Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffery Deaver


The last thing Deputy Sheriff Brynn McKenzie wants is a phone call calling her back to duty when she's finally made it home.  But there was a 911 call at the lake and she is the closest.  When she arrives, it is to find two bodies and evidence of two assailants.  Out of phone range, she can't call it in and has to hope that the Sheriff is sending backup.

As she tracks the killers, Brynn discovers Michelle.  Michelle is friends with the dead couple and was visiting for the weekend.  She escaped and managed to wing one of the men hunting her.  Now she and Brynn must find a way to avoid the men and get to help.  They are next to national forest which is full of steep drops and impenetrable turf.  Hart is the leader of the killers and he is determined to hunt them down and leave no witnesses.  Can Brynn and Michelle escape him and his accomplice?

Jeffery Deaver is acknowledged as one of the masters of suspense writing.  He has written over forty books and is best known for his Lincoln Rhyme series.  This book is a standalone and it received the International Thriller Award for best novel.  The tension mounts as the two women run and try to outwit the killers only to be discovered by them over and over.  Along the way, they encounter a young girl whom they rescue as well.  This book is recommended for suspense readers.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Parrot & Olivier In America by Peter Carey


Two men come from abroad to the United States in the early 1800s.  Olivier is the son of French aristocrats with all the snobbery that entails.  Parrot is a servant who has been sent to Australia as a boy and then returned to England by the man who sent him there.  Ostensibly, Olivier is coming to America to study the penal system and make a report to the French government.  In reality, he is fleeing another revolution in France.  Parrot has been sent to assist him but is also a spy for the count who sent Olivier overseas as well as Olivier's mother who lives in fear that he might fall in love in America and marry someone unsuitable.

The two have many adventures.  Parrot runs into the love of his life on the ship over, a woman artist who blows hot and cold on his love.  He visits her periodically throughout the book and assists her in her schemes to get rich.  Both the men are astonished at the American verve and determination to improve themselves.  They attend town meetings, visit up and down the Eastern coast and observe different jails and penitentiaries.  Olivier does indeed fall in love with an American heiress and soon is imagining a life in America.

Peter Carey has won the Booker Prize twice and this book was longlisted as well for that prize.  It is a takeoff on the visit and writings of Alexis de Touqueville whose early reporting on the new country was a sensation at the time.  The two men start as master and servant but over their visit come to regard each other as friends and help each other in their various schemes.  Readers will delight in the descriptions of the early United States and how it seems to one from abroad as well as in the various adventures the two men encounter.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff


This anthology of nine stories was published in 2009.  My favorite story was Watershed where a woman finds her childhood friend when she returns to her hometown for a visit and they fall in love and marry.  Another story, Blythe, is about an author who lives to shock and who consumes everyone around her with her constant drama.  The title story, which is the last, is about a group of journalists fleeing Paris ahead of the German occupation and what they will do to survive.

Lauren Groff is one of my must reads.  She has two novels that were National Book Award finalists and an anthology that was also a finalist for that prize.  She has been nominated and shortlisted for numerous other literature prizes and a Guggenheim fellow.  Her work often details unusual situations and individuals and can end with a twist the reader doesn't see coming.  I enjoyed every story in this collection and believe most readers will as well.  This book is recommended for literary readers.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Chorus by Rebecca Kauffman


The Shaw family is a large farming family.  There are seven children.  The father is having a hard time farming and over the years he sells off more and more of the land.  There are two huge family events that marks them all.  Their mother dies after years of deep depression and remoteness from the children.  Then one of the girls becomes pregnant and gets married at fifteen.

Over the years the children disperse to live their lives.  There are marriages and divorces, children, addictions.  Growing up, each child except the one who got pregnant early, had a sibling they were closest to.  They continued this closeness as adults and after the father died, several of the children moved back to the farm and lived together.  

I listened to this novel.  The narrator was perfect, outlining the various events in the childrens' lives as they grew to adults and parents themselves.  The family secrets slowly emerge and reconciliation is found as the childrens' adult lives unfold.  This book is recommended for readers of women's literature.  

