Stacy Schiff: The Witches: Salem, 1692
It seems that anytime religion joins forces with government to control a people, horrible things happen. Case in point, the Salem, Massachusetts witch hunt of the late 17th century legalized purgery and theft, imprisoned innocent men, women, infants, and children in chains and uber-squalid conditions, took innocent lives, ruined lives and careers and fortunes, left children orphaned, left many in dire poverty, and gave Puritanism (and to a somewhat lesser degree, Christianity) an intensely black eye. In an atmosphere painted by such fire-and-brimstone sermonists as Cotton Mather and his father Increase Mather, a few mischievous and/or hysterical adolescent girls began an epidemic of witch accusations and subsequent trials where no evidence was presented except "spectral," even less substantial and reliable than today's circumstantial evidence. In fact, people were arrested, imprisoned, tried, tortured, and executed on the strength of accusations alone. When these New Englanders finally began to come to their senses and put an end to these atrocities, 14 women and five men had been hanged. One man was crushed to death under rocks piled upon him to try and illicit a confession from him. If at any time you begin to think that perhaps the Constitution of the United States should not include safeguards against the interference of any religion in our government proceedings (separation of church and state) as some inside and out of our governing bodies insist, just read this book or any other published telling a of the happenings in Salem in 1692, and you should change your mind. (***)
Lee Child: Make Me: A Jack Reacher Novel
Lee Childs' latest (no. 20) in his Jack Reacher series, but my first. Reacher gets off a train in the middle of seemingly endless wheat acreage at a little wide spot in the road called Mother's Rest. He meets Michelle Chang, who is there trying to find her private detective partner, Keever, who has gone missing. The two team up to find Keever and get involved in a dark, dark mystery. Good thriller. I'm sure I'll read more Reacher adventures. (***)
John Brady: Frank & Ava: In Love and War
I had been looking forward to the publication of this book since reading about it last spring. But after reading it, I have to say I'm extremely disappointed. It is one of the most poorly written books I've read. It reads more like a list of events than the story of a passionate love affair.
Syntax is often awkward and confusing. For instance, consider my favorite: "The cake was delivered upon Bacall's departure from New York in a large white box." Must have been a VERY large white box to get Lauren Bacall into it.
But my most serious complaint of all is that this is more a book about Frank and about Ava than it is about Frank and Ava. We very rarely see them together.
Didn't like it; can't recommend it. (*)
Robert McCammon: Stinger
Good and scary. Got monsters and everything--just right for reading during October--but not if scary books are not your cup of tea. This book is also about space aliens (good ones and bad ones). It takes place in tiny Texas border town. The characters are well presented and believable. No all-good or all-bad buys (except some of the space creatures). I enjoyed reading this throwback from the 80s. (***)
Ruth Ware: In a Dark, Dark Wood
The impending marriage of Nora's best childhood friend brings her to a glass-walled cabin deep in the woods, for a hen party (the U.K. equivalent of a bachelorette weekend). But why is she there when the two haven't spoken since Nora fled their college town ten years ago? As the party gets underway things start to take a dark turn that builds with each passing moment. Good book. Goooood book. (***)
James Patterson and David Ellis: The Murder House
It has an ocean-front view, a private beach--and a deadly secret that won't stay buried. Full of the twists and turns that have made James Patterson the world's #1 bestselling writer, THE MURDER HOUSE is a chilling, page-turning story of murder, money, and revenge. (***)
Inger Ash Wolfe: The Calling
Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef has lived all her days in the small town of Port Dundas and is now making her way toward retirement. Hobbled by a bad back and a dependence on painkillers, and feeling blindsided by divorce after nearly four decades of marriage, 61-year-old Hazel has only the constructive criticism of her old goat of a mother and her own sharp tongue to buoy her. But when a terminally ill Port Dundas woman is gruesomely murdered in her own home, Hazel and her understaffed department must spring to life. And as one terminally ill victim after another is found, Hazel finds herself tracking a truly terrifying serial killer across the Canada while everything she was barely holding together begins to spin out of control. (***)
Caitlin R. Kiernan: The Red Tree
My favorite of all Cait's books. I have read it several times. This time was no less intriguing. Plot: Sarah Crowe left Atlanta to live alone in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house's former tenant-an anthropologist obsessed with the ancient oak growing on the property. And as the gnarled tree takes root in her imagination, Sarah risks everything to unearth a revelation planted centuries ago. WARNING: Graphic sex and some violence. (****)
Robert Marasco: Burnt Offerings (Valancourt 20th Century Classics)
