places where Scott believes he will be able to concentrate and write.  But the parties are everywhere.  The couple has a daughter, Scottie, and Zelda starts to tire of her life.  

The book mainly follows the Fitzgeralds in their successful years but as the book winds to an end, the sad things emerge.  Scott becomes an alcoholic who can't write without drinking and who leaves the house for days for more partying and other women.  Zelda attempts to carve out a life for herself with painting and dancing but eventually is diagnosed with mental illnesses and suffers a series of breakdowns that leave her hospitalized.  

This is the definitive book about the Fitzgeralds in fiction form.  Fowler has meticulously researched the couple and their lives, using their letters as a primary source.  There is much discussion about Ernest Hemingway as Scott regards him as his best friend while Hemingway and Zelda despise each other.  Fowler discusses the early stirrings of feminism as women start breaking away from seeing being a wife and mother as their main definition and she captures the wild, frantic partying of the era.  This book is recommended to readers of historical fiction.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Pull Of The Stars by Emma Donoghue


It's 1918 and Dublin is feeling the effects of the Great Flu and the last days of World War I like the rest of the world.  Julia Powers is a nurse on the small ward made for those women about to give birth who also have the flu.  Julia lives quietly with her brother who came back from the war physically intact but wounded mentally and who is now mute.  The ward is tiny, a former space repurposed for the women who need it.  The hospital is understaffed and in the throes of the pandemic.

The novel looks at three days in Julia's life.  In that time, babies are born, some healthy, some not.  Some mothers recover from the flu and go home while others leave their newborns orphaned.  Two women enter Julia's life.  One is a volunteer named Bridie who comes to help.  She had been orphaned as a child and grew up in the care of nuns, a care that was akin to slavery.  She and Julia feel an instant connection and Bridie quickly picks up the ways to help the suffering women.  The other woman is Doctor Lynn.  The hospital needs her expertise but the police are looking for her as she had sided with the rebels in the recent troubles.  

Emma Donoghue is best known for her novel Room which was a major success but she has written quite a few novels.  Her interests include women's relationships and historical fiction but some of her novels also have a bit of supernatural influence.  In this novel, she explores how women made the best of things during the War, serving in ways different from the men who went to fight but ways that were just as important.  I thought the ending was a bit abrupt but overall enjoyed the novel, which Donoghue turned in to her publisher a month before the start of our own Covid pandemic.  This book is recommended for historical fiction and women's fiction readers. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Cold Is The Grave by Peter Robinson


Chief Constable Jimmy Riddle has made it his life's work to crush DCI Alan Banks.  He thinks Banks takes too many liberties with the rules and can't be trusted to follow orders if he thinks a case isn't right.  He also suspects that Banks is a womanizer although that is far from the truth.

So it is surprising when Riddle comes to Banks and asks for a favor.  His daughter has run off to London several months ago and now there are nude photographs of her on the Web.  Could Banks go to London, find her and bring her home?  Banks is uneasy but being a father himself, agrees to go.

Banks finds Emily but things are worse than Riddle had imagined.  Emily is living with a criminal, a crime boss who has his fingers in every criminal pie, most recently smuggling.  Banks manages to bring her home and return her to her parents.

But crime doesn't stop.  At home, there are several murders of low level criminals.  Banks suspects that these murders are tied to smuggling and he wonders if this is the work of the same crime boss.  Then Emily asks to meet Banks for lunch and he agrees, seeing that she is doing better and talking about going to university.  She seems to be done with her teenage rebellion but that night she is killed, in a horrific manner, in a nightclub.  Can Banks solve the murder?

This is the eleventh novel in the series.  This one has even more twists and turns than some prior ones.  Banks is still reeling from the breakup of his marriage but is recovering.  His essentially honorable nature shows through as he does a favor for a man who has spent time trying to ruin Bank's career.  I didn't see the ending coming or how old crimes could have long consequences.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Nanny by Gilly Macmillan


Jo is back where she never expected to be again.  Growing up, she found her parents inattentive and cold.  The only warmth and love she got was from her nanny, Hannah.  But Hannah disappeared in the middle of the night when Jo was eight and after that she counted the days until she could leave also.  Jo married, moved to the United States and had a daughter, Ruby.  But her husband was killed in an accident and now she is back in England, back home with the mother she could never love.

Jo's mother is even more demanding and cold now that her health is waning.  She does love Ruby, though, and shows her the love and attention Jo had wanted so desperately growing up.  Then one day, Jo opens the door and there stands Hannah on the doorstep.  She has returned to the village and wants to renew her relationship with Jo.

