Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Silver Star, by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls. The Silver Star. New York: Scribner, 2013. 269 pages. ISBN 9781451661545.

In The Silver Star, two young girls are abandoned by their mother, and have to fend for themselves. Bean is 12 years old, and her sister Liz is 15. Used to being left alone for a day or two, they aren't sure what to do when their mother fails to return after two weeks. Eventually a neighbor becomes suspicious and calls the police. Seeing a policeman at their front door after school one day leads the two girls to take a bus to Virginia to visit an uncle on the family estate.

Once they're in their hometown, they begin to learn what it's like to live in a small town where everyone knows everything about you and your family. Bean learns about her father and his failed romance with her mother. They decide to get summer jobs for spending money, but the man who hires them, Jerry Maddox, turns out to be a manipulative predator. After he attacks Liz in the back seat of a taxi, the girls are faced with a choice: brush everything under the rug like it never happened, or press charges against him. Taking the latter path turns out to have many consequences, both good and bad, and both girls learn many life lessons from the experience.

Having read Ms. Walls' memoir about growing up with unstable parents, The Glass Castle, I found it hard at first to separate her true life story from this fictional account of a young girl with a similarly unstable mother. Over time, however, I was able to set aside what I know of Ms. Walls' history and focus on this fictional narrative. I enjoyed reading this book, and found the characters intriguing and believable. The only criticism that I have is that some of the plot points seem to be a little too easy or coincidental. The resolution of the Jerry Maddox problem was perhaps too simple. Nevertheless, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed The Glass Castle, or who appreciates family dramas.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sutton, by J.R. Moehringer

J.R. Moehringer. Sutton. New York: Hyperion, 2012. 334 pages. ISBN 9781401323141.

Willie Sutton was one of the most famous bank robbers of the 20th century, but he has largely fallen from popular consciousness. Born in 1901, Willie began robbing jewelry stores at a young age, and then turned to robbing banks. Proud and insistent that he never killed anyone, he nevertheless spent more than half of his adult life behind bars. Not only was Willie Sutton famous for robbing banks, he was also notorious for escaping from prison, having escaped from both Sing Sing and Eastern Penitentiary, and having made many unsuccessful attempts to escape as well.

On Christmas Eve 1969 Willie was released after serving 18 years of a life sentence in Attica prison; his poor health convincing the governor that he had only a short time to live. He spent Christmas day with a reporter who had arranged for an exclusive interview with Sutton. Fooling everyone again, Willie managed to live another 10 years, finally dying in Florida in 1980.

In Sutton, Mr. Moehringer imagines what that Christmas day was like for Willie, travelling all around New York City visiting key locales in Willie's life story. They travel to the place where he met the love of his life, the first jewelry store that he robbed, places he lived, and more. At each location Willie remembers how his life unfolded and why he made the decisions that led to his life of crime and his many incarcerations.

Mr. Moehringer's writing is clear and engaging. The dialogue that he imagines for Willie and his peers seems authentic and natural. The stories that he creates to fill in Willie's narrative are believable. Sutton is well-written and compulsively readable. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

Erika Johansen. The Queen of the Tearling. New York: HarperCollins, 2014. 434 pages. ISBN 9780062290366.

Kelsea Raleigh has been raised in seclusion by her adoptive parents, Carlin and Barty. Kelsea's mother, Queen Ellysa, ruled over the Kingdom of Tearling. She arranged for Kelsea to be taken away from the castle when she was an infant in an effort to protect her from the Red Queen of Mortmesne, who invaded the Tearling and subjugated it to an oppressive treaty by which the Tearling had to pay tribute to Mortmesne in the form of a monthly delivery of citizens that she used as slaves.

