Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Hanging Girl by Jussi Adler-Olsen


When Carl Morck, head of Sweden's Department Q where the coldest of cold crimes go to die, receives a call from a colleague on a remote island, his first instinct is to put the man off.  That is always Morck's first instinct and when he finds out the man is calling about a case that is twenty years old he is definite about not wanting to get involved.  When a stunning event happens to the detective who called the same day, Morck is reluctantly pulled into the case.

The case concerns the death of a teenage girl who was found hanging from a tree after a hit and run accident so forceful that she was thrown up into the tree.  She was found by the policeman who spent the rest of his life consumed with the quest to find out who hit her and left her to die.  After twenty years, what chance is there that a road accident can now be solved?  Still, that's Carl's job so he and his assistants Assad and Rose head to the scene.  They find out that the girl had recently come to a school there where she made quite an impact with her beauty and flirtatious manner.  Right before her death, she seemed to have moved her interest to a mystery man not connected with the school.  After studying the case, the team believes finding this man will be the key.  The only thing they have to go on is that he was a good-looking man who was fascinating to women and that he was interested in the old religions that worshipped the sun.  Is it even possible to find him?  Most would give up but that's not the Department Q way where once something catches Morck's interest, he cannot give up until he finds the truth.

This is the sixth installment in the Department Q series.  Fans will be delighted to spend more time with the Department Q staff, now enlarged with the addition of a new man, Gordon.  Carl is fascinating, reluctant to get involved but unable to put a mystery aside.  Assad is enigmatic and constantly surprises with his hidden abilities.  Rose has her issues but is a marvel of organization and the sparkplug that forces the men to never give up.  This book is recommended by mystery readers.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies


In this four part novel, Peter Ho Davies explores what it means to be a Chinese-American.  Three of the four parts are based on historical figures, while the fourth is based on an experience thousands have had.  The book starts with the story of Ling.  He is sent to America from the poverty that is all he has ever known to make his fortune.  He starts off working in a Chinese laundry but over time, he catches the eye of Charles Crocker, a wealthy San Francisco man who is building part of the transcontinental railroad.  After employing Ling for several years, Crocker decides that he is an example of the Chinese laborer and exactly what the railroad needs.  That starts the massive import and use of Chinese laborers to build the railroad.

In the second part, the life of Anna May Wong is described.  Anna was a famous actress at the junction of the transition from silent to talking movies and was the first Chinese-American actress to make a career in the industry.  She knew them all, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Orsen Welles and others.  She was feted from coast to coast and made the headlines everywhere she went.  But she was denied the right to marry a man not of her ethnic background by the laws in California and her fame only went so far.  When it came time to cast an actress in the groundbreaking role in Pearl Buck's The Good Earth, a role everyone said she was born to play, she was passed over and a German woman was given the role and made up to appear Chinese.

The third part explores the murder of Vincent Chin in the 1980's in Detroit.  He had gone with friends to a strip club for his bachelor party.  While there, he got into a scuffle with two white men, men who felt their jobs had been taken away by the success of Japanese imports.  They never considered that Vincent and his friends weren't Japanese, but instead Chinese, seeing only 'other' and holding a grudge against any Asian.  The night ends with the murder of Vincent and then there are years of attempts to bring the men to justice and have them pay for their crime.

The last part describes the experience that many American couples have, that of going to China to adopt a baby girl.  During the strict One Child policy years, many Chinese families left their girl babies at orphanages and hoped to have a son instead.  These girls were available to the extent that there were actual tours of couples who were all going to China to adopt.  The novel looks at this concept through the eyes of a couple who are on such a tour.  The husband is of Chinese descent himself while the wife is of Irish descent.

Readers of The Fortunes will have much to consider.  There is the fact that most Americans don't see a difference between Asians whose backgrounds come from different countries, seeing them all as outsiders and asking even those whose families have been here for generations, 'Where are you from?'  There is the expectation that all Asians are good at math and science and that all are expected to obey family norms.  The thought that America is never quite considered their native land but only an immigrant experience is one that most white individuals never have to think about.  Peter Ho Davies is the son of a Welsh father and Chinese mother and was raised in Wales.  He is currently on the faculty of the University of Michigan and his first novel, The Welsh Girl, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  This book is recommended for those interested in the immigrant experience and readers of literary fiction.  

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Dancing With The Tiger by Lili Wright


In the world of Mexican art, one prize has long been talked about.  It is the funeral mask of Montezuma, long fabled but never seen.  If found, it would be priceless.  When a tweeker digs it up deep in a cave, events are put into play that will lead to death and disaster.

Many people want the mask.  There is Daniel, an American collector who has spent his life collecting Mexican masks and wants nothing more than an exhibit at the Metropolitan bearing his late wife's name.  Malone is his greatest rival and has the advantage of actually living in Mexico along with his wealthy wife.  Anna is Daniel's daughter, at loose ends and determined to find the mask to save her father's dream.  Reyes is the drug dealer who buys the mask from the tweeker for a song and is enraged when it is stolen back.  The tweeker wants to find the mask to sell it and regain his life before drugs.  Hector is Reye's assassin, who is tasked with retrieving the mask no matter what it takes.  Salvadore is a Mexican artist who wishes to end the exploitation of his country's treasures by outsiders.

Each is determined to find the treasure and use it for their own ends.  Some want it for gain, some for glory, but each will do anything and use anyone to possess it.  The mask is moved around as it is lost, refound, stolen from one person, then from the next until it is impossible to tell who has it.  The best and worst of individuals come to light as they all strive to gain their goals.  Love and betrayal, evil and goodness, all come into play.

Dancing With The Tiger is Wright's debut novel.  She worked as a journalist for more than a decade and her first book was a nonfiction account of her trip from Maine to Florida.  In this book, she explores the concept of masks and how we hide our true selves, of friendship and family connections and what we will do for them, how sex can be used as a gift or a tool, and the exploitation of native cultures by wealthier ones.  The pace is fast, the action powerful and suspenseful.  This book is recommended to thriller readers.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Hanging Hill by Mo Hayder


When a teenage girl goes missing and is found murdered in a small town near Bath, two estranged sisters find their way back to each other.  Sally was the kind of woman who was raised to expect that her looks and position in life would ensure a great life with a man taking care of all her needs.  That expectation was rudely finished when her husband found another woman, leaving Sally ill-prepared to support herself and her teenage daughter, Mollie.  Mollie was a friend of the murdered girl and she and her friends' reactions in another challenge for Sally to deal with on top of her financial worries and having to deal with her social crowd's desertion now that she can't afford to do the things she always took for granted.

