Saturday, May 26, 2018

Twisted by Jonathan Kellerman


Hollywood detective Petra Connor has caught a bad one.  After a concert, someone drove by and opened fire on the fans, killing several of them.  Petra is put on a task force to find the killers.  Her boyfriend, Eric, is overseas with a special unit fighting terrorists and the only other thing on her agenda is mentoring a city councilman's pet project.  That project is a bright, some call him a genius, Hispanic kid who on the way to becoming a doctor has decided to get a master's in statistics and who thinks the police force would be a great place to write a thesis.  The kid, Issac, is nice enough but clueless about how a police force works.

So when Issac approaches Petra about an anomaly he has noticed, her first instinct is to brush him off.  He has discovered a series of murders, all of which have occurred on the same day in different years.  That day is June 28th and its about to roll around again.  Petra looks at the cases and discovers that all are unsolved and most had not gotten a very good investigation.  After looking at them for a while, she starts to believe that Issac may have indeed discovered a serial killer.  The question is whether she can discover who it is in time to stop the murder about to occur.

Most Jonathan Kellerman fans know him for his series about Dr. Alex Delaware, a former child psychologist who helps the police with investigations.  He wrote a few novels about Petra but then apparently decided to concentrate on the Delaware series.  Petra is an interesting detective, a woman who has made a success of her work and who strictly separates her personal life from her professional one.  This novel nicely hooks the reader into the serial killing while pursuing the drive-by killing and building the relationship between Petra and Issac.  It is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler


He has lived for hundreds of years and has created settlements all over the world.  When he goes to check on an African village he set up many years before, he is dismayed but not surprised to see that it has disappeared, its inhabitants either killed or taken for slaves.  As he walks away, he picks up a vibration that there is another individual nearby who it would be worthwhile to check out.  He changes course and soon finds Anyanwu, an African woman who has, like him, lived lifetimes.  He makes himself known to her and soon has taken her for his wife and plans for them to move on to America.

But there is a fundamental difference between the two.  Doro is determined to bend others to his will always.  He has fathered hundreds of children and uses them as social experiments as he tries to duplicate his own powers.  He must constantly kill in order to survive, taking the bodies of those he murders.  Anyanwu is a shape-shifter and while she can be cruel if it means survival, her first instinct is always to help those around her and to build a family.  These two unite in what will be a contest of wills that lasts for centuries.  Who will win?  Strength and cruelty or kindness and love?

This is an early novel of Octavia Butler's work.  It has an interesting premise and there are three other novels that follow this start in the series.  It is a classic battle of good vs evil, yet each of these individuals is forced to work with the other as there is no one else like them in the universe.  The reader will be caught up in their struggle as they each attempt to build a world that will survive.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers


Jack Shandy is sailing to Jamaica where he has discovered an inherited fortune awaits him.  He is bored on the trip and makes the acquaintance of one of the only other young passengers, a lady named Elizabeth Hurwood, sailing with her father and his friend.  As they near their destination, disaster hits.  The ship is attacked by pirates.  Shandy's ship doesn't stand much of a chance as it turns out that Hurwood and his friend have hired the attack and join in the fight. 

Shandy is one of the few passengers to fight back and as such he is given a choice; either die or join the pirates himself.  Thus starts another life, one where he is cook and all around handyman to a group of pirates and their charismatic captain.  He becomes close to the captain when he saves his life and before you know it, Shandy is chosen to accompany the captain and his friend, Blackbeard, on a trip to Florida to find the Fountain of Youth. 

It turns out that Hurwood has an occult scheme in mind and everything that has occurred is in furtherance of his plans.  Shandy, who has developed feelings for Elizabeth, is determined to stop the plan which will end in her demise.  As he fights against time, he is accompanied by zombies, those with age-old magic and betrayal.

Tim Powers is one of the best of the genre.  Each of his books is unique as he plays out his fascination with such diverse topics as Victorian poets, pirates, modern day spies and professional gambling.  On Stranger Tides served as the inspiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  Powers has gone The Phillip K. Dick Award twice and the World Fantasy Award three times.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Ruby by Cynthia Bond


Growing up wasn't easy in the east Texas small town of Liberty if you were African-American.  Mired in poverty and prejudice, the townsfolk banded together to try to make a life, forcing those who didn't conform to the outside.  Ruby Bell's family was on the outside.  The three girls were beautiful and could even pass for white but their beauty didn't bring them joy.  Instead, it brought them the attention of men, both black and white, who took from them what they weren't willing to give.

If there was an admired family, it would be the Jennings family.  The father was the preacher at the local church and railed against the ills of his society.  There were two children.  Celia was the girl who always did what was expected of her and was at the church whenever the doors opened.  Ephram was her younger brother, ready to follow Celia's lead especially after his mother was taken away and hospitalized.  Celia had raised Ephram and the two live together as adults.

Ruby ran from Liberty as soon as she was able and went to New York where the rumor was her mother had fled before her.  She moves through the city searching for her mother but instead finds the seamy clubs and alleyways that operated on the fringe of society.  When a telegram reached her insisting her best friend growing up needed her, she reluctantly returned to Liberty.  There she quickly descended into madness and poverty as the sins of her society came to rest solely on her shoulders.

But perhaps there is hope.  Ephram has loved Ruby from afar even as a child.  Now can he find the courage to demonstrate that love to her and save her, even against the thoughts of the entire town and everyone he knows?  Can he find the courage to protect Ruby against the men who degrade her and the women who shun her?  Can he and Ruby perhaps find happiness?

Cynthia Bond is one of the new novelists who are gaining fame and this is her debut novel.  It was an Indie Pick, an Oprah Book Club selection and a Barnes And Nobles Discover Great New Writers pick.  Her ability to take the reader into a life that is hard to imagine and to create a heroine who refuses to let the world take everything from her is astounding.  Readers will not soon forget this book that draws a picture of what prejudice and evil can do to everyday people and yet where there is life there is hope.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Facts Of Life And Death by Belinda Bauer


Ruby Trick is ten years old and lives in a small town on the Cornish coast with her mother and father.  Her concerns are those of a child; the tension between her mother and the father she loves without reason, the bullying she gets at school for being poor and overweight and the scary woods and deserted house close to hers that provide plenty of fodder for nightmares.  But overall Ruby is a happy child.  With her mother working long hours and her father without a job, she gets to spend lots of time with him.  He is, along with a group of the other village men, fascinated by the American Old West and the group dresses as cowboys and knows everything about Westerns.  Ruby practises her quick draw with branches she finds and longs for the day when she can get a cowgirl outfit of her own.