Jo is ecstatic but her mother warns that Hannah is conniving.  Soon Jo is caught between the two women who despise each other.  Each of the older women tries to get Ruby's attention and love but Ruby doesn't like Hannah much to Jo's dismay.  When a skull is found on the estate, the police come to uncover all the secrets.  Who died and how?

This was my first novel by Gilly Macmillan and it won't be my last.  Every time I thought I knew where the story was going, there was another twist.  Macmillan is known for her thrillers and this delivered.  The relationships stretching back to childhood and the renewed fight for Jo's child's love adds another layer of suspense.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.  

Monday, February 19, 2024

Simon The Fiddler by Paulette Jiles


Simon Boudlin has one talent to make his way in the world.  It's 1865 and he was only conscripted in the last few weeks of the war where his ability with the fiddle put him in the regimental band.  Now the war is done although only after one last bloody unnecessary battle fought only so a Yankee officer could claim credit.  Simon slips away rather than stay with the tatters of the Confederate army.  

He soon meets up with three other men in his same situation; musicians who have left the military rather than stay.  They start to play together in bars and at parties.  At one party, Simon sees an indentured Irish girl, Doris Dillion.  Simon is entranced with her but knows she has years to serve and he has nothing to offer.  As her household leaves the city, he stands on the side of the road and plays a love song to her.

Life is hard and the men barely scrape by.  The youngest boy is also Irish and Simon writes to Doris as the boy, giving news from home and starting a conversation he hopes will lead to marriage.  Simon plans to buy land and farm and he wants Doris by his side.  But the two are separated by miles of Texas land and poverty and legal obligations.  Simon and his crew travel from city to city with Simon saving all his money to purchase land.  He knows somehow he will find his Irish girl and make her his.

This is a lovely historical fiction that shows the difficulty of life after the Civil War and how hard it was to make a living.  There is lots of opportunity for a man who will work in the territories and its a perfect time to reinvent oneself.  Tensions still remain from the war and laws are uncertain and legal business such as buying land is shaky without the infrastructure to support it.  Simon decides to marry Doris after only seeing her once or twice and quick relationships were the norm at such an unsettled time.  Readers will be interested to read about life in this time period and cheer on Simon's pursuit of Doris.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Amendment by Kiersten Modglin


When Peter and Ainsley fell in love, they thought it would be like that forever.  Now years later, Ainsley thinks Peter is secretive and he thinks she is controlling.  But there are three children to consider and each still loves the other.  They need to figure out how to save this marriage.

It turns out that Peter is hiding much more than Ainsley ever considered.  He has been having affairs but when he is done, he kills his mistress and buries her in the woods behind their house.  Can Ainsley accept this dark secret?  She knows if she doesn't their marriage is over so she finds a way to accommodate. 

I listened to this book and the narrators were great.  The book is told in alternating chapters between Peter and Ainsley with both a male and female narrator.  They slowly reveal all the secrets and the twists and turns of the couple's relationship.  Modglin is known for her psychological thrillers and this one does not disappoint.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Swingtime by Zadie Smith


Two young girls grow up in London in housing.  They meet in dance but Tracey is the one with talent, the one who grows up quickly.  The other girl loves music and singing but dance is not her talent.  One girl has a very indulgent mother, one a mother who insists that her daughter must be better, be smarter, be more.

When the girls grow up, Tracey makes it onto the theatre scene, although only on the periphery.  The other after a dead end job, becomes an assistant to one of the world's most popular singers.  She does whatever is needed, even when Aimee, the singer, decides her next project is starting a school for girls in Africa.  Like most of her projects, Aimee loses interest after a while so the assistant is charged with trips to Africa and overseeing the project.  

This is the story of female friendships.  There is the rivalry and the disagreements, the telling of secrets and being each other's champion.  The girls' lives turn out very different and the mothers are also main characters.  One is driven to succeed, the other is driven by living through her daughter.  

Zadie Smith has written several novels that have gained acclaim, being nominated for Booker Prizes and the Women's Prize for Fiction, which her novel, On Beauty, won.  Her writing explores the lives of women of color and female friendships.  In this novel, she made the choice to never tell the reader the name of her main character from whose perspective the book is narrated.  It also delves into the mother daughter relationship and how various styles of parenting affects children.  This novel is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Finlay Donovan Knocks 'Em Dead by Elle Cosimano


It's never placid being the single mother of two small children.  Finlay is juggling everything she has to do.  Her next book is about to hit deadline and she's behind.  Her family is in and out as they always are.  Then there's the little matter of someone trying to kill Finlay's ex-husband, Steven.  While she hasn't forgiven him for walking out on her for another woman, Steven is a great dad and she doesn't want him dead.  