Her sister, Zoe, is a police officer and is assigned to the murder investigation.  Zoe was the black sheep in her family, so much so that the parents sent her off to boarding school to keep her away from Sally.  Zoe is fiercely independent and thinks she doesn't need anyone, even her partner, Ben, who wants a more personal relationship.  The investigation draws her into the seedy world of pornography and the young girls who think that it is a part of breaking into the modeling life they desire.  The murdered girl was one of those and Zoe is racing against the clock to find the murderer before it becomes common knowledge what the girl was involved in.

In the process, the two sisters are reunited when their lives intersect.  Sally is working as a maid in one of the suspect's home while Zoe gets to know her niece as she interviews the murdered girl's social circle.  As they gingerly feel each other out, the reader is left to wonder if they can find their way back to each other as sisters and whether the teamwork can catch a murderer before he can strike again.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Bleak House by Charles Dickens


Esther Summerson's life changes forever when her aunt dies.  Her aunt never showed her any kindness and Esther's life was bleak.  Her new guardian is a kind man named John Jarndyce.  He also becomes guardian to two other children, Ada and Richard, who are cousins.  John, Richard and Ada are all participants in the long ongoing legal case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce.  This case, to determine the distribution of a great estate, has been going on for years, enriching scores of lawyers yet never seeming to move closer to a resolution.

There is a mystery involving people the Jarndyce household knows.  It concerns the well-known house of the Dedlock family.  Lord Dedlock is considered one of the country's leading lords and his wife is known for her beauty and mystery.  Their secret is well-hidden but there are many who are interested in finding it so it's time is limited.  How these two main families become aware of a connection and how they interact is the fulcrum upon which the book turns.

As always, Dickens is concerned with inequities in the English way of life.  In this book, he has the legal system, particularly the civil legal system, square in his sights.  He also turns a scornful eye upon those who neglect their own families to be 'do-gooders', those who spend their lives hanging onto their friends and families who have some wealth rather than making their own way, and those who take advantage of their children.  Moneylenders and lawyers are put under his withering microscope.  As with other Dickens novels, the reader is also introduced to a host of secondary characters, each of which is fully formed and developed to the reader's delight.  This book is recommended to readers of classic English literature and those interested in a rousing story of adventure and virtue conquering all.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Darkside by Belinda Bauer


Shipcott is a small, rural village where everyone knows everyone and everyone knows everyone's business.  There's little crime and that's just how they like it.  Constable Jonas Holly is the village policeman.  He grew up in Shipcott so all are comfortable with him.  Jonas planned a big police career, but when his wife, Lucy, developed multiple scoliosis, he moved back to the village where the demands would not be as great and he could watch after Lucy.

All this is thrown in disarray when a body is discovered.  Margaret Priddy was elderly and paralyzed, confined to her bed, not even able to speak.  She is suffocated one night.  That means the big guns in law enforcement are called in and that means DCI John Marvel.  Marvel is a brutish, arrogant detective who delights in showing everyone he's the boss, especially his subordinates.  He doesn't want to be in Shipcott, especially in the middle of a blizzard which lasts for days.  He takes an immediate dislike to Holly for not being subservient.  Far from using Holly's local expertise, he instead gives him a series of menial tasks, making it apparent to all that he's not considered useful.  As the days go by, more murders occur in the village, all of elderly men and women.  Apparently, Shipcott has a serial killer.

Someone in the village expects Jonas to solve the crimes.  He starts to get taunting notes, holding him accountable for finding the killer and saving the village.  Jonas is caught in a vise.  On one hand, his whole life is about protecting and saving those around him.  On the other, he is being kept on the outside by a man who knows nothing about the village or its inhabitants and who doesn't want Jonas' insights.  Can the killer be found?

Belinda Bauer is writing some of the most suspenseful novels around today.  She was written seven crime novels which have won some of the mystery field's highest prizes, such as the Crime Writer's Association Gold Dagger Award, the Old Peculier Crime Novel, and the CWA Dagger in the Library award.  Her books feature the small rural Wales she knows so well and the effect crime has in such places where everyone thinks they know everyone else, but in reality secrets are kept and often explode into violence.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, January 26, 2017

Somehow it is already the end of January in this new year of 2017.  I've been doing the usual things for this time of year.  That includes watching a ton of NFL football and college basketball, going to the gym, reading and watching tv.  I'm about to start a round of bookish trips with a visit to the book fair in Savannah in February and to Charlottesville in March.  In reading news, I've taken a step back and I'm reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens.  I'm really enjoying the slow pace which makes me remember why I like Victorian literature as well as steampunk fiction.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  Losing The Light, Andrea Dunlop, literary fiction, sent by author
2.  Human Acts, Han Kang, literary fiction, sent by Amazon Vine program
3.  A Star-Reckoner's Lot, Darrell Drake, fantasy, sent by author
4.  Alif The Unseen, G. Willow Wilson, literary fiction, purchased
5.  Dead Clever, Scarlett Thomas, mystery, purchased
6.  World, Chase Me Down, Andrew Hilleman, Western, sent by Amazon Vine
7.  After You're Dead, Cary Allen Stone, mystery, sent by author
8.  The Unseeing, Anna Mazzola, literary fiction, sent by publisher
9.  The Beauty Of The End, Debbie Howells, mystery, sent by Amazon Vine
10.  The Dangerous Ladies Affair, Marcia Muller/Bill Pronzini, mystery, sent by publisher
11.  The Outsider, Anthony Franze, legal thriller, sent for book tour
12.  A Naked Singularity, Sergio De La Pana, mystery, purchased
13.  My Husband's Wife, Jane Corry, suspense, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Bleak House, Charles Dickens, hardback
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3.  
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

4. Dancing With The Tiger, Lili Wright, hardback

5.  Hanging Hill, Mo Hayder, hardback
6.  Death Of A River Guide, Richard Flanagan, Kindle Fire
7.  The Stress Of Her Regard, Tim Powers, audio
8.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback

9.  Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell, paperback
10.  Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback

11.  Dark Side, Belinda Bauer, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Just Try To Stop Me by Gregg Olsen


Brenda Nevins has a goal.  She wants to be remembered as the most prolific female serial killer of all time.  She made a good start as her murder of her husband and baby daughter gained her notoriety.  But being in prison seriously cramps her style.  She takes care of that detail by using her ability to psychologically manipulate others and her astounding beauty to turn prison staff into her willing accomplices to help her escape.

Not content with an escape, Brenda ups the ante.  She kills her prison accomplice, a move that brings all levels of law enforcement after her.  But she has plans.  She starts streaming bizarre messages through YouTube to the world, talking of her plans and hinting at more mayhem.  This is accomplished when she and her partner kidnap four teenage girls and threaten to kill them on line for everyone to see.