But the village has concerns of its own.  A man is on the prowl, isolating women and forcing them to strip.  Once he does, he makes them call home and tell their parents or husband that they are about to die.  That's enough for him at first but as the weeks go by, its not enough and he starts to follow through on the threats.  The police, understaffed and without enough resources, aren't making much progress and the Cowboy group decides its up to them to patrol.  Ruby's dad starts to drive around at night, determined to catch the person involved.  Ruby gets to go with him but has to sit in the back whenever they pick up a young woman to give her a safe ride home.

As time goes by, it slowly becomes apparent to Ruby that things are not as easy as she has always found them to be and that her perceptions of the world have not accounted for the pure evil that can be suddenly, right next door to you.  She is forced to grow up quickly and desert her childhood dreams and crushes as she is faced with real evil.

Belinda Bauer is a Welsh writer who has found great success with her writing.  She has won both the Crime Writers Golden Dagger For Best Crime Novel for her debut novel, Badlands, and the CWA award for body of work.  Many consider her the heir to authors like Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters and her ability to slowly weave evil into ordinary lives keeps the reader guessing and cheering for those caught up in things they never expected to see.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Jury Returns by Louis Nizer


Louis Nizer was one of the greatest lawyers of the twentieth century.  He started his law firm in 1924 and when he died in 1994, he was still working there, a career spanning seven decades.  He was extremely successful and represented many famous clients such as Mae West, Julius Erving, Johnny Carson and others.  His work was credited with breaking the back of Hollywood and television blacklisting during the witchhunts of the 50's and 60's.  The Jury Returns is Nizer's account of several of his more memorable cases.

The book starts with a murder case.  Paul Crump had been sentenced to die for his part in a murder during a robbery.  Nizer knew he was guilty but believed that his role had not deserved the death penalty and that his rehabilitation during his time in prison was worthy of another chance.  This section details the procedures and strategies that Nizer used to defend his client and get his sentence changed from a death sentence to a more reasonable one of imprisonment with an eventual chance of parole.

In the second case, a divorce case is studied in depth.  This will be the most difficult for readers to follow as the law around divorces has changed significantly from the 1950's and 1960's.  In those times, divorce was a difficult thing to achieve with only a few reasons available that would lead the court to grant one.  There was no such thing as a no-fault divorce and many couples stayed together for decades in a loveless marriage.  Women were often left penniless in divorce actions when no or insufficient alimony and child support were granted and this was in the era when many women did not have a career of their own to fall back on.  This section follows the case of two couples where the husband of one couple fell in love with the wife in the other.  Nizer represented the wronged wife and it took several years to win her justice and the support she was entitled to.

The third case Nizer discusses was more serious.  Roy Fruehauf, owner of the Fruehauf truck shipping line, was accused of making bribes to the Teamsters Union.  This was in the time of James Hoffa and corruption was an everyday affair.  Nizer definitely proved that Fruehauf was not involved in this corruption and that there was no reason for his firm to be disciplined.

The last case in this book is the longest.  It discusses the blacklisting common in the movie and television industries in the era of McCarthyism.  John Henry Faulk was an up and coming star on television.  He had a successful radio career and was in the process of transitioning to television when he ran afoul of some right-wing organization.  They retaliated by naming Faulk as a Communist and then his career stalled.  Within a year, his work dried up and he could find nothing anywhere.  Networks that had been clamouring for his services mysteriously decided they no longer needed him as they cut him in fear of being associated with Communism.  It took several years, but Nizer managed to vindicate Faulk and in the process, end the rampant blacklisting that crippled the lives of many actors in this time period.

This is an interesting historical look back at law in prior decades.  It is difficult for modern readers to sometimes relate to the attitudes and laws that were in play fifty to seventy years ago.  But that is one of the benefits of reading this book; the realization of how attitudes on various things have changed and the role that the law has played in changing society.  Nizer was one of the giants of the legal field and a study of his cases is interesting to those willing to case their minds back.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers interested in legal theory and decisions.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Creatures Of Will And Temper by Molly Tanzer


Although they are sisters, Evadne and Dorina Gray couldn't be more dissimilar.  Dorina is the perfect Victorian lady; petite, fashionable, beautiful in all the accepted ways except for her dalliances with other women.  Evadne is a very different matter.  She is short, stocky and could care less for fashion and beauty.  Her passion is fencing and she devotes her time and energy to make herself a master at it.

When Dorina wants to visit their uncle in London and write a biography of his work as a painter, it isn't something she would normally be allowed to do.  Young ladies who haven't even come out don't go gallivanting off by themselves.  However, their parents decide it is permissible as long as Evadne goes along as her chaperone.

Their differences are magnified in London.  Evadne cares nothing about the museums and the art circles that have Dorina in ecstasy.  However, Evadne finds a fencing academy which has the promise of taking her skills to a new level.  Each of the girls also finds a mentor.  Dorina is entranced with Lady Henrietta 'Henry' Wooten, a rich, fashionable lady who cares nothing for what society thinks.  Evadne finds her teacher, George Cantrell, a firm yet gentle instructor who soon has her fencing moved up several levels in skill.  Although the sisters are at odds with each other, each has found a new joy in living.

Yet all is not well.  Evadne discovers that George has dedicated his life to a mission, one that he wants her to join.  He is sure that demons are around and that they take up residence in those who are willing to barter their souls in exchange for gifts like beauty, riches or some other skill.  He is determined to find and kill all of them and he wants Evadne to join his group of demon-hunters.  Evadne is especially sensitive to traces of demons.  Her greatest fear is that Henry is one of those who have made a bargain with a demon and that Dorina will do the same under her guidance.  Will Evadne commit to eradicating demons no matter the cost, even if it is her sister's life?

Molly Tanzer has written a fascinating look at a Victorian England that most never consider.  Her depiction of the slow seduction of Dorina by the demons and of Evadne by her faith in her fencing skills is masterful.  The pace is brisk enough to be a page turner while the descriptions of the people and the surroundings recreate England in another time period.  Her work has been nominated for several literary prizes and she moves between genres effortlessly.  This book is recommended for readers of fantasy.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly


Harry Bosch is nearing retirement.  As such, he has been transferred to the Open-Unsolved Unit, what many call the Cold Case Unit.  He has a new partner, Soto, who made detective after being involved in a shoot-out where she killed two gunmen in the midst of a robbery.  The case they catch is definitely a cold case and one that most detectives would have no chance of solving.

