Monday, May 14, 2018

2 novels, The Life We Bury and The Guise of Another both by Allen Eskens

Author Allen Eskens at La Crescent library
This is unusual to combine 2 novels in one post, but in April, Allen Eskens, local MN author, and new to me,  visited La Crescent and  spoke at the library.  It was by far the best talk by an author that  we have enjoyed locally, although I always enjoy meeting authors and learning about them and their writings. This was in the mid afternoon and the crowd was there, packing our small space inside the library, mostly all retired women who mostly had  had read his books previously.  I wondered why retired men do not read, but in our house Jerry prefers to do other activities and has never been the book reader like me.  The week before I was in Sam's Club and noticed "The Life We Bury" which I purchased  because I knew I would be hearing the author soon.  I did not have time to read the book before meeting him, but just out of curiosity I did read the first few pages, and I could not wait to get to it.  I was finishing another book.     Allen talked about his tendencies to daydream finally proving worthwhile as an author, how he was a below average student until he was introduced to drama and acting by an astute teacher.  A Catholic school boy from Nebraska who now lives in MN and had a previous career as a successful criminal defense attorney, he attributes his success to daydreaming, a habit he still has which keeps him taking copious notes about characters as  thoughts run through his mind.  Very interesting and then his success and sense of awe being in the same room with authors like David Baldacci,  etc.  
First novel published 2014

Well I sat there listening to him and thinking, "great just what I need another author whose books I will be buying" and thinking about my over full shelf of books I already have to read, but oh well, as he explained one novel a year is about his limit and how he tries to write about what he knows, how some of his life experiences make their way into the novels, and how he never set out to be an author nor to write a detective crime series but that the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th novels just flowed that way featuring the detective Max Rupert, who actually appears at the end of The Life We Bury, his first novel.  What a great novel, and certainly not one I would have ever been  exposed to were it not for this appearance.  We learned that it is currently under consideration for film, aka movie production.  It was amusing when Allen said that once a book rights are sold to a film production company it becomes like selling your used car, you relinquish all rights and decisions to the film company.  His analogy of seeing your former car come down the street with painted fins and teeth was humorous as were several of his revelations about going to New York as a recognized author and meeting authors of renown, James Patterson, etc or merely being in the same room.  


Back cover, 300 pages paperback
Well, I knew I would want to read more than one of his novels and so was glad I brought cash along as he had a few books for sale and would autograph them, as well as any that we had previously purchased, like mine which I had also taken along for my walk up town.   I like to support authors who take the time to go out and talk with people.  So here I am with Allen Eskens and if you notice cash in my hand, ready to buy a few more books from him, sheesh I never realize how short I am until I see me in photos, although he is about 6 foot tall!  I am a midget!  Enough of my introduction.  The Life We Bury is a great mystery novel, a different perspective and I can appreciate how he has been awarded the Best Debut Mystery by the Left Coast Crime Rosebud Award, the 2015 Edgar Award Finalist for Best First Novel which got him to New York to meet the who's who of mystery writers, ITW Thriller Award Finalist for Best First Novel and the MN Book Award Finalist for Best Genre Novel.   Of course I had him autograph my books, and I really thought I would add them to my collection but I am determined to downsize.  I will be sending them along to a  longtime friend from CA, who reads vociferously too and now lives in NC, he will enjoy these..  

The opening to the Life We Bury draws a reader immediately, " I remember being pestered by a sense of dread as I walked to my car that day, pressed down by a wave of foreboding that swirled around my head and broke against the evening in small ripples.  There are people in this world who would call that kind of feeling a premonition, a warning from some internal third eye that can see around the curve of time.  I've never been one to buy into such things.  But I will confess that there have been times when I think back to that day and wonder: if the fates had truly whispered in my ear--if I had known how that drive would change so many things--would I have taken a safer path?  Would I turn left where before I turned right.  Or would I still travel the path that led me to Carl Iverson?"  These are the thoughts of Joe Talbert, the main character and this novel is written in the first person, Joe is on his way to University of MN, to complete college despite everything against him all his life.  His mother is a no account alcoholic who tends to blame her sons for her difficult life, he leaves behind his 18 year old autistic brother Jeremy, but events will change that. Interesting that Allen Eskens does not go into depth to physically describe his characters.  I wondered about that when he mentioned it, but I found while reading that  but actually prefer to go with my thoughts.  He mentioned in his discussion that he only describes what may become pertinent at some point, such as that Jeremy is better looking that Joe.  Carl Iverson will become  the center of the novel as Joe struggles to complete an English  assignment writing about an older person's life.  Joe will choose to go to a skilled nursing facility and after a struggle be given the chance to talk with Carl, who is a convicted murderer serving the final days of his sentience as a terminal cancer patient, Joe will learn more about Carl's life as a decorated Vietnam combat veteran and in the discussions  talk to Carl about his own late grandfather and his death, something Joe has never spoken about with anyone. The other characters  major to the novel are Lila Nash,Joes' apartment neighbor;  Crystal Hagen the teenage girl purportedly murdered by Carl,;Carl's only friend Virgil; Andy Fisher, Crystal's boyfriend;  Doug Lockwood, Crystal's stepfather; Danny Lockwood, Crystal's stepbrother, Berthel Collins a public defender law clerk when Carl's case was tried; Boady Sander a law professor of the Innocence Project, and Max Rupert, the Minneapolis police detective.    There are other incidental characters but I did not note them.  As it turns out I will be developing a matrix because this author uses some of these characters in subsequent novels, such as Max Rupert, the detective.  