The book begins when Kelsea turns nineteen and it's determined that she is of age and can take over the rule of the Tearling from her uncle, who's served as Regent for many years. The Queen's guard accompanies her to the castle where she sees the injustice of the past 18 years and begins to make changes. Breaking a treaty with the Red Queen brings war and strife to the Tearling. Kelsea faces many challenges including someone in her own guard who has betrayed her. From the first page, this first novel by Erika Johansen kept me interested. I'm especially interested in the back story; it appears that the Tearling was founded by William Tear after "the Crossing". It was meant to be a utopian settlement with very little technology. The only science that Tear intended to have was medical technology, but their sophisticated equipment was destroyed in a shipwreck during the Crossing, so Tear's utopia didn't turn out as planned. It's well-written and fast-paced. The Queen of the Tearling is the first of a trilogy. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys modern fantasy.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Criminalist, by Eugene Izzi

Eugene Izzi. The Criminalist. New York: Avon Books, 1998. 341 pages. ISBN 0380975408.

Published two years after Eugene Izzi's untimely death, The Criminalist is a suspenseful mystery that explores the dynamics between three brothers who've been psychologically damaged by the violence inflicted on them by their father. It tells the story of Tom Moran, psychiatrist; Terry Moran, police officer; and Frank Moran, addict and vagrant. Twenty years ago Tom's wife was violently murdered, but her killer has never been found. Initially suspected, both Tom and Terry have suffered for many years from lingering suspicions, but they've affected Terry's career the most. Bitter from his past experiences, Terry hides from the police when a dead woman is found whose murder closely mirrors that of Tom's wife.

Detective Dominick DiGrazia and his new partner Janice Constantine try to untangle the threads that connect all of the characters involved in both murders. What is the role of DiGrazia's former partner, a detective who became obsessed with the earlier murder? Is the same person responsible for both murders?

This book kept me turning the pages until the very end. It's well-written and impossible to put down. It's a shame that this is Izzi's last book. I recommend this to anyone who likes detective stories with a lot of action.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Bones Never Lie, by Kathy Reichs

Kathy Reichs. Bones Never Lie. New York: Bantam Books, 2014. 334 pages. ISBN 9780345544018.

Kathy Reichs has published dozens of books, many of them in her Temperance Brennan series, upon which the television program Bones is based. Ms. Reichs was present at the 2014 Book Expo America conference, and I was lucky enough to get a copy of her latest Temperance Brennan novel there.

Bones Never Lie doesn't disappoint. A forensic anthropologist, Temperance is invited to participate in an investigation into the murders of three young girls in what appears to be a serial murder spree that started in Canada, moved to Vermont, and then on to Charlotte, N.C., where Temperance spends much of her time. She and her former partner Andrew Ryan had worked on what appears to be a related case in Quebec. She has to fly to Costa Rica to try to bring him back after he’s gone AWOL to grieve over the death of his daughter to a heroin overdose.

Temperance has to balance office politics with a race against time to catch the serial killer before he or she strikes again. Working with Skinny Slidell, a local detective, as well as detectives from Vermont and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Temperance and Ryan attempt to track down the killer who went off the grid ten years previously. Fast paced and with loads of action, this book kept me turning the pages until I finished. The only quibble that I have with this book is that the dialogue is consistently nasty. I found the persistent sarcasm and just plain meanness of the dialogue to be a little tiresome. Nevertheless, I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys mysteries with a forensic science angle.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

E. Lockhart. We Were Liars. New York: Delacorte Press, 2014. 225 pages. ISBN 9780385741262.

In this short novel author E. Lockhart presents us with the case of Cady, a 17-year-old girl who's recovering from a traumatic accident that took place two years previously and left her with amnesia about the entire summer in which it occurred. The book pivots between the present day and the snippets of memory that come back to her as she returns to her wealthy family's vacation home on an island owned by her grandfather. During the four weeks that she is going to be on the island, will she be able to find the clues to help her remember what happened that summer?

Cady spends time with her mother and two aunts, assorted cousins and golden retrievers, and her grandfather. Unacknowledged tensions hover over everyone, but slowly Cady begins to remember disparate things that happened and led up to her accident and memory loss. She rekindles her romance from that summer, and prods her favorite cousins into giving her clues to the past. As the facts emerge it begins to be clear why she blocked those memories out.

This is a book about friendship, love, and families, and will appeal to a wide audience.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Good Sister, by Wendy Corsi Staub

Wendy Corsi Staub. The Good Sister. New York: Harper, 2013. 418 pages. ISBN 9780062222374.