Ten years ago on a weekend afternoon, shots rang out in a crowded downtown plaza.  The man who was shot, a mariachi player, survived but with a bullet lodged in his spine that paralyzed him.  The current mayor used this crime and his determination to make sure that the Hispanic community received justice as a lynch pin of his successful campaign for mayor.  Now that man has died after ten years, the bullet he took that day finally killing him. 

There is pressure from the mayor's office to solve the crime, although it is an almost impossible one.  As Bosch and Soto work the case, they start to see that it may be tied to another, older, even bigger crime.  A fire was started in a low-rent building that ended up killing six children in a daycare located there.  Soto had been one of the children there that day but survived; the crime providing the impetus for her choice of a profession.  Are the two cases related and can either be solved after all this time?

This is the seventeenth Harry Bosch novel.  Harry is winding down his career but that doesn't mean his passion for solving crimes has diminished even a little.  He is cynical about the city and its government and never quick to warm up to anyone but as he and Soto work he realizes that she is a detective he can respect.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole


Ignatius J. Reilly has but a simple wish.  He just wants to improve the lives of all around him in New Orleans.  Of course, in order to do so, they must change their ways and follow his suggestions for a better life.  But, alas, Ignatius is misunderstood and ignored.  His obese presence and his superiority complex are off putting and make people flee from him.  From his mother who thinks a man of his age should be working to her friends who believe he should be put in a mental hospital, from the policeman who mistakenly tries to arrest him, to the various employers who attempt to fit him into their workforce, Ignatius is repeatedly misunderstood.

A myriad of interesting characters surround him.  There is the barmaid who wants to improve herself and become an exotic dancer in an act featuring a parrot.  There is the factory owner who doesn't want to supervise his factory but surely wasn't prepared for someone like Ignatius to come in and try to organize his workers.  A policeman who is misunderstood and forced to work undercover in a variety of disguises.  A hot dog vendor who tries to work with Ignatius and is unsure why he doesn't seem to bring in money but is out of product every day.  A socialist female friend from New York City who is concerned about Ignatius's virgin state.  A porter in the bar who is determined to change his fate.  Ignatius's mother who coddles him one day then conspires with her friends to do anything to change him.  What's a visionary to do?

John Kennedy Toole wrote this book while in the Army.  He later committed suicide and his mother began her mission of getting his book published.  She pursued her mission vigorously but unsuccessfully until the author Walker Percy read it and helped get it published in 1980.  It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.  The character of Ignatius J. Reilly is one that readers will not soon forget and his humorous adventures make this a uniquely American novel.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

American Woman by Susan Choi


The year is 1974 and Japanese-American Jenny Shimada is working as a restoration specialist in an old house in upstate New York.  Her work is meticulous and the elderly woman whose house it is is excited to have such beautiful work done and at such a low price.  Jenny can't complain about the pay or long hours.  She is on the run from the FBI and has been for several years.  She and her boyfriend made bombs and exploded several buildings in support of the anti-war effort for Vietnam.  He was captured and is serving a long term in federal prison.  Jenny went underground and is living a lonely life with only tenuous connections to the movement to sustain her.

Then one of her contacts insists on seeing her.  He recruits her to go help three other people in the movement who are staying in a farmhouse but cannot be seen in the nearby town.  They need someone like Jenny to act as their front, running errands while they write a book about their experiences.  Their experiences are from San Francisco where they kidnapped the wealthy daughter of a millionaire newspaper mogul.  Although the parents paid the ransom, the daughter did not return but re-emerged several months later as a willing participant in a bank robbery, having joined the terrorist organization herself.  Jenny agrees to help the three individuals, a married couple from the original group and the heiress who is now called Pauline.  She lives with the couple until an event ends their stay there then Jenny goes on the run with Pauline.  They manage to avoid the manhunt for another year until they are captured.

Readers who are older will not read far before they realize this is the story of Patty Hearst.  Her kidnapping and reemergence as a participant in the activities of the Symbionese Liberation Army were one of the major stories of the Vietnam War era.  Jenny is, in real life, Wendy Yoshimura, a Japanese-American woman born in the relocation camps of World War II who grew up to rebel against the society that could do such a thing to her family.  The women's struggle to understand each other and the gradual change in them while on the run explores all the nuances of the terrorist and anti-war experience of that time.  The story is told through Jenny's eyes and that distance gives the reader new ways to think about this story.  This book is recommended for literary and historical fiction readers.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Retribution by Val McDermid


Dr. Tony Hill's life has hit a new level of contentment.  During his hospital stay for a damaged knee, he found out one of the secrets of his life; who his father was.  More than that, he discovered that far from despising him as his mother had always said, he had left Tony his expensive house.  For the first time, Tony has a place that makes him feel safe and even loved.  More significantly, he is about to give up his job working with damaged individuals in a psychiatric hospital and move to live there.  The most important person in his life, DCI Carol Jordan, has agreed to live in the house with him as she takes up a new job there.

But plans often go awry.  Carol is faced with a new serial killer in her last days at her old job.  Street prostitutes are showing up dead and it is clear their murders are the act of the same person.  As she works the case with her team, something even worse happens.

Jacko Vance was imprisoned over a decade ago for his crimes.  He had kidnapped, tortured and killed seventeen teenage girls although the case against him for those crimes was thrown out.  He had been given a life sentence for killing a police officer, a new forensic profiler working under Tony Hill who was the first to see Vance for what he was.  The world saw him as a hugely successful TV presenter who had been on his way to winning an Olympic gold medal before the accident that ruined his chances.  Once that dream was over he felt free to indulge the desires he had always harbored.

Now Vance has managed to escape custody and it is clear that the main thing on his mind is retribution against the people he holds responsible for his incarceration.  That list includes his ex-wife but also Carol Jordan and Tony Hill along with other police officers from the original case.  Can the pair find and imprison him again before he can carry out his plans?

The Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series is one of the strongest in the mystery genre.  Val McDermid has created two private individuals, both scarred by events in their background, who have found each other and are making the best of the lives they've been given.  The tension is always high and the reader must find out what happens next.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Strangler by Corey Mitchell


In the late 1990's to early 2000's, Houston, Texas had a problem.  Young girls were turning up dead.  They were found tied up with cord around their necks.  It became obvious that the cases were related and that a serial killer was in residence.