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman


Elsa is seven, almost eight.  She is different from most of the kids at school so she is bullied.  Her best friend is her grandmother who loves her more than anyone else in the world.  She has lived in the same apartment building all her life even when her mother and father got divorced.  Now her mother is remarried and about to have a new baby which Elsa calls Halfsie.  She is used to her life, then her grandmother dies.

Now Elsa is bereft.  Her grandmother leaves a series of envelopes with letters to various people and Elsa is charged with delivering them.  Most of them go to other people in the apartment building.  There is the Monster on the first floor, the wurse (a large dog), the woman upstairs who drinks to forget her past, the taxi driver and the officious woman who thinks she is the boss of everyone.  Along the way, Elsa makes new friends and discovers her family's history.  

Backman is a Swedish writer whose books have found great acclaim.  He prefers offbeat characters, usually with hidden secrets that explain their behavior.  His stories unfold with unexpected connections and leave the reader feeling better about the world.  This book is recommended for all readers.  

Friday, April 26, 2024

The Green Mile by Stephen King


Paul Edgecombe is the boss of the Green Mile which is the nickname at Cold Mountain Penitentiary for Death Row.  He has escorted more prisoners to the electric chair than anyone and while he doesn't enjoy it, a job is a job during the Depression.  Some prisoners on the Mile are quiet thinking of what is to come while others are trouble from the start.  Some laugh and joke, some spend their time praying and some try to attack the guards or the other prisoners.

Right now there are three prisoners waiting on their time.  Delacroix killed a young girl then burned down her apartment building, killing more.  Wild Bill has a string of robberies and murders and is always causing trouble.  John Coffey is a giant black man who was convicted of raping and killing two young girls.  He was found cradling them in his arms and crying. 

Edgecombe has a good staff except for Percy.  Percy got his job from being the governor's nephew and he doesn't let anyone forget it.  He has a mean streak and Edgecombe could see him on the other side of the bars if things had gone differently.  The others tolerate him until he uses his position to make an execution go wrong.  

Along the way, Edgecombe realizes two things about Coffey.  First he comes to believe that John Coffey never killed anyone and has been falsely convicted.  Secondly, he realizes that John can cure illness in others after he lays hands on Paul and cures his bladder infection in those days before penicillin when an infection had to be endured until it passed.  The warden's wife is slowly dying of a brain tumor and Paul and his staff find a way to bring her and Coffey together so she can also be healed.

I've seen the movie but had never gotten around to reading the book.  It is magnificent and one of my absolute favorites of King's works.  Coffey is an enigma who seems to be a pure soul put on earth to take on suffering and pain and to heal those he touches.  Paul is a good man who uses his morality to make a bad job as good as it could possible be but is still haunted by his work.  The thought that someone like Coffey exists will give the reader hope and this is the message of the book.  This book is recommended for horror and mystery readers.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Last Exit by Max Gladstone


They met in college.  Each of them had come to college thinking they wouldn't fit in, as they hadn't fit in growing up.  But they found each other and formed a group that would have lifelong connections.  Zelda was a Southern girl from a small rural fundamentalist town.  She found Sal, a brash Brooklyn girl and they fell in love.  Ramon and Ish were roommates and best friends.  Sarah was the most traditional of the group and kept them grounded.

The five found a secret about the universe and hit the road to save the world.  They found alternate universes and fought the rot that was threatening ours.  But at the end, Sal took a step too far and was lost in an alternate world.  

It's ten years later.  Zelda has never left the road, crisscrossing the country, hoping to find a way to get Sal back and repairing the rot where she could.  She finally realizes that she can't do this journey by herself and calls the others back together along with Sal's sixteen year old cousin June who insists she come along to find her cousin.  But the trip is perilous with horrors in other alts and a new enemy, The Man In The Cowboy Hat.  He tracks the group and its unclear what he wants but clear that he intends to get it.  Will the group be successful this time?

This is a magnificent American road trip.  The relationship between the characters is heart sustaining.  Zelda is faithful to her first love and determined to do whatever it takes to be reunited with her, no matter the price she will have to pray.  The others have moved on in life, with professions like doctor and engineer but know they left something undone in their past.  They come together to save Sal but more importantly to save the world.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.  It may be Max Gladstone's best work and that's saying a lot.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Witchmark by C.L. Polk


Many would consider Miles Singer a lucky man.  He is born into one of the hundred families of great wealth and his father is the Queen's closest advisor.  But Miles is not lucky.  He was born a witch not a Singer like his sister.  The Singers are individuals of great prestige.  Witches' fates are either to be a Secondary to a Singer or institutionalized in an asylum.  A Secondary has no purpose except to do a Singer's bidding and give them their power when the Singer runs low, basically a slave.

