Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Beneath The Bleeding by Val McDermid


It's a new experience for Dr. Tony Hill.  He is laid up in the hospital after surviving an attack by a patient at the mental hospital in which he works.  Having taken an ax blow to the knee, he is not going anywhere for the next while.  But crime goes on regardless.  Bradfield police are in the spotlight as they attempt to solve the murder of Robbie Bishop.  Bishop is a local lad who has made it into the big time of a professional football team where he is the star.  When he is poisoned by ricin and dies, no one knows who would have done this.

Chief Inspector Carol Jordan is in charge of the Bishop investigation.  She visits Tony when she can as they have been friends for many years.  But being friends doesn't mean they never disagree.  When Tony insists that he believes a serial killer is at work, Carol puts his theory aside, assuming that he is seeing conspiracy where none exists, due to drugs and boredom.  When Tony finds more cases of poison, she starts to agree that they have a serial poisoner on their patch.

While the investigation is in play a horrific event occurs.  The football stadium where Robbie played is blown up and it appears to be a case of terrorism.  Carol and her team are adamant that everything else must take second place as the case of thirty-four deaths takes priority.  However, the country's anti-terrorism unit arrives and takes over the bombing, causing hard feelings wherever they go.

This is the fifth Jordan/Hill novel in this series.  McDermid has not settled for a conventional romantic relationship between her two protagonists as each has a lot of personal baggage and challenging careers they put first in their lives.  The complex mystery and its unfolding keeps the reader's attention until all is solved.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, September 17, 2017


Mid-September and fall is starting to arrive.  The temperatures are not as high and the humidity has taken a break.  The early trees have started to turn and mums are at every store.  Football is back, both college and professional and I spend a LOT of time watching football.  In our family, September is the month of celebrations.  In the span of three weeks, we have my husband's birthday, my son, daughter-in-law and two of the grandkids along with my son's anniversary.  It does heighten the sense that we live so far away but I'm grateful for the times we share with them.  I've been using the library which I have no business doing with all the books here but it's hard to go and not pick up a book or three.  Here's what has come through the door lately:

1.  The Welcome Home Diner, Peggy Lampman, women's lit, sent for book tour
2.  A Woman Is A Woman Until She Is A Mother, Anna Prushinskaya, essays, sent by publicist
3.  The Names Of Dead Girls, Eric Rickstad, mystery, sent for book tour
4.  Good Me Bad Me, Ali Land, thriller, sent by publicist
5.  Call Of Fire, Beth Cato, fantasy, sent by publicist
6.  The Flying Man, Roopa Farooki, literary fiction, purchased
7.  Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh, literary fiction, purchased
8.  Ban This Book, Alan Gratz, literary fiction, sent by publicist

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel, hardback
2.  In The Cold Dark Ground, Stuart McBride, paperback
3.  Spoonbenders, Darryl Gregory, hardback
4.  The Names Of Dead Girls, Eric Rickstad, paperback
5.  Beneath The Bleeding, Val McDermid, audio
6.  Golden House, Salman Rushdie, Kindle Fire
7.  The Bear And The Nightengale, Katherine Arden, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Fact Of A Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich


The facts are grim and undeniable.  In the first week of February, 1992, in the rural town of Iowa, Louisiana, Jeremy Guillory, six, goes next door to see if his buddy can come out and play.  The man who comes to the door, Ricky Langley, tells Jeremy that his buddy is gone but will be back soon.  Does he want to come in and wait?  Jeremy knows Ricky who rents a room from his buddy's parents and who has babysat for him and the couple's children so he goes in.

Later that day his mother, Lorilei, goes out and calls Jeremy to come in for supper.  He doesn't respond, so she goes next door.  Ricky comes to the door and tells her he hasn't seen Jeremy.  She goes to her brother's house close by but they haven't seen Jeremy either so they call the police.  A massive search ensues, lasting for three days.  But the search will find nothing because Ricky Langley killed Jeremy in the first minutes after he entered the house.  He stored his body in his bedroom closet, wrapped in blankets and a garbage bag.

Years later, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich comes to Louisiana as an intern at a firm that handles Death Row appeals.  The case she is given to help with is that of Ricky Langley who was sentenced to death at his trial for the murder of Jeremy Guillory.  Although she has spent her life opposing the death penalty, she is amazed to find that her overwhelming response is to agree with the verdict and wish for the death penalty to be applied.  What causes this emotion which seems to contradict her core beliefs?

The author then delves into the backstory of both Ricky and her own family.  The central truth of her childhood is that she was molested for several years by her maternal grandfather, abuse that her family denied and shoved away.  That denial shaped her childhood and made her determined to find another life that the one she had led to that point.  She was also traumatized when she found out that she wasn't a twin, but a triplet with one sibling that didn't survive for long and wasn't mentioned in the family.  Ricky's childhood started with a family tragedy; a car wreck that killed two of his siblings and put his mother in the hospital for months in a full body cast.  On a home visit, she is somehow impregnated and that was Ricky.  No one believed it was possible so his mother continued to receive massive amounts of medicine and painkillers.  The doctors wanted to terminate the pregnancy when it was finally discovered as they thought there was a high chance of birth defects but the parents refused and Ricky was born.  Was this the reason that he started molesting children when he was nine or ten?  No one will ever know.  Ricky was always a strange child who didn't have friends and was the odd one out in the family dynamic.

Ricky's first trial is overturned and he actually receives three trials before he is finally sentenced to life in prison.  The author follows the trials and the surprising fact that Jeremy's mother testified for the defense in the second trial because she didn't want the death penalty.  As the author uncovers more and more of Ricky's troubled life, she also delves into her own family's troubled lives and states the question of how do we fix the point in time when a story begins?  With Ricky, did the story start when he murdered Jeremy or did it start when he was born with so many counts against him?  How responsible was he as he asked for help multiple times that he didn't receive?

This is a chilling book that raises many questions for the reader.  How do we overcome tragic events in our lives?  Can we push the damage aside and emerge whole?  What is the role of choice, or more simply, nature vs. nurture?  This is a compelling memoir that will leave the reader thinking about these issues long after the last page is turned.  This book is recommended for true crime readers as well as those interested in memoirs about overcoming obstacles.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Marco Effect by Jussi Adler-Olsen


Things are chaotic as usual in Department Q of the Danish Police.  Detective Carl Morck, who has turned his disgrace and banishment to the basement as the man in charge of cold cases, is torn between two women.  Assad, his assistant with the air of mystery, has just returned from a case that left him injured and in need of rehabilitation.  Rose, the cranky secretary who wants to be an investigator also, has taken up with a young detective who is clueless but has connections upstairs.  Worst of all, the head of the detective bureau is leaving and his replacement has never liked Carl at all.  His first act is to send Gordon, the clueless one, down to be a new member of Department Q and to report back to him everything Carl and the crew are doing.

Marco Jameson is a fifteen year old boy who wants more.  More than his life as a con man and thief, part of a gypsy crew that is let off downtown each morning to pick pockets and steal from anyone they can.  His uncle, Zola, is the head of the clan but that blood relation means nothing to him.  He views everyone as mere tools to help him get more money.  He even cripples one of the young girls in the crew to make her a suitable beggar.  When Marco stumbles upon the grave of a man he is sure Zola has killed, he sees his chance.  He runs away and tries to find a way to contact the police.