While all law enforcement is on alert, those in the Washington area where she has made her escape are particularly focused on the case.  One team works on it while facing other life challenges.  Kendell Stark is a sheriff's detective while Birdy Waterman is a forensic pathologist. Kendell is caught up in a power struggle with an overbearing FBI detective.   Birdy is dealing with the terminal illness of her mother so their collaboration is disjointed.  Still, when it counts they come together to try to stop this criminal.  Will they be successful?

Gregg Olsen is a successful true crime writer who is now writing a mystery series.  I discovered him back in his true crime days so was interested to read his fiction.  This is the fifth book in the Stark/Waterman series.  I was disappointed in this title.  The action seemed rushed and the characters were one-dimensional and flat.  There was a successful twist at the end of the novel and the partnership of Stark and Waterman will continue.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Sellout by Paul Beatty


Bonbon Me grew up on a farm in Dickens, California, a city adjoining Los Angeles.  He is raised by his sociology professor father, his mother long gone.  His father is consumed with theories about racial discrimination and spends his time writing about the subject and conducting experiments on Bonbon when not spending time in the Dum Dum Intellectual Society, which he founded.  Bonbon grows up unsure what to do.  He raises the best produce around, surfs, and tries to decide how a man should live.

When Dickens is subsumed by L.A., completely wiped off the map, Bonbon has had enough.  He makes it his mission to return Dickens to its former status, as lowly as that had been.  But how to get attention to a poor, inner-city area that no one is particularly interested in?

Almost by accident, Bonbon hits on a plan.  As a birthday present for his best friend, Hominy Jenkins, he turns his on-again, off-again girlfriend's city bus into a replica of the old time buses Hominy would have ridden as a child when he was a minor character on the TV show, The Little Rascals.  Hominy is consumed by the past and the racial humiliations he and other black men have endured.  He declares that he is Bonbon's slave and shows up every day to do whatever work he decides needs doing.

When the bus incident turns out to have a surprising result, Bonbon realizes he has hit on a plan.  The threat of overt segregation causes the bus's riders to up their behavior and pull together to rail against the threat.  Spurred on, Bonbon, with the help of the local principal, creates a totally false 'exclusive' school which is across the street from the local school where students are mired in failure.  Once again, it unites the students and spurs them to improved academic performance.  The ploys land Bonbon in front of the Supreme Court as he is arrested on various charges and the case is sent ever higher.

This work of satire has garnered much praise.  It was the 2016 winner of the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and one of the 10 Best Books of 2015 of the New York Times Book Review.  Beatty has written extensively about the black experience and how differently white and black society experiences it.  The novel's biting satire and depiction of how prejudice seeps into every institution and encounter spotlights it into a blinding light.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in a diverse society.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson


In twenty-first century Shanghai, nanotechnology has been fully integrated into society.  People are organized into cultural gatherings where they live, work and rarely interact with those from other 'claves'.  There are scientific claves, Victorian ones from the English that conquered and was a big part of the country for so long, those that hark back to ancient Chinese traditions, etc.  John Percival Hackworth is a nanotech engineer.  He has worked on various products and come to the attention of both one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the Victorian clave and Doctor X, a man who works on the criminal side of the Chinese claves.

Hackworth is hired to create an interactive book or primer, that can be used to provide an education that goes beyond the structured education most children are given.  It's called A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.  Although developed for the granddaughter of the wealthy man who hires Hackworth, Hackworth creates a second version for his own daughter, Fiona.  This version is then stolen when Hackworth is mugged on the street and it makes its way to a young girl in the poorest clave, Nell.  Nell's life would be expected to be poor and limited but as she interacts with the primer and learns its lessons, she finds a pathway to a richer, more interesting and exciting life than she had ever had the opportunity to even imagine.  There are other intriguing characters such as Miranda, the actress that acts the parts of the primer, Doctor X, who has a vision to help his society move forward and others.

This is the fourth novel Neal Stephenson produced.  It explores the fields of nanotechnology and the implications on society when anything can be produced cheaply and well and there is no reason for most people to work, an issue that American society is just now starting to grapple with.  It considers the role of education and how it can constrict as much as free students.  It talks about the reality that people tend to congregate with those like them and whether those who are unlike can ever truly integrate with each other.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction/fantasy.

Friday, January 13, 2017

His Bloody Project by Graeme McCrae Burnet


In 1869 in the small farming community of Culduire in Scotland, a horrendous murder occurs. Town Constable Lachlan Mackenzie, his fifteen year old daughter and his three year old son are brutally slaughtered in their home.  There is no doubt about the culprit.  It is seventeen year old Roderick McCrae.  What would lead someone so young to such an act?

The book is set after the crime, while Roderick is waiting in prison for his trial.  There are transcripts of interviews with the neighbors and inhabitants of Culduire.  There are findings by medical doctors as well as those who study the minds of prisoners.  There is an accounting of the trial.  Most prominently, there is the memoir of Roderick himself.

Roderick is a lonely boy.  His mother died in childbirth a year or so ago, leaving Roderick and his siblings with his dour father.  He is considered highly intelligent at his school, with the master coming to visit his father and plead for more education for Roderick, a plea his father turns down.  He has few friends as the others his age regard him as strange and set apart.

According to Roderick, the crime grew out of the prosecution of his family by Lachlan Mackenzie.  The enmity between the two families begins when Roderick is caring for sheep.  One of Mackenzie's is injured and Roderick kills it to end its suffering.  Mackenzie is incensed and wants punishment for Roderick as well as financial compensation.  The compensation is awarded but no legal punishment.  As a result, Mackenzie runs for town constable and is successful.  He becomes the voice of the factor of the land and is responsible for enforcing rules and regulations.  He soon starts to micromanage the town and the inhabitants quickly learn that it doesn't pay to cross him.  He singles out the McCrae family with punishment and humiliation.  Finally, Roderick can take no more and murders Mackenzie with the murder of his children done only to prevent them giving a warning.

But is this an accurate account?  There emerges at the trial a suggestion that Roderick's interest in the daughter and her rejection played a role.  Is Roderick insane?  Some neighbors believe so while others find him kind and gentle.  What do the doctors that examine him and his state of mind believe?  
This book was nominated for the 2016 Man Booker Prize.  It tells a compelling story through the use of documents such as memoirs, interviews, trial transcripts and medical conclusion reports.  The mean life of a Scottish farmer is portrayed and the helplessness one felt if they had a grievance against those in authority.  The reader is left to make up their own mind about what happened at the Mackenzie croft that bloody day.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and mystery readers.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Father's Day by Simon Van Booy


Harvey is a girl just living her life as little girls do.  When she is six, one day she is told her parents have both died in a car accident.  The family was small and there aren't grandparents to step in.  Harvey's only living relative is an uncle who had not been in contact with his brother since they were children.  Jason, the uncle, cut off contact when he went to prison for blinding a man in a bar fight.  Jason had been his brother's protector against their father who was an abusive alcoholic.  He didn't want his brother's chance at a good life done in by an ex-con with no prospects.

