Tuesday, October 25, 2016
For three years, Detective Jude Fontaine's world has been a small underground prison. She was attacked and kidnapped on the street. Since then she has seen no one but her captor, heard no one, talked to no one. The torture and sexual abuse were unrelenting in the beginning but after three years the toll that malnutrition and neglect have taken on her body is even worse. But she hasn't forgotten who she is or her training. When a citywide blackout occurs, it gives her an advantage over her captor. Jude manages to escape and runs into the night.
Her case made huge news three years ago and her miraculous recovery makes even more news. The fact that her estranged father is the governor makes the story even bigger. But this is not the brash Jude Fontaine who was captured. She has been changed forever. Even when she recovers physically, her ordeal leaves its mark. She returns to the police department, homicide division, a changed woman. In that room, survival meant reading your opponent's every move and interpreting every muscle twitch. Jude now transfers that skill to her work.
She has a new partner, Uriah Ashby. Ashby has his own skeletons and he definitely doesn't think Jude has any business in a homicide division or even back on the force. But the cases keep coming and they have to be worked. Ashby and Fontaine catch a case where a teenage girl is found in the local lake, with stones in her pocket. It looks like suicide but the autopsy shows it was actually a homicide. When a girl they talk to in their investigation is also killed, the pair start to suspect that there may be a serial killer on the loose. Can they uncover a crime that has remained hidden and unsuspected for years?
Anne Frasier has created a memorable character in Jude Fontaine. The description of Jude's confinement and how she adapted to it to emerge with new strengths is excellent. The mystery is a bit predictable but it is fascinating to watch the partners unravel it as they learn to depend on each other and become a strong investigative pair. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Monday, October 24, 2016
The Moulin Rouge. Just the name of this famous Paris nightclub generates excitement and curiosity about what goes on behind the scenes of the exciting stage shows put on there. Over the years, many famous entertainers such as Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra, Maurine Chevalier and Billie Holliday have headlined there. Now readers can get a first-hand account from a man who spent a year dancing there.
Cliff Simon was born to a wealthy Jewish family in South Africa. His family immigrated to England when he was a teenager due to the social unrest in the country. Cliff was talented physically and was on course to compete for a spot on the British Olympic team but he decided that life was not what he wanted. He returned to South Africa and went through military training and served two years. At loose ends after his military service, he became a dancer. When a friend of his suggested that Cliff join him in Paris and try out for the Moulin Rouge, he was more than ready.
The book is a memoir of Simon's year there. He moved quickly from a part in the male dance team to a named performer. While he was successful on stage, his life offstage was a whirlwind of beautiful women, lots of drinks and many fights. Both he and his friend were hotheaded and thought nothing of starting fights with other men in bars or the police who came to break up the fights. Simon got in trouble with a prostitution gang when they felt one of their women was insulted and he barely escaped entanglement with the local mob. His work permit was for one year and after a year, he decided to move on.
Simon went back to South Africa where he won the first South African male contest. From there he moved into acting and landed a contract on a soap opera where he starred for seven years. He has since been featured on American series such as Stargate, CSI and others. This book is recommended for readers who enjoy memoirs and who are interested in Paris and the nightlife found there.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Life should be great for Luisa 'Lu' Brant. Part of an influential Maryland family, she has just won election as the first woman state's attorney, unseating her former boss. This suburban area of Maryland includes Columbia, a famous planned community that was supposed to be a utopia of equality and diversity when it was created. Lu grew up in Columbia and her father was the state's attorney at that time. Her big brother, AJ, was a big star at the high school with accomplishments in sports, clubs, drama and singing. He has gone on to become the spokesperson for environmental rights. Lu has two children, twins, and the only fly in the ointment was the death of her husband a few years ago.
Lu is determined to be the best states attorney ever seen. She wants to try the highly reported cases herself rather than farming them out to her staff as her former boss did. She sees her first big opportunity with a murder that shocked the community. A woman who lived alone, a solitary woman who worked as a waitress and lived modestly, has been killed in her apartment. The crime wasn't discovered for almost a week and that fact increases the shock value. Luckily, there is enough forensic evidence to quickly settle on a suspect. The man, in his fifties, also grew up in Columbia and attended the same schools as Lu and her brother and all their friends, although no one seems to remember him. He never managed to make it in life, still living with his parents and working dead end jobs when he worked. Was he trying to break in and find things to sell, the murder the work of panic when he was discovered? Had he actually targeted the victim? Not content to rely on the forensic evidence alone, Lu is determined to discover his motive and exactly how the crime unfolded. What she didn't expect was that as she unpeeled the covers on the murderer's life and crime that she would also reveal long-held family secrets that are tied up in the crime's motivations.
