I love to read and I blog about it.

Still Midnight (Alex Morrow Series #1)

Still Midnight  - Denise Mina Told through the frame of a home invasion gone wrong, Mina's complex narrative is a less crime story than it is an intricate and thoughtful probing of family life, workplace politics,and the inescapable organizing structure of the past on identity and life choices.

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress: A Novel

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress - Ariel Lawhon Fascinating paegturner speculating the real story behind the disappearance of Justice Joseph Crater in 1930 through the women who were closely involved in his life. A wonderfully imagined and brutal rendering of 1930's New York, complete with gangsters, showgirls, corrupt politicians and the women forced to live in their shadows. Completely absorbing and tough to put down once begun.

Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence

Antonia Lively Breaks The Silence - David Samuel Levinson Stunning thriller exploring storytelling, grief,ambition and betrayal among writers the summer Antonia Lively spends researching her next book.

Rage Is Back: A Novel

Rage Is Back - Adam Mansbach Eighteen-year-old Kilroy Dondi Vance has pretty much messed up his young life at the beginning of Adam Mansbach’s Rage is Back. He’s been expelled from his elite prep school, broken up with his girlfriend and has been kicked out of his mother’s apartment. While couch surfing between selected friends, trying not to wear out his welcome, he begins to hear rumors that his father Billy Rage (a famed graffiti artist missing for sixteen years), has resurfaced, leaving underground tunnels awash in graffiti. Ostensibly he has returned to settle on old score with Anastacio Bracken, a former cop - now President of the MTA and mayoral candidate, who hounded their old crew, killing one of their most vital members. But it also gives Dondi a chance to know and understand his father and to go on adventure with him, if he can find it in his heart to put years of hurt and anger aside.I loved this novel from the moment I picked it up and heard Dondi’s fresh, inventive and confident voice relating the story of his unique parents, history and point of view. Though he didn’t grow up when he would have remembered the graffiti culture in which his parents were steeped as both innovators and leaders, he has taken their history, and that of the graffiti tribes, to heart. He uses it to create the mythology of his father and his absence in his life, and to explain the embittered woman his mother has become. Dondi is an extremely precocious teenager; his ruminations are long, rambling and sophisticated, and just maybe slightly unreliable. I wondered if I would get tired of his posturing (oftentimes he reminded me of a modern-day Holden Caulfield), but as interspersed as it is with surprising confessions, insight and vulnerability, it held my attention throughout. Mansbach deftly explores an incredible time in NYC history and he makes the art of graffiti breathe with careful conveyance of its lifestyle, music, code of honor, and talented and colorful people, while incorporating philosophy, sociology, and a little magical realism for good measure. I wouldn’t want to go back to a New York City filled with graffiti-laden billboards and street corners, but Mansbach illustrates the ways in which it is a value filled avenue of expression and legitimate art form.The novel is set in 2005, and frequently flashes back to New York City of the 1980′s. Luckily for me, I had the slimmest foothold in knowing what what was going on from, like Dondi, having heard stories from family, and from having seen pictures and heard music from the time he was talking about, so it was much more accessible for me from the start in a way that it might not be for other readers. Like Ready Player One and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Rage is Back it requires an adjustment period to get used to the references and the voice, but it is worth taking the time to get to know these characters and to experience their journey. Highly Recommended.

The Dark Rose: A Novel

The Dark Rose - Erin Kelly In Erin Kelly’s The Dark Rose, Louisa Trevelyan is living a smaller life than the one she had as a rebellious but privileged teen growing up on the outskirts of London. Then she was prone dramatics, random dabbling in esoteric sciences and brief love affairs, but twenty years later she is still hiding out from the aftermath of an affair with a passionate young musician, and a secret so dangerous that she spends her life channeling her energy and talents into garden and estate restoration. Working on a project at Kelstice Lodge, she meets Paul Seaforth, a young man taking part in a rehabilitation program for youthful offenders and waiting to give testimony as the star witness for the prosecution in the murder trial where he will he testify against the man who bullied him his entire life, his best friend. Louisa and Paul bond and start a relationship, each finding a need satisfied in the other, but their time together is threatened by both their pasts, which can’t stay hidden or forgotten for long.I loved Erin Kelly’s debut novel, The Poison Tree, and I was even more impressed here with her ability to create atmosphere and tension as she reveals the lives of her damaged, needy and long suffering characters- each of whom is well-drawn, complex and with secrets begging to be uncovered. The Dark Rose is a quiet novel, and Kelly slowly unravels Paul and Louisa. The events that have formed them are revealed in a jumble of flashbacks that become clearer and more horrific as pieces of the puzzle fall into place. I like that you get to know their families and friendships, and have a rich sense of who they were because it makes their approach and relationship to and with each other understandable, and eventually beautiful. I usually can see the twists and turns coming, but even I was in shock by the way Kelly wrapped this one up. Highly recommended.