Now, years later, Jason ekes out a living by cruising thrift shops and finding things he can resell on Ebay and Craigslist.  He is not the typical kind of person who would be considered to raise a small girl, but the social worker, Wanda, sees something in him that makes her want to put the two together.  Jason flatly refuses but Wanda brings Harvey over to introduce her.  Before he knows it, Jason agrees and the court grants him temporary custody.  That later gets changed to a permanent basis and Jason becomes the only parent Harvey will know.

Simon Van Booy has written a charming tale of how the relationship between these two unlikely individuals works out over the years.  Jason knows nothing about raising a child but his heart is in the right place and soon there is nothing he wouldn't do for Harvey.  Harvey learns self-sufficiency and caring from Jason and grows into an accomplished woman.  

Van Booy has written several anthologies and novels, including Everything Beautiful Began After.  In this work, he explores the nature of parental love and the bond that grows between members of a family.  Harvey gets what she needs, a parent, but Jason also gets what he needed, a life work that gives him scope to work out his own issues and realize that he has worth even with his background.  Readers will cheer for Jason as he takes steps from being an isolated, separate individual to someone who can offer and receive friendship and love.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in family relationships and how people can change.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo


When the Norwegian Ambassador to Thailand is discovered murdered, those high in government want the case solved.  They want the best policeman they can find and that, most agree, is Harry Hole.  For the Ambassador wasn't just murdered, he was murdered in compromising circumstances in a hotel known for prostitution.  This needs a quick solution so that it can be swept under the rug and forgotten as soon as possible.

Hole dutifully heads to Thailand.  He is determined not to drink on this trip as his propensity to falling into a drunken stupor for weeks or months is his biggest failing.  He quickly determines two things.  First, in addition to being associated with prostitution, it appears that the Ambassador may be involved in child prostitution, something that Thailand is known for.  Second, the entire case may be a setup and the Ambassador blameless.

Hole digs deeper into the case.  He works with the local Thailand police and soon meets government figures, high-stakes financiers and developers, and the Ambassador's family.  The wife seems stunned with grief but is that true?  The daughter is a bit mysterious and quickly develops a crush on Harry.  Will he solve the case in time and more importantly, will he find a solution that pleases his superiors back in Norway?

This is the second novel in the immensely successful Harry Hole series.  The seeds of the Hole personality and Harry's tormented life and visionary crime solving is featured.  It is impossible not to want Harry on your side while realizing that he has many issues of his own.  The reader feels for Harry and wants him to succeed but more importantly wishes he could find a way to be happy, although happiness and his chosen career are at odds.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, January 7, 2017


It's a snowy day in North Carolina.  We don't get that much snow, as a rule, so when we get eight inches you know you'll be snowed in for a bit as we don't have the snow removal equipment other places do.  It's a good weekend to be snowed in.  It's NFL wildcard weekend, my favorite weekend of the season with four games on in two days.  I'm about to put on a crockpot of apples, carrots and pork chops and plan on reading and watching tv for most of the next two days.  I haven't posted since Christmas and of course I got books for Christmas.  I only really trust my son to buy me books so he gave me some and then I got gift cards that I used.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough, mystery, sent by publicist
2.  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler, literary fiction, purchased
3.  The Remnants, Robert Hill, literary fiction, purchased
4.  Jackaby, William Ritter, fantasy, gift
5.  Birds, Beasts And Relatives, Gerald Durrell, memoir, gift
6.  Menagerie Manor, Gerald Durrell, memoir, gift
7.  The Translation Of The Bones, Francesca Kay, literary fiction, purchased
8.  Jerusalem, Alan Moore, literary fiction, gift
9.  The Rising, Heather Graham/Jon Land, thriller, sent by publicist
10.  The Other Widow, Susan Crawford, mystery, sent by publicist
11.  Kenmore Square, Carol June Stover, mystery, sent by author
12.  The Nix, Nathan Hill, literary fiction, purchased
13.  The Sellout, Paul Beatty, literary fiction, purchased
14.  A Spool Of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler, literary fiction, purchased
15.  Back When We Were Grownups, Anne Tyler, literary fiction, purchased

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson, paperback
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3.  
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

4. Cockroaches, Jo Nesbo, paperback
5.  Father Hood, Simon Van Booy, paperback
6.  His Bloody Project, Graeme McCrae Burnet, Kindle Fire
7.  The Stress Of Her Regard, Tim Powers, audio
8.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback

9.  Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell, paperback
10.  Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback


Happy Reading!


Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Forrests by Emily Perkins


Dorothy Forrest is born into a large family.  The father comes from a wealthy family but has never been a success himself.  When Dorothy is seven, he impulsively moves the family from America to Auckland, New Zealand, where he can ignore the family and work on his get-rich schemes in peace.  This leaves the family in perilous financial trouble and there is little money to spare to raise the five children.  Sometimes the father is gone for months leaving their mother to make do as best she can.  Yet she also finds the kindness to basically take in another child, Daniel, who lives close but is basically raising himself, the only ambitious individual in a house of drug addicts.

The children grow up, as children do.  They survive their parent's upbringing, from moving to living on a commune while the father goes to America for a while, to other moves.  The children grow up tightly bonded although they aren't that attached to their parents.  Perkins follows the children over the years as they find jobs, marry or have relationships, have children, divorce, and even face death.  The one constant over the years is Dorothy's feelings for Daniel, which he sometimes reciprocates and sometimes ignores.  Finally, old age comes to the children and they themselves leave behind children for another era.

Emily Perkins has won several literary prizes such as the Best First Book of the New Zealand Book Award and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.  The Forrests was nominated for the Orange Prize in 2013.  It shows the ebb and flow of a family, how relationships within the family sustain a person throughout their life and how love can bloom and survive even with years of separation.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 Year In Review


2016 has come and gone and like most bloggers, I like to stop for a minute and take stock of my blog and reading.  I started this blog in 2008, mainly for my own purposes of documenting my reading.  Eight years later, I'm thrilled that others read about my reactions to what I've read, and I hope it helps someone find a great book to read.

It's been a busy year in our house.  Last year was senior year for our daughter with all the 'lasts' that brings.  We had a busy summer, going to Massachusetts for a technology/science conference and then a week at the beach.  I bought a new car and so did Rex.  There were multiple trips to Columbia, South Carolina for admitted students weekends and orientation and then in August our daughter started college at the University of South Carolina.  I love USC and it is a warm, caring place that is perfect for walking and learning to adult.