Laura Lippmann is a prolific mystery writer and her favored locale is her beloved Baltimore and its surrounding suburbs. In Lu she has created a woman who most women can relate to as she struggles to raise her family while also carrying the weight of a demanding job. The mystery is unfolded slowly enough to sustain interest and the denouement is shocking. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Friday, October 21, 2016
According to the calendar, fall is here, but someone apparently forgot to get the word to the weather gods. It's been very warm, up in the upper eighties most days here. North Carolina was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew and the eastern part of the state was hit with massive flooding. I spent yesterday chasing fall color in the mountains and went to Grandfather Mountain for the first time. I got enough color to satisfy my soul for a while until the color makes its way here to the Piedmont Triad in a few weeks. I've made several trips to Columbia for hurricane cancellations and fall break for USC, so I've been listening to more audiobooks. I also attended a great event, Bibliofeast in Charlotte where ten authors talked about their books to a fascinated crowd of readers. Here's what's come through my door lately:
1. Shadows Of Men, M. Lee Holmes, fantasy, sent by author
2. Silent Source, James Marshall Smith, mystery, sent by author
3. Paris Nights, Cliff Simon, memoir, sent for book tour
4. The Librarians And The Lost Lamp, Greg Cox, fantasy, sent by publisher
5. 8th Street Power & Light, Eric Shonkwiler, post-apocalyptic, sent by publisher
6. Joe Peas, Sam Newsome, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7. One Good Mama Bone, Bren McClain, literary fiction, sent by publisher
8. Fidelity, Jan Fedarcyk, thriller, sent by publisher
9. I'll Take You There, Wally Lamb, literary fiction, sent for book tour
10. Vanity Fair's Writers On Writers, edited by Graydon Carter, anthology, sent by publisher
11. The Secret Chord, Geraldine Brooks, literary fiction, sent by publisher
Here's what I'm reading:
1. All That Man Is, David Szalay, paperback
2. Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3. Mr. Splitfoot, Smantha Hunt, Kindle Fire
4. H Is For Hawk, Helen McDonald, paperback
5. Confession Of A Serial Killer, Katherine Ramsland, Kindle Fire
6. The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
7. Wilde Lake, Laura Lippmann, Kindle Fire
8. Cold Moon, Alexandra Sokoloff, paperback
9. Blood Defense, Marcia Clark, audio
10. The Wangs vs. The World, Jade Chang, Kindle Fire
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Jim Olsen has always done what was expected of him. He studied hard in college, graduated and got a great job with a great salary. He got engaged to a woman he loved. Everything was going along smoothly when the bottom fell out. His company unexpectedly fired him. His fiance decided perhaps they weren't a great match after all and left him.
Jim gets another job but won't start for a while. His friend is hiking in the Swiss Alps and asks him to join him. Since Jim hasn't taken a vacation in years since his high-pressure job didn't allow for much time off, he decides to go. The friends hike to a resort. That evening, while in the bar, they see three beautiful women who seem interested in them. Talking to the women, they discover that they are sisters and on a mission.
Their mother has left their father and is now out of touch with the entire family and they are worried about her. The sisters have to leave and won't have time to look for her. They don't want to get the authorities involved since their father is in politics and actually running for the Presidency of France. Could the two men look for her as they hike to their next destination?
Jim and his friend agree but his friend only has one day left before he has to return home. Since Jim doesn't start his new job for another week, he agrees to take on the project. Against all odds, he finds the mother, Calliope, and is surprised to find a vibrant, skillful women who doesn't consider herself lost at all. She just wants to get away from her husband and the life she was leading before. Should Jim try to talk her into returning?
Birkelund has written a story about what is really important in our lives. Should we go along to get along or should we carve out a life that satisfies our inner longings even if it isn't what others approve of? She explores the meaning of love and how much of ourselves we should give up to be in a relationship. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
In 1895, the Plaistow district of Old London was set abuzz with news of a horrific crime. Robert Coombes (13) and his brother Nattie (12) were seen about town, going to cricket matches and shows and treating their friends to sweets. Their father was a ship steward and on a trip to New York. But where was their mother? When relatives and neighbors asked, the boys insisted she went to the shore to visit a sister. They then got a man who had done chores for the family to stay with them, hoping to deflect suspicion. But after ten days, their aunt forced her way in and found her sister's rotting corpse upstairs in her bed, dead of horrific knife wounds.
The boys were the obvious suspects. They were arrested and taken to the Old Bailey to await trial. Robert quickly confessed. Nattie was more reluctant and was released as being considered the lessor of the two in guilt. The press went wild, insisting that 'modern' youth were heartless and capable of any crime. In particular, Robert's fondness for the penny dreadfuls, those tales of daring-do beloved of schoolboys, were blamed for inciting him.
At his trial, his lawyers were successful in claiming mental illness for him. Nattie testified against his older brother. Robert was then sent to Broadmoor, the infamous insane asylum. But as the story more fully emerged, it become clear that Robert acted because of feeling unsafe with his mother and to protect Nattie. The boys had run away at least twice and perhaps Robert felt that this was his only recourse. He stayed in Broadmoor for years and was finally released a young man.
The story could have ended there, but Summerscale goes on to research and discuss the rest of Coombes' life. He joined the military and fought in World War I on the Australian side. Both of the brothers emigrated there for a new life. He then spent the rest of his life in Australia, farming and continuing his love of music.
Summerscale was the literary editor for the Daily Telegraph. Her former journalist career is evident in the careful research and her sourcing of information. Robert's life is detailed, but so is the life in Victorian London, the history of penny dreadfuls, the medical regimen at Broadmoor and the military contributions of Australia in World War I. Readers will be fascinated at the wealth of detail Summerscale provides and the restitution of Coombes life. The author's books have been shortlisted for awards such as the Whitbread Biography Prize, the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction and the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime. She has won the British Book Awards Book Of The Year. This book is recommended for readers of true crime and those interested in the Victorian era.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
Things haven't been right in Nan Lewis' world for a long time. A creative writing teacher at a private college in upstate New York, she can trace when her world fell apart to the day her four year old daughter was hit and killed on the narrow, twisting road in front of their house. Nan had gone inside for just a moment while her daughter played in the yard. She'll never know what made her go down into the road but her life ended when Ellie's did. Six years later she is sleepwalking through her job still, her husband gone.
The blows keep coming. Nan finds out at a faculty Christmas party that she will be denied tenure. Her colleagues, such as her nearest neighbor Clarissa and her supervisor, Ross, think she is on her way to being an alcoholic. Distraught, she gets in her car and heads home only to hit a deer on the same road where her daughter was killed. She tries to follow the deer into the woods to be sure it is OK only to fall asleep or is it passing out from too much drink? She awakens and stumbles home. The next morning she finds that her best student, Leia, was hit and killed right outside her home. The police see the damage on her car and she is immediately a suspect. What shocks her is how quickly her college community all turn on her.