Although the cases were investigated, not much progress was made for eight years.  At that time, DNA testing turned up a suspect who confessed when brought in for interrogation.  That suspect was Anthony Allen Shore, known as Tony.  He ended up confessing to four murders, one of them a nine-year-old child.  As the investigation progressed, he also admitted to serially molesting his own two daughters as well as raping other women.

The case went to court and Tony was charged with first degree murder with the death penalty as a possible verdict.  The prosecutor was one of Houston's most well-known, Kelly Siegler.  Fans now recognize her from her TV show, Cold Justice, but back then she was known as a hard-hitting prosecutor who ran many of the departments in the district attorney's office.  Working with the police officers, Siegler put on a convincing case that ended in his verdict of guilty.

In many ways, Tony Shore was a surprising criminal.  He tested at the genius level with an IQ of 150.  He was also a musical prodigy and at one time wanted to make music his life.  But his mindset and urges led him to a marginal life with jobs such as telephone lineman or tow truck operator.  He always had the ability to charm those around him and never lacked for a woman or two in his life.  But young women were his obsession and he craved the ultimate power.

Corey Mitchell is known as one of the more prolific true crime authors.  This case is an interesting one and readers will enjoy reading about the court case and the work of Siegler and her team.  Many of Shore's family members and women who dated him were interviewed and it is interesting to see how they viewed him.  Many of the police believe that he had more than the four victims he admitted to.  Shore is still on Death Row and perhaps he will eventually answer all the police's questions about his crimes.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Murder At The Bus Depot by Judy Alter


When Kate Chambers inherited her grandparents' house and cafe in small town Wheeler, Texas, she left her job and came home to run the cafe.  Her grandparents raised her and her sister and it just felt like the right thing to do.  Now, a few years later, she is part of the town's power structure.  Everyone comes to the cafe and its a hub of the community.  Her sister runs the local B&B and her BIL is the mayor and owner of the hardware store.  She sees the local law enforcement daily and is in close contact with the new pastor and his wife.  Everything is just as they all like it.

But change is coming.  Little Wheeler has caught the eye of a big-time developer and his vision of what the town could be is very different from theirs.  He wants to build tons of houses to lure those who work in Dallas to live here instead.  He wants to tear down the old houses and businesses and bring in box stores and fast food restaurants.  In reality, he wants to turn Wheeler into Dallas Mini.

Kate and her friends are determined that that can't happen.  They hit on the idea of moving the old bus depot and making it a community center.  It has been abandoned for years ever since a young Wheeler wife was killed there one night.  That murder was never solved and the bus depot closed soon afterwards.  Now maybe there's a second life for the depot.

But old wounds never quite heal.  Soon there are rumors about the old case and old hard feelings show up again.  Soon there is even a new murder at the moved structure and Kate is right in the midst of everything.  She and her lawyer boyfriend solved other murder cases in the past and it looks like they need to step in and help with this one.  Can Kate and her crew find the answers the town needs?

This is the fourth novel in the Blue Plate Cafe series.  Alter has written about small town life in a believable fashion and the reader doesn't have to make wild leaps of faith to follow the action.  Each step seems logical to follow on that which has gone before and she captures the spirit of a small town where everyone knows everyone and what they are going through and how to help.  This book is recommended for cozy murder mystery readers.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Mistress Of The Art Of Death by Ariana Franklin


In medieval Cambridge, children are being kidnapped and killed in horrific ways.  So far four children have met this fate and the town is up in arms.  Their first and only suspects are the town's Jewish members who have been taken into the local castle where they are living under the sheriff's protection.  Henry II is not pleased with this state of affairs.  Not only does he believe in the law, he also is not happy with how the Jews are being treated as he collects a large amount of taxes from them.  He decides something must be done and writes his cousin who is the King of Sicily, where medicine is known to be at its strongest.

He asks for a master of death, someone who can look at a dead body, perform an autopsy and determine how someone has died.  The person selected is the brightest student at the medical college but her name is Adelia and she is a mistress rather than master of death.  That opens her to charges of witchcraft as women are not supposed to have anything to do with medicine except perhaps childbirth.  Can she function in England with its superstitions as she does in enlightened Sicily? 

Adelia arrives in Cambridge along with her Arabic manservant and a Jewish crime investigator, Simon.  As they travel, they make friends with the local prior who Adelia saves from a deadly disease but the local nuns are not friends as their head is using the bones of the first murdered child as their newest money-making scheme and the murders only increase their notoriety.  There are various returning Crusaders in the town and it becomes clear early in the investigation that being on a Crusade is one of the killer's characteristics.  One of the King's tax inspectors, Sir Rowley Picot, is in town also and it is unclear if he is on their side or if he is a suspect.  As the investigation continues, so do the crimes.  As the murders get closer and closer to Adelia and her group, can they discover the person committing the murders before they are killed themselves?

Ariana Franklin has written an entertaining historical mystery that will keep readers turning pages until the climatic end.  She gives an interesting perspective into the rise of forensic knowledge and how it helps in solving crimes.  Adelia is an interesting character who defies the expectations of her time to be able to work on the things that are important to her.  This is the first novel in a series and readers will be anxious to read more of Adelia's adventures going forth.  This book is recommended for readers of historical mysteries.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

When Evil Calls Your Name by John Nicholl



Cynthia's life started well.  She loved school and happily went off to university to study the law.  There she met her first love and soon they were living together and talking about marriage.  But tragedy struck.  On the weekend they went so he could meet her family, he was struck while running in a hit and run accident that took his life.  Cynthia was shocked and stunned by grief.  Her family did what they could but she couldn't find her motivation to go back and take up her life.

That is, until she met Dr. David Galbraith.  They met at the funeral and he explained that he was one of her boyfriend's professors in the field of social work and child psychology.  He was very kind and helpful and before Cynthia knew it, she had agreed to go back to school and to change her major to the one Dr. Galbraith instructed.  He arranged everything, her classes, her living arrangements, her food and rent.  Soon he was the most important person in her life.

Now, six years later, Cynthia is in prison for twenty years for murder.  She doesn't understand how she got there and her counselor suggests that she write a journal of her life.  As she does, the reader starts to understand along with her how she got there and how her life turned into such a nightmare.