This year I read 112 books, far from my original goal of 150.  I'm disappointed, but I did accomplish some of my reading goals.  I went back and re-read and then read the last book in the George R. R. Martin epic Game Of Throne series.  I started listening to more books, mostly on long car trips and my daily visits to the gym.  I got sidetracked a bit as I discovered and fell into the world of podcasts, starting with Serial and then Undiscovered, then branching out to others.  I weeded my collection and gave away over five hundred books.  I discovered some great new authors.  I reviewed every book I read.

Of the books I read, these were the best:

1.  The Incantations by Susan Barker
2.  Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
3.  The Small Backs Of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch
4.  The Last Days Of Magic by Mark Thompkins
5.  A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin
6.  Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson

These were all great books:

1.  Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
2.  Nutshell by Ian McEwan
3.  The Everman series by James Maxwell
4.  The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
5.  The North Water by Ian McGuire
6.  Lexicon by Max Barry
7.  The Fireman by Joe Hill
8.  The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell
9.  Free Men by Katy Simpson Smith
10.  The House of Rumour by Jake Arnott
11.  A Crucible Of Souls by Mitchell Hogan
12.  The Road To Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
13.  Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

For 2017, my reading goals are:

1.  I still need to hit 150 books so I'll keep that goal.
2.  I want to read at least three books by William Vollman
3.  Three books by Salman Rushdie
4.  I want to read the Wolf Hall series by Hiliary Mantell
5.  Ten books from the Man Booker and Bailey's Women Fiction lists, either past years or current

Happy Reading!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Captured by Neil Cross


Kenny Drummond gets the news no one expects to hear.  He has stage four terminal brain cancer and has only weeks to live without treatment, maybe a few months with horrific treatments.  Kenny opts to not do treatment and sets about putting his life in order.  He is single with no children.  His marriage had dissolved after a stillborn baby but he is still good friends with his ex-wife.  He lives in a remote cottage where he makes a living painting portraits.  He has no close friends or any relatives.
As he prepares, he decides this is the time to make amends to anyone he wronged.  He can think of only a few and most insist his sins were minor and nothing to worry about.  But then there is Callie Barton.  Back when he was a young child, shunned at school because of his strange father and motherless home, only Callie had treated him kindly.  He never told her how much that meant and decides this is the time.

He goes to his one friend, an ex-cop and asks her to help him locate Callie.  What she turns up instead is troubling.  Callie disappeared several years before and has never been found.  Her husband, Jonathan Reese, was the main suspect.  Kenny determines to find out what happened to Callie and get her justice.

In order to do this, he kidnaps Jonathan and takes him to his cottage.  He imprisons him there, telling him that he will let him go when he tells him what happened to Callie.  Jonathan is adamant that he had nothing to do with Callie's disappearance but Kenny is not convinced.  Is he right or is the cancer in his brain making him read the situation wrong?

This book is chilling.  The reader finds himself cheering Kenny on, even as an impartial view shows that he is doing a horrific crime.  The devolution of the men's relationship mimics the devolution of Kenny's health and sanity.  Neil Cross is a screenwriter who wrote for the Dr. Who and Spooks television series in England before writing the tremendously successful Luther series.  One of his novels has been long-listed for the Booker Prize.  This novel is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Dry by Jane Harper


Kiewarra is a small farming community in rural Australia and Aaron Falk's hometown.  He lived there until he was sixteen when the town turned against him and his father after the death of his girlfriend.  Some called it murder and some suspected either Aaron or his father of the crime.  Aaron was never formally suspected as his best friend Luke gave him an alibi.  The problem was that the alibi was false.  The town at first shunned Aaron and his father then the issue escalated until the two were basically run out of town.

Twenty years on, Aaron has made a life in Sydney.  He is a Federal Agent, working in the Financial Division.  He is startled when he sees a news story from Kiewarra.  It states that Luke Hadler, his old friend, has killed his family and then himself.  Aaron is shocked as it is nothing he could ever have believed of Luke.  Then Luke's father calls, asking Aaron to return to town for the funeral and stating that he knows Luke's alibi all those years ago was a lie.

Aaron returns and the town is undergoing hard times.  There is a drought the likes of which hasn't been seen in decades and everything is drying up and withering.  Money is tight as more and more farmers go under and stores close.  In the midst of the general suffering, the crime is even more horrifying.  As Aaron learns more, he continues to question if Luke was really capable of doing this.  Luke's father doesn't believe it either and the new policeman in town has doubts.  He accepts Aaron's help and they start to delve into the crime and soon discover that the town is hiding even more secrets than they ever suspected.

This is Jane Harper's debut novel although she has been a journalist for years.  It was a #1 bestseller in Australia and has already been commissioned for a movie.  The story is stark, fitting the atmosphere and environment it is placed in.  The writing is sparse and the reader is transported to a small farming community on the verge of panic as everything dries up and is tinder-ready.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin


Malcolm Fox never expects to be liked.  As a member of the Professional Standards Unit of the police, more commonly called The Complaints, it's his job to investigate other policemen in the Scottish police force to uncover corruption.  But that means he comes into every case with a big boulder of suspicion and distaste to overcome.

He is brought into his new case to investigate the other members of a police force suspected of helping Paul Carter, who is accused of using his position to coerce sexual favors from women.  In the course of his team's investigation, Fox interviews the suspect's uncle, Alan Carter, a former policeman who now runs a security investigation.  Carter is working on a case that has roots going back twenty years ago to an unsettled time in Scottish history.  There were various terrorist separatist organizations and the rising star of one of them was killed nearby in a wreck.  Carter has been hired to see if that long-ago wreck was the result of an accident or whether it was murder.  Fox becomes embroiled in that case as well as the one on which his team is working when Alan Carter is killed, Paul is suspected and then also killed.

As Fox investigates the two murders he is drawn back into the secrets of the past and those who want those secrets to remain buried.  In the meantime, his personal life is complicated by the declining health of his father and between the two situations, he is torn yet persistent.  His dogged perseverance makes him unpopular but good at what he does.

Ian Rankin is one of the top mystery writers in Scotland.  His long series about Inspector John Rebus is one of the most successful.  He gives an accurate recounting of police procedures and the way that secrets can rise again years later.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler


How did Kate Battista reach this point in her life?  She doesn't know exactly what she thought her life would be, but probably not this.  Kate is twenty-nine.  She dropped out of college and now serves as her father's housekeeper and raises her teenage sister, Bunny.  Dr. Battista is the original absent-minded professor, full of ideas about his research but uninterested in the house and raising the two daughters his wife left him when she died.  His contribution to the household is a series of processes to make the house run efficiently.  No time or energy to cook?  It doesn't matter as once a week a mash of meat and vegetables is prepared and then every dinner is mash.