Nan realizes that if she wants to be exonerated, she will have to prove her innocence by finding the guilty party. Is it local bad boy Troy who had a thing for Leia? Her supervisor Ross who some suspect of being way too close to the student he was supposed to have a professional relationship with? The woman who killed Nan's daughter who has been recently released from prison and who Nan has seen hanging around? Nan needs to find the truth soon before she is overwhelmed again.
Carol Goodman has written a series of mysteries, each a stand-alone novel. This novel echoes her own life. She is a creative writing teacher and lives in the Hudson Valley herself. Goodman's characters are fighting for clarification and resolution of life problems while fighting their own internal demons. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Friday, October 14, 2016
The year is 1870 and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is no longer a young man. He has spent his adult life fighting wars, it seems, first the Indians and then the Civil War which took his livelihood. His wife is gone also and her death weighs on him. His two daughters are far away back in the South he has left. Captain Kidd is a news reader. He wanders from small rural Texas town to small town and in each town he books a meeting place. There he reads stories about the world from newspapers to people who will never travel to other places and who have a limited idea about the world and everything in it. It's not what the Captain expected to be doing in his seventies and he won't ever get rich doing it, but its a life and one that has its rewards.
Everything changes when he is hired to deliver Johanna Leonberger back to her family. Johanna was six when the Kiowa raiders came to her farm and killed her parents and siblings. For some reason, they took Johanna with them and she has lived with them for four years and now considers herself to be Indian. She has forgotten English and the German of her family. She has forgotten forks and knives, books and dolls, women's clothes and towns. She can make a fire and cook dinner and has a warrior's heart. All she wants is to escape from Captain Kidd and rejoin her tribe, the tribe that sold her back to the white settlers. Kidd agrees to make the four hundred mile journey through Texas to take Johanna back home, back to her aunt and uncle.
The trip is perilous and Johanna is not an easy traveling companion. She attempts to escape and it takes days to start to teach her how to eat and start to regain her former languages. There is danger on the road. There are roving bands of men who have little to lose after the war and rival loyalties that tear towns apart. There are people who want to capture Johanna for their own purposes. There are still roving bands of Indians as well as roving bands of desperadoes who will kill for a few coins. The weather and terrain are dangerous but all that Captain Kidd expected. What he didn't expect was to fall in love one more time in his life, a love for a child who seems to have no one else.
Paulette Jiles identifies as a poet and her poetry background is evident in the haunting language and descriptions in this novel. She explores the concept of family and the place that chance has in our lives. She has written bestselling novels such as Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, The Color Of Lightning and Lighthouse Island. News Of The World has been selected as a National Book Award finalist. This novel is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in what makes a family.
Thursday, October 6, 2016
In this fascinating history and travel memoir, Paul Schneider takes the reader on a journey on the Mississippi River, one of the most striking geographical features of the North American continent. The book is developed around time periods and how the Mississippi played a part in each era.
The author begins with prehistoric times and talks about how the Mississippi was created and the various facts surrounding the river. He discusses the mammoths and other creatures who were inhabitants at that time. From there, Schneider moves on to the age of the Native American and how the river impacted the various tribes that made their home there. The Europeans came in their turn and possession of the river became important from a trading and military basis as the French and English fought to claim it, each willing to take what they wanted from the previous inhabitants.
After the battle to claim territory ended with the English the victor, the author talks about life along the river, the various ships that were used and what was traded and what an average riverman's life was like. The Civil War brought the prominence of the River back into focus as the North and the South each fought for strategic advantage and the ability to either expand or prohibit slavery. Finally, Schneider talks about the environmental impacts that the engineering features of levees to hold back floods has had. That decision and the 50,000 dams that are on the Mississippi these days, mean that what floods occur are more serious, that the farmlands along the river are not periodically replenished by new topsoil, and that Louisiana is slowly being eaten away. Regardless of topic, the reader learns a myriad of facts, each grounded in relevant context.
Readers should enjoy Schneider's writing style. It covers each topic in detail but without becoming dry or overwhelming. The book is a mixture of historical and sociological facts, interspersed with Schneider's own travels on the river. The author is a nonfiction writer who has been published in various magazines such as The New York Times, O, Audubon, Esquire and The New Yorker. This book is recommended for readers of history and travel writing.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
When Dr. Freida Klein opens the door of her London house, she doesn't expect to see Maddie Capel on her doorstep. Maddie was in her high school although not in Freida's group of friends. Freida has no interest in recalling old memories; she left Braxton when she was young and never returned or kept up with anyone she knew there. But Maddie hasn't come to reminisce. She has come to ask Freida to see her daughter, Becky, who is having trouble. Freida reluctantly agrees to evaluate Becky.
When Becky opens up, Freida's nightmare begins. Becky's behavioral issues stem from the night she awoke to find a man in her room, a man who raped her and told her not to tell anyone because they won't believe her. That prediction is true. Even Becky's mother doesn't believe her and won't even take her to the police. Frieda's blood runs cold. For twenty-three years ago, the same thing happened to her and was the cause of her departure. She was raped in her room also and she comes to believe that it was the same man then and now.
Determined to put an end to these enduring issues in her own past and to find justice for Becky, Freida returns to Braxton. All of her old crowd are still there. Some are financially successful; others have carved out careers in the arts. All are shocked to see her and are uncomfortable as Freida attempts to reconstruct what happened in the past and what is still happening in Braxton. Will Freida find the answers she so badly needs in order to put her past behind her?