This is the second novel in the Dr. David Galbraith series and a more controlling, evil character would be hard to imagine.  The author, John Nicholl, was a police officer and a child protection social worker.  His background makes him the perfect person to write about this character.  The reader is drawn into Cynthia's dark world and sees it constricting week after week as her dependence on Galbraith grows.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Woman In The Window by A.J. Finn


Dr. Anna Fox has not left her house in almost a year.  She has gone from being a strong, confident woman who worked as a child psychologist to a nervous, anxiety-wrecked woman who can't make herself open the door and go outside.  She has gone from a woman with a loving marriage and a child to one who doesn't live with her family anymore and talks to them occasionally.  Anna spends her days playing online chess, talking on the agoraphobic message forums, watching old movies and drinking way too much wine.

Her other past time is watching her neighbors from her window.  She knows their schedules, who is having an affair and whose children are growing up and headed off to college.  When a new family moves in across from her, she is fascinated by them.  There is a father, mother and one teenage son.  She meets the son who is shy but charming, then the mother.  Both seem a bit reserved and perhaps a bit afraid of the father whom Anna suspects of being controlling.  Then one night Anna looks out at their house and sees something she should not have and it changes everything.  No one believes her as her insecurities and general strangeness are well-known but she knows what she saw.  Can she make someone believe her before it all ends in tragedy?

This is a debut novel and it has arrived with a huge splash.  It has already been bought and is being developed as a major motion picture.  It is being published in more than thirty languages and has garnered great reviews.  It is reminiscent of the best Hitchcock movies; a twisty psychological story that keeps the reader guessing until the very end.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers


In this extensive anthology edited by Hollis Robbins and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Penguin Classics has collected some of the most extensive writings of African American women writers around the time of the Civil War.  This is a huge achievement as these authors have been often ignored and lost in time.  This new collection brings them together and makes their voice heard so that modern readers can experience some of the things that made up their lives.

There are poems, speeches, excerpts from novels and letters to the editor and opinion pieces.  They speak of the daily injustices these women experienced.  Banned from learning while slaves, they were then mocked for ignorance.  Their families torn asunder by cruel owners that broke the family ties by selling some member many miles away and raped by owners who regarded sex as another perk of ownership, they are then reviled for promiscuity and lack of family feeling.

Yet there is so much hope in these writings.  Hope as they document the achievements of those of their race.  Hope that they can band together and help others be educated and break out of the mire of poverty.  Hope that one day they will be recognized for their worth as individuals not just as oddities who have managed to rise above their circumstances. 

Hollis Robbins is the Director of the Center for Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University and Chair of the Humanities Department at the Peabody Institute.  Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.  Together they have collected and made available the work of writers such as Sojourner Truth, Hannah Crafts/Bond, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Edmonia Goodelle Highgate, Julia Collins, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Fanny M. Jackson Coppin.  It is an important and eye-opening work that shows the range of interests and causes that inspired these women.  This book is recommended for history and feminist readers.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land


What do you do when your life is a dilemma?  That's Annie's life.  She can either stay with her mother through the abuse or turn her in.  Many children face that problem but Annie's problem is compounded.  For her mother doesn't just abuse her.  She abuses and then kills small children and has killed nine so far.  When things get so bad that Annie just can't stand it anymore, she goes to the police and the country is shocked to find out about the cold-hearted murderer who has lived among them.

Now Annie has a new life, or at least that's what they tell her.  She is in the foster system and staying with a social worker, his wife and daughter.  Her name is now Millie and she goes to a new school with new kids and no one except her foster parents and the school head know her story.  She is getting ready to testify against her mother and then it will all be over.  Or will it? 

Can Millie actually say the words that will send her mother to prison forever?  Can she ever fit in anywhere with her warped background?  Her foster sister is one of the most popular girls at the new school and she takes an instant dislike to Millie.  As everyone turns against her and the pressure of the impending trial mounts, will Millie survive?

Ali Land has written a tense narrative of how those around evil are tainted by it.  Millie tries to overcome her background but it seems everything is against her and it would be very easy to fall into the coping mechanisms her mother taught her.  Land has the background necessary to write about Millie.  She worked for over a decade in children's mental health jobs in England and Australia.  This is her debut novel and it has won multiple prizes.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Small Mercies by Eddie Joyce


On 9-11, America woke to a day of destruction and loss.  We all lost something that day but the Amendola family of Staten Island lost more that most.  Their youngest son, Bobby, who had followed in his father's footsteps as a fireman, went into the Towers but never came home.

Now, years later, time has moved on and the family struggles to do the same.  The father, Michael, is long retired and spends a lot of time with his buddies at the local pub.  His wife, Gail, is the family glue and now struggles to keep everything the same as it was when they lost Bobby.  His wife, Tina, has come to tell Gail that she has finally met someone she thinks she may have a future with and Gail struggles both with the news and the responsibility to tell her other sons.

Peter, the golden boy of the family, works as a lawyer in a large firm.  He has pulled away from his family and roots but now he is facing challenges in his own life that could bring him back to those who loved him first.  Franky is the middle boy, the one who never quite seemed to grow up and get a firm start in life, and the one who feels the most responsibility for Bobby's death.  How will he handle the news that Tina and Bobby's children will be moving on in life with another man?

Eddie Joyce has written a thoughtful exploration of an Italian-Irish family that delves into the questions of what really makes a family and the validity of family memories and relationships.  The reader meets each character, learns their backstory and comes to know them intimately.  This book is fueled by a tragedy, but most families have a tragedy in their story and it is how we face and handle them that defines us.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle


In a confrontation that echoes the country's issues with immigration, two families in California face off.  Delany and Kyra Mossbacher are nice people, liberal and well-off and have all the recommended opinions.  They live in an expensive development.  Delany has family money so doesn't work.  He spends his time hiking the surrounding countryside and writing a series of nature columns.  Kyra is a driven realtor.  Together they have built a life that works for them.

Candido and America Rincon are not so lucky.  They are an unlikely couple to start with; Candido is thirty-three while America is seventeen.  Candido was married to her sister but when she left him, he wooed and won America and brought her with him over the border to build a life there.  They arrive completely broke; their only hope to work hard and build a life.  But work is hard to find.  They are reduced to living outside, camping in the country without adequate sanitation which in turn makes finding a job even harder.

The two families meet when Delaney hits Candido with his car by accident one day.  Rather than calling police or taking him to the doctor, Candido is easily bought off with twenty dollars although his injuries are so severe that he can barely move for days.  Delaney is troubled but knows in his heart it wasn't his problem and his friend insists it might have been a scam anyhow.  As the weeks go by, Delaney starts to change his liberal views as the immigrants start to affect his easy life.  Graffiti is found, thefts occur, the residents' daily routines are changed by the influx of men standing around waiting for work and soon the development gates and walls itself in.  As time goes on, more and more happens until attitudes change and confrontations occur.