Along with Vero, her nanny and sidekick, Finlay attempts to figure out who is after Steven.  She discovers a website set up for those who want to hire hit men and sure enough, Steven is on there as a potential victim.  Tracking that down takes Finlay into prison to talk with the head of the Russian mob and then dealing with a superrich woman assassin.  There's also the matter of the dead body she discovers in a storage unit in a freezer but is that also related?

This is the second novel in the Finlay Donovan series and it is a light, madcap adventure.  Elle Cosimano was a YA author until her first Donovan novel which was a big hit.  I listened to this book and the narrator was perfect.  She had a light voice that had the perfect timing, moving the plot along and showing Finlay as a woman determined to make it whatever life throws at her.  Readers will enjoy this novel and look forward to the next in the series.  This book is recommended for light mystery readers.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Starter Villain by John Scalzi


This isn't the life Charlie had imagined for himself.  He had been a business reporter and then business magazines and newspapers had hit a wall and made massive cuts.  Charlie is back home in the house he grew up in, taking whatever work he can find to keep body and soul together.  Plus feed his cat Hera, his best and sometimes seems only friend.  

Then Charlie gets a phone call from a lawyer.  His rich uncle has died and left Charlie a legacy.  Charlie knows that his uncle had scads of parking garages and that he was rich but he didn't know he was a billionaire.  Or that his real empire hid behind the legitimate garages and that he was a super villain, making money from technology and government grants and foiling other villains.

Now Charlie is supposed to take over.  He goes to headquarters, which is an island built on a volcanic system.  There he finds talking dolphins and cats who are spies, one of which happens to be his cat Hera.  There is a cohort of villains who hated his uncle and now they want to take out Charlie and get all the money.  Can Charlie foil their plans and stay alive?

This is one of the best books I've read lately.  John Scalzi is known for his science fiction, having been a past president of the Science Fiction And Fantasy Writers Of America.  His work has won a Hugo and several works are in development as television series.  This work is much lighter and Charlie is a hero that the reader will fall in love with.  There is lots of treachery and double-dealing but Charlie remains the good hearted person he always was.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Luster by Raven Leilani


Edie is working out who she is.  She is living in New York but not exactly thriving.  She is working a dead end job and sharing a roach infested apartment with a roommate she never sees.  Her social life is a series of sexual encounters, both at work and with men she meets in bars or online.  She used to paint but doesn't anymore.  Edie is drifting and she knows it, but doesn't know how to change.

Her most recent man is Eric.  He works in the city and at night returns to his wife, who is a pathologist and the black teenager, Akila, they have adopted.  Edie and Eric have the beginnings of a relationship and when Edie loses her job and her apartment, Eric's wife, agrees to Edie moving in and helping there. The wife seems unsure about how she feels about Edie; distant and rejecting one moment, going to a concert with her or buying Edie paints the next.  Akila becomes attached to Edie as she is the only other black person she sees, her adoptive parents and her classmates being white.  But is this a step forward for Edie or just another misstep?

This is Raven Leilani's debut novel and it echoes her own life.  She was born and raised in New York and thought she would be an artist as art was her early passion.  She studied under authors such as Zadie Smith, Jonathan Safran Foer and Katie Kitamura.  This novel won several prizes such as the Kirkus Prize and the Center For Fiction First Novel Prize.  Leilani captures the aimlessness of a young person realizing that their life is theirs to make of it what they will and that they are responsible for the choices they make.  Readers will by turns be frustrated and cheer for Edie as she stumbles towards what she wants to make of her life.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers. 


Monday, February 12, 2024

Golden In Death by J.D. Robb


It was a cute trinket and when pediatrician Kent Abner opened the package, he was entranced by it.  He didn't remember ordering something but maybe it was a gift from a grateful parent or even a child.  He opens the golden egg and out rushed deadly fumes that killed him.  His husband, the headmaster at a prestigious academy, has no idea who could wish Kent harm and everyone seems to love him.  Eve Dallas and her team are stumped for a motive.

Then it happens again.  This time the victim is a woman with a husband who teaches at the local university.  Again, there seems to be no motive behind who sent the deadly golden egg to her.  But Eve knows one thing.  Her team needs to make progress before more people get packages in the mail.

This is the fiftieth Eve Dallas mystery.  Fans will find all the hallmarks of the other ones, including her attractive, billionaire husband and her team who work to support Eve.  The motive in this one seems a bit far-fetched and my pet peeve with this author is in place.  Eve's husband can never just kiss her, he 'captures her mouth'.  But it is an interesting read to see how the team solves the mystery and who the villian turns out to be.  This book is recommended to mystery readers. 