This is the fourth installment in the Dr. Freida Klein series. French has created a singular character in Klein. She is so decisive, knows her own mind, and is not afraid to do and say the things she needs to in order to move forward and to help her patients. This time her patient is herself and the reader is fascinated with a look at the story that made Klein the woman she has become. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Monday, October 3, 2016
In this fourth and final novel in the Evermen epic series, humanity is facing a greater threat than it ever has. The Lord Of The Night has his banishment to another land where he and the other Evermen have been trapped for millenia. He has no love for humans; he sees them only as slaves and fodder to make essence to support his grandiose plans to conquer and rule the Earth.
All of humanity comes together to fight this threat. They are led by Killian who is the new emperor but who has an Everman father so has some of their power. But Killian is new to his powers and ruling and doesn't know everything he is capable of. Miro leads the troops into battle and is the veteran of many campaigns and wars. His sister, Ella the Enchantress, is at the side of these men and her willingness to do anything she can to serve her country means she puts her personal feelings on hold. Humanity is facing a threat they have never seen, an army of the undead. This means that even as their forces are reduced by battle, the opposing forces continue to gain in strength and numbers. Can humanity win this final battle for Earth?
Maxwell has created an intriguing world with magnificent characters. Readers will be fascinated with the land which is built on magic but where human choices and alliances mean the difference between life and death. The main characters are interesting with many secondary characters whose lives are also fully developed. The battle scenes are well done and the sweep and scope of the novels keeps the reader intrigued. This book is recommended for fantasy readers.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
The world is taken by storm when a young girl stumbles out of a forest in France onto a road where she is hit by a car and taken to a hospital. It turns out that the girl, Quinn Perkins, is an American exchange student. She is in a coma and cannot tell anyone what has happened to her. Even more ominously, when the police visit her exchange family, the Blavettes, it turns out that the entire family is missing. What has occurred? Does Quinn know the answers?
Local and international media descend on the small French town but it is a story with no answers, just lots of waiting at the hospital for Quinn to wake up or for the occasional police briefing with no new information. Online journalist Molly Swift isn't one to wait around. She worms her way into the hospital and then into Quinn's room by pretending to be Quinn's aunt. Will she break the story of what happened before she is found out?
Kate Horsley has written an intriguing thriller that will pull readers into a world of secrets and intrigue. The plot is slowly unfolded and the reader realizes that what has seemed sure is anything but sure and that nothing is as it originally seems. Sympathies are given then removed as secrets are revealed. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Donald and Viv Stevenson are a typical American family. Donald is an optometrist, having moved his family back to Boston when his father's Parkinson's disease grew to be more than his mother could handle alone. Viv gave up a lucrative job in mutual funds to partner with her oldest friend, Claudia, in running a stable and riding academy. They have two children and a satisfying life. Or do they?
As with all families, things happen to upset the normalcy the family strives for. Donald's father worsens and finally dies, leaving him in grief he cannot shake. Viv seems to fare better, her passion reawakened when a customer brings a horse to board. This horse, Mercury, is a magnificent animal and Viv is fascinated and enthralled with him. Soon, her childhood fantasies of being a competitive rider are reawakened and she spends her days riding Mercury, taking care of him and putting him at the center of her world. Before they know it, Donald and Viv have become roommates rather than lovers, passing in their house to assign tasks and discuss the children. They don't take time for themselves as a couple and they become more and more remote from each other. Finally, a crisis occurs and the pair realize how far apart they have grown and how difficult it is to put a marriage back together once it drifts apart.
Livesey is an accomplished novelist, with books such as The House On Fortune Street, Eva Moves The Furniture and The Flight Of Gemma Hardy. Her work has appeared widely in publications such as The New Yorker, Vogue and The Atlantic and she has won several writing grants and awards. In this novel, she explores the difficulty of staying connected to another person and how easily love can become a convenience rather than a necessity. She explores how we really never know another person and the impossibility of getting into someone else's mind and knowing what they will do from one minute to the next. We even fool ourselves about our own proclivities and how we fall short from the idealized version of ourselves we carry. This book is recommended for literary fiction readers and those interested in family relationships.
Monday, September 26, 2016
The year 1391. The place, Ireland. The cause: a battle to control Ireland and all its riches. On one side is the English King, Richard and his army funded by the Vatican. Richard wants the lands; the Vatican wants all the monasteries. On the other side are the ancient families of Ireland allied with the Sidhe. The Sidhe are the folks of the Middle Earth, the fairies, witches, goblins and other magical creatures. Chief among them is Aisling, a human goddess, who with her twin, controls the magic passed down through the centuries and who binds the humans and Sidhe together.
There are other players. Liam is Aisling's protector and a mighty warrior. Jordan is an assassin hired by the Vatican. He wants fame and fortune, or at least that is what he thinks until his study of magic makes him question everything he has ever learned or thought he knew. There is a witches' coven in the highest reaches of the French monarchy, determined to control England through witchcraft. The battle rages, the Irish overwhelmingly outnumbered but determined to make a last stand for their country and way of life. Can they be successful against the forces who want to stamp out magic?
This is a debut novel and it is difficult to believe that such a marvelous, magical story could be a first attempt. The reader is drawn quickly into the conflict between the sides and into the stories of the main characters. There is magic, whimsy, battles, betrayals, pain and love. There is defeat yet a hope of eventual success. This book is recommended for fantasy readers.
