Saturday, March 30, 2024

Age Of Ash by Daniel Abraham


Two girls, friends, grow up in Kithamar.  They are poor and do whatever they can, including stealing, to get enough money to survive another day, to get a place to sleep and food to eat.  Alys is the elder and looks out for Sammish.  Sammish is an orphan with no one else to watch out for her and has the ability to fade away in a crowd.  After Alys's brother is killed, the two friends' paths start to separate.  Alys becomes obsessed with taking up her brother's mission and Sammish isn't interested as she sees what Alys's obsession is doing to her.  

A royal intrigue is also taking place.  The current prince of the land had an affair with a priestess and a son was born to her.  The prince leaves, knowing that if necessary he had an heir that others didn't know of.  When he became sick, he sent for the child but by then, others knew and those in opposition kidnapped the child.  Now his mother has come to Kithamar to find her son and Sammish is helping her.  

This is the first in a planned trilogy by Daniel Abraham.  He has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy awards.  Many know him as James S. A. Corey, the co-author of The Expanse series.  In this series, he has chosen to focus on feminine leads.  Alys, at first glance, seems to be the leader and the strong one of the friends, but as the story unfolds, Sammish in her quiet way, tends to accomplish what she sets out to do.  The royal intrigue seems to be the event that will fuel the second novel in the series.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Dazzling by Chikodili Emelumadu

 Two teenage girls deal with spirits in West Africa.  Ozoemena has been chosen to be the family's next leopard.  The leopard spirit is stalking her, waiting for her to agree to the merge.  She, on the other hand, is still angry at her father, who has left the family to find his brother's spirit, the last leopard.  

Treasure's father is also gone but he has died.  Before he died, Treasure and her mother lived with him in a nice house with anything they wanted.  But after his death, his brothers moved in and took everything, evicting the two women.  They now live in a hovel, often hungry unless Treasure is able to scrounge some food somehow.  She makes a deal with a spirit to find him wives if he will introduce her to the Bone Woman.  The Bone Woman can bring back her father from the dead.

The two girls hurtle down their separate paths, both trying to restore their families.  But their paths will collide and only one can survive.  Which will it be?

Chikodili Emelumadu was raised in Nigeria.  This is her debut novel and for most readers it will be an introduction to the culture and superstitions of West Africa.  The girls recognize the value of an education and both long to be in a school situation.  Both girls use what they know to try to patch their broken families and both soon realize that they have gotten in over their heads.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction, especially international fiction.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Obsessed by Ted Dekker


The time, 1944.  The location, a Nazi work camp for women named Torun.  Margaret and Ruth arrive on the same day and both are pregnant.  They worry for their babies because the Commandant is known for his cruelty.  The women are worked hard and fed little.  Periodically, one comes back to the barracks to find a red scarf on her bed and that is a death sentence.  She must go to the Commandant's quarters and by the morning, her body will be found hanging from the gates.

Ruth has her baby and Margaret is not far behind.  They obsess that one will have a girl and one a boy and those children will grow and fall in love.  They see that as an ultimate victory over the camp and the cruel men that run it.  When Margaret is chosen for the death ritual, Ruth takes her place so that Margaret can have her baby also.  Margaret promises to raise both children as her own.

Current time.  Margaret has just died in Los Angeles.  She had never found her son or Ruth's daughter although she spent her life looking for them.  She leaves a letter and a box behind for her son.  Now the next generation will play out the obsessions of their parents.  Will the children, now grown, find each other or will the Commandant's son kill them both?

Ted Dekker is known for his thrillers.  He had an unorthodox childhood, his parents missionaries who lived among the cannibals of Indonesia.  This upbringing can be seen in the novels he writes with supernatural elements.  This book explores the concepts of sacrifice, cruelty and the will to live no matter the circumstances one encounters.  The reader will be taken on a rollercoaster ride as the children play out their parents' obsessions and on the edge of their seat wondering who will survive.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

A History Of Wolves by Emily Fridlund


Maddie lives on the lake in the forest in an abandoned commune with her mother and father.  Maddie sometimes wonders if they are actually her parents or just the adults willing to take her when the commune broke up and she was a toddler.  Now fifteen, her living situation makes her an outsider at her school and she doesn't have friends.  She is interested when a new family moves in across the lake but close enough to view.