Miles is determined to escape his fate.  He runs off and joins the army, getting a doctor's training and becoming a war hero.  After the war, he becomes a doctor in a hospital back home where he discovers a strange form of PTSD in the returning soldiers.  They feel like a killer is inside them and indeed, many go home and kill their entire families.  What could this be?  With the help of Tristan, a powerful witch from another country and Mile's new lover, Miles sets out to discover what is going on and to stop it.

This book won the Best Fantasy Award in 2019.  The world building is interesting with the idea of the Storm Singers and their Secondaries.  Miles must fight against his birth curse, his father who never supported him and the plague the returning soldiers are bringing home.  As he and Tristan along with his sister Grace investigate, they find an evil they never suspected.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson


Private detective Jackson Brodie is surrounded by missing or killed young women as he ponders the meaning of being a father and as his ex-wife threatens to take his eight year old daughter to another country.  All his cases at the moment revolve around this theme.

Several decades ago, three year old Olivia disappeared from her back yard where she was sleeping outside in a tent with her sister.  No real clues were ever found.  Now surviving sisters Amelia and Julia have come home to bury their father and uncover a clue that they believe Jackson can use to discover what happened to Olivia all those years ago.

Laura was a young woman who was about to head off to college.  Her last summer home she is to work in her father's office but is brutally killed her first day on the job.  She was the joy of her father's life and even ten years later, he is determined to find the killer and turns to Jackson.

A young woman marries too early at eighteen and has a baby.  Being a perfectionist, she is quickly overwhelmed with no help and a touch of postpartum depression.  In a fit of rage one day, she kills her husband, leaving the baby to go to uncaring relatives.  That girl ran away and is now missing but her sister wants Jackson to track her down. 

In the midst of all these cases, Jackson helps an old lady who keeps lots of cats as she has no one else to call on.  She is a neighbor of the family of Olivia, the missing toddler.  Can Jackson solve the mysteries surrounding all these women?

This is the first novel in the Jackson Brodie case.  Jackson is a former military man and policeman who is kind but can't seem to figure out women or how to live with them.  He has a tormented childhood history himself that has focused his life choices and made him realize how valuable life is and how quickly it can be snatched away.  He is an interesting character and the reader will want to read more about him.  This book is recommended for both mystery and literary fiction readers.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Piece Of My Heart by Peter Robinson


In this sixteenth novel of the DCI Alan Banks series, two murders are investigated.  Thirty years ago, a young girl was found stabbed and left in a sleeping bag at one of the first Woodstock-like outdoor rock concerts.  While someone had eventually been charged and sent to prison for the crime, there was always some question if the police had gotten the right person.  

Now Banks and his team are faced with the murder of a rock journalist.  Worked at first as separate cases, eventually there seem to be ties between the two cases.  The journalist had talked to friends about his next piece having a murder.  He was writing an in-depth piece on the band, the Mad Hatters.   

This band seems to be the link tying the two cases together.  The girl killed at the rock concert was a cousin to one of the Mad Hatters and he had gotten backstage tickets for her and a friend.  The friend later joined the band.  The journalist seemed to be in the area to interview that same man from the band who had left the band after the first murder as he had a mental breakdown from all the drugs he was taking.  He is now living quietly in the area and emerges as Bank's main suspect.  Another Mad Hatter had died in a swimming pool at the estate of a wealthy landowner in the area on a drug-fueled weekend.  Are the two cases linked and will Banks have to solve them both?