Saturday, September 24, 2016
September 23rd and at least on the calendar, fall has arrived. It's hard to tell here in North Carolina where the temperatures are still hitting 90 with high humidity. Still, we had a cloudy rainy day yesterday and I pulled out the crock pot and made a pork roast while spending the day reading and watching tv. Monday I hope to make the first soup of autumn. The new fall tv shows are arriving and it's always fun to check them out and guess which ones will make it. Then of course, there's football, the perfect sport. All of these are reasons I love fall the best of all. Here's the books that have made it through the door lately:
1. A House Without Windows, Nadia Hashimi, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2. Thursday's Children, Nicci French, mystery, sent by publisher
3. Friday On My Mind, Nicci French, mystery, sent by publisher
4. Escape Clause, John Sandford, mystery, sent by publisher
5. The Family Plot, Cherie Priest, fantasy/thriller, sent by publisher
6. Finders Keepers, Stephen King, horror, boomerang book (I gave this to my son, but he already had it so I took it home)
7. Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King, horror, boomerang book
8. Einstein's Beach House, Jacob Appel, anthology, sent by author
9. The Fortress, Danielle Trussoni, memoir, sent by publisher
10. A Shattered Empire, Mitchell Hogan, fantasy, sent by publisher
Here's what I'm reading:
1. The Last Days Of Magic, Mark Thompkins, hardback
2. Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3. The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
4. The American Girl, Kate Horseley, paperback
5. The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn, audio
6. Old Man River, Paul Schneider, paperback
7. Mr. Splitfoot, Smantha Hunt, Kindle Fire
8. H Is For Hawk, Helen McDonald, paperback
Monday, September 19, 2016
The Middlesteins explores the life of a Jewish family in the suburbs of Chicago. Richard and Edie Middlestein have lived there for more than thirty years. Richard is a pharmacist; Edie a lawyer. They have two children, Benny and Robin. The family looks happy from the outside but things are not good and the couple split up. The cause seems to be Edie's out of control eating. She is massively obese and it is affecting her health. The marriage hasn't been good for years and Richard has finally had enough.
Even though the children are grown they are affected by the breakup. Benny is married himself with two children. He married Rachelle, the kind of woman who lives to control her world and make everything perfect. She is furious at Richard and determined that she can turn Edie's eating problem around by helping her make better eating choices and exercise. She cuts Richard off entirely from their family. Robin is a teacher but not really doing well. She drinks too much and has never had a lasting relationship. She has just met someone new and wonders if it could work out.
Edie is furious. She hasn't loved Richard for years and her constant picking and nagging is as much a factor as her obesity. She isn't sure why she eats so much but at the end of the day is determined to live her life as she wants, even if that means eating everything in sight. Her success as a lawyer seems diametrically opposed to her lack of control in her personal life.
Attenberg has written a saga of a family that has dissolved. Everyone seems surprised when older couples divorce but once the children are grown, why would someone stay if there is no joy in their daily life? She explores the role of personal responsibility, of what parents owe their children and children owe their parents and whether love can be found even as we age. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in family relationships.
Saturday, September 17, 2016
Northern California in the late 1960's. It's summer and fourteen year old Evie Boyd is at loose ends. Her parents have split up and she's had a fight with her best friend. What will fill the endless days of summer? Bored, she goes to a park one day and there she is. Suzanne. Older than Evie and a different kind of person than she has ever met. Suzanne could care less what anyone thinks about her. She looks a bit dirty, a bit dangerous. Evie can't tear her eyes away.
Several days later, they meet again in a convenience store and start to talk. Soon, Evie is totally enthralled with Suzanne and goes with home with her. Home is the ranch where a group of other girls also live. No one works, they just scam and scavenge for everything they eat. They all circle around Russell, a mesmerizing figure who controls everything at the ranch while pretending to espouse love and freedom.
As the weeks go by, Evie finds it difficult to remain in society, wanting the ranch and what she finds there over everything else. Even as the atmosphere turns darker and she is drawn into actions she never thought she'd perform, she can't break away. She is glued to Suzanne as if their souls have been stitched together. How will the summer end?
No one who was alive in the 60's will ever forget the Manson murders and the girls who surrounded him, willing to do anything he said, even steal and kill. Even today the case is fascinating and every move of Manson and the girls, now grown old in jail, makes the news. But the focus has always been on Manson. In The Girls, Emma Cline focuses on the dynamic of the girls and what drew them from their homes and what kept them together even as everything fell apart. Readers will be immersed in a culture that is foreign to them but Cline makes it believable and unforgettable. This book is recommended for mystery and young adult readers.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
There seems to be a spate of suicides in the Bristol area. Each is a young person, none of whom seemed likely candidates. Their friends and families are all surprised. Each has vertical knife marks on their forearms and are found near bodies of water, quarries and underwater caves. Each is missing a lock of hair.
The police and coroner call each case suicide but Detective Jack Caffery is not sure. Something about the cases bother him; he feels a subterranean pull of evil that makes him wonder if there is a hunter who is responsible. Rescue diver Flea Marley also sees things that make her wonder. The two don't discuss the case however. Caffery isn't sure yet and is working in the dark, not even telling his supervisors what he is doing. Flea is involved in a major family crisis that no one can help with and that keeps her to herself until she can find a way forward. Is someone targeting vulnerable individuals? Can Caffery and Marley find the killer before he finds them?
Mo Hayder has written a series of thrilling novels and mystery readers will be delighted to find another Jack Caffery novel. Flea Marley is a more recent addition to the storyline and it is unclear if she will be a recurring character or maybe become a love interest for Caffery. The writing is brooding and mysterious and fans will eagerly read to discover more clues about what makes Caffery tick. This book is recommended for mystery writers.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
In this novel set during the end of the American military presence in the Vietnam war, the narrator is a man of many faces. He is half-French, half Vietnamese. He is the bastard of a native Vietnamese woman and a white priest, a child whose very existence is forbidden. He grows to be a man who fits everywhere and nowhere, someone who can smile and help someone while plotting their defeat.
As the novel opens, the narrator is a Captain in the South Vietnamese army and the top assistant to the General. Due to his placement, he is able to escape when the South falls along with the General and his family and the men the narrator picks. They are relocated to Los Angeles and there they begin to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. What no one knows is that the narrator has always been a spy for the Communist government of North Vietnam and he continues to report on the refugees while in California. He lives with his best friend, Bon, who he considers a blood brother. But that doesn't stop him from letting Bon get caught up in a plot for the South to take back the country. He and Bon do horrible acts for the General while he plots the General's demise. It is impossible to nail down the narrator's sympathies and loyalties. Does he even know the meaning of loyalty? Or is everything up for grabs, what one does in any situation what seems most expedient at the moment?