In the meantime, Carl is caught up in a case involving a missing man.  The man had gone on a trip for his bank to Africa where they were administering a grant to provide aid.  But his trip had gone sour and he had returned a day later and then disappeared.  What happened to him and why was he gone?  Carl works the case and suddenly it becomes clear that Marco holds the key.  Department Q springs into action to find Marco but it's soon clear they are not the only ones trying to find him.  The others want nothing more than to kill this inconvenient witness.  Can Carl and crew find Marco before his enemies can?

This is the fifth novel in the Department Q series.  Carl, Assad and Rose are the same supposedly incompetent investigators that manage to solve the cases that everyone else has given up on through sheer determination and spite.  The addition of Gordon, whose youth, naivete and attraction to Rose define him, is a development that can provide new avenues for the group.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Underground Airlines by Ben Winter


Imagine the world if Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated before the Civil War.  This is the world of Underground Airlines.  In this alternate world, no war happened.  In order to honor Lincoln's desire for a united America, a compromise is hammered out in Congress with slavery remaining an option.

Move forward to the present.  Slavery is now down to four states, known as The Hard Four.  The rest of the country abhors what is going on there and refuses to buy products from those states, although foreign markets have no such reluctance.  In forty-six states, African-Americans are free to live a life like anyone else, to work the job they want, live where they want, love and marry whom they choose.  In four states, by luck of the draw, their brothers and sisters have none of those possibilities.

The reader joins the story as Victor has received his latest assignment.  He is a man who spends his life capturing runaway slaves, knowing that they will be returned to servitude.  Almost unbelievably, Victor is himself a former runaway.  He is invaluable to the Marshals whose job it is to capture those who have escaped as he can work his way inside the underground organizations set up to aid escape.  Why would he do this?  Because it is the only way he is allowed to remain free or semi-free, a tool with an implanted tracking device.

Victor's latest assignment is Jackdaw.  He gets the scent and is fairly sure that he will be successful in finding him and exposing another network.  But something is wrong, something is different about this assignment.  As he discovers what is going on, Victor sees an opportunity to finally break free of his job and live the life he always wanted.

This novel has received a lot of praise.  It was a Goodreads Choice finalist as well as being named one of the Best Books of 2016 by outlets such as NPR, Kirkus Reviews, Amazon and Publisher's Weekly.  Winter's depiction of this alternate history slowly reveals layer after layer of the pain and degradation that slavery inflicts on its victims.  It is especially timely today when racist organizations seem to be mounting an attempt to become strong and viable.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers as well as literary readers.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver


They call him The Composer.  He kills in a way designed to extract the maximum amount of unique sounds from the victim and his surroundings.  His method of execution always involves a noose in some manner and usually some form of extended suffering for the victim.

The timing couldn't be worse for Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs.  After years together, they are finally about to be married.  This is a far cry from back when Rhyme was the head of Forensics for the NYPD and Amelia just another cop.  After the accident that left Rhyme a quadriplic, he had to refocus his life and the thing that took the longest in his recovery was believing that there was any way romance could still be a part of his life.

The two manage to almost catch The Composer and save his latest victim.  Fearing Amelia whom he calls Artemis after the beautiful huntress of mythology, The Composer decides to change locations.  Soon, stories of similiar victims start to emerge from Italy, Naples to be exact.  The entire Rhyme household picks up and moves their detecting activities to Italy.  They have to fight Italian politics and turf wars as well.  Amelia finds a new sidekick in a forestry agent who has wanted to move over to the police.  Can this crew find The Composer before he writes his next murderous composition?

This is the thirteenth novel in the Lincoln Rhyme series.  This one was not my favorite and the plotting seemed a bit looser than in earlier books in the series.  Still, Deaver is a master writer and this one is a page-turner as are all his novels.  This book is recommended for mystery writers.

Friday, September 8, 2017

A Writing Journey by Caitlin Hamilton Summie


A few weeks ago, I reviewed the amazing debut anthology of Caitlin Hamilton Summie.  Here's a brief piece about her journey as a writer:

I started “writing” when I was small. My mother tells me that I’d bring stories to her to read, scribbles across a page, before I even knew how to actually form letters, so she’d ask me to “read” my stories to her.

I was a storyteller even then, and even at that age I was always taken seriously by my parents. No condescension, no laughter.

I remembered their treatment when I stepped in to teach my first and only college class, a semester of creative writing. I’d been told not to expect much from my students, but I knew how I had been once. On my first day in class, I began by asking, “How many of you have written a novel?” Three hands shot up.

Family support is so critical to the budding artist. Institutional respect is as well.

Given the respect I received from my parents, it’s no great leap to see the rest: the novella at age 13, two novels completed before age 18. Perhaps the greatest leap then is the first book at age 48, pleasantly late.

But so much in my life has been late. Among the last to be married. Mother at 37. I seem to squeak in under the wire. The stories in my collection, some written as along ago as 1992 and taken out to be dusted off and tweaked, have been waiting for their moment to emerge to the public.

Maybe the story of my publishing journey will give other yet-to-be-published writers hope. Maybe it will remind teachers not to assume. Maybe it will remind parents how important it is to simply support.

Some things are worth waiting for. My whole family is celebrating my first book with me, not only my mother and my father, but also my husband and my son and my daughter, all of whom, like me, waited, hoping. I still remember the look on my son’s face when I announced I had had a short story accepted. Was it relief? I believe so. I remember the small smile of pride on my husband’s face when he realized my book had been accepted. I still remember the way my young daughter listened with great seriousness and yes, respect, as I talked about my writing. She knew I was entrusting a hope to her.


On publication date, oh, our celebration will be joyous. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley


Nine people get on a private jet for a short half-hour trip.  Four are a family; the father the head of a news channel, the wife staying home with the children who are a girl who is nine and a son, four.  The father is the person who owns the plane.  Two are a couple who knows the family.  The husband of this couple is big in investment banking and maybe about to be indicted for shady practises.  Then there are the crew; pilot, co-pilot and stewardess.  There is security man who travels with the family at all time due to threats.  Then  there is Scott, a painter who has met the wife and taken her last-minute invitation to ride with them and avoid the ferry.

Just a quick trip.  But sixteen minutes out, something goes wrong and the world changes forever.  The plane crashes.  Scott somehow survives and after minutes of searching, finds that the son has also survived.  He manages to get them both to shore by swimming all night with the boy on his back.  A hero, everyone says.

Now the craziness begins.  No one is sure what happened, not even Scott.  His memories are piecemeal and come in small flashes.  Several government agencies are involved in the investigation and without the plane and bodies, their work is just guesswork also.  With the father being a huge media presence, there is even more publicity and press than would usually happen.  With no facts to be had, speculation and rumors are rampant.  Will the truth emerge?

Noah Hawley has written an amazingly readable novel.  It received the Edgar Award for 2017 for the Best Novel as well as the 2017 Thrillers Award for Best Novel.  Most readers will know the author best as the creator of the hit TV series, Fargo.  The interplay of the characters and slow revealing of the mystery through the backstory of each individual character draws out the tension and suspense.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Broken Homes And Gardens by Rebecca Kelley

Joanna is sure she has life figured out.  Love and marriage are not for her.  Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce and having lived with a mother who went through an endless succession of men, she is sure that's not for her.  Men are fine, sure, nice to have around, but something serious?  Not for her.

When she meets Malcolm at a party, she is attracted but that's all.  They kiss but he is off the next day for an overseas job that will last two years.  The two write while he is gone, but Joanna meets another man and moves in with him.  She never stops thinking about Malcolm though or writing to him.