This is the sixteenth case in the series.  Banks is in his element with the cases revolving around the music scene which as every fan knows, is a major part of Bank's life.  He has a new superintendent, a woman who makes it clear she doesn't care for Banks but who wants him to do whatever he needs to so that results are successful.  His son also seems to be settling down as he comes to stay with Banks and brings a girlfriend for the first time.  Readers will be interested in how the cases merge as the book progresses and how, while other things change in thirty years, murder never does.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Civilisation Francaise by Mary Fleming


Lily Owens is at loose ends when she realizes after graduating with a degree in law that she has no interest in it.  She knows she doesn't want to be back home with her parents as that has never been a happy place for her.  When her father agrees to fund her for a year in Paris, she enrolls in a course about French culture and heads off.  At first she stays with a family friend, but the wife makes it evident that Lily is a bother.  Lily looks for a job and lodging and is thrilled when she meets a man who is looking for help for his elderly aunt.  She is going blind and needs help only with breakfast as there is another servant who looks after the aunt during the day.

Lily agrees and so meets Madame Quinon.  Although she appears to be an aristocratic French lady, she is in reality an American who came to Paris with her husband before the war.  Germaine is the housekeeper and a Nazi camp survivor.  Together the three settle into the vast mansion that Madame Quinon owns.

Mary Fleming, like Madame Quinon, is also an American by birth but has lived in Paris for over forty years.  Her portrayal of these three women is compelling.  Lily grows up in the year she spends there.  She comes as a shy girl unsure of her worth or what she might want to do with her life.  After several romances and friendships and after taking care of someone else, she emerges as a strong woman sure of herself and her life.  The unraveling of Madame Quinon's life and secrets keeps the reader entranced and the friendship that grows between the three women is life-affirming.  This book is recommended for readers of literary and women's fiction.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Island Of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak


Kostos and Defne are teenagers in love.  That would be fine except for one thing.  They live on Cyprus where Kostos is Greek and Defne is Turkish, meaning that their parents will never accept their love.  They find a tavern run by a gay couple who are also a mixture of Turkish and Greek backgrounds and meet there.  The tavern has a huge fig tree growing up inside and the tree is a character in the novel as well.

When the civil war comes, Kostos' mother sends him to London.  He thinks he is only going for a short visit but in reality it is years before he returns.  Defne has remained on the island throughout the war and now works reclaiming bodies killed in the massacres of that war.  When they see each other, their love reunites and they go to London bearing a cutting of the fig tree.  They marry and have a child, Ada.

Elif Shafak is a Turkish/British writer and her books reflect her Turkish history.  She is known as an advocate for women's rights and her novels often feature strong women who find a way to live their dreams.  In this novel, the reader will learn the history of the Cyprus Civil War as well as the plants, insects and animals who live there, told often by the fig tree character who symbolizes rebirth and continuity.  Kostos and Defne have a love that transcends differences and they find a way to be together.  This novel was shortlisted for the Women's Fiction Prize.  It is recommended for literary fiction and historical fiction readers.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Holly by Stephen King


Things aren't going that well for private investigator Holly Gibney at the Finders and Keepers investigative agency.  Covid has shut most things down and Holly's overbearing mother has just died of the disease.  Her partner is out of commission with the virus as well.  Recent jobs have been more of the lost pet variety than crimes Holly could be interested in.  

Still, she has great friends in Jerome and Barbara Robinson, a brother and sister she met through Bill Hodges, her first partner at the agency and the man who brought Holly out of her shell.  She has also just discovered that she is a millionaire as she will inherit everything in her mother's estate.  So when the call  comes in from a frantic mother, Holly is ready for a new case.

The mother wants Holly to find her daughter who went missing a few weeks ago.  She was on her bicycle on her way home after work.  She stopped in a convenience store as she did most days for a soft drink and there her story stopped.  No one saw her after that.  The police think she might have just decided to run away as there was a note left on her bicycle seat saying she had had enough.  But she was twenty-four, college educated with a job she loved.  Why go anywhere?  

Holly agrees to take the case after checking with a police contact who is heading the investigation there and more than willing for Holly to look into it.  As she does, she finds other people who have disappeared in the same area over the years; a college instructor, a young skateboarder, a female janitor at the college and a guy who worked at the local bowling alley.  What ties them all together?  Is it a connection with the college or the location?  As Holly starts to get a grip on what has occurred, she finds an evil she had never expected.