This book has won numerous prizes. It won six major awards, including the Pulitzer, the Edgar award for best first book and the Asian/Pacific American Award For Literature. It was named a finalist in five competitions such as the PEN/Faulkner award and the ABA Indies Choice. It was named on the best novels of 2016 of twenty lists, including the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Readers will enter the mind of someone who doesn't know himself who he is and what he will do to survive. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
Monday, September 12, 2016
Readers who are a fan of Stuart MacBride (and I definitely am) will be thrilled to read this collection of stories about the travails of DS Logan McRae and the worst boss in the world, DCI Roberta Steele. The book starts with a novella about a murder case that happens during the election in which Scottish voters decide if they will break away from the United Kingdom. Steele is an adament supporter of separation and she follows the election avidly, interrupting McRae as he goes about his day and his investigation.
Other stories give us a glimpse into a vacation gone very wrong where Steele tries to hide the fact she is working from her wife with limited success and one in which the two police must work together to save their own lives. There are four stories in all, but one is a novella and one a short novel so the end result is more than three hundred pages of McRae and Steele to savor. Steele is her normal self, a self that is hard to believe can continue as a police investigator. She is profane, drinks on the job, bullies her staff and intimidates the criminals she encounters. McRae is the long-suffering policeman who does his work despite her and has an incredible mind for crime detection. Together the two can't live with each other or without each other. Their bond is unbreakable but the reader can't imagine how or why.
Stuart MacBride is one of the premier crime novelists working today. His DS Logan McRae is an unforgettable police hero, unassuming, brilliant, put upon by the world and always optimistic despite all the horrors the world throws at him. Fans who follow him only have one quibble; that he can't write faster as the novels are addictive. This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels.
Thursday, September 8, 2016
A sheriff's life is rarely calm and placid. But this is an unusual week for Arizona Cochise County sheriff Joanna Brady. She is planning the funerals of her mother and stepfather after they were killed by a sniper while driving on vacation. Her daughter has left for her first week of college. Joanna is also pregnant with her third child. Any of those things would be a major event in anyone else's life.
But things are going to get even more hectic for Brady. A double homicide is discovered. Two women are found killed in the desert at the foot of a local mountain. It first appears to be an accident but as the police investigate it becomes apparent it is murder. What isn't apparent is the connection between the two women. One is a graduate student who has been spending the summer studying desert plants. The other is a teacher in a local high school, the wife of a pastor.
As the investigation deepens, motives start to emerge. The teacher is trapped in a loveless marriage, both she and her husband involved in affairs. Even worse, it appears some of her lovers may be students from her own school. Was she the primary victim or did the graduate student pose a risk to someone? Of course, law enforcement is never static and another death happens that must also be investigated. Will Joanna get through this horrible week?
J. A. Jance is a prolific writer of mysteries and the Joanna Brady series is one of her most successful. This is the twentieth novel in the series, and longtime readers will be interested to see what Brady is up to now, and how her life is unfolding. The novel gives a good picture of the routine of a police department and the daily tasks that unfold as well as how resources are allocated and how policing in a small town requires a delicate balance between knowing everyone and avoiding giving too much away. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Saturday, September 3, 2016
September is here and there is hope of summer heat and humidity dissipating in the coming weeks. Here in North Carolina we've had a fairly brutal summer and fall can't come too soon to suit me. I spend most super-hot days inside so you'd think I would have read more than ten books in August but Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Acorn TV takes up a lot of reading time. Here's the books that have come through the door lately:
1. Echoes Of Family, Barbara Claypole White, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2. The Sound Of A Wild Snail Eating, Elisabeth Tova Bailey, nonfiction, sent by publisher
3. The Orphan Mother, Robert Hicks, historical fiction, Vine review book
4. All That Man Is, David Szalay, literary fiction, Vine review book
5. The American Girl, Kate Horsley, thriller, sent by publisher
6. A Gentleman In Moscow, Amor Towles, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7. Father's Day, Simon Van Booy, literary fiction, Vine review book
8. Ruby, Cynthia Bond, historical fiction, Vine review book
9. Mateship With Birds, Carrie Tiffany, literary fiction, purchased
10. The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater, fantasy, purchased
11. The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater, fantasy, purchased
12. Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Maggie Stiefvater, fantasy, purchased
13. Debt To Pay, Reed Coleman, mystery, sent by publisher
14. Downfall, J.A. Jance, mystery, sent for book tour
15. The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro, literary fiction, purchased
16. The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen, literary fiction, purchased
Here's what I'm reading:
1. The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
2. Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3. The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
4. Moriarty, Anthony Horowitz, paperback
5. The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn, audio
6. Old Man River, Paul Schneider, paperback
7. Mr. Splitfoot, Smantha Hunt, Kindle Fire
8. Skin, Mo Hayder, hardback
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
It's the early 1900's and Coney Island is at its peak as an entertainment destination. Unusuals, as they call themselves, are those individuals whose lives will never be mainstream due to their bodies, and who are on exhibit everywhere in circuses and sideshows. Entire villages of tribesmen from other cultures have been brought over to America to edify those who come to visit. Every center must have a curiosity cabinet and Coney Island has Magruder's. Inside it's halls, strange and amazing artifacts from all over the world have been collected and are on exhibit.
Kitty Hayward has come to America with her mother to meet her brother who has come ahead of them. The Haywards are a wealthy English family and surely nothing bad can happen to them. But the women arrive to find the brother has died and then they are separated themselves. Kitty finds herself adrift in a park on Coney Island. She is found there by Archie, a con man, and taken to Magruder's.