There is a mother and small boy, the father away working.  The mother, Patra, seems lonely.  Paul is four and Linda, which is how Maddie introduces herself, becomes his babysitter and Patra's friend.  She teaches Paul the things she knows about nature.  The father is an astrologer and away on work.  When he returns, the atmosphere at the house changes as he is definitely in control and manages every interaction.

Things are also difficult for a teenager to process at school.  There is a girl who becomes pregnant in the tenth grade after having made accusations of improper contact with a teacher.  She later recants her accusation but the teacher is sent away to prison after questionable items are found in a search.  Maddie/Linda had a relationship with him when he picked her to give her presentation about wolves at a conference.  She wonders if he was truly guilty as he never was inappropriate with her, or if he just didn't find her attractive.

As Maddie looks back on this summer as an adult, the crisis of the time was when Paul became sick.  Leo, the father, is a strict Christian Scientist and this affects how Paul is handled during his illness.  Maddie doesn't understand what is happening as with so many things she witnessed or experienced but now looking back, she wonders if she could have affected the situation.

This is a debut novel.  The author grew up and still resides in Minnesota where the book is set.  Maddie is an interesting character, just figuring out how to relate to others and the world and then stuck in many ways for years afterwards in that summer.  There are questions about the Christian Scientist religion, about controlling individuals, about marriages that are barren and based on one person having all the power.  Readers will feel the tension under the everyday life of Maddie and know that something must have happened that summer that impacted the rest of Maddie's life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Playing With Fire by Peter Robinson


Two longboats have caught on fire and been destroyed.  When DCI Alan Banks gets there, he discovers that there are two casualties.  One was a fifty-something artist and on the other boat, a young drug addict has been killed.  The investigation shows that those killed were squatters, living in the derelict boats and that the fire was arson and therefore murder.  Several days later and a few miles away, a caravan is also torched and another man is killed.  Both men show signs of having been drugged with the same compound.  

There are lots of candidates.  It could be a firebug, someone who just likes to set fires and chose these run down structures randomly.  There was a young man who was living with the drug addict and he had been close to the caravan the night it went up in flames.  He accuses the woman's stepfather, saying that his girlfriend was a drug addict due to the man's abuse and that the stepfather had been trying to get her to move back home.  There was a secondhand bookseller who seemed to have ties to both the men.  The police call in an outside expert when it appears that there could have been an art fraud circle operating in the area and that the artist could be involved.  Who is the murderer and can Banks and his team catch him?

This is the fourteenth novel in the Alan Banks series.  Banks has a new girlfriend although he doesn't get to see her often as she is a policewoman in another district.  Annie Cabbot has a new love interest also and Banks is ashamed to find he is jealous.  Both throw themselves into the investigation and soon find a connection between the two male victims while other suspects can be eliminated.  The final solution is chilling and puts Banks himself in danger.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Searcher by Tana French

 Cal Hooper spent twenty-five years as a Chicago policeman.  After his wife decided she wanted a divorce, he decided it was time to retire.  But he didn't just retire and hang around Chicago.  Instead he bought a cottage in rural Ireland that needed repairs and moved across the ocean.

Cal's days are spent cleaning, roofing, stripping wallpaper and painting.  He makes friends with the neighbors, most of whom are older men who farm and have lived there their entire lives.  But there are still some young people.  One, Trey, starts coming by and soon is helping Cal with his work.  But Trey has an ulterior motive.  Trey wants Cal to find his older brother, Brenden, who disappeared six months ago.

Cal is reluctant to do so.  His best guess is that Brendan just decided to take off to try to find a better life in one of the cities.  But as he starts to look into it, it seems that Brendan may have gotten himself caught up in trouble with some of the local drug gangs.  It could be more serious.  

Most people know Tana French as the author of the Dublin Squad series.  This new series is set not in a city but in the country.  Cal knows nothing about the country or the life long relationships that exist and as he starts to uncover dark secrets, he wonders if he is putting everyone he knows into danger.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng


Bird Gardner lives with his mother and father in a happy home.  But disaster awaits.  The government has passed a law called PACT, Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act.  It brings a wave of censorship with books from other cultures disappearing from libraries.  Anyone who speaks against the law or tries to champion other cultures runs to the risk of imprisonment.  Or even worse, parents who are found in violation of PACT can have their children suddenly removed from their home and rehomed with another family far away and with no way for the parents to find out where their child now lives.