In The Good Sister author Wendy Corsi Staub tells the story of Carley, a young girl who has been enduring significant bullying since she moved to a new school. To make matters worse, her best friend Nicki has dumped her, and a few months later Nicki kills herself. Reeling from her own difficulties at school and her friend's death, Carley is struggling to understand how this all came to be. She turns to a new-found friend, Angel, whom she met on an anti-bullying website. But is Angel the person she thinks she is?

Carley's mother Jen is also attempting to deal with Nicki's death. Carley has been good friends with Nicki's mother Debbie since elementary school and was close to Nicki as well. When Jen attends Nicki's wake, she comes face-to-face with her high school boyfriend, Mike, and begins to suspect that there's something between Mike and Debbie.

In the meantime, someone has come back to town to settle his mother's estate. He finds a journal kept by his older sister, Ruthie, who died in a car accident a long time ago. Reading the journal, he begins to understand that she was not only abused by their father but also bullied by her school mates. He's determined to exact revenge for her.

Ms. Staub pulls all of these disparate strands together in a fast-paced suspense novel that serves as a warning to everyone about the danger of relying too heavily on social media and electronic devices for our communication. Sometimes it's much better to just have a face-to-face conversation!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Nightwatcher, by Wendy Corsi Staub

Wendy Corsi Staub. Nightwatcher. New York: Harper, 2012. 371 pages. ISBN 9780062213181.

While at a conference in Las Vegas over the weekend, I continued to read a series of suspense novels as a way to keep my mind off other responsibilities. Nightwatcher was the next book on my list to do just that. Prolific author Wendy Corsi Staub has written a real page turner with the 9/11 tragedy as a backdrop.

Allison and Kristin live in the same apartment building, but have very different views about relationships. Kristin has a huge crush on a married neighbor who seems to be oblivious to her charms, but Allison remains distrustful and unwilling to make herself vulnerable in a relationship. While Kristin's crush goes unfulfilled, their building's handyman develops a crush on Kristin. When Kristin is found murdered the evening of September 11, 2001, Jerry becomes the first suspect, although Allison suspects that he isn't capable of such violence. Still, why is their neighbor Mack acting so suspicious? What really happened to Mack's wife Carrie? Who is the mysterious Jamie? Does he (or she) even exist? As the plot twists and turns, each of the characters seem suspect, but the book doesn't reveal all its secrets until the last few pages, keeping the reader turning them until the end.

Similar to The Money Kill, by Katia Lief (reviewed here), Nightwatcher proved to be a good distraction from work while I was at the ALA Annual Conference last weekend. And with the temperatures well over a hundred degrees while we were there, relaxing in air-conditioned comfort with a book was the best option.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Money Kill, by Tatia Lief

Tatia Lief. The Money Kill. New York: Harper, 2013. 338 pages. ISBN 9780062096975.

When I have a lot on my plate I like to read fast-paced suspense or mystery novels to distract myself from whatever else is going on. As I headed off to Las Vegas last Thursday to attend the ALA Annual conference, I looked around my house to find one or more paperback mysteries for the plane ride. I finally settled on Katia Lief's The Money Kill to start with.

Author of more than a dozen suspense novels, Ms. Lief's latest is number four in the Karin Schaeffer and Mac MacLeary series. Schaeffer and MacLeary are former police officers who have turned to the "safer" profession of private investigation. Mac has been hired by Cathy Millerhausen to investigate her husband's infidelity, and finding nothing, he's tempted by another job to end the investigation early and take up the new one. This job entails a short trip to London, and comes with a bonus trip to Italy for the entire family. However, it quickly becomes clear, at least to the reader, that the two cases are connected and the whole family is threatened.

The plot of The Money Kill is intricate and fast-paced. Viewpoints shift from Mac to Karin to their employee Mary, and also to their respective children, Dathi and Fremont. Most of the action takes place in Italy, and the book illustrates the challenges of vacationing in a country when one doesn't know the language or geography very well. I enjoyed The Money Kill and it did its job of keeping me distracted from more serious business.

I intended to give this book away or leave it in my hotel room for someone else to read, but I realized that I had gotten it signed for my sister! I'll have to send it off in the next box...