There she meets the regulars. Zeph is a black man with no legs, cut off in a farming accident. P-Ray is a young Arab boy who can only say one word but is considered family. Doc Timur is an eccentric inventor who lives in his upstairs lab and creates wonders. Rosalind is a gender fluid individual who delights in dressing half-male, half-female and shocking everyone. Spencer is the son of an influential Senator and is not sure why he has come to Magruder's. He brings Nasan who instead of falling in love with Spencer, longs to become part of Magruder's where her burning desire for knowledge and education is not sneered at.
Calamity strikes when the plague strikes Coney Island. Those with power and money decide the best way to treat the outbreak is to quarantine the island, regardless of all those who are now trapped there with no way to make money or get food or medicine. The collection of individuals at Magruder's must work together to survive the outbreak and help each other. Can they survive?
H. P. Wood has written an engaging historical fantasy that mixes true facts with flights of fancy, creating a world that is captivating and interesting. The addition of history facts educates the reader as the book delights one's whimsy. This book is recommended for fantasy readers and those captivated by carnivals and curiosity collections.
Monday, August 29, 2016
In the early 1980's, Michael Ross stalked, raped and killed eight women in Connecticut. In 2005, he was put to death by lethal injection, the last person to be executed in that state. In between, for the last ten years of his life, journalist Martha Elliott interviewed him through weekly phone calls, letters and in person to determine what made this man do these horrible acts.
Ross was an intelligent person who graduated college and seemed ready to have a successful career. Instead, his compulsions led him to stalk and kill women as his personal life imploded. His childhood was a bleak one, with a mother who was a monster herself and emotionally abused him. It left him unable to have a sustaining personal relationship and his mental illness led him into a compulsion to control and punish women he didn't know.
Ross was in jail for more than two decades. He asked for the death penalty to be carried out, and Elliott was curious why he would do that. Once in prison, he had received medication that controlled his mental compulsions and he felt free from the monster that he felt co-inhabited his body with the 'true' Michael. He felt that his death was the only thing he could offer the families of his victims, but Elliott wondered if it also wasn't a suicide using the state as a vehicle. She interviewed not only Ross but those victim families who would talk to her. Over the years she found herself in a friendship with this tormented man who had brought pain to everyone he knew.
Ross is a journalist who worked on newspapers for many years. She also ran a newspaper and taught at both the university and high school level. She was curious as to what made a man into someone who could do such horrible things and after years of work, discovered the man in the monster. This book is recommended for readers of true crime and those interested in the inner workings of the mind.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
Griffin has come to Cape Cod for a wedding. He came early, leaving his wife, Joy, to catch up to him when she didn't immediately fall in with his plans. Griffin is a college professor and son of college professors. His family came to the Cape every summer but it wasn't necessarily a good time. His parents enjoyed looking at the negative side of everything; the places they would rent quickly categorized as either 'can't afford them" or "wouldn't have it as a gift". They certainly weren't child-centered. Griffin was pretty much on his own to find friends or play alone while his parents drank cocktails and talked among themselves.
Griffin is at a crossroads. In his earlier years, he was a screenwriter in Hollywood. Now that his own child is grown and his marriage to Joy grown stale, he wonders how his life would have been different if he had made different decisions along the way. He doesn't know what he wants, only that something seems to be missing. Should he throw everything away and start over? Should he learn to accept what he has and be grateful for it?
Richard Russo is one of our premier American authors. He outlines the decisions and contradictions that characterize people, showing us truths about ourselves. He seems a wise man, able to show us what makes life really worthwhile as he gently skewers the posturings we all use to hide our inner angst. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and for anyone getting older and wondering what life is really all about.
Friday, August 26, 2016
It's a weekend like any other. Nora leaves her job in London and takes the train out to the small village where her sister lives to spend the weekend. As she walks up to the house, she imagines the relaxing weekend the two of them will have. They are best friends and she looks forward to all her time spent with Rachel.
But when she enters the house, time stops and will never be free and easy again. For Nora walks into the scene of a brutal murder, her sister lying broken and bloodied on the stairs. The police come and take her away. She moves into the local hotel and waits for the police to find her killer.
But the days turn into weeks and there doesn't seem to be any progress. Nora gives up her apartment and job to stay in the village and look for Rachel's killer herself. She wonders if the murder has anything to do with the attack on Rachel when she was just a teenager. She wonders if every man she sees is the one who did this horrific thing. As the days go by and the investigation continues, Nora wonders if she ever really knew Rachel at all, as Rachel's secrets are uncovered and brought out into the light.
This debut novel by Flynn Berry is an impressive start. The mood is broody and menacing. The book is told in first person, setting up the reader to wonder how honest Nora is and fighting through the miasma of grief and lack of knowledge that Nora fights. This is an extremely wise choice for a mystery novel and it gives an immediacy that is very effective. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Matt Stromsoe is putting his life back together. Two years ago, he was happily married with a child. Then, his work as a policeman put him in direct confrontation with his best friend growing up. Mike Tavarez had gone in a different direction than Mike, rising to become the head of one of Southern California's most vicious gangs. Matt's wife had earlier been Mike's girlfriend so there was also a personal rivalry between the two. When things blew up, so did Matt's life. A bomb meant for him instead killed his wife and child and left him scarred physically and mentally.
Now he is trying to put his life back together. No longer able to do police work, he tries to start over by joining a private investigation firm. His first assignment seems like a simple one. A local television weather lady, Frankie Hatfield, has come to the firm about a stalker she has picked up. When Matt takes on the case, he sees that more is going on than a crazed fan. Frankie is a scientist first and a weather reporter second. She is working on a method to enhance rainfall, one that will make her rich while improving lives. But there are those who don't want her to succeed. Before all is done, Matt will be battling a large corporation with ties to his enemy, Mike. Who will win this latest confrontation?