The Gardners are in jeopardy.  Bird's mother is Chinese and her parents died of anti-Asian violence.  Worse, a poem that Margaret, Bird's mother, wrote years before has been adopted by those rebelling against PACT, a phrase from the poem, 'Our Missing Hearts'  becoming their slogan.  This puts the Gardners squarely in the crosshairs and the parents make a heartbreaking decision.  In order to protect Bird and make sure he isn't rehomed, Margaret leaves the family and has no contact afterwards, no letters, no phone calls, no communication.  That allows Bird's father to continue to raise Bird.

When Bird gets old enough to question where his mother is and why she left, he finds a clue that could lead him to her.  He takes off by himself to find his mother and join her fight.  Will he be successful?

Celeste Ng is known for writing novels that talk about situations that challenge families.  Her exploration of  Asian prejudice and censorship in a time of increased book banning feels prescient.  The reader will fall in love with Bird and rally to the side of those fighting for freedom in an increasingly limited country.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The House Of Doors by Tan Twan Eng


In 1921, Somerset Maughn, known as Willie to his friends, arrives in Penang, Malaysia, along with his secretary Gerald.  He is there to visit his old friend Robert who lives there with his wife Lesley and their children.  Maughn has just released a new book and it is doing well but while on his visit, disaster strikes.  He gets news from his lawyers that he has lost all his savings in a risky investment.  Distraught, he looks around for material for a new book.

Willie is gay and Gerald is not only his secretary but his lover.  He had hoped to divorce his wife and travel more extensively with Gerald but that is not likely if he is impoverished.  He hears that Robert and Lesley had known the Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat Sen and believes that Lesley may have had an affair with him.  Would that be a good topic?  Willie believes that everyone knows a writer uses everything he hears so he doesn't need to feel guilty about exposing secrets others have kept hidden.  But as he gets to know Lesley better in late night conversations, he finds a better topic.  One of Lesley's friends had been charged with murder of a man she might have been involved with.  

Robert and Lesley have secrets but not the ones that Willie suspects.  Their marriage has been a sham for many years but under everything there is still some love existent.  Lesley is torn between keeping her secrets or blowing everything up in the relief of having someone to tell them to. What will Willie do?

This novel was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize as were his two previous novels.  It won various awards and is considered a best historical fiction.  Eng was born in Penang so he knows the area and can reproduce it and its culture during this time period.  There is much discussion of homosexuality and of the Chinese revolution to overthrow the Emperor.  The murder trial adds mystery while validating the cultural attitudes of the English who lived there and considered themselves above the native population.  This book is recommended for readers of historical and literary fiction.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

I Want To Thank My Brain For Remembering Me by Jimmy Breslin


Jimmy Breslin was known as a journalist in New York who focused his attention on the ordinary people of the city.  One of his most famous articles was his interview of the man who dug John F. Kennedy's grave after his assassination.  Breslin also was known for reporting on the Mafia which was strong and noticeable in the city at that time and was beaten badly by a member of the Lucchese crime family.  He also uncovered corruption in local government and covered the race riots.  

In this book, Breslin finds that he has an aneurysm on his brain and much of the book is dedicated to his reaction on finding he will have to undergo brain surgery.  He explains what the condition is, how he found the best surgeon and then reports on the operation from start to finish.  Of course, there is much angst before the operation although Breslin, who is a Catholic, feels he is ready to die if that's what's in the cards.  He is much more concerned about surviving but being unable to remember things or think.

Breslin is also known as the journalist who Son of Sam wrote a series of letters to.  These letters were printed in the paper and many at the FBI condemned Breslin, saying that his sensationalizing of the murderer extended his criminal activity and caused more murders.  Breslin was at the center of most events during the 1950's to his death in 2017.  He wrote columns up onto his death and always focused on the average person who was just trying to make it in the world.  This book is recommended for those interested in journalism, events of the time and autobiographies.  

Monday, March 18, 2024

A Very Nice Girl by Imogen Crimp


Anna is twenty-four and wants to be an opera singer.  She was shocked when she was accepted to the London conservatory she applied for on a scholarship as she never expected it would happen.  She moves to London much to her parents' dismay but they aren't able to help her with money.  She must scrimp and save and take side jobs when they appear.  Then she meets Max.

Max is in his mid-thirties, rich and successful and everything Anna had dreamed of.  He is an investment banker and has a huge apartment on the seventeenth floor of a glass skyscraper.  Max is in the process of getting a divorce and the two agree to keep it casual, keep it light.