When Malcolm returns they settle into a strange relationship.  There is no denying the attraction they have for each other, but Joanna is adamant that they are just friends.  Friends last, lovers don't.  They each drift into and out of relationships but are always in each other's lives.  Will Joanna ever admit to the love she feels for Malcolm?

This debut novel is charming.  It will ring true with many Millenials.  Joanna and Malcolm don't settle for the established norms of life, education then a settled job then marriage and children.  They make their own way in life and that includes living their own definitions of love.  Both characters are well-drawn and endearing even when the reader wants to shake them to make them see how much they mean to each other.  This book is recommended for readers of romance and character studies.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich


A sudden moment of violence on an Idaho mountaintop reverberates through the years.   Will and Jenny have two little girls, May and June.  Afterwards, their lives will never be the same and we follow their stories for decades.

Will is cursed with a family history of early dementia and death in the early fifties if his life follows that of his father and grandfather.  He and Jenny moved to Idaho from the plains as they couldn't think of anywhere more different than the environment in which they grew up.  After the violence, the couple divorce.  Will later marries his piano teacher, Ann.

Jenny spends the following decades in prison.  She is as appalled by her actions as everyone else, and doesn't speak to others.  She spends five years living by herself and spends her days scrubbing floors.  She is convinced she doesn't deserve to have anything go her way again in her life, even things as small as food choices or work assignments.  Years later, she develops a friend, her cellmate Elizabeth.

Ann lives with Will for the rest of his life.  He doesn't speak about the tragedy and she is left to ferret out clues to figure out what happened that day.  Her imaginings are sometimes on point, sometimes just that; figments of her imagination.  Will is the love of her life and there is nothing she won't do if she thinks it will bring him a moment of happiness.

A winner of the O'Henry Award in 2015, this startlingly beautiful novel is Ruskovich's debut.  The language is haunting and beautiful.  A small example: 'Outside, the coyotes' howls bore tunnels through the frozen silence.  The ravens in the trees anticipate the spring, when they will nudge their weakest from their nests, this act already in their hearts, as if already committed.  The garter snakes, deep in the ground, hibernate alert.  Bodies cold, unmoving; minds twitching, hot.  So many secret, coiled wills, a million centers spiraling out, colliding into a clap of silence that is this very moment in the house, the beautiful oblivion in which they love each other.'  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.v

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Lacy Eye by Jessica Treadway


Three years ago, Hanna had a wonderful life.  A loving husband, two girls and a job she loved.  Then things went awry.  The older daughter, Iris, was doing fine, married with Hanna's first grandchild.  Dawn, the younger daughter, had always been awkward.  But Hanna was optimistic when she went off to college that she would finally find herself and make new friends in her new environment.  When Dawn comes home, her parents are thrilled.  That is, until they meet the boyfriend she is bringing home with her.  Rud is good-looking but there is something sketchy about him and they definitely don't like the way Dawn idolizes him.

After a heated argument, the couple stalk off.  Hanna and Joe, her husband, agree that he is not the right man for Dawn.  But that is their last agreement.  That night, they are savagely attacked in their bedroom.  Joe is killed and Hanna survives, although she is left for dead.  The police quickly hone in on Rud and he is found guilty and sent to jail.  Town sentiment is that Dawn was also involved but Hanna will hear nothing of it.

Three years later, Hanna has put her life back together as best she can.  After several operations, she is back at work although still damaged so that strangers stare at her.  She still doesn't remember much about the night of the attack but she is fine with that.  She has a good relationship with Iris, although Iris believes the talk that Dawn was involved and refuses to have anything to do with her.  Dawn moved away and has been living out west.

Then another nightmare.  Rud has won the right to an appeal and his case will be retried.  At the same time, Dawn calls Hanna and asks if she can come home. Hanna agrees immediately as she still believes in Dawn even though Dawn still believes that Rud was innocent of the charges and hopes to reunite with him.  But as Dawn moves in, Hanna starts to remember more and more about that night.  Will she survive her memories?

Jessica Treadway has written a haunting tale about parents and their children.  We all want the best for our children and hesitate to identify characteristics and deficits that may cause them trouble.  Those who say anything negative about a child are quickly cut off so that the parent can remain in denial and hope that things will turn around.  This book is recommended for suspense readers and those who wonder about someone close to them.


Monday, August 21, 2017

My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni


Tracy Crosswhite has been waiting for twenty years to get this call.  A grave has been found and all indications are that her sister's body lies within it.  Her sister Sarah disappeared twenty years ago after a shooting competition they both competed in.  Tracy left with her boyfriend to go to dinner and Sarah left in Tracy's truck.  The truck was found on a remote road but no sign of Sarah was ever found.  The entire town searched for weeks with no result.  A man was tried and convicted and has remained in prison for years but he refused to tell anyone where Sarah's body could be found.  Tracy changed her life afterward.  She gave up a career as a teacher to become a police officer and is now a homicide detective.

Tracy doesn't believe that the man in jail for Sarah's murder is the real criminal.  She has investigated the case for years and believes that Edward House was falsely convicted due to his reputation and being an ex-con.  When the body reveals new clues, she is more convinced than ever that she is correct.  At Sarah's funeral, she meets up again with a childhood friend who has returned to their small town and is a lawyer.  Together the two plan a way to free House and start the investigation again to find the real killer.  But plans like this are full of pitfalls and as the case progresses, secrets that have remained hidden for decades start to emerge.  Will Tracy regret her decision?

Robert Dugoni is the author of several popular mystery series.  This novel is the first in the Tracy Crosswhite series.  He has won numerous awards for his work.  His exploration of the fallout from a murder, not only in the family but in the entire town and his twists of the original investigation make this novel a page-turner.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Welcome To Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson


They meet at Berkeley one fall.  D'aron is white and from the rural South, Braggsville, Georgia to be exact.  He has escaped to what he expects will be his new life.  His roommate, Louis, is Malaysian and a stand-up comic in his spare time.  He is local and has family nearby.  Candice is a typical corn-fed Midwestern blonde girl, who never met a liberal cause she didn't love.  Charlie is an inner-city black man who escaped because of his athletic ability but who has shed that life now that he has made it to college.  They find something in each other and before long, are inseparable.  They call themselves '4 Little Indians'.

Their lives change when they take an Alternative History class.  Their professor is talking one day about historical reenactments when D'aron volunteers that his town has an annual Civil War reenactment.  That spurs a lively discussion and eventually the four plan a class project.  They will go to D'aron's town and recreate a slave lynching during the reenactment.  They don't really consider what will happen.

The time comes and the four travel to the South.  D'aron is half nervous about how they will perceive his town and background and half pleased that they have all come home with him to visit.  He takes them around local landmarks and his family has a huge barbecue cookout where they meet half the town; not hard when the town has 712 citizens.  But somehow D'aron's parents realize that he is up to something and his father forbids him to participate.  Charlie has also had second thoughts when he gets to the South and thinks about the history of black people.  They decide to pull out of the plan but Candice and Louis decide to go on.  When the day ends in tragedy, no one objective could be surprised.