Kate has fallen into a stopgap job that somehow has lasted for years.  She is an assistant at a preschool, where the children love her but the parents and administration are much less entranced with her honest, blunt truthfulness.  No sugarcoating truths about behaviors for Kate.  If a child asks who the best artist in the room is, Kate will tell him, not worrying about egos but feeling that the best artist is just a fact, not something to get a personality crushed over.  She has some feelings for the only male on staff, a sensitive man who works in the two year old room, but has no idea if he has any feelings for her.

Then Dr. Battista has his brainstorm.  His research is at a critical juncture.  The university has grown tired of waiting for a breakthrough and his labs have been moved further and further away from the main areas.  His only salvation is his assistant, Pyotr, a brilliant man who came over three years ago to work with him.  They are about to get to the next level but Pyotr's visa is also about to run out.  Immigration will insist on him returning to Europe.  What to do?

It's obvious to Dr. Battista.  Kate can marry Pyotr and then he can stay and work on the research as always.  Pyotr, a younger version of Battista's singlemindedness, seems to be fine with the idea and intrigued by Kate.  Kate is appalled and can't believe her father would marry her off like livestock.  What will become of the Battista family and Pyotr?

Anne Tyler is one of the masters of American literature still working today.  She has received the Pultizer Prize and been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  She has written twenty-one novels, each probing the intricatcies of characters the average person may not wonder about, but Tyler reveals the truth that each of us is an interesting individual with hopes and desires of our own.  This retelling of Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew is a delightful addition to her work and is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Bitter Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff


Female serial killer Cara Linstrom is free from custody.  Against the police's wishes, she was granted bail in San Francisco and quickly disappeared.  FBI Agent Matthew Roarke, who has become obsessed with the woman and her crimes, has taken a leave of absence from the Bureau while he decides if he is done with law enforcement.  Everyone knows her story, how when she was five a terrifying monster of a man broke into her house and killed her entire family.  Only Cara survived and she was scarred for life by his slashing of her throat.  She was known as 'The Miracle Girl' or at least she was until she started taking revenge.

In his quest to understand Cara, Roarke visits places from her childhood.  He goes to the beach town where she stayed for a while, then goes to the small desert town of Las Piedras.  He is drawn there by the call of a bitter police officer who accuses him of letting Cara go free, but he stays as he starts to realize that this town was the place where Cara started her life on the run.  She was sent there by the social services system after spending two years in prison for wounding a social worker and a fifteen year old boy.  There is no talk about what the two males were doing in Cara's room late at night, only that she has been violent.  Las Piedras is supposed to be a new start but Cara finds that evil exists everywhere.

Cara was only in the town for a short while but it was an eventful time.  The social worker she had been imprisoned for fighting is found murdered.  A building is torched.  And two girls die.  One is the survivor of a horrific rape which left her injured and unable to go back into society.  The other is a quiet girl that Cara notices in the high school and who commits suicide.  Is Cara connected to these crimes?

As Roarke investigates he realizes that something more in going on in the quiet little town.  A monster or maybe monsters reside there and evil has stalked the place for many years.  He finds an ally in a elderly nun who has made her life's work helping children who have no other voice.  Can Roarke find the men who are ruining Las Piedras and discover another piece of the jigsaw that is Cara's life?

This is the fourth book in the Roarke/Lindstrom series.  Sokoloff writes a tense narrative, alternating the viewpoint between Matthew and Cara.  Readers get to feel what it was like to be a young teenage Cara and the forces that bent her to the woman she is now.  The author also uses the narrative to highlight a shameful fact of law enforcement.  There are thousands of rape kits with possible DNA matches that were never tested.  They remain on shelves, waiting for someone to have the funds and motivation to solve the crimes they represent.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Trespasser by Tana French


It seems like a routine murder, maybe one step up from the dreary domestic cases Antoinette Conway has become used to getting in her two years on the Dublin Murder Squad.  She and her partner, Stephen Moran, head out to the scene when given the call by the boss, even though they are due to go home.  The victim, Aislinn Murray, is all dressed up with the house ready for an intimate dinner with someone.  She has fallen backward onto the fireplace, striking her head and bleeding out.

It seems an easy case at first.  Lover's quarrel gone wrong.  Boyfriend arrives for dinner, something goes awry, a fight occurred, maybe a shove, and suddenly it's tragedy.  When they find the man who is coming to dinner, he seems ready-made for the scenario.  Rory Fallon is hesitant, a bit of a nerd, someone who seemed unlikely to attract the stunning Aislinn.  His story is that they met at his bookstore a month or so ago.  They went out to dinner, had a drink and this was the first visit to Aislinn's house and a big step forward in their relationship.  He is puzzled and angry when he arrives, rings the bell, waits a bit, texts and then phones her, but never gets a response.  After waiting a half hour or so, he finally decides she is blowing him off for some reason and that he has been made a fool.  He stomps off angrily and walks home.

The veteran detective, Breslin, helping with the case, is sure it's the routine story it seems to be and is pushing for a quick arrest.  But Conway isn't sure.  Aislinn's best friend is sure that Aislinn is over the top crazy about this new man in her life.  She thinks there may be another man around, one that Aislinn is trying to move out of her life.  Other strange things occur.  Antoinette sees a man scoping out her street a couple of times.  When she goes out to confront him, he is gone.  The local pushy newspaper reporter all of a sudden feels free to go over the line and make Antoinette look incompetent and lazy, a move he'd never have had the nerve to do before.  Conway is not a favorite on the squad, being the only woman.  She has faced two years of harassment and her only friend is her partner and now she's not sure of him either.  Can she close the case without making the mistake that gets her punted off the squad?

Tana French is one of the shining stars of mystery writing.  Her forte is character development, giving the reader an inside look at the case and personality of a Murder Squad detective as the case slowly unfolds.  There is always lots going on beneath the surface and betrayal and evil are quick to slow their faces.  Her forte is the stunning conclusion and this novel doesn't disappoint in that regard.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, December 16, 2016


It's almost Christmas so very busy everywhere.  I've been shopping, wrapping, and harrying a vendor who lost my husband's big gift for Christmas.  It finally arrived late yesterday after multiple delivery promises, daily or twice daily calls, getting the supervisor in California's personal phone number and tons of angst.  My daughter is now home with a first college semester under her belt.  The dog has been having health issues and its still unsure exactly what the diagnosis is but at least she seems to feel better with her new medicine.  All in all, ready for a good holiday with the family here and then a trip to visit the grandkids.