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Believing The Lie by Elizabeth George


When Inspector Lynley is called upstairs to the head of detectives, he knows it won't be good news.  Earl Bernard Fairclough's nephew, who he raised as a son, has drowned.  The coroner has declared it an accident but Fairclough isn't sure and wants Lynley to come investigate.  But he wants it done in secret, including from Lynley's immediate superior.

With no other option, Lynley sets about packing for the trip.  But he asks his friends, Simon and Deborah, to go also, undercover and pretending not to know him.  Simon is a forensic expert and can check the local coroner's work while Deborah is a photographer and can use that to get to know the family.

There are many suspects, most of whom have a motive.  One daughter lives with an ex-husband and either of them could take over Ian, the nephew's position as presumed next head of the family business.  The other daughter is a blackmailer who has sponged off her parents for decades.  The only son spent years addicted to drugs and has recently returned home with a wife, who has her own secrets.  Ian had come out as gay shortly before his death and left his family and his teenage son has fallen apart.  Then there is the earl's mistress...

This is the seventeenth Inspector Lynley mystery.  Most of the usual characters are here, although Lynley's staff is not much in evidence.   There are twists and turns and dead ends but throughout it all, Lynley works to find the truth, even if it turns out not to be a truth the family wants to hear.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Single & Single by John Le Carre


Tiger Single runs one of the largest financial firms in England.  His plan has been to eventually leave it all to his son, Oliver Single.  Oliver has just graduated as a lawyer and is working in the legal department.  But Single and Single also is a money laundering firm and Tiger decides that it's time Oliver is brought into that side of things also.  He send Oliver to meet a Turkish family living in Russia that he is doing business with.  The Turkish family loves Oliver and he is a big favorite with them.

But Oliver is not on board with illegal activities.  As he starts to realize what the firm is about, he decides to leave.  That puts his life in danger and he is found by Brock, an English secret service man who is interested in taking down Single & Single and the men in the English government that have allowed the firm to flourish and even fed them information.

In the meantime, the Turkish family has decided that Tiger is cheating them and they kill Tiger's lawyer who had been sent to negotiate new business with them.  They demand millions of dollars and Tiger disappears.  Oliver is determined both to save Tiger and to bring down the Turkish family with Brock's help.

John Le Carre is known best for his spy novel series with the character Smiley.  Readers who are expecting more of that will be disappointed because this is a stand alone novel but those who just want good writing and government/banking financial misadventures will find this novel hits the spot.  Oliver is likeable although he lets about everyone push him around.  He has just had a baby and is allowing his wife to take his daughter along with her divorce.  There are twists and turns and Oliver slowly begins to see everything that is going on but remains devoted to his father regardless of what he has done.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Friday, February 9, 2024

The Wrong Woman by Leanne Kale Sparks


Kendell Beck is an FBI agent working with missing and exploited children.  She has just caught a case with a missing five year old girl.  She finds the girl but suspects that there has been sexual abuse in her home.  

But everything is put on hold when her own roommate goes missing.  Gwen and Kendell have been best friends since college and when Gwen needs to borrow Kendell's car, she is quick to oblige.  But Gwen does not return from her restaurant and a few days later is found dead.  Kendell takes time to be with Gwen's family.

Adam Taylor of the local police catches Gwen's case.  He wonders if it is related to the cases of other missing women or if it is personal.  Gwen owns and runs a successful restaurant with her fiancĂ©e who is the chef.  Gwen wants to expand; he wants to stay small.  Some of his actions look suspicious and his alibi doesn't quite hold up.  Some of the other employees have issues as well.  Adam is attracted to Kendell but knows that this is not the time to try to do anything about it.  So he works the case hoping to catch a break and find her killer.

This is the novel in the Kendell Beck series.  Kendell is a strong woman who has faced much adversity in her own life.  She fits in with the men she works with but isn't interested in romance at all.  I listened to this book and the narrator did an excellent job.  Her pacing was quick enough that it lent suspense to the action being narrated yet pleasant for extended listening pleasure.  This book is recommended to mystery readers.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Stay Awake by Dan Chaon


Dan Chaon is known for his short stories, having garnered praise and awards for them.  In these twelve stories he explores people as they face unsettling events in their lives.  In the title story, a couple has had their first child only to discover that at one time, there had been conjoined twins.  Of the second twin, only a head is existent and that twin will be allowed to die as it has no chance at life.  In another story, Patrick Lane Flabbergasted, Brandon is at a dead end several years after his parents had been involved in a couple suicide, leaving Brandon behind to figure out his life.  Readers will find these stories a bit upsetting, a bit pessimistic but the writing is fine and each story leaves the reader with something to ponder.  This book is recommended for short story readers.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont


Many readers know about the time in 1926 when Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days.  There was a nationwide hunt and she was eventually found in a coastal town and insisted she remembered nothing.  This is that story but told from another perspective.  This is the perspective of Nan O'Dea who is Archie Christie's mistress and second wife.  In this telling, Agatha disappeared after Archie informed her that he would be divorcing her and marrying Nan.