T. Jefferson Parker is an established name in the genre of thriller mysteries. His characters are simple men whose sense of truth and justice makes it impossible for them to let injustices stand without working to fix the situation. This novel is his fourteenth in an impressive career and readers will enjoy learning more about weather as well as watching the interplay between good and evil. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Saturday, August 20, 2016
1. House Of The Rising Sun, James Lee Burke, mystery, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book
2. Wonder Women, Sam Maggs, nonfiction, sent by publisher
3. News Of The World, Paulette Jiles, historical fiction, sent for book tour
4. Mercury, Margot Livesey, literary fiction, sent by publisher
5. California's Deadliest Women, David Kulczyk, nonfiction, sent by publisher
6. Catalyst Moon, Lauren Garcia, fantasy, sent by publisher
7. Eleven Days, Lea Carpenter, literary fiction, purchased
8. Dear Thief, Samantha Harvey, literary fiction, purchased
9. Everyone Loves You Back, Louie Cronin, literary fiction, sent by publisher
10. The Shadow Of The Crescent Moon, Fatima Bhutto, literary fiction, purchased
11. Clear To Lift, Anne Wilson, thriller, sent by publisher
12, Drawing Dead, Andrew Vachss, mystery, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book
13. Peacekeeping, Mischa Berlinski, literary fiction, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book
14. The Dollhouse, Fiona Davis, mystery, sent by publisher
15. In A Strange City, Laura Lippman, mystery, sent by publisher
16. Rogue Lawyer, John Grishman, mystery, from bring one-take one shelf at gym
17. The Fisherman, Chigozie Obioma, literary fiction, purchased
18. The Table Of Less Valued Knights, Marie Phillips, literary fiction, purchased
19. The Illuminations, Andrew O'Hagan, literary fiction, purchased
20. Home Field, Hannah Gersen, mystery, sent by publisher
21. The Tourist, Robert Dickinson, thriller, sent by publisher
Here's what I'm reading:
1. The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
2. The Man In The Monster, Martha Elliot, Kindle
3. The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
4. Under The Harrow, Flynn Barry, paperback
5. The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn, audio
6. The Storm-Runners, T. Jefferson Parker, hardback
7. Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet, H.P. Wood, Kindle Fire
Friday, August 19, 2016
Ellinghurst is one of those English country estates that seem like they are of another world. It is a place of great beauty, architectural wonders and treasures from around the world. It is the ancestral home of one of England's great families, the Melvilles. At the start of World War I, it seems a place of permanency and tradition that won't change. This generation's family has three children. Theo, the heir, is one of those young men whose very bearing shouts privilege and that great things are destined for him. Phyllis is interested in study and is determined to find a way to escape a woman's lot and spend her days in work and scholarship. Jessica, the baby, is sure that there are lots of men who will give her a great time before marrying her and providing a comparable life to the one she was raised with.
Ellinghurst at first seems imperious to the war. The house's life moves on with house parties and weekend hunts. One common visit is the wife's best friend and her young son. Oscar is the same age as Jessica and he and she are commonly left out by the rest of the children being so much younger. Oscar is terribly shy; most people never see his great intellect due to his inability to speak out and participate in groups.
But war changes everything. An entire generation of young men are consumed by it and Theo is soon one of them. Phyllis escapes to become a nurse and serve the hundreds of young men scarred and deformed by battle. Oscar gets a place at Cambridge where he studies physics while even Jessica finds a way to escape to London and get a job. There are rumblings of changes in society; changes to the social structure that will make it impossible to retain great family estates. Throughout the changes to society are echoed in the lives of these four young people and their relationships with each other over the years.
This novel, like others of Clare Clark's work, has garnered praise. It was a 2015 Washington Post Notable Fiction Book and a New York Times Editor's Choice. Her former novels, The Great Stink and The Strange Lands, were both Orange (now Bailey's) Prize nominees. It portrays a time and place that has largely vanished and gives the reader an insight into the landed gentry and their way of life. This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in family relationships.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Ian McGuire uses the setting of the whaling industry to explore the dynamics of good vs evil. The novel is set in England in the mid-1800's as the industry is starting to end as the whales were hunted out of existence and alternative fuels were developed. It follows a ship to the far North and documents the tragedies that overcame it.
There are no heroes in this novel, only men of differing amounts of evil. The protagonist, Patrick Sumner, the ship's surgeon, has returned from a military career in India. He was discharged involuntarily and his reputation shattered after an agreement between men in his company went awry and he was left to take the consequences. Unable to find work back in England, he agrees to become the ship's doctor on the whaling ship Volunteer.
He is contrasted by a man of pure evil, Henry Drax, a harpooner. Drax has no lofty ambition or goals. His only thoughts are to get whatever he wants at the moment whether that is a woman, drink, or money. He will do anything to get what he wants. Violence is his second nature and he is not bound by any qualms of morality. This often gives him an edge in situations.
The ship sets sail. After a promising start things start to go awry. The ship is trapped in the frigid waters of the Artic long after it should have left. The crew become surly and unsure of what the captain's plans are. When a crime occurs onboard, it leads to open rebellion and the acrimony between Sumner and Drax comes to a head. Which man will be successful?
The North Water has been long-listed for the 2016 Mann Booker prize. It has been recommended by writers such as Hilary Mantel, Martin Amis and Ron Rash. McGuire grew up in Hull, England and studied at the University of Manchester and the University of Virginia. He is widely regarded as a rising star in British writing. Readers will be swept up in the drama of whaling and the age-old fight between good and evil. This book is recommended for readers of historical and literary fiction.