Holly is a character that Stephen King fell in love with.  He originally wrote her as a minor character in Mr. Mercedes but he fell in love with her personality and courage and used her again in Finders Keepers and The Outsiders.  Here she has her own novel and I surely hope this isn't her last appearance.  I'd love to see an entire series written about this woman whose unique mind helps her solve cases and whose personality wasn't allowed to shine until she was middle-aged.  The mystery is convincing and this is one of my favorite King novels.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCraken


This anthology of nine stories is by Elizabeth McCracken, who is known for her gentle and offbeat writing.  There is a story about a son whose mother was in a circus sideshow as she was born without arms and now gives a home to other performers who are homeless.  Another story features a family with nine children.  When the children grow up, they still socialize only with each other and push everyone else away, including spouses.  My favorite story is about a couple who receive a visit from a distant aunt of the husband's.  Only after she has been with them for months do they discover she isn't related to them at all.  

Elizabeth McCracken is known as a writer's writer.  She is close friends with Ann Patchett and is the person who reads Patchett's books before they are published.  She has had three books longlisted for the National Book Awards.  Her stories feature the mundane lives of people with fantasy thrown in as an everyday occurrence.  I try to read everything she writes as I find her whimsy and insight into our lives memorable.  This book is recommended for readers of anthologies and literary fiction.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito


A mass shooting has occurred in one of the wealthiest high schools in Sweden.  Three students and a teacher are dead.  Maja Norberg is arrested.  One of the dead is her best friend and another is her boyfriend who started the shooting.  Maja is charged with murder as she fired the shots that killed her friend, Amanda, and her boyfriend, Sebastian.

This story is told entirely from Maja's perspective.  At first she can barely speak as she is shocked by what has occurred.  We hear how Sebastian, the son of a billionaire, picked Maja out of her class to be his girlfriend.  They sailed on yachts and Sebastian gave enormous parties.  But it is soon clear that Sebastian's father considers him a failure and that Sebastian is damaged by his father's disdain.  He lives in a fog of drug use and soon Maja wants to leave him but when she tries, bad things happen.

Most of the narrative is about the trial.  Maja's parents have hired one of the best attorneys in Sweden and he is sure that Maja doesn't deserve to be in jail.  As the narrative unwinds, it becomes clear that Maja shot Sebastian to stop him killing more people and that her friend was caught by an errant bullet.  But can Maja, who is the most hated person in Sweden and whom the newspapers and mass media have covered as a spoiled rich girl, find justice?

Mmalin Persson Giolito is a Swedish author and lawyer.  Her law background makes the court case interesting as the reader sees behind the testimony to what the various attorneys are trying to accomplish.  But more interesting is the depiction of these rich teenagers and the degree to which money and privilege has ruined their lives, how they would trade the money for a true connection with their jetsetting parents.  This book is recommended for readers of mysteries and court cases.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Murder Your Employer by Rupert Holmes


Cliff wants to kill his former boss, who mentally pushed two of Cliff's friends to their deaths and made Cliff's name mud in his industry.  Doria wants to kill the head of her studio who is planning to kill Doria's acting career because she rejected him romantically.  Gemma eased the suffering of her father's terminal illness by sending him to a painless death; now she is being blackmailed by a co-worker who gets the promotion Gemma deserved and makes Gemma do all of her work.  Gemma doesn't see any way out except to kill her.

All three, along with many others with similar tales, end up at the McMasters School of Homicide.  Geographically remote and secretive, the purpose of the school is to train those who can afford it to be able to kill without detection.  Will Cliff, Doria and Gemma make the grade?

This book is an amusing take on the subject of deserved murders.  The characters are easy to cheer for and the wit and attention to detail is spot on.  Holmes is a playwright along with being an author and his writing shows this as it quickly gets to the point and moves quickly as a play must do.  He has had success with his music, his plays and his books.  This novel is recommended for mystery fans looking for a lighter read.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Never Broken by Lori Duffy Foster


After coving a press conference for the announcement of a new commercial and shopping project in an area full of abandoned warehouses and some small shops, journalist Lisa Jamison has a shock.  Getting into her car, she finds a man lying on her back seat.  He is skeletal and seems on his last legs.  A car slowly crawls by her, obviously looking for the man.  Lisa decides to help him and drives him away.

When he can talk the man, Saul, has a horrific story to tell.  He was snatched off the street twelve years ago as a young man.  Along with twenty other people in the same situation, he has been a slave for those years, forced to work sewing goods in a fetid basement.  The slaves are given very little food and beatings are frequent and the hours are long.  One man had escaped a few years before and gotten to the police.  He was turned over to the same people who had enslaved him who convinced the police the man was an escaped mental patient.  His consequence was death.