But soon Anna finds that is impossible to do.  She finds herself skipping classes and rehearsals if Max has a free evening.  She listens as he questions if this is the life she really wants, one of constant competition and auditions, one that pays little unless you are at the very top of the profession.  She even lets Max give her money when he sees how she is struggling to even eat some weeks.  Anna finds that her dreams seem to be shifting from the career she has always held first to being whatever Max wants her to be.  Which dream will win

This is Crimp's debut novel and she takes much from her own life.  After getting a degree from Cambridge in English, she spent several years trying to be an opera singer, although it was clear to her from the start that she was ill-suited for it.  She describes the atmosphere of a conservatory clearly, the comradery, the competition, the constant anxiety and fear of failure and the joy when something goes well and it seems that one might yet reach their dreams.  She also captures the experience of a young girl dating a man who is soon overpowering.  She explores how slowly one starts to accommodate the man's schedule, his desires, his need to remain free even if one is head over heels in love with him.  Accepting someone else's thoughts about one's dreams is a formula for failure but the balancing act between one's dreams and one's desire for love is a tricky one, one that many women wake up in middle age to regret which end of the balance they have ended up with. I listened to this novel and the narrator with her English accent transports the reader to the London Anna is trying to conquer.   The reader will emphasize with Anna but may not like Max.  This book is recommended for readers of literary and women's fiction.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

The Waters by Bonnie Jo Campbell


The Zook women live on an island on the waters, or swamp as most would call it, in Michigan.  The head of the family is Herself, a woman who those around her fear but come to for healing.  She lives in harmony with the plants and animals of the waters, even the rattlesnakes that are a protected species.  Herself had three daughters.  One is living in California, one is a nurse nearby and the youngest, Rose Thorn, is the town's fascination.  All the men are in love with her.  She has always loved the farmer next to the island but refuses to marry him.  Rose periodically disappears, staying with her sister in California and leaving behind her eleven year old daughter, Dorothy known as Donkey, with Herself.

Men are forbidden on the island.  Herself was married but that was long ago and she doesn't trust men with their guns and their casual destruction of everything around them.  When a bullet hits Herself her thoughts are justified.  Her injury brings all the sisters home and the Zook family secrets start to emerge. 

Bonnie Jo Campbell is known as a master of documenting the lives of those who live close to nature, those who are poor and ignored.  Campbell has the knack of transporting the reader into the world she has created and the characters are drawn so well one feels they just ran into them at the post office yesterday.  There are echoes from Campbell's own life in the novel as she also grew up in Michigan and she also loves mathematics as Donkey does.  The relationships between the sisters and their mother are strong and sustaining.  This book should be a strong contender for literary awards such as the Women's Prize for Literature and the Booker and is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Close To Home by Peter Robinson


When Alan Banks was fourteen, like most teenage boys he had a gang of friends.  They played football, listened to music, checked out girls and just hung out at each others' homes.  Of them all, Banks was closest to Graham Marshall.  Then, a few weeks after Banks had an encounter near the river with an aggressive man, Graham went missing.  Did he run away?  Had he been murdered?  Now, all these years later, bones have been found and identified as Graham.  Although the body isn't in Bank's district, he volunteers to help with the case.

There is also a case going on at home.  Another teenage boy, this one the stepson of a famous footballer, has gone missing.  Luke was a quiet boy, interested in literature and music with not much use for sports. When Luke's body is found floating in the water,  Annie Cabbot is assigned the case and Banks works it also.  There are hints that Luke had a girlfriend that no one can identify and that there  was tension at home.  Can these two cases of murdered teenage boys be solved?

This is number thirteen in the Alan Banks series.  The reader gets to see more about Bank's background and his relationship with his parents and brother.  Banks meets a new woman, the officer in charge of the Graham Marshall case and since he and Annie are no longer dating, he starts a relationship with this new woman.  At the end, both cases are solved along with a larger issue of police corruption and gangster involvement.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, March 15, 2024

House Of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland


Iris is the youngest of the infamous Hollow sisters.  When they were small, they disappeared off a busy Edinburgh street on New Year's Eve in the space of time it took for their parents to exchange a kiss.  They reappeared, Grey, Vivi and Iris, a month later on the same street, naked and shivering and with no memory of where they had been or what happened there.  Their parents who had been about to be arrested for murder were ecstatic.  

But things weren't good.  The parents had spent a month grieving and blaming each other and the marriage was basically over.  The girls' father had a mental breakdown and killed himself.  Both Grey and Vivi left and made their own way in the world, leaving Iris alone at home with her mother.  Grey had become the world's most famous model and designer while Vivi was a rebel and played in a rock band.  