One of the best haunted house books ever, in my opinion. Right up there with THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and THE SHINING. Young family leaves heat and noise of city to spend the summer in an isolated and dilapidated mansion in the New York countryside. The house is starving, and the family provides it with sustenance. (****)
Ted Kosmatka: The Flicker Men: A Novel
"If Stephen Hawking and Stephen King wrote a novel together, you'd get The Flicker Men. Brilliant, disturbing, and beautifully told." -Hugh Howey, New York Times bestselling author of the Wool series
A quantum physicist shocks the world with a startling experiment, igniting a struggle between science and theology, free will and fate, and antagonizing forces not known to exist. I loved this book. Anything that deals with quantum physics and quantum mechanics fascinates me. Add some suspense, and I'm in. (****)
Carsten Stroud: The Homecoming: Book 2 of the Niceville Trilogy
When two plane crashes set off a spellbinding chain reaction of murder and mayhem, Niceville detective Nick Kavanaugh has to investigate. He and his wife, family lawyer Kate, have also just taken in brutally orphaned Rainey Teague. Meanwhile, people are disappearing in Niceville. Kate and Nick start to unearth Niceville’s blood stained history, but something (or is it Nothing?) stands in their way. (****)
Carsten Stroud: Niceville: Book 1 of the Niceville Trilogy
For lovers of crime, mystery, and the supernatural, this book has it all--almost too much in fact. In this first book of the trilogy, the author introduces so many characters that it's often difficult to keep up. but there's lots of action and suspense, beginning with the disappearance of 9-year-old Rainey, seemingly into mid-air, from Niceville's Main Street. A bank robbery follows; four cops are gunned down; a TV news helicopter is shot and spins out of the sky, triggering a disastrous cascade of events that ricochet across twenty different lives over the course of just thirty-six hours. Something is very wrong in Niceville.
In spite of the preponderance of characters and the fast succession of events, this book was worth the read, and necessary to the understanding of the next book in the series. This trilogy reads more like one novel as the story picks up in each book just where it left off in the last. (***)
Kristin Hannah: The Nightingale
There are very few books to which I give five stars. This is one of them. Definitely one of the best books I have read in many years, it tells the story of two French sisters – one in Paris, one in the countryside – during WWII. Each is crippled by the death of their beloved mother and cavalier abandonment of their father. Each plays a part in the French underground. In a way, the War is also a main character in this book, a cruel, horrible character. Hannah has said her inspiration for Isabelle, the sister in Paris, was the real life story of a woman who led downed Allied soldiers on foot over the Pyrenees. This book was a page-turner for me, and I had a hard time leaving it when I had to do other things. The very end came as a surprise to me. Maybe it will for you too. (*****)
Erik Larson: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
I had a dickens of a time getting into this book, and it took me almost all summer to finally finish it. The problem for me is the tons of detail and description. For instance, I was not all interested in the history of submarines. And the author's habit of describing every piece of clothing that every passenger of the ship was wearing at any given time almost gave me hives. However, about three-quarters way through, things speeded up and I found the end of the book interesting and heartbreaking. I'm sure there are those who would be enthralled by the entire book. I'm just not one of them. (***)
Sharon Honeycutt: The Dragon's Daughter
I didn't realize until I was well into it, that this book is YA, written for teenagers. Still it's a good, quick read. It is written from the perspective of the children of a KKK grand dragon and his underboss. There is blatant cruelty and racism, so caution regarding recommending this young children. There is also some profanity. I enjoyed the book though. It gives a look at racism from a perspective that one might not normally consider, that is what it does to children who are born innocent and must either learn to hate or fight their upbringing. In a way, the book is heartbreaking. (***)
Sharyn McCrumb: The Ballad of Tom Dooley: A Ballad Novel
According to Sharyn McCrumb's blog, "What began as a fictional re-telling of the historical account became an astonishing revelation of the real motives and the real culprit in the murder of Laura Foster. With the help of Wilkes County historians, lawyers, and researchers, Sharyn McCrumb visited the actual sites, studied the legal evidence, and uncovered a missing piece of the story that will shock those who think they already know what happened." The result is a riveting novel dealing with the events in 1866 Appalachia that led to the hanging of Tom Dula (Dooley). McCrumb's best book so far, in my opinion. (****)
Caitlín R. Kiernan: The Ape's Wife and Other Stories