Lisa is appalled and determined to expose this group.  She hides Saul away with a friend and a doctor she had dated for a while works on Saul's recovery.  But it is soon clear that Lisa is being followed after an attempt on her life.  Telling her editor, he gives her a partner and hides her away in safe locations at night.  Can Lisa and her partner find the slave warehouse before it is moved?

Lori Duffy Foster is a former crime reporter herself and her inside knowledge of how newspaper offices work is evident.  In this novel, she exposes a growing problem that is not common knowledge, that there are still slaves in our country and worldwide.  Many of women forced to work as prostitutes while others are slaves in factories or sold as household help to those willing to be part of this horrific trade.  The reader will be caught up in Lisa's investigation and it's climatic finish.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Strange Affair by Peter Robinson


In this fifteenth book in the DCI Alan Banks series, Banks is on leave when he gets a strange call.  His brother, Roy has called and asked Banks to call him back, saying it could be a matter of life and death.  The two brothers aren't close so Banks is surprised.  When he gets to Roy's house, Roy has disappeared, leaving everything behind including his phone.

Meanwhile, back at the station, there's a new murder.  A young woman was found on the expressway in her car with a gunshot wound that killed her.  There have been several other murders and attacks on the expressway in the past few years and Annie Cabbot, who is in charge, wonders if the cases are related.  But there is one strange thing that doesn't fit that theory.  The woman has a piece of paper in her pocket that says Alan Banks and his address.  Is this a friend of Alan's?

As the two cases progress, Roy's brother seems to have perhaps been mixed up in some shady business dealings.  He has been successful but always willing to skate close to the line.  Has he gotten involved with something dangerous?  The woman is found to have worked in an abortion clinic.  Had that been a factor in her death and how did she know Banks?  Eventually the two cases collide and become one, one that neither Banks or Cabbot will forget.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Gould's Book Of Fish by Richard Flanagan


William Buelow Gould was a criminal, he would agree.  His crimes were mostly minor ones, forgeries and other cons.  But he was sent to Australia and after another crime, sentenced to the worst prison in the colony, one from which no one escaped alive.  But Gould had two talents.  One was for landing on his feet and the other was an ability to paint.  His sentence was made more bearable when he was assigned to a staff member who was making a study of the native fish and wanted Gould to illustrate his writings.

We meet many other men in the novel.  There is the psychopathic commander whose fantastical dreams and projects he used Gould's artistic talents to achieve.  He had a native mistress who was also Gould's mistress on the sly.  There was a native tracker who worked for the staff tracking down escapees.  One of Gould's acquaintances from England was also there and used his engineering skills to make his life bearable.  

But mostly it was a drear place where the daily ration of unhealthy food was broken up by beatings, executions and unending toil.  At times Gould was assigned to the worst cells, ones where the tide came in twice a day and the prisoners had to float near the ceiling until the waters receded.  Those assigned there were never dry, never comfortable.  

This book was a major sensation in 2002, winning the Commonwealth Prize, the New York Times Notable Fiction, L.A. Times Best of the Best and many other awards.  Richard Flanagan was born and raised in Tasmania and the book is based on the stories of transported prisoners who endured what was known as the worst prison in the British Empire.  Set in the 1830's, Gould's ability to rise above the everyday torments and occasional outright brutality of his situation while documenting the evil he saw around him educates and horrifies in equal measure.  This book is recommended for readers of literary and historical fiction. 

Friday, April 5, 2024

Bone Deep by Joel Schwartz and Charles Bosworth Jr.


On a Tuesday night in 2011, Russell Faria returned home from his weekly game night with friends thirty minutes away.  He walked into a nightmare.  His wife, Betsy, lay on the floor in a pool of blood, stabbed with what was later detailed as fifty five wounds.  He called 911 immediately and EMS workers found Betsy cold and starting rigor mortis, something that would indicate death had occurred around two hours before.