This book has received terrific feedback.  It was longlisted for both the 2015 National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.  It was named one of the Best Books of 2015 by such organizations as NPR, The Washington Post, Time and the Huffington Post.  Johnson explores the state of race relations in modern America, a timely topic as has been recently demonstrated by events.  He also explores the foibles of the liberal movement in colleges and how young people can be swayed into actions that affect them their entire life while those who influence them remain untouched.  It explores the way people can bond together from disparate backgrounds.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in how we can all live together.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie


In this debut book, Caitlin Hamilton Summie uses the medium of the short story to explore the important junction points of lives.  There is the man who waits in the hospital for his son to be born.  A young girl from a middle-class background finds herself living in Alphabet City in New York, adrift from all she knows about life and relationships.  A woman remembers a snowstorm and how shepherding schoolchildren to safety allowed her to find her adult strength and know she was up to the task of parenting.  A grandfather dies and sisters discover the fault line in their sisterhood and the resentment when a family member grows in a way that is unanticipated.  A woman decides to write down her family's history and finds the story of the sister who was written out of the family memories.  One story picks up on a story related earlier, of sisters who have drifted apart but who are redefining what they mean to each other.

The character definitions are clear; the reader can picture the individuals who are portrayed and recognize their characteristics in other people they have known.  The descriptions are luminous, taking the reader to the place in which the story is set.  One example, 'My father grabbed me by the hand, and we jogged across the yard.  The night air was cold.  Subzero temperatures slapped me awake.  Our boots crunched the snow as we ran.  I will remember this always, this jog to the barn in the middle of the night with only the light of the stars.'

Caitlin earned her MFA With Distinction from Colorado State University.  Since then her stories have been published in various places but the reader will be glad to find them collected into one book.    Her deft writing explores what family means, how we love and how we let others down but as we keep trying to connect, find each other again and again.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in how we all relate to each other.

Spindle's End by Robin McKinley


Everyone knows the story.  A royal couple, after years of longing, have a beautiful baby girl.  All their subjects and the fairies and woodland creatures come to celebrate the birth.  But one evil fairy, miffed that her invitation didn't come, storms the party and curses the baby to prick her finger and fall asleep forever.

In this imaginative retelling, Robin McKinley gives an alternative story.  When the evil fairy, Pernicia, casts her spell, a fairy named Katriona is there.  She won the lottery in her distant, small village to come to the name day of the new infant.  She takes the baby in that moment of the curse and returns with it to her village.  The trip takes weeks and the two are helped along their journey by the wild animals they encounter; the female badgers and rabbits and foxes providing the milk a baby must have.

The baby, Briar-Rose, is raised by Kat and her mother.  They give a story about it being the baby of a distant cousin who needs a home.  Rosie grows up in the village with no idea about the royal blood she carries in her veins.  Instead, she becomes a horse vet as she has the ability to talk with all the animals she encounters.  It's a good life, surrounded by love and joy but has the ruse worked?  Will Rosie escape the curse laid on the babe twenty-one years ago?

This is a joyful book, full of spells and coincidences that turn out to push the story along.  Rosie is no wilting sheltered princess.  Instead she is a woman who knows her own mind and knows how to fight when it is needed.  Robin McKinley has written several fairy tale retelling novels.  She has won the Newberry Award for young adult fiction along with other awards.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter


Paul has always been there for Claire.  He is a successful architect and she has never had to work.  Instead she has led the typical successful suburban life with tennis and shopping.  He came into her life back in college where she was still reeling from the disappearance of her sister, Julie, a few years before.  Julie was never found and her loss tore Claire's family apart.  Her parents divorced and her sister Lydia escaped into drugs and terrible men.  But Paul took her away from all that and gave her a wonderful life.

Then tragedy strikes again.  On the way from a restaurant to their car, the couple is attacked in an alley.  Claire survives but Paul is knifed and loses his life while trying to save her.  In the days after, Claire is reeling and unable to fathom how she will ever move on.  Then she opens a computer file on Paul's computer and life will never be the same.  Apparently her wonderful husband hid lots of secrets and none of them are good.  Soon Claire is pushed into the fight of her life as she attempts to solve the mystery of what Paul was up to and to put her shattered family back together.

Karin Slaughter is one of the stars on the mystery/thriller scene these days.  Her plots are compelling and she can make the most unusual events seem inevitable.  Claire isn't an ordinary heroine; when the reader meets her she is dependent and spoiled, thinking only of herself.  Watching her rise above her decades old stupor to do something to help others is empowering and the reader is firmly on Claire's side.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Shame by Salman Rushdie


In his third novel, Salman Rushdie explores the history and political manuverings of Pakistan at the time of its creation in the partitioning of it from India.  He does so through the lives of several Pakistani families.  Omar Khayyam Shakil is an obese doctor who was born of three reclusive sisters (no one ever knew which was the biological mother) and raised in seclusion until he rebelled and fought his way out of his background.  Raza Hyder is a soldier whose two daughters bring him nothing but confusion and shame while Iskander Harappa is a politician and playboy who is friends with both the others.

The theme of the novel is shame and how it affects the people and country of Pakistan and how religion influences every act and relationship.  As Rushdie writes, 'We who have grown up on a diet of honour and shame can still grasp what must seem unthinkable to peoples living in the aftermath of the death of God and of tragedy; that men will sacrifice their dearest love on the implacable altars of their pride.  Between shame and shamelessness lies the axis upon which we turn; meteorological conditions at both these poles are of the most extreme, ferocious type.  Shamelessness, shame: the roots of violence.'

The families history intertwines.  Iskander Harappa is a notorious playboy who is accompanied on his debachuery by Shakil.  When Harappa decides to put his wild ways away, he becomes the country's ruler and employs Hyder to maintain order.  Hyder has two daughters.  The oldest, Sufiya, is simple, her life forever changed by a fever she survived when she was a toddler.  Shakil meets Sufiya and becomes obsessed with her.  He offers Hyder a marriage contract.  The family is appalled that this obese, debauched man thirty years older wants to marry their daughter, but in the end, decide that he is her only chance at a marriage and having someone to provide for her. They hide the fact that this simple girl is also capable of murderous impulses.   Hyder eventually overthrows Harappa and becomes the ruler himself.  All these events are mirrored in the history of the country and the eruptions of violence and shame that go into making a country.

This novel was written after Midnight's Children, which explored the history of India in the same fashion.  The author was influenced to write this book after reading about an 'honor killing'; a man who knifed his own daughter to death to avenge  what he saw as a blot on the family honor.  Rushdie is a master of allegory, creating individuals who portray the forces that sweep nations and influence its history.  The language is poetic even when writing of tragic, horrible events.  This book is recommended for literary readers.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, August 8, 2017


August is well underway.  College kids are returning to their campuses and younger kids are starting another year of school.  That has to mean fall is coming, right?  I can't wait for football, cooler temperatures and a slower schedule.  A new kitty has been showing up at our house in the past few weeks.  Our reigning cat, Queen Lulu, seems to think the new one is okay so we may take it in.  Our neighborhood seems to be one where animals get dropped off.  This one is between houses so I'll have to ask the neighbors if anyone has actually claimed it before I load it up and take it to the vet.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  The Wife Between Us, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, thriller, won online
2.  Charlatans, Robin Cook, medical mystery, sent by publisher
3.  The Room Of White Fire, T. Jefferson Parker, thriller, sent by publisher
4.  Delia's Crossing, V.C. Andrews, women's fiction, sent by publisher
5.  Gone To Dust, Matt Goldman, mystery, sent by publisher
6.  Pretty Ugly, Sean Hillen, fantasy/sci fi, sent by publisher
7.  Kindle's End, Robin McKinley, fantasy/sci/fi, purchased
8.  The Lucky Ones, Mark Edwards, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  Hope And Change Are Highly Overrated, Tom Starita, literary fiction, sent by author
10.  Only, Parker Sinclair, fantasy, sent by publisher
11.  The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers, Hollis Robbins/Henry Louis Gates, Jr., nonfiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Bear And The Nightengale, Katherine Arden, Kindle Fire
2.  Zodiac, Neal Stephenson, Kindle Fire
3.  Pretty Girls, Karin Slaughter, paperback
4.  My Sister's Grave, Robert Dugoni, audio
5.  The Golden House, Salman Rushdie, Kindle Fire
6.  Lacy Eye, Jessica Treadway, paperback
7.  Shame, Salman Rushdie, paperback
8.  To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts, Caitlin Hamilton Summie, paperback
9.  Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman, hardback

10.  The Jury Returns, Louis Nizer, hardback

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Treatment by Mo Hayder


Detective Jack Caffery is called in once the couple is discovered.  A man and his wife, imprisoned in their house for days, beaten and left to die of hunger and dehydration.  Even worse, they have a young son and he is no where to be found.  As the police search for the boy, they find nothing and have to wait until the parents are able to talk.  By the time they find him, he is dead.