Now Grey has disappeared again and Iris and Vivi band together along with Grey's boyfriend, another model, to find her.  Can they find Grey and all the secrets their lives have been composed of?

Krystal Sutherland, originally from Australia, is a young adult author.  Her books incorporate the supernatural and are dark with vividly drawn characters.  The reader will be drawn into the Hollow sisters' mystery and appalled as all the secrets emerge.  This book is recommended for young adult readers and those interested in the supernatural.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Exordia by Seth Dickinson


When Anna goes on a walk in Central Park, the last thing she expects is to meet an alien.  An alien with nine snakelike heads and who expects to come home with her.  Ssrin tells Anna that they share a connection that will never end.  Anna, who is a Kurdish immigrant, is not sure she believes Ssrin but the fact that no one else seems to see her lends merit to the idea.

Ssrin is on Earth for a reason.  She is a renegade from her home planet and is here to retrieve a spaceship called Blackbird.  It is in Anna's home country and she wants Anna to go with her.  Anna is contacted by the United States government which is trying to make sense of Blackbird.  She and Ssrin go there along with the military and an associate Defense Secretary.  There are already scientists from several countries there trying to figure out what Blackbird is.

The word isn't good.  The aliens want not only to retrieve Ssrin and Blackbird but plan to extinguish human life on Earth.  Anna reunites with her mother who she hasn't seen since she was a child and who leads the Kurdish immigrants in the area.  An Iranian pilot also joins the core group that is frantically working to find a way to save human life on earth.  Is it possible?

Seth Dickinson hit the science fiction genre with his book The Traitor Baru Cormorant, which is more of a fantasy.  This novel is more science fiction and has lots of military action and battles.  It brings together seven humans, each with their own strengths and weaknesses along with their own secrets, and bands them together to attempt the impossible.  There is lots of math and science and this is not a novel that one picks up for a light afternoon's reading; it requires concentration and intelligence to fully grasp the horror of what is happening and the science that may defeat it.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Cultish by Amanda Montell


In this book, author Amanda Montell, who holds a degree in linguistics, discusses cults and how one of their major tools in attracting and retaining members is language.  At the beginning, individuals are 'love-bombed' and told that they can reach their highest potential.  Promises and information is kept vague.  Later, those who have joined are given a language specific to those surrounding them, drawing them in deeper and giving them a feeling of community.  That feeling of community is used to guilt trip anyone who wants to leave and many finally wake up to find years have passed.

Montell starts by using examples of what everyone calls cults, people like Jim Jones and the leader of Heaven's Gate, both of whom led their followers into suicide.  She talks about how deception is a key component of these cults and gives examples of various dangerous and life threatening cults.

But then Montell goes on to describe other areas which are 'cultish' and that use many of the same techniques and language that their more dangerous cousins do.  Multilevel marketing like Amway, cosmetic and clothing lines are discussed.  This is interesting because most of the individuals caught up in these areas rarely think of themselves as belonging to cults.  Another area, the newest one created by our Covid isolation and our focus on health, are exercise groups like Crossfit and Peleton.  These groups have cultish language, create groups that soon are the individuals social outlet and which disappear immediately when the individual leaves the group.

Montell has written several books about linguistic subjects and has a popular podcast about cults.  She wrote Wordslut: A Feminist Guide To Taking Back The Language in which she encourages women not to allow others to define them by the words they might be called.  Her degree is in linguistics from NYU.  This book and its concepts are in development for a television series and is recommended for nonfiction readers interested in how language can be used for negative purposes.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Captain Sinbad by Graham Diamond


Sinbad is renowned in Bagdad as an adventurer, soldier and hero.  He is about to marry his long time love, Scheherazade, when the Caliph decides to take her as his own wife and makes Sinbad a criminal.  Sinbad flees Bagdad but is determined to return and marry his love.

His plan is to find a ship and sail until he can find the elusive Red Dahlia which is said to allow the finder to have his most desperate wish.  As Sinbad starts the journey, he finds a talking frog and promises to help him return to being ordinary.  Off they go and soon Sinbad has a ship and crew.

There are many adventures.  Sinbad is captured by female pirates and then imprisoned by the Greeks.  He encounters storms like he has never seen and washes up in Spain in a small village which is about to be overrun by an army of thieves and murderers.  In all his travels, he falls in love with women who help him.  But can he ever get back to Scheherazade?