Caitlín R. Kiernan (my oldest daughter) has been described as one of “the most original and audacious weird writers of her generation,” (The Weird) “one of our essential writers of dark fiction” (New York Times), and S. T. Joshi has proclaimed, “hers is now the voice of weird fiction.” In The Ape's Wife and Other Stories—Kiernan’s twelfth collection of short fiction since 2001—she displays the impressive range that characterizes her work. With her usual disregard for genre boundaries, she masterfully navigates the territories that have traditionally been labeled dark fantasy, sword and sorcery, science fiction, steampunk, and neo-noir. From the subtle horror of “One Tree Hill (The World as Cataclysm)” and “Tall Bodies” to a demon-haunted, alternate reality Manhattan, from Mars to a near-future Philadelphia, and from ghoulish urban legends of New England to a feminist-queer retelling of Beowulf, these thirteen stories keep reader always on their toes, ever uncertain of the next twist or turn. My favorite story in this collection is the title story "The Ape's Wife." While Fay Wray's character of Ann Darrow in the 1933 movie "King Kong" is memorable for not much else except her ear-splitting screams, Kiernan gives us a three-dimensional (or maybe even four) flesh-and-blood woman. For those of you who enjoy weird fiction, this book will be a treasure. (****)
Laura Lane McNeal: Dollbaby: A Novel
Set in New Orleans during the civil rights era of the 60s, this sweet story tackles the subject of racism in an almost childlike and naive fashion. Although bad things happen, somehow the women in this family are able to put it all behind them and dance in the rain. The story is full of mystery and family secrets, many of which aren't revealed until the very end. This coming-of-age tale is a testament to the resilience of human nature and the strength of familial love. (****)
Blake Crouch: The Last Town (Book 3 of The Wayward Pines Trilogy)
Ethan Burke has discovered the astonishing secret of what lies beyond the electrified fence that surrounds Wayward Pines and protects it from the terrifying world beyond. It is a secret that has the entire population completely under the control of a madman and his army of followers, a secret that is about to come storming through the fence to wipe out this last, fragile remnant of humanity. This final installment of the Wayward Pines trilogy will have you guessing right up until the last sentence--and thereafter. Let's hope that Crouch has a Book 4 in the works. (***)
Blake Crouch: Wayward (Book 2 of the Wayward Pines trilogy))
Welcome to Wayward Pines, population 461. Nestled amid picture-perfect mountains, the idyllic town is a modern-day Eden…except for the electrified fence and razor wire, snipers scoping everything 24/7, and the relentless surveillance tracking each word and gesture.
None of the residents know how they got here. They are told where to work, how to live, and who to marry.
Ethan Burke has seen the world beyond. He’s sheriff now, and one of the few who know the truth—Wayward Pines isn’t just a town. And what lies on the other side of the fence is a nightmare beyond anyone’s imagining. (***)
Blake Crouch: Pines (Book 1 of The Wayward Pines Series)
Secret service agent Ethan Burke arrives in Wayward Pines, Idaho, with a clear mission: locate and recover two federal agents who went missing in the bucolic town one month earlier. But within minutes of his arrival, Ethan is involved in a violent accident. He comes to in a hospital, with no ID, no cell phone, and no briefcase. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels…off. As the days pass, Ethan’s investigation into the disappearance of his colleagues turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he get any phone calls through to his wife and son in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what is the purpose of the electrified fences surrounding the town? Are they meant to keep the residents in? Or something else out? Each step closer to the truth takes Ethan further from the world he thought he knew, from the man he thought he was, until he must face a horrifying fact—he may never get out of Wayward Pines alive. (****)
Stephen King: Finders Keepers: A Novel
As with his classic MISERY, the King of Horror again explores the theme of a novelist and his deranged number-one fan. This book is dubbed a sequel to King's MR. MERCEDES, with the return of some of that book's main characters. But it is not necessary that one has read MM in order to enjoy FK. All you need is an appreciation for a good thriller written in classic, page-turner Stephen King style. (***)
Flannery O'Connor: "A Good Man is Hard to Find": Flannery O'Connor (Women Writers: Texts and Contexts)
I was first introduced to Flannery O'Connor and this disturbing story as a sophomore in college. It's a tale of an irritating family (the grandmother being the most irritating of all) who sets out for a vacation, but decides to take a side trip down a dirt road (at the grandmother's insistence). Because of an unfortunate occurrence with the cat that the grandmother has stowed away in her bag, there is an auto accident. When the dust clears, everyone is relatively safe, for the time being. This classic short story is not for the faint of heart, but if you enjoy a good read about the darker side of human nature, you should like this. If you can imagine a story about the Griswolds (of National Lampoon fame) meeting up with some bad guys from an episode of "Criminal Minds," then you'll have some idea of the gist of "A Good Man...." (****)
Cheryl Strayed: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