Little Russian

The Little Russian - Susan Sherman The Little Russian by Susan Sherman is the story of the self-absorbed and dauntless Berta Alshonsky, a The Little Russian Readings: The Little Russian by Susan Sherman,The Death of Bees by Lisa ODonnell, The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiroyoung Ukrainian woman coming of age at the turn of the century in Moscow, Russia, and Ukraine- known as Little Russia. Chosen to live with wealthy relatives as a companion to their daughter, she is unceremoniously returned to her life as grocer’s daughter in Mosny under the guise of time off to to visit her family. Unhappy and unaccustomed to her old way of life, she flouts traditions and holds herself apart, an outsider in the town, until she marries Hershel Alshonsky, and achieves something approximating the life she once led. However, Hershel’s covert activities to arm Jewish citizens against frequent and unpredictable pogroms threatens the life they’ve built and the understanding in their marriage.Alshonsky is not and easy character to like but I loved her and her story. She has her own ideas about life and she never backs away from what she wants and how she want to live despite the fact that many of her choices aren’t backed by others’ vision or common sense. Berta grows through hardship but she does so in a way that is true to the core of who she is. Sherman is an excellent writer, and though Berta’s point of view is dominant throughout, key chapters with other characters give greater background to the history of the Jews in Ukraine, and their tenuous relationship with Russian peasants over several wars and regime changes. Sherman will suck you into the story, and place you firmly in the romance, and the terror of the time. A gorgeous treat for historical fiction lovers, and not to be missed, but this holds especially true if you are enamored of Russian history. Highly Recommended. Seriously.

The Quiet American

The Quiet American - Graham Greene, Robert Stone From: Linus's Blanket. Graham Greene’s The Quiet American has been sitting on my shelf for a good long while, and this year’s resolve to read more freely has finally gifted me with the opportunity to take it down off the shelf. Its intriguing beginning introduces Thomas Fowler, an English journalist in Saigon covering the Vietnam War, as he waits for his dinner guest and romantic rival, Alden Pyle, a young and idealistic American operative. Pyle never shows and when Fowler is picked up by the police for questioning, it is revealed that he’s been murdered. The rest of the story unfolds in a weave of flashback and present day, before the United States formerly enters the war.One of the things that was most fascinating about reading The Quiet American was its pointed bias in examining the rise of the United States as a powerful contender on the world scene, brashly testing its limits in establishing governments and influencing international politics that it understands in purely textbooks terms. Fowler’s justifications and beliefs are thoroughly examined while Pyle’s remain vague and when they are apparent, gauche. As a man, and as a stand in-in for the US, he is clearly green, idealistic, bumbling and dangerous. Green writes a compelling novel that is deftly paced, and a page-turner in its own beautiful and understated way. Pyle’s mysterious dealings, and Fowler’s involvement in his demise haunts the spare narrative. Both disturbing and enlightening, The Quiet American is a thought-provoking read and a worthwhile peek at how other countries and cultures view US Foreign Policy. Recommended.