Caffery has an incident in his own past that makes working on cases like this even more painful than for the other officers.  His older brother, Ewan, was abducted when he was nine and never found.  The police suspected a neighbor but no proof was found and the man was never arrested.  Jack grew up in the house across the tracks from the probably abductor and killer of his brother.  He will never be able to give up the case until he finds out the truth about what happened that day years ago.

Caffery's pain seems to give him an insight into the kind of mind that could commit such crimes.  That's a good thing as everyone is convinced that this type of killer will strike again.  Caffery finds a related older case that no one else connected until now and it sends him on the trail of what he suspects is the next family to fall under the killer's eye.  Can he discover the identity before it is too late?

This is the second in the Jack Caffery novels.  Readers will be fascinated by the character of Jack and his need to find a way to put to bed the truths that have haunted him his entire life.  Jack's insights and abilities to go the extra mile to discover what has happened makes for a riveting novel.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem


They call her the Red Queen.  Her name is Rose Zimmer and she rules all she surveys in 1930's Queens, New York.  Rose is a dedicated Communist and almost no one lives up to her ideals.  Fanatically zealous, she is determined to make changes in the way the country is run and the fact that she antagonizes all those she meets doesn't seem to sink in.  Rose has one child, Miriam, before her husband flees her to Germany to live out his life.

Miriam grows up and flees Rose as quickly as she can, escaping to Greenwich Village and the bohemian lifestyle she finds there.  These two women are magnets to various men.  There is Douglas, Rose's married cop who is also black, not that she cares about either his race or marriage.  Lenny is a coin and stamp savant who is always around and idolizes Miriam, but she marries a folk singer from Ireland.  Cicero is Douglas' son, raised in a house where he always knew his father loved another woman.  Sergius is Miriam's son, raised by strangers in a boarding school after his parents disappear.

The novel ranges from the 1930's to the present.  Along the way, various social movements come and go.  There is the fierce raging of Communism in Rose's life.  Lenny is obsessed with getting a major league ballpark in the city.  Miriam and her husband are involved in the ideals of the hippie movement along with its antiwar focus.  They go to South America where the Sandinisitas are rebels and idealized.  Finally, the cycle swings and Sergius is involved in the Occupy movement.

Lethem explores the ideals of those focused on making a change in the lives around them and more importantly, how love works in lives.  Rose is unable to articulate her love and pushes people away.  Miriam is sure she knows exactly how to handle life and men which leads to her demise.  Lenny and Cicero are caught in Rose's web, unable to break away from her magnetism even as she appalls them.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte


Friends in college, they have moved in different directions in the years following.  Cory is determined to make the nonprofit at which she works successful even if it kills her.  Will makes his living on the Internet with programming and other gigs.  After years of no relationships due to his introversion, he is now in a relationship with the smart, beautiful and determined Vanya.  Hendrik moved into a post-graduate research gig but it's just ended when the grant was cut in half and is at loose ends.  Linda is the girl every man wanted but she just used them for fun and wasted relationships like she wasted her talent.

Now each has ended up in San Francisco and they are working on making dreams come true.  Will has the money and he agrees to take in Linda when she is involved in a car wreck and can't work.  Later Hendrik ends up there also as he is at loose ends.  Cory, who has never lost track, drops in and out of their lives.  None of them are making much progress at achieving their goals but maybe this month will be different?

Tony Tulathimutte is a graduate of Stanford and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.  His work has appears in Salon, The New Yorker online and other publications.  As a member of the Millenial Generation, he is poised to explain their issues and dreams as few other writers are.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in the new generation ready to take over as the mainstream of American culture.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Last Empire by Gore Vidal


The Last Empire is a collection of Gore Vidal's essays from 1992 through 2006.  Vidal is a man of letters, best known for his acidic wit and his disdain for the establishment positions of American superiority and the assumption that American culture was better than that of the rest of the world.  He came from an influential family, growing up in Washington, D.C. and going to the best schools.  His family were in politics and business.  His father was the founder of the TWA airline, and his mother was married for a time to the man who was also Jackie Kennedy's stepfather.  Gore knew everyone who was anyone and he refused to let anyone put him or his life choices down.  He was widely known as one of the first gay men to be actively out, although the truth was probably that he was bisexual.  He wrote many novels, most based on historical events such as Burr and Lincoln.    Many knew him best as the sparring partner of William F. Buckley in the first Crossfire debates.

This book is divided into four parts, each covering a specific number of years.  The first covers topics such as  pieces on Charles Lindbergh, the critic Edmund Wilson, Mark Twain and Sinatra.  Part two becomes more political, covering topics such as wiretapping in the Oval Office and the Gore political family.  The third part becomes more political with Vidal hitting his themes of the country steadily losing the freedoms the founders wanted us to have and the danger of the military and big corporations taking over the country and the legal systems.  The last part continues this theme while spending a lot of time covering the President Clinton scandal and impeachment and calling for the populace to take back their country.

Vidal took no gruff from anyone.  His putdowns and feuds were legendary.  One rival was the author John Updike.  A quote from his piece, "Anyway, I hoped that he would make some self-mocking play on his own self-consciousness as opposed to Socrate's examined life.  Hope quickly extinguished.  There is no real examination of the self, as opposed to an unremitting self-consciousness that tells us why he was--is--different--but not too much different--from others and what makes him the way he is--always is, as he doesn't much change in his own story, a small-town Philocetes whose wound turns out to be an unpretty skin condition called psoriasis."  Another quote, "For Updike, fags and dykes are comical figures who like their own sex and so cannot be taken seriously when they apply for the same legal rights under the Constitution that fun-loving, wife-swapping exurbanites enjoy."

Vidal is not for everyone.  Yet his love for his country and his dismay at how business and the military are taking over the rights we were given by the founding fathers shines through.  Those reading this book will find themselves educated about past events and individuals and will emerge with a new appreciation for Gore Vidal.  This book is recommended for history readers and those interested in the arts and how they intersect with government and world history.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride


Eilis is an eighteen year old girl, newly arrived in London from Ireland, there to study acting.  Stephen is an established actor who is nearing forty.  They meet one night in a pub and Eilis goes home with Stephen and sleeps with him; her first time ever.  She expects that it will be a one time thing and he does also.  But they are drawn to each other and keep running into each other.  Each time they meet, they end up together for another night.

As the weeks and months go by, they fall deeply in love.  But these are not two dewy-eyed lovers.  Each is deeply flawed and battered by their prior family lives.  They have been touched by abuse, drug addictions, poverty, loss of other loves and despair of ever having their careers take off.  Yet they cannot stay apart and they confide in each other and slowly start to mend each others' souls.