I had seen the movie about the young woman who hiked 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail all by herself and liked it so much that I had to read the book. I found the movie to be much more entertaining and interesting. For one thing, except for her spunk, there was little to like or admire about the main character. Maybe Reese Witherspoon added depth and personality to Cheryl Strayed's character that didn't come through in the book. I don't know. I only know I had to force myself to finish the book. (**)
Donald Spoto: Marilyn Monroe: The Biography
This book will not endear you to either Norma Jeane Baker nor to her creation, Marilyn Monroe. Norma Jeane thought the rules didn't apply to her and neither did Marilyn. Chronically late for everything, both in her professional and private lives, her regard for others' time was nonexistent. She never met a man she wouldn't sleep with if sleeping ywith him would further her career. Three failed marriages, said failure at least partially Marilyn's fault, added to the picture that she had invented of a tragic life. She faked emotions both onscreen and off, she faked the events and conditions of her childhood. One wonders how the people around her knew what was acting and what was not. The platinum blonde hair and surgically created facial features were not the only lies in MM's life, including the extent of her relationship with JFK. And although she frequently claimed that she wanted people to like her, that desire was not evident in her actions toward people. Indeed her life was tragic, but she made it so. As for the book, it's too long with too much repetition and too many words I had to look up. (**)
Lisa Genova: Still Alice
Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease changes her life—and her relationship with her family and the world—forever. An excellent read. (****)
Ambrose Bierce: The Damned Thing
"There are colors that we can not see. And God help me, The Damned Thing is of such a color." This short but very scary story, written in 1898 by Ambrose Bierce, is the narration of a witness at the inquest of a friend, who has been horribly killed by an unseen and unseeable entity. (****)
Jeff Gunhus: Night Chill
This book proves my contention that there are oodles of excellent writers out there who never reach the well-known status. I discovered this book in an email ad about Kindle bargains. Mr. Gunhus is a fine writer of suspense and scary stuff. The horror of this story lies deep within the earth underneath the state of Maryland and is based on Gunhus's imagined Native American lore. Coupled with a group of unscrupulous men who will do anything for the sake of longevity, the "Source," as it is known, threatens not only our main character and his family but perhaps the entire world if it is able to escape it's subterranean prison. (***)
George V. Higgins: The Friends of Eddie Coyle: A Novel
While watching the "Justified" series finale the other night, my attention was caught by Marshal Raylan Givens pulling a battered copy of this book out of his desk drawer and tossing it to his partner. I got curious and looked the book up on Amazon. It seems that this little tome is what Elmore Leonard, the crime novelist and creator of Raylan and all the Harlan folks, called the best crime novel he had ever read. Hmmmm. Not only did Leonard himself produce better books than this one, many other authors have produced much better crime novels than either Higgins or Leonard. (THE GODFATHER and MYSTIC RIVER are two that come to mind right off the top of my head.) The best I can say about this little novel noir is that it was mildly entertaining and contains some really good dialog--not enough, however, to rate it more than two stars. It was gravely lacking in story. (**)
Laura Hillenbrand: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
From delinquent youth to thief to Olympic runner, to WWII airman to castaway to Japanese POW to--well, I won't spoil the ending--Louis Zamparini's life was anything but dull. This is a wonderful book that shows just how strong the human sprit can be. Louie endures horrors that would make a Stephen King novel seem wimpy, first as a castaway after his bomber crashes in the Pacific.. But then, when you think things can't possibly get worse for him, he and his fellow castaway are captured and interned in a succession of Japanese prison camps under the command of what must have been one of the most evil men to ever live, the Bird. Don't even try to read this book if you can't deal with human horror because there's plenty of it. (****)
Harlan Coben: The Stranger
Engrossing page-turner of a thriller, and the first of Coben's books that I have read.
Adam Price has a lot to lose: a comfortable marriage to a beautiful woman, two wonderful sons, and all the trappings of the American Dream: a big house, a good job, a seemingly perfect life. Then he runs into the Stranger. When he learns a devastating secret about his wife, Corinne, he confronts her, and the mirage of perfection disappears as if it never existed at all. Soon Adam finds himself tangled in something far darker than even Corinne’s deception, and realizes that if he doesn’t make exactly the right moves, the conspiracy he’s stumbled into will not only ruin lives—it will end them. (****)
Lilly Ledbetter: Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond
The courageous story of the woman at the center of the historic discrimination case that inspired the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act--her fight for equal rights in the workplace, and how her determination became a victory for the nation.