But the nightmare would deepen.  After talking with a woman who claimed to be Betsy's best friend, Russ himself was arrested for Betsy's murder.  Four people testified that Russ was with them at the game night and he had receipts for some errands he had run on the trip but that solid alibi did nothing to sway the police and prosecutor.  Instead they believed Pamela Hupp, the supposed best friend who had lots of story to tell about Russ's cruelty to Betsy although everyone else thought the marriage was solid.  Pam had also ended up with one of Betsy's life insurance policies taken out to care for her two daughters after her death (Betsy had terminal cancer).  Although Pam made lots of noise about giving that money to the girls, she instead spent it on herself.  

Russ went through a trial and one of the authors, Joel Schwartz, was his lawyer.  He thought he had never seen a more clear case of a defendant's innocence but the jury returned a guilty verdict.  Russ was sent to prison but Schwartz continued to work for Russ's freedom.  He filed an appeal, brought a case against Pam for the insurance money and reported the prosecutor and judge to the federal agency responsible for investigating cases where fraud could be involved.  He got a second trial for Russ and after four years, Russ was found not guilty.

This case had more Dateline episodes than any other in the history of the true crime show.  With Russ's lawyer's inside information, true crime readers will learn all the facts of the case.  As time went on, Pam was found to have a connection to several other murders, including that of her own mother, and is currently serving a life sentence.  The sheer evil of committing a murder for her own profit and then trying to frame someone else makes Pam Hupp deserving of the life sentence she has received.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.  

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Vanity Fair's Writers On Writers edited by Graydon Carter

 Vanity Fair has collected, in this 2016 edition, various pieces published in the magazine that are written by authors about other authors.  It starts with Christopher Hitchens writing about Dorothy Parker and ends with an article about Kay Thompson, the author of the Eloise books, by Marie Brenner.  There is a section on poets such as W.H. Auden, E. E. Cummings and Marianne Moore.

One of my favorite sections was named Literary Lions.  There Anne Tyler wrote about Reynolds Price, Martin Amis about Saul Bellow and Michael Lewis about Tom Wolfe.  There were also articles about Eudora Welty, Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote, Normal Mailer and Ernest Hemingway.

The next section was about writers who lived overseas and included articles about Paul Bowles, Gabriel Barcia Marquez, Primo Levi, Naguib Mafouz and Salman Rushdie.  The section Short Takes has articles about Willa Cather, James Baldwin, Roger Straus, Ward Just, Toni Morrison, Ishmael Beah, Robert Harris, Judy Blume, Wole Soyinka, Sonny Mehta and Christopher Hitchens. 

A Family Affair had Lili Anolik writing about Joan Didion, Dominick Dunne writing about his brother John Gregory Dunne and Mike Hogan writing about Dominick Dunne.  Memoir had articles by Laura Hobson, Arthur Miller and William Styron.  Styron wrote about his experience with depression and it was the best article on this topic I've read.  

A final section is titled Behind The Bestsellers.  It features articles about Josephine Tey, Grace Metalious, Mary McCarthy, Jacqueline Susann, Cormac McCarthy, Stieg Larsson, James Patterson and Donna Tartt.  It discusses the envy of those who write bestsellers and how their work is considered less than weighty tomes of literature.  It also discusses how money and fame has been a curse to some authors rather than the blessing they expected.  This book is recommended for anyone interested in literature and those who produce it for us.  

Monday, April 1, 2024

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta


Eve Fletcher is about to start a new chapter in her life.  Since her husband walked out seven years ago, it has been just her and her son Brenden.  Now he is headed off to college and she's not sure she's ready to live alone.  Eve is the head of a senior center so it's not likely she will meet anyone at work.

But Eve adjusts.  She takes a class at a community college and finds friends there.  The class is taught by a transgender man and she is now unsure about how to find female friends.  There is also a college freshman who knows Brenden and considers him a bullying jock.  

Along with challenging her mind, Eve also explores her sexuality.  She watches porn, makes a tentative move towards a female colleague.  The freshman develops a crush on Eve and tries to seduce her.  When all is said and done, how many new experiences will Eve experience?

Tom Perrota is known for his humorous writing, taking up such topics as elections and everyday human existence.  Eve is someone most middle-aged women can relate to as they try to determine who they are and what they want once the years of childrearing are over.  Brenden starts as an obnoxious teenager but grows over the course of the novel.  This book is recommended for readers of literary and women's fiction.