Nan grew up between London with a large family of sisters and summers in Ireland at her uncle's farm.  There she met the love of her life, Finnbar.  They plan to marry but World War I intervenes.  When Nan finds herself pregnant, she is taken to an orphanage run by the Catholic Church.  There pregnant unmarried girls deliver their babies who are then adopted out.  Nan runs away after her daughter is adopted.  

In this imagining, a hotel is full of people who become suspects after a newly married couple is murdered .  There is Nan and some of her friends from the orphanage.  Finnbar is nearby and there is a British policeman called Chilton who is assigned both to the murder and to look for Mrs. Christie.  The reader learns why Nan went after Archie and why she won't give him up even to have a life with Finnbar.  

I listened to this book and the narrator did an excellent job.  When Agatha was speaking, the voice reminded the reader of the upper class English life.  When the nuns were speaking, one could imagine the sarcastic smiles they had as they pretended they were there for the best outcome for the girls.  Nina de Gramont captures the time and place perfectly.  Her imaginative take on the event is one that will remain in the reader's memory long after the last page is read.  This novel is recommended for readers of women's fiction.

Friday, February 2, 2024

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold


This is the story of each of Jack The Ripper's victims.  These women, struggling against poverty and addiction, have been painted as prostitutes.  That is far from the truth.  Only the last victim, Mary Ann Kelly, was living as a prostitute.  One other victim had been arrested for prostitution but it had been years in the past and there was no evidence that she had returned to that way of life.

Most of the victims had been married at one time.  One woman's husband had started an affair with a next door neighbor and since he had the ability to provide for the children, she had moved out.  Another was the wife of a coachman which was a prestigious service job but when her addiction to drink led her to wandering the streets drunk and incoherent, her husband was told that if she didn't leave the estate, he would lose his job.

Most of these women were addicted to alcohol.  The other factor was too many children.  Many of the poor had eight to twelve children as birth control was not available to the poor.  The literature telling how to prevent children was of no use to women who could not read and for those struggling to put some kind of meal on the table.  Many of the children were born with little chance to survive as the mothers made sure that their children ate first and were often malnourished themselves as a result.  The women were forced onto the streets and into the worst of the boarding rooms.  Their only goal each day was to find enough money either through work, pawning possessions or begging to obtain a room for the night and some left over to eat and drink.  They were easy targets for a serial killer.

Hallie Rubenhold is an author who specializes in Victorian British history, specifically the history of the women of that time period.  Her research was extensive and goes far beyond the scandalous newspaper stories of the Ripper.  She has found out each woman's entire life story, going back to each woman's childhood and telling how she came to find herself on the street when the Ripper was stalking woman at night.  Readers will finish the book with a much different view about what really went on in this case.  Each woman's life history and story has been returned to her giving her some dignity beyond being Ripper Victim Number X.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers. 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

In A Dry Season by Peter Robinson


It's been a dry season and lakes and rivers are down.  Nearby Thornfield Reservoir has dried up and the small village that was drowned when it was created has been revealed once again.  A boy playing in the houses and sheds that are now evident finds a body and Inspector Alan Banks is called out.

It's been a dry season personally for Banks as well.  His wife left him around a year ago and Banks has been adjusting to life on his own after twenty years of marriage.  His last case ended with him punching his boss and he has been reinstated but confined to desk duty and routine tasks.  

The body turns out to be that of a young woman who lived in the village in the waning years of the second world war.  Gloria was outgoing and attractive, her husband overseas and reported missing.  Had one of the soldiers she had dated killed her?  The artist who painted her nude?  Her husband who returns, shell-shocked and disabled?  Banks works with a young female inspector from the area, Annie, and begins a relationship with her.  Can they find the answers to a murder that happened so many years ago?

This is the tenth novel in the series.  It is interesting to see how Banks's life has changed and how he is adjusting to such a drastic change.  He has bought a cottage he is restoring and venturing into new relationships.  The reader sees Banks not just as a man who solves mysteries but as a father and a man discovering what his new life will be.  The mystery is interesting and has a satisfactory twist at the end.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.