This is Eimear McBride's second novel.  Her first, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, won the Bailey's Fiction Prize as well as the Goldsmith's Prize.  This novel was also nominated as a Bailey's Fiction for the 2017 year as well as shortlisted for the Goldsmith's Prize.  McBride captures exactly the overwhelming nature of love, especially first love.  She explores its power to break a person and to mend them and bring them to a healthy life.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter


It's the kind of place one dreams about when longing to get away.  Porto Vergogna is a small fishing village in Italy.  There are a handful of houses, a place for the fisherman to cast off from and return to daily and a hotel, the Adequate View.  Pasquale is the new owner of the hotel, his father having recently died.  He has returned from school in Florence to take over the family business and he is full of plans to make this decrepit hotel a tourist attraction.  His dream is to attract American tourists as everyone knows that is the measure of success.

It is a miracle when the boat approaches.  An American tourist!  Not only an American, but an American movie actresss!  Dee Moray is in Italy as a cast member in the blockbuster Cleopatra, a movie that is making headlines even before it is finished as the press can't get enough of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and their on-again, off-again love affair that is just starting.  Dee has been sent here by one of the movie administrators.  She is very ill and is waiting there for her lover to come and help her through the illness.

Thus starts a novel that is a delight to read.  It moves across time from 1962 to the present, across continents from Italy to America to London.  Along the way are famous actors, Italian dreamers, and the men and women who come to Hollywood to try to make dreams come true.  It is about love and dreams and how we sometimes settle or find the fulfillment of our dreams in unexpected ways.  Above all, we are entranced with the characters we meet and the adventures they take us on.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll


Everyone wants to be Ani FaNelli.  She works on a glamorous New York magazine and lives the life of a New York professional.  She is engaged to be married to a man who comes from old money and who works on Wall Street.  Her clothes are exquisite.  She has come far from the days when she was Tiffani LaNelli, a scholarship student at a prestigious school that was her ticket out of a middle class world to the one she envied and was determined to be a part of.  Surely she is the luckiest girl alive.

But Ani has a secret most people have no idea of.  Her time at that prestigious school included a horrific event that changed lives and marred its reputation.  Ani was right in the middle of it and now a television producer is making a documentary about it and wants Ani to be a part of it.  She is torn.  Should she just continue as she is, envied by others who don't know anything about her true self or should she take the chance at vindication and validation the documentary offers?

Jessica Knoll has written a chilling novel.  Ani is that perfect girl that most women would give anything to be.  The fact that she has to deny everything about herself in order to be that perfect woman is a trade off that she has been willing to make but that now tugs at her more and more insistently.  Knoll has worked as an editor at top women's magazines herself and knows the subject she writes about.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Extreme Prey by John Sandford


Lucas Davenport has left the police but he definitely hasn't lost his skills or his contacts.  A man can only be retired so long and he didn't retire because he stopped loving what he did; he retired because he couldn't stand the bureaucracy any more.  Lucas has been building a cabin and that has taken lots of time but the cabin is almost done when he gets the call.

The governor is an old friend and is thinking about running for President.  He is doing the Iowa rounds where his real hope is to make enough of a showing that he is considered for Vice President when all is said and done.  The front runner is a woman and there are rumors that someone is going to try to do her harm.  Time to call in Lucas.

Lucas takes the nebulous rumors and starts to investigate.  The issue seems to start with some of the disgruntled farm movements and some of them are fairly radical.  The governor remembers seeing a woman with white hair, a bit heavy-set and her son, a tall man with striking gray eyes.  They gave him a whiff of wildness, a shiver that all was not well.

Lucas and various law enforcement agencies take on the task of finding the people who want to do harm.  The kicker?  They have three days before the candidates go to the Iowa State Fair, a venue with thousands of people and an assassin's dream location.  Everything is convinced that if something is going to happen, it will happen there.  Can they find the radicals before the deadline?

This is the twenty-sixth Prey novel featuring Lucas Davenport.  I've loved this series and Lucas but this one felt a bit tired, a bit too pat.  The way everything fell into place so quickly just didn't seem realistic and having worked in state government, I know things don't work that quickly; it takes a long time to get everyone focused and moving in the same direction.  I think the series may be working itself to an end which is a shame.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, July 15, 2017


It's been a busy July.  We just got back from a trip to the beach.  Super hot but the beach is always beautiful.  DH and I are headed out this weekend to see the touring production of "The King And I" so I've very excited about that.  I read a lot at the beach and since I don't do summer, I've been staying inside and reading quite a bit.  In a overworked moment while loading the car to leave, I left my Kindle Fire behind at the beach but will retrieve it when my neighbors go there eventually.  It is a loss as I was in the middle of several books on it.  I also bought seven books at Audible this morning in their $4.95 sale.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  Follow Me Down, Shelby Foote, nonfiction, sent by a friend
2.  Mister Monkey, Francine Prose, literary fiction, sent by a friend
3.  Shadow Man, Alan Drew, mystery, sent by a friend
4.  Athenian Blue, Pol Koutsakis, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  Anatomy Of A Scandal, Sarah Vaughan, mystery, won online
6.  All We Shall Know, Donal Ryan, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7.  The Hawkweed Prophecy, Irena Brignull, fantasy, sent by publisher
8.  In The Shadow Of The Gods, Rachel Dunne, fantasy, purchased
9.  A Hundred Thousand Worlds, Bob Proehl, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Bear And The Nightengale, Katherine Arden, Kindle Fire
2.  Zodiac, Neal Stephenson, Kindle Fire
3.  Luckiest Girl Alive, Jessica Kroll, paperback
4.  My Sister's Grave, Robert Dugoni, audio
5.  The Golden House, Salman Rushdie, Kindle Fire
6.  The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride, paperback
7.  The Last Empire, Gore Vidal, paperback
8.  Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walters, paperback
9.  Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman, hardback

Happy Reading!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Blind Eye by Jane Gorman

Adam Kaminski, former teacher turned policeman, is on a cultural exchange with a group of other Americans to Poland.  They are touring the country, learning about the people, customs, government and other institutions and sharing their own experiences.  Adam is pleased to have been chosen when someone dropped out.  His own family had immigrated from Poland at the start of World War II, and he knows there is still family there although his branch has lost track years before.

He is pleased when circumstances allow him to meet a relative.  He stops to help a man who seems in need of assistance and it turns out to be his own cousin, Lukasz Kaminski.  Their grandfathers were brothers, but Lukasz's branch of the family stayed behind.  He is now a respected journalist but Adam is meeting him at the worst juncture of his life.  His daughter, Basia, has committed suicide a few weeks before.  Lukasz insists that it cannot be suicide and then is attacked and his apartment broken into.  Is all this coincidence?

He asks Adam for help in unraveling the mystery.  Basia had just started a job in government and Lukasz believes she uncovered something that caused her death.  Adam is hesitant but when he sees how his cousin is ignored and pushed away at every turn, he cannot help but want to help.  As the two men start to get answers their own lives start to be in danger.  The tour guide, Sylvia, is also drawn in as she and Adam are starting a romance.