Although this book was written in 1996, it still rings true more than twenty years ago.  It is the classic story of immigration and how it affects both those who come to another country and those who are already residents.  This book focuses on Hispanic immigration in the West but it could easily be written about any of the other ethnic groups that have come to our country and the difficulties they encounter as they try to make a life here.  It holds a mirror up in which those of us already here as citizens can see ourselves as we make decisions about how we will welcome these newcomers.  This book is recommended for readers of current affairs literature.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, March 24, 2018

It's the dregs of winter and I'm tired of cold and miserable weather.  We are supposed to get our final shot of rain, sleet or snow tonight into tomorrow and I'm hoping for rain.  In other news, my basketball team lost in the March Madness but we did manage to beat our arch-rivals twice this year so we had a pretty successful season.  I always hate seeing the seniors move on and end their college careers.  I don't follow any summer sports, so sports are done until August when football starts back up.  I had planned to attend the book festival in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend.  But when I realised it was going to be cold and rainy I decided I just wasn't into stomping around in the mess and stayed home.  Maybe I'll make it there next year.  Here's the books that have come through the door lately:

1.  The Lemonade Year, Amy Willoughby-Burle, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2.  The High Tide Club, Mary Kay Williams, women's literature, sent by publisher
3.  Jenna's Case, Andy Siegel, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  Nelly's Case, Andy Siegel, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  Elton's Case, Andy Siegel, mystery, sent by publisher
6.  Falling, Dawn Davis, historical fiction, sent by publisher
7.  The Shadow Land, Elizabeth Kostova, historical fiction, sent by publisher
8.  Text Me When You Get Home, Kayleen Schaefer, Dutton, sent by publisher
9.  Beside The Syrian Sea, James Wolff, thriller, sent by publisher
10.  The Night Market, Jonathan Moore, mystery, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book for review
11.  See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt, mystery, sent by Curled Up for review
12.  The Half-Drowned King, Linnea Harsuyker, historical fiction, sent by Curled Up for review
13.  Creatures Of Will And Temper, Molly Tanzer, fantasy, sent by Curled Up for review
14.  Persons Unknown, Susie Steiner, mystery, sent by Curled Up for review
15.  Gallic Noir, Pascal Garnier, mystery, sent by publisher
16.  The Bad Daughter, Joy Fielding, mystery, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Tortilla Curtain, T.C. Boyle, Kindle Fire
2.  Strangler, Cory Mitchell, Kindle
3.  You, Caroline Kepnes, paper
4.  The Jury Returns, Louis Nizer, hardback
5.  Small Mercies, Eddie Joyce, paperback
6.  The Woman In The Window, A.J. Finn, Kindle Fire

7.  Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead, Kindle

8.  Land Of The Living, Nicci French, hardback
9.  The Abomination, Jonathan Holt, Kindle Fire

10.  Good Me, Bad Me, Ali Land, hardback
11,  The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers, various, paperback

Happy Reading!

 


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Crime On The Fens by Joy Ellis


Detective Inspector Nikki Galena is determined to rid her Scottish town of drug dealers.  She despises them and will walk the thinnest of lines, sometimes lying or deceiving, in order to charge them for their crimes.  She isn't necessarily liked and she doesn't care about that.  Drugs ruined her marriage and motherhood and she won't rest until she does all she can to destroy those who peddle them.

But the authorities are tired of Nikki.  Tired of her balancing act with the law and tired of her reputation with her co-workers.  After running off another Detective Sergent, the word comes down:  she better find a way to work with the replacement or next time it will be her transferring out.  DS Joe Easter comes with his own baggage and secrets but he sees something in Nikki that others don't: her fierce determination and willingness to do anything to make her world and that of those around her better.

There's plenty to do.  There has been a spate of petty crimes, all by kids in hideous rubber masks, and the crimes are escalating.  There are of course drug dealers and in fact, talk of a massive shipment that would supply the area for weeks.  Then everything else is put on hold when a young college girl goes missing and it appears to be a kidnapping.  When a second girl is taken and killed, the town is about to explode.  Can Nikki and Joe catch the criminals before everything falls apart?

This is the first book in what is currently an eight-novel series.  The author, lives in the same Lincolnshire Fen district that the books are based in.  Her partner was a police officer so the books run true on police procedure and politics.  Nikki is headstrong and willful but the reader cannot help but cheer her on while Joe Easter's secrets make him a formidable yet gentle police man himself.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Prelude To Foundation by Issac Asimov


When Hari Seldon, a young mathematician, comes from his Outworld home to a mathematics conference on Trantor, the capital planet in the Galactic Empire, he has no idea his entire life is about to change.  He has developed a mathematical theoretical concept that he calls psychohistory, which is an exploration of the idea that there could be a way to predict the future using math and statistical analysis.  His talk seems well received and he is proud of his exposure. 

But the next day, he starts to realize that his life has changed, unalterably, forever.  He is whisked away to talk to no less a personage than Emperor Cleon I.  Cleon has been quick to see that Seldon may be the answer to his prayers.  With over forty billion people and hundreds of worlds to oversee, the Empire is too unwieldy to handle efficiently.  There is always the possibility of entropy, of falling apart due to inability to handle everything.  Surely, psychohistory is the answer to this dilemma.  Cleon and his right-hand man, the shadowy Eto Demerzel, want Hari to develop his theoretical idea as quickly as possible so that it can be used to control the Empire and historical outcomes.

No matter how much Hari tries to explain that his ideas are just that, ideas, Cleon seems determined to make sure those ideas become practical, workable tools.  Hari leaves with his head reeling.  When he is approached by a journalist, Chetter Hummin, who offers to help him flee, he accepts and together the two escape.  Hummin's first thought of a safe place to stow Hari is the famous University which has autonomy and from which even the Emperor would be loath to remove him.  Although Hummin has to return to his own life, he leaves Hari and provides a helper.  Dors Verabili is a female historian and together the two start their journey toward making Hari's ideas a reality.  But can they do it before Hari is captured and forced to work for those who want to the power of his ideas for themselves?