The Painted Girls

The Painted Girls: A Novel - Cathy Marie Buchanan From Linus's Blanket Cathy Marie Buchanan captivated me with her first novel, The Day The Falls Stood Still, so I had high expectations for herThe Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan 215x323 Readings: Marmee and Louisa by Eve LaPlante & The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan follow-up novel The Painted Girls. I wasn’t disappointed. She chooses a fascinating angle for her novel of two sisters growing up in the desperate poverty of 19th century Paris.There are three Van Goethem sisters, but Buchanan’s narrative alternates between the perspectives of the book smart Marie, who after being pulled from school after the death of their debt-ridden father, dutifully applies herself to the arduous training of a ballet dancer as a way to contribute to the family’s meager earnings, and Antoinette, the eldest of the girls. Antoinette does her best to protect her sisters from life’s harsh realities even as her own troubled romance and unrelenting deprivation force her to contemplate thievery and prostitution. Marie eventually gets a position posing for Degas, a rising artist of the time, and Antoinette finds work in the cast of a popular Zola adaptation. Both artist and writer are exploring the role of criminality and society through their works and are heavily influenced by Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso, a man who posits that destiny is determined by facial structure, and heavy animal like features are indicative of criminality and vice – features Marie fretfully worries over in her own face.Buchanan is a skilled weaver of history into the realities of everyday life and she outdoes herself here. Paris, that famed City of Light, comes to life vividly through the smells on the streets, the meanness of its people, the filth of their clothes and the desperation of their toil. It is clear that girls have it worse, and the Van Goethem sisters embody how few the choices and opportunities available to women who would try to better their circumstances or to merely escape their poverty – the cost often being their innocence and respectability. Buchanan excels at showcasing the girl’s distinctive personalities, voice, and approach to life. Each of their narratives are both compelling and heartbreaking and as close as if either of them was whispering her story in your ear. The Painted Girl has elements of mystery – a rash of gruesome murders has been committed, and the unease of the city is palpable – but mostly it is an exquisitely rendered love story between these sisters, and the sacrifices they make to ease each others burdens while striving to better their lives in a world where the odds are highly stacked against them. Highly Recommended.

The Death of Bees: A Novel

The Death of Bees - Lisa O'Donnell Lisa O’Donnell’s novel is a wonderful coming-of-age novel depicting the harrowing lives of female siblings living in the projects of Glasgow, Scotland. As the novels open, Marnie and Nelly have just buried their parents in their back garden. While only they know why they have done what they have, a suspicion harboring neighbor and the neighborhood drug dealer are asking plenty of questions- in addition to truant officers and other government officials who would separate their family of two. As the girls face that their parents are gone for good, they slowly start to form a new life for themselves but to protect its fragile bond they have to examine their assumptions about the world, and the basis of who they are in order to survive.The Death of Bees is told from the perspectives of the sisters Marnie and Nelly, and Lennie, their elderly and lonely neighbor. The strength and distinctiveness of their voices is so certain that at any given moment I could have flipped to a page and know immediately who was speaking. O’Donnell writes a compelling novel about the lives of kids who have to raise themselves, but the warmth and humor she injects into her splendid characterizations provide a levity that makes a novel that could be a grim piece of reading, heartfelt and illumining.

The Blood Keeper

The Blood Keeper (The Blood Journals) - Tessa Gratton Anyone with a tendency toward hemophobia should not read Tessa Gratton’s The Blood Keeper. You will not make it through. Almost from the first page, the novel’s heroine, Mab Prowd is cutting open fingers and wrists, bleeding into bowls, and mixing it up with other ingredients to connect to the earth and work her blood magic. I often felt like I was trying to read the book between my fingers, but it’s an absorbing read, and slight squeamishness aside, I wanted to keep going.Mab Prowd is seventeen when she inherits the title of The Deacon (a magical keeper of the land, one who contains curses, and maintains a safe place for all the other blood witches scattered across the United States) from her Uncle Arthur who after hundreds of years as the Deacon has decided to move on. As a last request he asks her to destroy rose bushes planted in the garden. Unfortunately he neglects to explain the meaning behind this odd assignment, and Mab takes it upon herself to explore their power and essence before doing as he asks. She channels the energy of the roses into a creature she fashions out of mud and animal hearts. This turns out to be a big mistake – especially when her creation crosses paths with Will Sanger, a boy from the local high school who is struggling to define his own life choices at the time.I liked The Blood Keeper a lot. Gratton can run long with her descriptiveness, making for some issues with pacing, but that was outweighed in the balance by strong, well-developed characters, solid mythology and details of the dark rituals comprising blood magic, and good story-telling. Point of view alternates between Mab, Will and a former resident of the blood land which slowly proves to have bearing on unfolding events.The Blood Keeper is essentially the story of a lonely girl growing up on an isolated Kansas farm, weighted by the responsibility of inheritance and separated from people her own age. While she meets Will because of the danger she has exposed him to, they both need each other. Mab’s strength of character is sometimes to her detriment when she leaps before considering all of the possibilities, and she could benefit fun and the company of other teens. Will finds just as much comfort in her, as he tries to break away from the demands and traditions of his family in light of the unsettling death of his brother. Will was probably my favorite character in the book – his simple openness and trust, desire to do the right thing and his love for his dogs, made him very appealing and the romance very sweet. History, horror, romance and magic coincide for a compelling escapist read. Recommended.