This is the first novel in the Adam Kaminski series.  It gives a good overview of Poland and its current situation as it tries to recover from the war and then the stifling rule of Communism.  It seems a bit unlikely that Adam and Lukasz are able to make so much progress in a few short days, but overall the plot is satisfactory and readers will get not only a mystery but a history lesson.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr


Out in the desert, a young would-be monk labors.  He is on a mission for his monastery, a week of fasting and privation that all initiates must go through.  As he works to create a shelter for the coming night, he sees a traveler approaching.  No one travels the desert so he is filled with fear.  The man approaches.  He is a skinny old man, barely dressed and ready to fight anyone who he sees.  He threatens the young man, then after a while, helps him by marking a stone to finish his shelter.  After he leaves, the initiate removes the stone he has marked and finishes his shelter.  Removing the stone creates a landslide and steps are revealed.

What has been buried is the entrance to a bomb shelter, for this is the age after the world has gone through nuclear annihilation.  Few people remain and those that do mistrust each other.  Roaming tribes kill everything in their path and intellectuals are disdained as they were the ones who created the bombs that ruined civilization.  As the initiate explores, he finds a box with fragments of writing.  Even more amazing, the fragments carry the name of Leibowitz, who is the man for whom the monastery exists.  For these monks are charged with preserving what little writing and knowledge exists.  They bury barrels of writing material in remote places and copy the words of existing manuscripts, even when they have no idea what the words mean.

What follows is a bleak exhibit of humanity.  The reader sees the world through the eyes of time.  Over the centuries, men start to value knowledge again.  They rediscover the natural principles that underlie all progress, and painstakingly, over centuries, civilization rebuilds to the point that sophisticated machines and computers once again exist.  Yet, every time progress is made, it is accompanied by the human nature that cannot help but tear it down again.

This novel is considered a classic of science fiction.  It demonstrates a fear of learning and an underlying negativity about human nature.  Yet, along with the bleakness, there is always a tendril of hope, someone who risks all in order to learn and spread knowledge.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly


Harry Bosch is caught up in a sensational trial.  A movie director has killed a star during rough sex and Harry was both the arresting officer and the star witness at his trial.  It has everything needed to draw media attention and the news reporters and television anchors are out in force.  Bosch and the prosecutors believe the defendant has killed other women the same way but only have enough evidence to try him on this case.

Terry McCaleb couldn't be more opposite in his life choices.  A former FBI profiler, he retired when his health took a serious turn and now runs a charter service for weekend fishermen.  He has remarried and has a son and newborn daughter.  His focus is on his job and family or at least until a former colleague on the LAPD asks his help in reviewing a murder case.

McCaleb can't resist.  His skills haven't rusted and he misses his old life more than he allows himself to admit.  As he works on his case, he is surprised to find that his path crosses that of Bosch whom he knew slightly in his former life.  As the cases both continue, the two detectives find that there is more and more overlap between their work and they find themselves at odds.  Who will wrap up their case and how will it affect the other man?

This is the seventh book in the Harry Bosch series and the one that serves as the basis for the third season of the Bosch series on Amazon Prime.  The book follows the police procedural format of the other Bosch cases.  The interplay between the two men and their take on law enforcement adds to the inherent drama of the murder cases being investigated.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles


His name is Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, recipient of the Order Of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt.  He left Russia as a young man after an incident with an officer who broke his sister's heart.  He returned with the fall of the Tsar to arrange the safe passage of his grandmother out of the country.  Now in 1922, he has been called to account by a government committee for the crime of authoring a politically questionable poem.  The outcome is house arrest at the Metropole, the famous hotel where he is currently living in an opulent suite.

And there he remains.  The months go by, then the years and soon the decades.  A young man of twenty-two, he comes to manhood within the confines of the hotel and lives his adult life there.  But his early upbringing as a gentleman serves him well.  He makes friends with various staff members.  He has routines that help to define his days.  He makes surprising new friendships that last over the years and that bring love and laughter into his life.  Through his constrained life, the reader sees the constraints that define Russia during the Communist era and the privations that the average person endures.

Amor Towles has created a memorable character whose life serves as an example to us all.  His grace and joy in life is contagious and his ability to never let his circumstances define his essential core is endearing.  The reader is left with the impression that this is a man who anyone would be thrilled to know and to spend time with.  As the last page is turned, the reader is left uplifted and satisfied with the story and how things turn out for Rostov.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Ill Will by Dan Chaon


Is Dustin Tillman the unluckiest man in the world?  One might think so.  He comes from a horrific childhood.  One morning he and his cousins woke up in their backyard from a camping night and went inside only to find both his and their parents brutally slaughtered.  Dustin's adopted brother, Rusty, who is into Goth and dealing drugs, is the police's first suspect.  When Dustin tells the things Rusty has done to him, Rusty is arrested and sent for trial.  Dustin and his cousin are the main witnesses against him and Rusty is sent to prison for life.

Fast forward to adulthood.  Dustin has reinvented himself and is now a psychologist living a normal family life in the suburbs.  His wife is a lawyer and his two sons are healthy and happy.  Then tragedy strikes again.  His wife gets ill and passes away.  The family can't move beyond their grief and fall apart.  The older son goes off to college and Dustin and his younger son rattle around their house, rarely speaking and never communicating when they do.

Then Dustin hears the news.  Rusty is being released after an Innocence Project has taken his case.  It turns out that there was never any forensic evidence.  Rusty was convicted in an atmosphere of societal worry about teenage kids and satanic cults, like the Memphis Three.  Now thirty years later, he is coming out of prison and its unsure what he plans to do next.

In Dustin's own city, there is another troubling issue.  One of his patients is a former policeman who has been sent for psychological help.  Yet he is less interested in his own problems than in a case he believes he has found.  Teenage college boys are being found in bodies of water.  The cases seem similar; they go out drinking with their friends, disappear and are found drowned later.  Most of the cases are classified as accidents or suicides.  Yet the patient believes there is a serial killer out there and draws Dustin into his belief system.  Soon Dustin is helping in the 'investigation' and neglecting everything else.

This is a haunting book.  It starts slowly, portraying a normal family.  Tendrils of menace float up occasionally, leaving the reader uneasy.  Then the hits start to come faster and faster as one is drawn into the realization that Dustin has been removed from reality his entire life and that he is the ultimate unreliable narrator.  The book is like a ride down a snowy hill on a sled.  At first nothing much happens and then the reader is riding pell-mell to an inevitable end.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bogman by R.I. Olufsen


When a mummified foot is found in a Danish bog, it's unclear at first whether the police or archaeologists are needed.  As more bones are found and examined, it's clear that this was a young male in his twenties and that the death occurred about fifteen years before.  So the police are in charge and are faced with what looks like an impossible task.  They don't have an identity and with the passage of time it seems unlikely that they will be able to reconstruct the crime.

The case is given to Chief Inspector Tobias Lange.  He is a veteran and in his forties.  His team is skilled and they unearth enough clues to determine that the man was probably an eco-warrier.  The main clue to his identity is a silver bracelet found with the silversmith's initials inside.  After tracing her to Lapland, they discover she remembers the bracelet well and the young couple that had it made.  Now they have a name for the woman and at least a first name for the man.

The investigation moves to an exploration of the groups that meet to protest building that affects the environment and various endangered species.  This hits close to home for CI Lange, as he has a college age daughter who is involved in such a group.  As he delves deeper, the case gets more involved when more bones are discovered in another location.  Can this crime from the past be solved?

This appears to be the debut novel in this series or perhaps just the first translated for English readers.  I hope that there will be more in the series.  The protagonist is a likeable man, determined to solve crimes but also involved in his own life and that of his family.  The book strikes the right note in showing enough police procedure without getting stuck in details.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Blood On The Tongue by Stephen Booth


Winter is always a challenging time for the police in Edendale, Derbyshire.  The blizzards and chilling winds make the bleak landscapes and twisting roads even more difficult to traverse and investigate in.  But crime always goes on, regardless of the weather and the Edendale police have several cases in play.