This book explains the beginning of the Foundation world, the epic science fiction location that actually beat out Tolkein's Lord Of The Rings trilogy to win the Hugo Award in 1966 for the best all-time series.  It outlines the famous rules of robots and the idea that things will inevitably, without guidance, fall apart over time.  Asimov based the series on Gibbon's History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire and students of history will see the impetus that work gives the series.  What makes Asimov's series enduring is his ability to make likeable characters, create a brisk pace of events that could takes decades, and his overarching world building.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry


It is 1893 and in England there is a movement towards science and discovery.  The work of Darwin and his compatriots is discussed by educated people everywhere and medicine is starting to make huge advances.  Women are starting to break free of the strictures that have kept them bound, destined only for housework and a life where even their clothes restrict their daily movements.

Cora Seaborne is one of the women who are interested in more than a marriage.  She has just been widowed and is not full of grief.  Her husband was a cruel, domineering, physically and emotionally abusive man and his death feels like an opening of the prison gates.  Still in her early thirties, Cora decides to get out of the London house which seems like a prison.  Determined to emulate the women naturalists she admires, she decides to visit the Essex countryside with its waterways and wild vistas.  She is accompanied by her eleven year old son, Francis, and his nanny and her friend, Martha.

Cora revels in the Cornish countryside.  She walks for hours every day, unafraid.  She deserts her London fashions and dresses in men's clothes.  She talks to anyone she wants and soon meets many of the Cornish country people.  There is a rumor going around that a mythological creature, The Essex Serpent, has returned to sow destruction and she is determined to get to the bottom of the myth.  Is it a creature that has never been discovered and might she be the one to do so? 

Her friends in London worry about her and introduce her to the local vicar and his family. Stella and William Ransome are a young couple with three children who love the countryside and their lives.  Stella is a fragile woman, beautiful and warm while William is deeply committed to his religion and to improving the lives of the people around them.  He is concerned about the talk of the Serpent and how the rumors are changing the people and making them scared and more prone to falling back into ancient way. 

When Cora and William meet, they soon become best of friends.  Both are interested in the same things and both are addicted to long walks.  They talk about everything and anything, although Cora has no time for religion and they disagree vehemently about this. It becomes obvious to everyone around them that there is more than friendship growing between them although they themselves seem not to realize it.  How will it end?

This novel is a lush exploration of the time period and highly lauded.  It was nominated for the Bailey's Women's Prize in Literature.  It was an NPR and Kirkus Best Book, a New York Times Notable Book Of The Year and the winner of the British Book Awards Fiction Book.  The characters are finely drawn, the issues of social justice, women's emancipation and forbidden love are explored in ways that keep the reader turning pages.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Possession by A. S. Byatt


It's a routine day for Roland Mitchell, a scholar who works for a foundation in London that studies the life and works of the Victorian poet, Randolph Henry Ash.  Roland is considered average, at work and in his personal life, where he shares a run-down flat with his only girlfriend, Vera.  But things are about to change.  As he reads in a book to discover the fact that his boss has sent him to retrieve, a letter falls out.  It's an undiscovered letter from Ash and it is addressed to a woman who he's met at a luncheon.  It appears that he was struck by the woman and wants to strike up a friendship.

Roland, almost without thought, decides to keep the letter.  As he researches the luncheon, it appears that the woman must be Christabel LaMotte, another Victorian poet who is known mostly for her poems full of fairy tales and classic legends, and for being an example of one of the first lesbian poets.  Roland goes to see an expert on LaMotte, Maud Bailey, who is actually related slightly to LaMotte, and who is fascinated also.  They visit LaMotte's grave and while on a walk, rescue a woman who has gotten into trouble.  She turns out to be the wife of the local squire and the home where LaMotte ended her life as a spinster aunt.  While having tea with the couple, Roland and Maud are given permission to go see Christabel's old room and they discover a treasure--a thick sheave of letters that makes it clear that Christabel and Roland were definitely friends, if not more.

This is news that can turn the academic world on its head and make careers.  As the two research further, they develop a passion for the letters and the story they portray.  Yet, it's difficult to keep such a momentous secret in the academic world.  Soon others have figured out their secret and the letters become involved in a tug-of-war between various academics. 

A.S. Byatt won the Booker Prize for this novel and it is easy to see why.  On the surface, it is a novel about the love stories between Ash and LaMotte and between Roland and Maud.  But underneath, it leaves the reader swooning with the lush language, the references to legends and fairy-tales, illustrated by poetry from the two authors, and the slow love story that builds yet may not end in happiness.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben


Detective Napolean Dumas, known as "Nap", is stuck in the past.  In his senior year in high school, a tragedy occurred.  While he was out of town playing hockey one Friday night, his twin brother was killed by a train.  Killed along with him was the police chief's daughter, Diana.  It was unclear what happened and how the accident occurred.  Nap's girlfriend, Maura, disappeared the same night.  His first love, he was stunned to find her gone and her mother was of no help at all, just saying she had transferred to another school.

Now, fifteen years later, Nap has an okay life.  He grew close to the police chief after their joint tragedy and ended up joining the police force himself.  It's a sleepy little town and the job isn't that taxing.  He still lives in his boyhood home; in fact, he still sleeps in the bedroom he shared with his brother Leo.  Not much happens in his life, but when your stuck in the mud, nothing is okay.

Then he gets a call that changes everything.  A policeman has been killed in another town and it turns out to be one of Leo's friends.  Nap hadn't kept up with him and was vaguely aware he had also become a policeman, but when his police force was asked for help, he volunteers.  He is shocked when he arrives and finds out there is evidence of someone else involved in the death, and that all signs point to it being Maura. 

This is the first he has heard of Maura in all these years and he is determined to find her this time.  As he investigates the death, things start to happen that indicate the logjam of silence is about to break about the past.  Another friend from high school, a brilliant boy who went off the tracks and is now the town homeless crank, has gone missing.  With the reluctant help of the police chief who just wants to forget the night he lost his daughter, Nap starts to put the pieces together to unearth the truth of what happened all those years ago.

Harlan Coben is one of the mystery genre's shining lights.  A winner of the Edgar, Shamus and Anthony Awards, his books feature tight mysteries that make unseeable twists that leave the reader wanting more.  He has written twenty novels in addition to a series about a detective.  This was one of his standalone novels and readers will find the Coben magic in full force.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Thirst by Jo Nesbo


Detective Harry Hole has left the detective bureau where he is renowned as the man who has captured some of Norway's most horrific killers.  Instead, he has entered a better phase of his life.  He is married to the love of his life and is now teaching other policeman how he did what he did.  His stepson is working towards becoming a policeman also and life is good.

At least, it's good for a while but murder never sleeps.  Two events shatter Harry's world.  His wife is taken to the hospital for what Harry thinks is a routine visit and ends up in an induced coma.  The doctors are not optimistic about her chances or indeed, what is exactly wrong with her.  At the same time, a new killer has erupted.  He is a vampire killer and drains his victims of their blood.