Here's what has come through the door lately:

1.  Dodge City, Tom Clavin, western, won online
2.  The Lost City Of The Monkey God, Douglas Preston, nonfiction/travel, won online
3.  The Devil's Country, Harry Hunsicker, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  Setting Free The Kites, Alex George, literary fiction, sent by publisher
5.  Nest, Terry Goodkind, thriller, sent by publisher
6.  Secondhand Smoke, M. Louis, mystery, sent by publisher
7.  The Fifth Petal, Brunonia Barry, historical fantasy, won online
8.  Chaos, Patricia Cornwell, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  The Spider And The Fly, Claudia Rowe, true crime, won online
10.  Southern Gothic, Dale Wiley, mystery, sent by publisher
11.  Karma And The Butter Chicken, Monica Bhide, culinary fiction, sent by publisher
12.  Dangerous Pilgrims, Lawrence Swaim, thriller, sent by author
13.  Leopard At The Door, Jennifer McVeigh, historical fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Impossible Dead, Ian Rankin, hardbac
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3.  
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

4. The Trespasser, Tana French, hardback
5.  Vinegar Girl, Anne Tyler,  Kindle Fire
6.  His Bloody Project, Graeme McCrae Burnet, Kindle Fire
7.  The Forrests, Emily Perkins, paperback
8.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback

9.  Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell, paperback
10.  Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback


Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Confessions Of A Serial Killer by Katherine Ramsland


The letters BTK terrorized the Wichita, Kansas area for thirty years.  They referred to a serial killer who had adopted the title of Bind, Torture, Kill as his chosen name.  His acts were gruesome, starting with the torture and murder of four members of a family, two of whom were children.  From 1974 when he killed the family to 2004, when he was finally captured, he killed ten people, mostly women.

After his arrest, confession, trial and imprisonment, Katherine Ramsland reached out and established a relationship with Dennis Rader, the man behind the BTK title.  His case fascinated many in the true crime world.  He had a spate of murders, then nothing for many years, then he started killing again after decades.  This was contrary to serial killer profiles which assume that once started, a serial killer will never stop killing.  A bigger shock was the identity of the killer.  Rader was not a marginal person unable to hold a job or have a relationship.  He was involved in his church and even elected president of his local church council.  He was involved in the Boy Scouts as a leader.  He was married to his wife with no outside relationships, and they had two children.  He held a responsible job.  What was the story behind his crimes?

Ramsland spent five years researching the case and speaking with Rader through correspondence, phone calls and prison visits.  She outlines a man who had been consumed with thoughts of binding as an aid to sexual release since childhood.  Rader had an extensive fantasy life, filled with thoughts of railroad ties on which he wanted to position victims, torture castles, abandoned railcars and old barns.  He spent hours clipping pictures of women, writing about his fantasies, collecting true detective magazines and books about serial killers.  If he didn't have a victim, he practiced self-bondage in what he called 'motel parties'.  His wife didn't know about his crimes, although she had discovered him dressed in women's clothes and with bondage items.  But he promised it would never happen again and she believed it didn't.  Instead, Rader just went further underground, hiding his activities rather than ceasing them.

Readers will be chilled to read Rader's words, how he sees himself still as a good person who did some bad things.  He was able to live under the radar for so long by 'cubing', totally separating the two sides of his personality.  But he never really stopped.  He spent weeks stalking a victim before attempting anything.  He never stopped stalking women and he had long lists of 'projects' as he called women.  Having worked in the security business, he knew about breaking into houses.  Rader's nonchalant recounting of all the women he stalked is chilling.  During his 'dormant' years, he was in reality still actively stalking women.  He broke into several houses during this time only to find the occupants not there.  If they had been, he would have killed them as he did the others.  He was caught when he decided the BTK Killer wasn't getting enough attention and started a cat-and-mouse written correspondence with the police.  That led to him being caught and arrested.  He will live the rest of his life in prison.

Katherine Ramsland has devoted her writing life to studying the darker side of human nature.  She had advanced degrees in forensic psychology, criminal psychology, criminal justice and philosophy.  She has worked with some of the most well-known names in serial killer law enforcement such as John Douglas, Gregg McCrary and Henry Lee.  She has, in this book, been able to reveal Rader's fantasies and demonstrated the extent to which his dark thoughts made up his world, even as he seemed innocent and trustworthy to those he met.  This book is recommended to readers of true crime.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Hidden by Kendra Elliott


Eleven years ago, Lacey Campbell went through a horrific period in her life.  The Co-Ed Slayer was attacking and killing women at her Oregon State University campus.  He targeted and killed nine women before he was captured and put in prison for life.  One was Lacey's best friend.  Lacey barely escaped and was instrumental in putting the killer behind bars with her testimony at his trial.

Lacey has turned her life around since then.  She has become a forensic odontologist at the state forensic examiner's office and is recognized as a professional.  In that role, she is called out one morning to help with the discovery of a woman's body underneath an apartment building in snowy Portland.  She is shocked when she realises where she has seen the dental appliance found in the victim's bones.  It is that of her best friend whose body was never found after the night she was kidnapped and Lacey so narrowly escaped.  Further tests in her lab confirm that these are the bones of her friend.

The skeleton is found at an apartment building owned by Jack Harper.  Jack was a policeman until a tragedy left him injured and unable to continue.   Now he has taken over the realty and development company his father started and is an eligible bachelor and man about town.  He is pulled into the investigation because of his connection to the locale and the fact that a badge found at the scene belonged to his ex-partner.  An ex-partner who has just been gruesomely murdered.  New murders start occurring and they all tie back to the Co-Ed Slayer.  Did police get the wrong man?  Is the Slayer still out there and taking revenge?  Is Lacey his next target?

Kendra Elliott has written a fast-paced thriller that throws Lacey and Jack together in a race to find the killer before he finds Lacey.  They are a good team and romantic sparks soon fly.  Readers will be swept along in the action and rooting for Lacey and Jack.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Drop by Michael Connelley


Harry Bosch's long career as a police detective is winding down.  He has just been informed that he's been granted a three year extension on his request to remain past retirement.  He is working in the Cold Case division with a partner, Cho, for the last two years.  Harry doesn't care.  He just wants to work cases.

He and Cho are given a case that morning.  An old murder has had a DNA hit.  Blood has been found on the belongings of a murder victim from twenty-one years ago.  When the two men look up the DNA's match, they find it belongs to a convicted rapist.  Easy win.  But then it turns out that the man only raped young boys.  It also turns out that at the time of the murder he was only eight years old and thus unlikely to be their man.

On the same day, Harry is called upstairs.  Irvin Irving was a policeman who was forced out.  He then ran for city councilman and won.  He has since spent his life making life miserable for the police department he now despises.  But today he has requested Harry.  Irving's only son has been found dead as the result of a fall from a hotel balcony.  Was it suicide or was he pushed?  Irving dislikes Bosch but he knows Bosch is about the best at what he does.  He insists he wants to know the truth and Harry is assigned to discover it.