Graham Diamond writes predominantly in the fantasy and science fiction genres.  This book is a rollicking retelling of the legend of Captain Sinbad and all his adventures.  The reader will be immersed in intrigues, storms, battles and given peaks into Sinbad's way with women and his loyalty to those he surrounds himself with.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.  

Monday, March 11, 2024

Murder Road by Simone St James


April and Eddie are driving to their honeymoon resort when they take a wrong turn.  Soon they are on a deserted road, deep in the woods with no one or nothing around.  Then they see the girl stumbling down the road.  They stop and determine that she is definitely in trouble; there is blood everywhere.  They get her in the car and to a hospital at the nearest town but she dies there.  

Now the police are suspicious of the couple and tell them not to leave town.  The couple go to a local bed and breakfast and are interrogated repeatedly by the police.  They learn that there have been other hitchhikers who have been killed on that stretch of road going back twenty years.  There are also rumors of The Lost Girl who was the first murder victim found and who has never been identified.

Eddie and April know they are guiltless but that doesn't mean they don't have secrets.  Both have things they have never told anyone, including each other.  The police start to bring their secrets to the surface and the couple decides that they will have to find the killer if they are ever going to be able to leave.  With the help of a pair of crime fascinated teenage sisters and the irascible owner of the bed and breakfast, they start to delve into the mystery.  Can they find who killed The Lost Girl?

Simone St. James has made a name for herself in the mystery genre.  Her books typically have a supernatural element and this one follows that.  But the supernatural in this novel is much more believable than usual and the reader will be drawn into April and Eddie's story.  They are both believable characters, haunted by their pasts but totally in love with each other.  As they work to find the answers, they draw on the strength of their relationship.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Help For The Haunted by John Searles


Sylvie Mason doesn't live a teenage normal life.  Her parents are ghosthunters, and spend their time giving lectures and going to haunted places to rid them of spirits.  They have fitted up the basement to bring the most disturbed individuals back to the house to stay until they are healed.  Sylvie has a big sister, Rose, and that's her touchstone to normality.

Then one winter night, things explode.  Her parents are called to a deserted church in the middle of a snowstorm.  They take Sylvie with them but that only means that she is the one who discovers their murdered bodies.  Now she and Rose are living by themselves in the house with all their parents' haunted artifacts in the basement.  

Sylvie is determined to find out what happened.  She is the main witness for the crime and she isn't sure she remembers exactly what happened in that dark place.  She also wants to know all the family secrets that were kept from her.  Can she find out the truth?

John Searles writes suspense novels, often with a supernatural overtone.  He was the books editor at Cosmopolitan magazine and his novels are bestsellers.  In Sylvie, he has created a character readers can relate to as she delves into her family's history, determined to find the truths that have been hidden from her.  This book is recommended for suspense readers.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King


Bill Hodges is a recently retired policeman.  He hasn't had a very successful retirement so far as he never developed any hobbies.  He basically sits in his recliner and watches daytime television while brooding over the case he couldn't solve before he retired.  His only friend is the teenage boy who mows his lawn and helps him with errands.

The case that he broods over is the Mercedes murder.  While a line of people waited for a job fair to open, out of the early morning fog came a Mercedes, plowing into the crowd.  Eight people were killed, including a mother and baby, and many more injured.  The driver calmly drove away afterwards.

Then something unimaginable happens.  The man who drove the Mercedes that day contacts Hodges.  He starts a cat and mouse game with him, daring him to catch him before he kills again.  Bill doesn't want to turn this over to his ex-partner but is determined to catch the killer himself.  His only allies are Jerome, the teenage boy, Jenny, the sister of the woman who owned the Mercedes and Holly, her niece who is on the spectrum but a computer whiz.  Can this ragtag mix of people stop the killer before he strikes again?

This book is the first in the Bill Hodges trilogy.  It also introduces Holly, who got her own book this past summer.  Mr. Mercedes won the Edgar Award for Best Novel.  Hodges is a sympathetic character as are the people who help him.  The killer is clearly beyond saving as his entire life has been full of psychopathy.  The reader will cheer for Hodges and his team in a race against time and the book is recommended for thriller readers.

Friday, March 8, 2024

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake


The town of Franklin, Massachusetts, is not sure what to think when their new postmistress arrives.  Iris James is a redheaded, middle-aged woman who is sure about what needs to be done with the mail.  She keeps the place spotless and the lines move along efficiently.  Another newcomer to the small town is Emma Trask who is Iris' total opposite.  She is a young woman, small and pretty, come to town to marry the town's doctor, Will.  