The police commissioner, who has ridden Harry's success into his job, has further ambitions.  He basically blackmails Harry into returning and working on the case which the papers and TV are going nuts about.  Harry hates breaking his promise to his wife to give up the danger and obsession of a major murder case, but in reality, he knows he has missed it and it is what he is meant to do.  He forms a team of former colleagues along with a psychologist who has studied the subject and prepares to go forth to capture the killer, who seems to be one who he captured years before and who escaped from prison.

There isn't another detective in the genre like Harry Hole.  His self-destructiveness which wars with his love of his wife and son keeps the reader on edge and pulling for him.  Those around him often get caught in the destruction that follows him, yet are devoted to him.  Throughout, Hole's basic goodness and willingness to do what is necessary regardless of the price is compelling.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Book Of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates


This novel opens with a crime.  Dr. Gus Voorhees has sacrificed much personally and professionally in order to provide abortion services in a small town.  Without him, women have no choices.  He is gunned down in the driveway upon arrival one morning by Luther Dunphy.  Dunphy is an Evangelical Christian and has associated with a group of intense anti-abortionists within the church.  He is encouraged to his action by their insistence that the only way to stop the killing of babies is by eliminating the doctors that perform the procedures.

But Oates does not stop there.  She follows all the participants for many years afterward, showing how one action can start ripples that affect many.  Luther is arrested and tried, convicted and eventually put to death.  The families are left behind to make what they will of the deaths and to try to forge a new life for themselves.

Dawn Dunphy believes her father is a hero.  Never good in school or popular, she is scorned even more after what her father does.  Her mother retreats into her religion, leaving Dawn to make what she will of her life.  What she decides to do is become a woman boxer and let her fights express the pain and confusion she feels.

Naomi Voorhees is broken by grief.  Her mother cannot cope and gives her children to their grandparents to raise.  Naomi idolizes her father.  After college, she becomes a documentary maker or at least is working towards that.  At first, she wants to make a documentary about her father and what his death meant but she decides to change focus.  While researching the crime, she learns that Dawn is now D. D. Dunphy, Warrior for Jesus and decides to attend a fight.  Her focus changes and she becomes interested in D.D.  At first she is repulsed by her but cannot stay away and suddenly, understanding her life is what Naomi wants to do. 

This is an important, thought-provoking novel.  Oates outlines both sides of an issue that continues to tear America apart.  Each side believes that they have the absolute truth of the issue and that sacrifices are necessary in order to bring success to their side.  Oates writes about the fallout of such viewpoints and in today's divided nation, the insights she provides are useful regardless of the issue that separates people and families.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Bone Music by Christopher Rice


If there was anyone alive who had a better reason for not trusting than Charlotte Rowe, it would be hard to imagine.  She was kidnapped as an infant by a pair of serial killers who chose her mother and their next victim and brought her along.  They raised her as their own for seven years until the FBI discovered them and freed her.  Physically free, she was still imprisoned by other's expectations of her.  The press gave her the name of "The Burning Girl" as she accompanied the woman whenever she burned the clothes and belongings of the victims, although she never had any idea what was going on.  Everyone wanted to see her, to touch her, to know her.  She was a dream girl for marginal sociopaths everywhere who thought she would be their perfect partner. 

Her birth father, who one would think would be overjoyed to have his daughter returned to him, instead saw a chance to cash in.  He wrote a book about Charlotte's experiences and then took her on a speaking tour.  When she finally rebelled, she left to go live with her mother's mother and that grandmother supplied her with her first sense of normality in her life.  After her death, she changed her name and moved out to the desert to live alone always protected by her guns and security system.

But evil will not rest.  She gave one man her trust and he instead drugged her with an experimental drug under the guise of medication to let her sleep.  Instead it gave her superhuman strength and the ability to fight her way out of any situation.  When it proves successful, Charlotte is on the run again, this time from the man who gave it to her and the company that made it.  She runs back to her grandmother's house, where with the help of her grandmother's boyfriend and a deputy sheriff she knew in high school along with a hacker on the run, she decides this time to fight back.  Will Charlotte be successful?

Christopher Rice has made a name for himself in the thriller genre.  He is, of course, best known by some readers as the son of Anne Rice and has co-written with her.  This novel, the first in a series, shows his skill in setting a fast-paced story that grabs the reader and never lets go until the end.  Charlotte is a tough woman, created by a life that most can never imagine and she uses the situation to resolve many of the ghosts of her past.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker


When Ragnvald Eysteinsson returns with his crewmates from a season of raiding, the Norwegian expects to return home to claim his father's land from his stepfather now that he has reached his majority and to marry Hilda from a neighboring farm.  Instead, he is betrayed by the captain of his ship, Solvi, cut by his sword and pushed overboard.  As the ship disappears, Ragnvald tries to reach shore but soon finds himself drowning.  As he slips under the water, he has a vision of a great golden wolf that he must follow.  He regains the surface and is rescued by a fisherman.

Returning home, he realises that Olaf, his stepfather, has no intention of turning his land over and that in fact, he has probably been behind the treachery Ragnvald has encountered.  After trying and failing to best Olaf in the annual court, he falls in with soldiers and is soon in the court of King Hakor.  He knows Hakor's bastard son, Oddi, who brings him to Hakor's attention.  Known for his wisdom and fairness, he becomes an advisor and is sent to accompany Hakor's sons to the camp of a contender to unite all of Norway.  This is Harald, just a boy but already a feared warrior.  His goal is to unite all of Norway under his rule.  Could he be the golden wolf Ragnvald is to follow?

In the meantime, Solvi heads up the opposition.  Even more galling, he has taken Ragnvald's sister, Svanhild, as his wife.  Everything Ragnvald has done has been done with the thought of protecting his sister and to find her now the wife of his greatest enemy is almost more than he can bear.  As events move toward a climatic battle between the two forces, Ragnvald's destiny as well as that of Norway will be decided.

This novel is a fascinating glimpse into the world of the Vikings.  Long glorified in fantasy, this story shows the short, brutal lives of many in the culture and how alliances and betrayals were the stuff of daily life.  Along the way to showing how Norway became a united country, it narrates the daily lives of these people.  This is Linnea Hartsuyker's debut novel and she has exploded onto the historical literature genre.  This book is recommended for historical fiction readers and anyone interested in a fascinating story.