This is the seventeenth Harry Bosch novel.  In this one, Harry struggles with the winding down of his career, the new responsibility of raising a teenage daughter by himself, and as always, with his relationships inside the department and in his personal life.  Readers will be caught up in the police procedure and the workings of a master detective's mind.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Faithful Place by Tana French


Twenty-two years ago, Frank Mackey had it all planned out.  He was getting away from his dysfunctional family and the place he grew up where he would never be anything more than the son of a drunk who beat his wife and kids.  More importantly, the love of his life, Rosie Daley, was coming with him and they had a bright new life planned.  They'd never be able to be together in Faithful Place, Ireland as her family was totally opposed to her dating a Mackey.

But something went wrong.  When Frank went to their meeting place, Rosie never showed.  He went to their backup place and found a note, apologizing for the fact that she was disappointing him.  Crushed, he decided to head out anyhow.  He got himself to Dublin and found work.  As soon as he could he joined the police and carved out a life and a career for himself there.  In twenty-two years, he's never looked back.  He has cut off his entire family without a word except for his sister who also lives in Dublin.

Then he gets the word.  A suitcase has been discovered in the derelict house at the end of the street in Faithful Place.  That's the place that was his and Rosie's backup meeting place.  Against his better judgment, Frank heads back and meets his brother there to show him the case.  He realizes it was Rosie's and soon Frank has discovered a body in the house.  It seems that Rosie never dumped him that night like he thought.  Someone prevented her from leaving.

The police in the area want none of Frank's help.  But he can't leave this case alone.  He knows people who will talk to him although they would never talk to the police.  He knows the backgrounds and the environment that bred the crime.  Most of all, he knows his family and the Daley family. Even though he is considered a traitor on the street for joining the police, the families there will talk to Frank when they will talk to no one else.   Frank is determined to get justice for Rosie but can he live with that justice?

Faithful Place is the third Tana French novel.  She has won numerous awards such as the Edgar, the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction and the Macavity.  She writes about the men and women who make up the Dublin Murder Squad, and an interesting concept is that a minor character in one novel may be the main narrator in the next.  This novel, told in Frank Mackey's voice, portrays a man who wants to do right but is constantly fighting the barriers his early life and family ingrained in his character.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb


Felix Funicello is an Italian-American who grew up in the 50's and 60's.  His childhood claim to fame was his family's connection to the famous Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, a cousin.  Felix had a typical Italian-American family.  His father runs a diner, his mother stays at home but helps in the diner with the books.  He has two sisters.  Now, Felix is a 60-year-old man, divorced with one daughter, Aliza, whom he loves desperately.  He is a professor on film and runs a movie club in his hometown.

One night while getting things ready for the club's evening viewing, he has the experience of his life.  Although there have always been rumors that the old movie theatre is haunted, Felix never believed in that kind of thing.  Now he encounters two ghosts, the most visible the ghost of the famous female director of the Twenties, Lois Weber.  She now seems to be directing the story of Felix's own life and he is the first viewer.

Lois takes him back to his childhood and helps him to view the dramas of his life through the eyes of an adult rather than those of the child who was confused by what was happening.  His family encountered family secrets that were kept from the children and mental illness.  The secrets eventually came out and the family exploded as each individual resolved their own attitudes toward it.  As Felix looks back, he sees the family secret against the backdrop of feminism as women redefined what a woman could do and be.  The early pioneers like Weber may be forgotten but their legacy will be the changed way society looks at women.

Lamb concentrates in this novel, as in most of his novels, on the connections that make up our lives.  He explores the concept of family and what we will do for our family members.  The poison of family secrets and the damage they cause when finally exposed are highlighted.  The changing relationships between men and women are another focus of this book.  The reader will realize that our family is who we claim as family and that what is important in life is how we treat family and maintain our connections with them.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and family relationships.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey


"You were going to work your way into my marriage and you were going to call its new three-way shape holy," writes the unnamed narrator of Dear Thief.  The book, written as an ongoing letter to the narrator's best friend, Nina, discusses the period in which Nina shows up on the narrator's doorstep and works her way into her friend's life and marriage and motherhood.  The narrator is married with a small child who adores Nina and nicknames her Butterfly.

Nina is the ultimate narcissist.  She lives for the moment, taking whatever she wants with no apologies and no regrets.  She moves into the house and is good to the child, when the fancy takes her.  She also takes drugs and her only concession to the child's presence is to lock them up when she isn't partaking.  She takes whatever food she wants, goes about her day with no regard for the household routine and contributes very little.  She ultimately takes the narrator's husband, openly and with no expression of regrets, just an expectation that the narrator will adapt to new circumstances.  Then when she has created chaos, she disappears.  The novel is written eighteen years later after her disappearance.

The narrator talks about her life was changed by Nina.  She discusses her reactions to the upheaval and how her longing for Nina's friendship allows her to move in and destroy all the narrator holds dear.  She fantasizes that no one has heard from Nina since because she murdered and buried her.  Instead of that powerful retaliation, she has instead led a life since Nina of steadily diminished expectations and rewards.

Samantha Harvey is considered one of her generation's upcoming authors.  Her novels have been nominated for both Orange and Man Booker prizes and she was a nominee in the Guardian First Book Award.  She delves into the human soul and documents our longing for connection, even if that connection is unhealthy.  Readers will turn the final page of Dear Thief with many thoughts about their own friendships and the part they play in their lives and how trusting others opens us to possible devastation.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Never Look Down by Warren C. Easley


Kelly Spence is hurt and angry.  Her beloved father was killed in a climbing accident and Spence is now a teenager on the run from foster care.  She takes out her anger at society by climbing to rooftops and painting tags on places that it seems impossible to reach.  Although her crime is mostly irritating, that doesn't mean she wouldn't be prosecuted if she was discovered.  Worse, she would be sent back into the foster care system she escaped.

Cal Claxton is a former prosecutor who lives in Portland where Kelly is tagging buildings.  Claxton is now in private practice and also devotes a lot of time to pro bono work with the homeless.  His path unknowingly intersects that of Kelly when she witnesses a murder on the street while she is on a rooftop above.  The murderer sees Kelly but has no way of reaching her.  That doesn't mean he isn't looking for her.  Cal gets pulled into the case when it turns out the woman murdered is the fiancee of one of his best friends.

Cal and the murderer are both looking for Kelly, one for good, one for evil purposes.  But Kelly fears both of them and is determined to hide from both.  She tries to find the man she saw commit the crime, figuring she can turn him in if she can only determine his identity.  Can Cal find Kelly before her dangerous game turns disastrous?

This is the third novel is Easley's series about Cal Claxton.  Cal is a sympathetic character with his emphasis on helping those who cannot help themselves.  He has retreated to Portland after the loss of his wife and while on the dating scene, the book is not filled with unlikely sexual encounters like so many detective novels seem to be.  Readers will be interested in the case and in Claxton and will be interested to read more about his work.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.