Ashenden - Elizabeth Wilhide Ashenden is a charming historical read that concerns itself with the generations of owners and servants living in a manor house built in the English countryside in 1775. Beginning in the present when siblings Charlie and Ros inherit Ashenden upon the death of their great aunt, it meanders back to when its foundations were first carefully chosen and laid. Charlie and his sister must decide whether to sell it, or keep it for future generations of their family to enjoy. Charlie is happily married and settled in the United States, and sees the expense of the old mansion as prohibitive, but Ros is determined to save it, and has mapped out what she thinks is a plausible plan for its restoration.Wilhide fills the story with history and atmosphere - the novel and its vignettes show the house in war time, poverty and at the height of its glory. Even as Ashenden, the novel explores how former owners have gained and lost the house and surrounding property, Ashenden itself is the star of the show, so much so that its almost pointless to bother getting attached to the people who live, work and die there. Their stories are picked up on a whim and dropped just as quickly, with some coming to more satisfying resolutions than others. Home restoration and architecture are prominently considered within the narrative, and readers who enjoy those details will find them in this pleasant, though rambling meditation on the history of a historic house.

The Stockholm Octavo: A Novel

The Stockholm Octavo - Karen Engelmann Englemann's novel reminded me of a much more accessible Tale of Two Cities, albeit it one about Sweden and the plot to assassinate Gustav III. The French Revolution is closely intertwined with this king’s notions of royalty, preserving his right to rule (and that of other sovereigns), yet retaining the love and goodwill of his subjects. Mrs. Sparrow does her best to help Gustav navigate the treachery among members of his court, and her card readings, and the intricate fan messages of the ladies at court, overtake the role of Madame Defarge’s knitting needles as far as messages and instruments of destruction are concerned. Swedish history was a complete mystery to me and Engelmann does a worthy job of providing an overview of its political structure and concerns of the time, while her plot and characters flesh out its social history, mores and workings of the community. The lives of the nobility and their use of pawns in murder plots as they jockey for power and position, corruption and graft within the government, and trends and fashions of the times are all created in historical accuracy, and skillfully rendered prose and dialogue.Also of interest were fanaticism and the use of the tarot cards and fortune tellers to determine plans and a path of life achievement. The Octavo is far from infallible and requires a considerable amount of guesswork and fitting facts into its framework- to those caught up in its events it can seem to make sense, but as an outsider to their world I had a healthy dose of skepticism as to its accuracy. Their unwavering belief in it, no matter what happened, was tedious at times. As much as I wanted to shake some of the characters, I could also see how they wanted to buy into the allure of the cards, and how they offered connections to other people- they provided meaningful opportunities for interaction among those who were lonely, new to the country or just needed something to believe in. Engaging characters and a well-integrated historical plot make for a charming and thought-provoking read.

The Child's Child

The Child's Child - Barbara Vine The Child’s Child is a complex psychological portrait of sibling relationships, young unmarried mothers and gay relationships across time, mixing up a thick stew of betrayal among family in the community. It illustrates that harrowing choices and consequences placed on those living outside society’s mores. There are both observant comparisons being made by the writer and to be drawn by the reader. A stronger balance between the novels would have made this a more satisfying read for me, but anyone interested in thought-provoking and suspenseful historical fiction mixed with a handful of literary musings will find much here to enjoy