It is 1940 and the townspeople listen each night to broadcasts about the war the United States hasn't yet entered. Bombs are falling nightly on London and newscasters like Edward R. Murrow bear witness.  Frankie Bard is a woman reporter who is also there.  She reports on the bombings but after her roommate is killed, takes up her mission to report on the exodus of the Jewish population from the German held countries.  She meets Will there as he has volunteered to go to London to help with the overwhelming need for more doctors.  

Sarah Blake specializes in historical fiction set in New England.  This book explores the attitudes of the American population before World War II when many believed the war would never touch Americans and no one was thinking about the Jewish population and what was happening to them.  It also explores small town relationships, how everyone know everyone's business but how that leads to people taking care of their neighbors.  This book is recommended for historical fiction readers, especially those interested in World War II fiction.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Lady In The Lake by Laura Lippman


It's 1966 and Maddie Schwartz is determined to live the life she chooses.  She has left her husband and son and the comfortable country club life she had.  Now she lives in a tiny apartment downtown and after finding the body of a missing girl, has managed to parlay that into a job at one of Baltimore's newspapers.  She wants to be a reporter but is instead the assistant to the man who writes the advice column.

Maddie is determined to find a story that will make her bosses give her a shot as a reporter.  The discovery of a woman's body in a nearby fountain at a lake gives her an opportunity.  Cleo Sherwood was a black woman at a local nightclub.  Maddie is sure that Cleo was having an affair with a local politician and is sure she can find if that led to her death.  Maddie has fallen into an affair with one of the policemen she reported the missing girl's body to, and she uses that to get inside information.  Ferdie, the policeman, tells her she can't use anything he tells her as the department will know the information came from him, but Maddie is headstrong and sure she can write the story without leaving any clues behind.  Can she make her dreams come true?

Laura Lippman is one of the best authors in the mystery genre.  She is known as a feminist and her books feature strong women and her beloved city of Baltimore.  Maddie is not really sympathetic as she uses everyone around her to get her way, but it is a story of how women fought to be allowed to work in occupations that had been closed to them before.  It is also a historical look at race relations in the 1960's.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang


When James heads home from university for his Christmas break, he is eager to see his family.  But he finds chaos when he gets there.  His mother Winnie has moved out and is living at a Buddhist temple, tired of her husband's temper and infidelities.  His oldest brother, Dagou, returned home six years ago becoming the head chef and expecting to take over the restaurant.  Now his father is refusing to make him a partner and wants to continue underpaying and overworking him.  Ming, the middle brother, lives in New York where he works in finance and can barely stand to be home for a few days.  The source of the family chaos is in the father, Leo, who is a bully, a miser and a control freak.

When Leo is found frozen to death in the basement meat freezer, it is unclear if it is an accident or murder.  The police come down on the side of murder and all of the Chao family secrets start to surface.  There are the two women that love Dagou and the rivalry between them.  There is the matter of inheritance.  A long-time employee harbors resentment and anger.  Who killed Leo?

Lan Samantha Chang is a Chinese American author who writes about the Chinese experience.  This novel won numerous awards and is a compelling read about the immigrant experience and about toxic family relationships.  It is told mainly through the eyes of the youngest son James who loves everyone in the family and has a hard time believing the things about his family that he discovers.  He must in the end, make a moral decision that will affect everyone.  This book is recommended for readers of multicultural literature and family relationships.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Dust Off The Bones by Paul Howarth


When fourteen year old Billy McBride and his twelve year old brother, Tommy, return to their Australian homestead after fishing that day, they know immediately that something is wrong.  It's too quiet.  They go into the house and find their parents shot dead and their sister dying.  When the Native Police arrive led by the Chief Edmund Noone, they vow to track down the killers and get justice for the boys who they take along.  But something more happens, something so evil that it must be hidden forever.

Now years later, everyone has scattered.  Tommy is somewhere out in the Outback, herding cattle the last he was heard of.  Billy came back home and ended up marrying Katherine, the girl on the largest cattle ranch in the area.  Noone with the help of local law enforcement has hidden what happened that day and has risen in the law establishment.  But he hasn't changed his ways and is determined to keep what happened hidden no matter what it takes.