A young woman is found buried in the snow.  At first it appears she just got tired and lay down and was killed by exposure but the post mortem reveals bruises that are evidence of a beating.  The case is reclassified as a murder and even more critically, it appears she had a young baby who is now missing.

Then a man's body is discovered when a snowplow hits it.  Again, it appears to be a murder and the police don't even know who he is.  His clothing shows a well-dressed man who should have been missed.  Why isn't someone looking for him?

Then another strange event distracts attention from the recent murders.  A woman has traveled to Derbyshire from Canada.  She identifies herself as the granddaughter of a military pilot who crashed his plane into the mountains during WW II.  All aboard were killed except for one Polish crew member and the pilot who supposedly survived only to vanish.  He is blamed for the wreck and his granddaughter has come to clear his name.  She is very determined but the police are already overwhelmed with work.  She tries to enlist Ben in her search but his superiors have already forbidden anyone to help with the police force already spread thin.

When the cases all start to look as if they are connected, the police scramble to find out what all three have in common.  Ben is the hometown boy who knows everyone and who is a town favorite.  But his superiors, including Diane Fry, see him as a man who is easily distracted from the orders he is given.  Will Ben's obstinate nature help to solve the crimes or is standard police procedure the way to go?

This is the third in the Cooper and Fry mystery series.  In this one, Diane has just gotten the promotion that everyone assumed would go to Ben and is now his boss.  This ratchets up the interplay between the two who come at every problem in a diametrically opposed fashion.  Readers of the series will enjoy this further case and the unfolding of the relationship between the two.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

East Of Eden by John Steinbeck


East Of Eden is a moral fable played out as the American Dream.  It is set in the Salinas Valley of California in the late 1800's to around the time of World War I.  It follows the life of the Trask family.  Adam Trask came to California after growing up in the Northeast.  He was the son of a famous military man who favored his other son, Charles, over Adam.  The boys grew up in a state of rivalry that they never managed to get over.  When Adam married Cathy, a woman who showed up on their doorstep, he had to leave when Charles would not accept her.

Adam and Cathy moved to California where Adam, a rich man, bought a large farm.  Cathy had never loved Adam as she had never loved anyone.  She used him to escape a situation.  The couple had twins and as soon as she was able, she left Adam and moved out.  Cathy became a whore and later the madam of the most infamous brothel in town.  Adam was crushed, more or less ignoring his sons, Aaron and Caleb.  The family's servant, Lee, basically raised and loved the boys.

Aaron and Caleb played out the same sibling rivalry as Adam, never learning from his own upbringing, played obvious favorites.  Aaron was blonde and everyone loved him for his sunny disposition and good behaviour.  Caleb was brunette, full of contradictions and a more complex child whose let his bad side emerge sometimes.  The boys loved each other yet Caleb would sometimes hurt Aaron just because he could.  The story ends with a major confrontation that had far-reaching consequences.

This is considered one of Steinbeck's master works.  The retelling of the old Cain and Abel story from the Bible relocated to America touches the American reader as it was intended to.  The story is full of Steinbeck's identification with the working class and his belief that man must make his own moral choices in life.  Cathy is one of the most memorable villains in literature.  The reader must make their own choice of who will have their sympathy, Caleb or Aaron.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Babel Tower by A.S. Byatt


Babel Tower is an exploration of England in the 1960's, when so many things in society changed.  It focuses on two plots.  The first is the story of Frederica.  She had been an intellectual child who went to Cambridge when that was still not the norm and became very popular and the center of attention of a group of young men.  Afterwards, rather than marrying one of them and becoming an author as everyone expected, she instead married a man from the landed gentry, Nigel.  Her sister had died in a freak accident and she wanted a complete break from what she had known.  The couple had a son, Leo.  But country life in a house full of Nigel's relatives soon palled.   Frederica felt stifled and that her intellectual life was stymied.  When she met her old crowd by happenstance, things came to a head.  Nigel forbade her to see them and when she didn't agree, started to physically abuse her.  She fled in the night, taking Leo with her.

Nigel insists he wants her back and storms around trying to find her and terrorizing her friends and family.  The book explores the themes of women who want to work outside the home, the difficulty of doing so as a single mother, spousal abuse, society's changing mores about women, religion, sex, education, the best environment for a child and work.

The other subplot is about freedom in literature and the changing setting of society and what it will accept in the name of freedom of expression.  It revolves around a novel written by a thoroughly unpleasant man named Jude Mason.  The novel is about a dystopian society that falls into one of sexual excesses and cruelty and is considered obscene and charged as such.  There is a trial in which the limits of society are explored.  The Moors Murders case of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley serves as backdrop for this case.  It was the most prominent child murder case of its time and many considered it a bellwether of how society changes were taking the world into dark, wretched places.

This is a huge novel that attempts to explain all of life in a specific time period.  Readers may or may not like Frederica who is not a very sympathetic character but she is a model of how society has changed in considering a women's role.  Most facets of society are portrayed along with the changes the sixties brought to each.  The author, A.S. Byatt, won the Booker Prize for her novel Possession and that intellect and ability to explore society is a real reason for her success.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, June 16, 2017

In The Name Of The Family by Sarah Dunant


Few family names reverberate through history like that of the Borgias of Italy.  The head of the family is Rodrigo Borgia, a Spanish Cardinal who comes to Rome and rises to become Pope Alexander VI.  He delights in the machinations of the Church and in his illegitimate children whom he disdains to hide.  Instead they are given prominent places in society.  His first son, Juan, is assassinated, a crime that marks Rodrigo's life ever after.  Cesare is a former Cardinal who turns instead to military matters, conquering city after city in the Borgia's quest to extend their power.  His daughter, Lucrezia, is used to solidify the family's power and influence through marriage.  She is married three times by the time she is twenty-two.

This novel follows the family in the last year of their power, 1502.  Lucrezia has just become the Duchess of Urbino, her husband Alfonso much the same kind of man as her brother Cesare.  Cesare becomes increasingly erratic as he pursues a campaign of conquest, perhaps as the aftermath of what is known as the French pox.  There is no alliance he won't make or break as it suits him, and both he and Pope make sure their enemies come to a bloody end.  Pope Alexander is at the end of his life and concerned about his legacy.  Finally, an outsider is also part of the story.  Niccolo Machiavelli is a diplomat from Florence who is sent to the court in Rome to discover what he can of the Borgia plans and how his city can best position itself.  He is fascinated by the Borgias, later basing his most famous book, The Prince, on Cesare.

Yet Dunant is interested in not just wars and betrayals but the life of women.  Lucrezia is maligned throughout Italy as a courtesan and faithless wanton woman, but the reality is closer to that of a woman used as most women were in titled families, as a pawn to consolidate power.  Her life in a forced marriage is explored as is the relationships within the family she married into, and her struggles to produce an heir.  She loves her father and brother but fate moves her far away from them where she rarely gets to see them and must carve out a life for herself.

Sarah Dunant is considered one of the finest names working in historical fiction today.  She is fascinated with Renaissance Italy and the powerful families that battle for supremacy.  Yet she also takes time to examine everyday life.  The influence of sickness, the fevers that annually take scores of lives and the new disease of syphilis, or French pox, is explored.  The interplay between the powerful families and the Church is discussed.  She skillfully dissects the connections between families and the alliances and betrayals that made the Borgia family name infamous.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.