Lilly Ledbetter was born in a house with no running water or electricity in the small town of Possum Trot, Alabama. She knew that she was destined for something more, and in 1979, Lilly applied for her dream job at the Goodyear tire factory. She got the job—one of the first women hired at the management level. Though Lilly faced daily discrimination and sexual harassment, she pressed on, believing that eventually things would change. Until, nineteen years later, Lilly received an anonymous note revealing that she was making thousands less per year than the men in her position. Devastated, she filed a sex discrimination case against Goodyear, which she won—and then heartbreakingly lost on appeal. Over the next eight years, her case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where she lost again: the court ruled that she should have filed suit within 180 days of her first unequal paycheck--despite the fact that she had no way of knowing that she was being paid unfairly all those years. In a dramatic moment, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, urging Lilly to fight back. And fight Lilly did, becoming the namesake of President Barack Obama's first official piece of legislation. (****)
Rick Mofina: Cold Fear
A very tense and exciting read. In the remote, rugged corner of Montana’s Glacier National Park known as the Devil’s Grasp, little Paige Baker of San Francisco disappears with her dog, Kobee, while on a camping trip with her family; or so her mother and father have told authorities. A multi-agency task force launches a massive search as Paige fights to survive in the wilderness. Time hammers against her and soon the nation is gripped by the life-and-death drama.The FBI grows suspicious of Paige’s parents.Their recent history and disturbing evidence links them to a horrible secret from the past.
This book is somewhat similar to Stephen King's THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON, in that it's a story about a little girl lost in the wilderness and her struggle to survive. However, only a small part of the story is written from the little girl's point of view, unlike King's book. Most of it is about the parents and the search to find Paige and to find out if there has been foul play. (***)
Patrick O'Brian: Master and Commander
This, the first in the series of Jack Aubrey novels, establishes the friendship between Captain Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, ship's surgeon and intelligence agent, against a backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, filled with details of a life aboard a man-of-war in Nelson's navy.
I confess that I had to force myself to read this book because it's the April selection for the book club of which I'm a member. It is so filled with nautical and period terms and jargon that sometimes it's seems that one is reading another language. I will say that my sister Joanne says it is the best book she has ever read, so perhaps it's simply a matter of taste. But I struggle to give it two stars. (**)
Michael Malone: Handling Sin
On the Ides of March, our hero, Raleigh Whittier Hayes (forgetful husband, baffled father, prosperous insurance agent, and leading citizen of Thermopylae, North Carolina), learns that his father has discharged himself from the hospital, taken all his money out of the bank and, with a young black female mental patient, vanished in a yellow Cadillac convertible. Left behind is a mysterious list of seven outrageous tasks that Raleigh must perform in order to rescue his father and his inheritance. And so Raleigh and fat Mingo Sheffield (his irrepressibly loyal friend) set off on an uproarious contemporary odyssey/treasure hunt through a landscape of unforgettable characters, falling into adventures worthy of Tom Jones and Huck Finn. A moving parable of human love and redemption, HANDLING SIN is a comic masterpiece, the funniest book I've read since Larry McMurtry's TEXASVILLE. (****)
Carlos Ruiz Zafón: The Shadow of the Wind
Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets--an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love. This book has many twists and turns, if you like that kind of thing. I do, but in my opinion, the author could have tightened this story up a bit and been done with it a bit sooner. (***)
Rick Bragg: Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story
This book relating the life and times of rock-and-roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis is the first book of Rick Bragg's that I have read. I was a little disappointed. His writing does not measure up to my expectations. To me, he seems to be more enthralled with his own prose than with the story of Jerry Lee. I would like to have seen more narrative and less "poetic resonance." It seems that the author did very little research into the facts about The Killer's life but instead relied on Jerry Lee's own "storytelling."
Others (especially lovers of Bragg's poetic resonance) will likely disagree with my opinion of this book. But I found it a a bit short of the deeply research biography I was expecting. (***)
Lionel Shriver: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Two years before the opening of the novel, the narrator Eva's son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and the much-beloved teacher who had tried to befriend him. Because his sixteenth birthday arrived two days after the killings, he received a lenient sentence and is currently in a prison for young offenders in upstate New York.
Eva relates this chilling story of the murders and the years leading up to the event in a series of letters to her husband. It appears apparent moments after Kevin's birth that something is wrong with this child's emotions and outlook on life. And the problems only get worse as the story unfolds. In the inevitable nature/nurture question, one must consider Kevin's parents. The mother was never cut out for motherhood and the father prefers to turn a blind eye to his son's very serious problems and paint Kevin as a gifted but misunderstood "little boy"
The ending will come as a shocking surprise for some. I had already seen the movie, so I saw it coming. (****)