When a barrister listens to an alcoholic minister who witnessed the incident, he tries to take Noone to account in a courtroom.  That leads to everyone involved having to relive what happens and another successful quashing of the truth.  But Noone isn't satisfied and decides that the only good witness is a dead one.

Paul Howarth is an Australian author and lawyer.  This novel is as raw and elemental as the Australian country as it went through colonization.   It demonstrates the cruelty used to subjugate the native population and how that evil was perpetrated throughout the justice system and society.  Edmund Noone is a cruel man, willing to kill humans as easily as others might swat a fly.  He is a terrifying villain the reader won't forget soon.  This novel is recommended for literary fiction readers and those interested in other country's histories. 

Sunday, March 3, 2024

From Caucasia, With Love by Danzy Senna


Birdie just wants a normal family.  She, her sister Cole and their parents live in Boston.  Her mother is a white activist while her father is a black academic.  Birdie looks like her mother while Cole looks like her father's side of the family.  But things aren't good in the marriage and her parents split up.  Birdie and Cole visit her father on the weekends but she feels like he is more interested in Cole.  Soon he gets a girlfriend and she makes no secret about her preference for Cole.  Birdie starts to let Cole go to her father's house by herself at times since she feels left out.

Then her mother gets spooked.  The group she is in has caught the attention of the FBI and she feels she has to get out of Boston.  The father and she agree to split up, the mother taking Birdie and the father taking Cole and going to Brazil.  Birdie and her mother start years of living on the road, getting up in the middle of the night to move to a new place if her mother thinks someone was watching them.  They lived for a while at a woman's commune.  Birdie is now Jesse with a new Jewish background she often forgets about.  Eventually the two settle in a small New England village.

But Birdie still longs for Cole and her father.  She runs away, back to Boston, looking for any clues that will help her track them down.  Can she find them?

Senna's background is similar to that of Birdie.  She was raised in Boston and was biracial with activist parents.  The novel was well received and received a longlist nomination for the Woman's Prize For Fiction along with other awards.  It is a reminder of the civil rights fights of the 1960's and those on the government's lists as activists were tracked for years as Birdie's mother suspects.  Birdie spends her life looking for love and acceptance and never quite finding what she is looking for.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

The Cask Of Cranglimmering by Dawn Vogel


Captain Svetlana Tereshchenko had been one of the country's best pilots before she left the military.  Now she flies a rogue ship, The Silent Monsoon, with a crew of renegades from all over the world and makes her living by her wits.  She still has allies from her days at the academy and in the service but she also has enemies who would like nothing better than to see her behind bars.

When Svetlana hears that one of the legendary whisky casks of Cranglimmering has been stolen, she sees an opportunity.  If she can only find it before all those looking for it, she can use it as a bargaining chip and to make a fortune.  In the process of looking for it, she finds an island which had left the Alliance decades before and a hint of what else the cask would mean.  Can she find it before everyone else?

This is the first of a fantasy trilogy.  It would best be considered young adult as it is simpler than many of the other books in this genre.  Svetlana is an interesting character and her crew each have distinct personalities and backstories.  The book would be considered in the steampunk subgenre of fantasy.  Svetlana is the main character and the story of how she lost an eye and that of her loves is yet to be revealed.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Aftermath by Peter Robinson


When a domestic occurrence is called in to the local police force, they arrive to find a woman, unconscious, with a head wound.  A male police officer and his rookie female partner go into the basement to clear the house and find horror.  A man comes out swinging a machete, cutting the male officer's throat and killing him.  The female manages to subdue him before her partner dies in her arms.  There is also a teenage girl staked out on a mattress, the missing teenager the police have been looking for.  

By the time Alan Banks arrives, both the husband and wife have been taken to the hospital.  The basement gives up more bodies and the police realize they have found the serial killer known as The Chameleon.  Five teenage girls have gone missing in the past months and Banks suspects they are the other bodies found.  Terence Payne is their villain but how did his wife, Lucy?  How could she not have known what was happening in her house?

As Banks and the team investigate, it turns out that Lucy has a dark past of her own.  Banks suspects she was involved but there is no evidence.  Can he discover all the secrets of that horror house?

This is the twelfth novel in the DCI Alan Banks series.  Banks is still involved, off and on, with Annie Cabbott, who is in the internal affairs department and investigating the actions of the policewoman who subdued Payne.  The psychologist Jenny Fuller is also in the picture and helping with the investigation.  Bank's dogged determination makes sure that the crime is fully investigated and that all the secrets are uncovered.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.