The Art Forger

The Art Forger - B.A. Shapiro Hindered by an art scandal she was involved in before finishing grad school, Claire Roth is a promising Boston artist struggling to make ends meet. She dreams of discovery, fame, and a coveted showcase at Markel G – Aidan Markel’s renowned gallery (capable of making an artist’s career). Eking out a living selling famed reproductions through an art clearing house, Claire is stunned when Aidan asks for a meeting at her studio and offers her the proverbial deal with the devil- an opportunity to study and forge a Degas stolen in the infamous Isabella Stewart Gardner Collection in exchange for cash and a gallery showcase. Even with her checkered past, Claire finds the deal irresistible, but complications ensue when she suspects and sets out to prove the famed painting is fake.If you ever fancied yourself an artist or have hovered with interest on the doings of that world, Shapiro draws a picture that easily give you an idea of the passion and the stakes involved in the creation of works of art. Shapiro’s narrative alternates between Claire’s present day dilemma with the world and letters of a young Isabella Gardner who is fascinated with artists, and constantly traveling and buying pieces for her collection. Claire getting caught up the way that she did in a second scandal was problematic for me, but interesting to ponder. Whether you can make the same crucial error of judgement more than once, and with so high stakes. It was interesting to examine her thought process, but this worked best for me as a mystery – what happened to the art in the heist, is the painting a fake, is she in love with the wrong man? The questions were many, and The Art Forger is a smart mystery that will you on the hook and guessing almost until the end. Recommended.

Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother

Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother - Eve LaPlante Much has been written and relentlessly speculated about the life of Louisa May Alcott since the publication and runaway success of Little Women in 1868. A great deal of weight has been given to the role and influence of her lightning rod father, Bronson Alcott, as well as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and other notable Transcendentalists on her writing topics and career motivations. Little has been said about her mother, Abigail, as an equally, if not more important, role in Louisa’s life and work. LaPlante, a descendant of Alcott’s, attempts to make that case with her biographical history, Marmee and Louisa. The Marmee in the title is key, as it’s a significant reason LaPlante feels that curiosity about Abigail’s personal life and influence is limited and largely comfortably ignored. Both historians and readers feel they have a clear grasp on her role – the character Marmee has made the real woman, Abigail Alcott, all but invisible.The result of LaPlante’s undertaking is an informative and engaging biography, but so little of Abigail has been preserved through her actual words and letters, that it’s difficult to further that premise with strong conviction. Marmee and Louisa reads more like a history of Abigail’s (historically significant) family, her relationship with her husband, the family’s struggle with poverty and Bronson’s baffling approach to raising and providing for a family. LaPlante gives a detailed account of Abigail Alcott’s affluent family and upbringing, well-connected relatives, their financial fortunes, and how setbacks were endured and overcome – concentrating on the effect that all of this had on Abigail. Her relationship with Louisa seems loving but also incidental to the shared history of the family. Marmee and Louisa is a fascinating biography of a woman, and indeed a family, whose words and deeds were beyond the times in which they lived.Thoughts on the audio: I read Marmee and Louisa and then listened to it on audio. It was narrated by Karen White, and she does an excellent job managing the flow of a wealth of information. Many locations were mentioned, the relatives had similar names, and their connections and intermarriages were dense. White’s distinct narration acted as a clarifier of the information presented, and in a book filled with Bronson Alcott’s shenanigans, her reading was also fair and largely unbiased toward any of those mentioned. Both the book and its audio are worthy choices, and not to be missed by those already interested or wanting to learn more about Abigail, Louisa and the Alcott family, and women’s history in the United States surrounding the civil war. Recommended.

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality - Jacob Tomsky Tomsky’s writing is colorful – full of foul language, juvenile humor, and peppered with examples of how he became a “down” member of hotel staffs that are primarily Black or Latino. Many pages are devoted to skirmishes among staff and employers, and the unpleasant customers who don’t realize how their experience is detrimentally affected by their behavior – not least of all, failure to grease a palm. The narrative peaks again when new private equity managers try to force out the old employees for cost-cutting measures, thereby engaging in a fierce battle with the union, and ultimately Tomsky. Dangers are involved for all parties when the bottom line is the only guiding principal, and that is startling clear in Tomsky’s account, but other than a few brief highlights I would skip to the appendix where Tomsky dictates his tips and tricks for hotel survival boot camp.

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