A few quotes from The Life We Bury, Page 7, "maybe she knew who my mother was and figured that no one can change the sound of an echo.."    Page 31, "The archive room had the feel of a tabernacle with millions of souls packed away on microfilm like the incense in tiny jars, waiting for someone to free their essence..."  Page 61, "but as a sinner needs the devil, I needed a scapegoat, some one I could point at and say, 'You're  responsible.".  

Page 89 struck me, as about the 3rd time in the novel that the message, "I wasn't there, I had no say in what was or wasn't ok"  There is a theme of not to judge unless you were there and maybe not even then, Carl teaches Joe this lesson again on their first meeting.

Page 193, " But in the end there's no hole deep enough.  No matter how hard you try there are some things you just can't run away from"  

Page 195 indicates that this life is our heaven, " if I didn't live my life as if I was already in heaven, and I died and found only nothingness, well...I would have wasted my life.  " 

This is a great book, 5 *****,  my only disappointment, just like life, Joe and Jeremy's alcoholic mother seems to get by with  short changing her sons. When Joe has to bail her out at the beginning I kept hoping he would not and would just walk away, but he is a better person than her. 

The Guise of Another published in 2015 , 265 pages paperback, is the debut novel featuring Max Rupert, the Minneapolis detective but introduces Max' brother Alexander Rupert. This is when I realized I would  develop a matrix  of characters to track their appearances in the novels.    This novel opens with a tryst between to people married to others and their foolish sexual activities that ruin their lives and kill James Erkel Putnam, driver of the Porsche who turns out to not be James, thus giving the title meaning.  

The opening of this novel, "That night, there were a few things that the man knew to a religious certainty.  He knew that he's soon be having sex with the woman sitting in the passenger seat of his Lexus.  He knew that neither his wife nor the woman's husband yet suspected their infidelities.  And he knew that any whisper of guilt he may have felt would soon be silenced by the tumult of their act."  

Back Cover Guise of Another
Alexander Rupert  is a Minneapolis detective banished to fraud units investigations.  His life is spiraling downward.  He was a Medal of Valor winner ( a police honor) but now under subpoena by grand jury on suspicion of corruption, shunned by other detectives, suspects his status conscious wife is having an affair but seizes an opportunity to resolve a complex case of identity theft.  Alexander encounters a trained assassin, Drago Basta, veteran of Balkan wars with many aliases, who has been searching for James Putnam for years,  The firm Patrio International  is a focus of contacts,corruption, murder and more .  As Alexander pursues his hunches against the wishes of his superiors but helped out by his brother Max, the identity theft and international implications explode from Minneapolis to New York. Alexander become too late smart as the novel winds down and he realizes that running off with Ianna Markova is not wise,  it will cost him his life.   

Page 25, "  Alexander's fall from grace.  Their recent conversations skipped like stones across the surface of their lives, never finding depth, never touching the trouble that had been visited upon Alexander."

This novel is another  5*****.  I could not wait to begin reading the 3rd.  

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

An outstanding novel, based on a true story and history of World War II.  As much as I have read about WWII, I did not know or had long forgotten the business of the Nazi medical experiments, particularly in concentration camps and of the Polish women, known as rabbits who became the subject of these atrocities  at Ravensbruck, Hitler's only major concentration camp for women.  This is the author's first novel and a very worth while read. This story of the Ravensbruck prisoners in Nazi Germany "is a story that begged to be told but only with the insight that a novel can provide"  so goes the commentary at the end of the book, a dialogue between the author and Lynn Cullen, another best selling author. 

The novel is 476 pages, published in 2017.  There is a supplemental section after the novel of Author's notes and then the reading guide as well as many photographs of the research, trips to Germany, actual photos of the Rabbits, Caroline Ferriday, her remarkable lilacs, Lublin Poland, etc.   It is written as the stories of three women, whose lives intersect, beginning in 1939 with Caroline Ferriday, a former Broadway actress and liaison to the French consulate.  Kasia Kuzmerick
Back Cover
is a Polish teenager who becomes involved in the Polish  underground Nazi resistance movement in Poland.  Herta Oberheuser is a young doctor seeking full time employment  who will become instrumental in the experiments.   There are plenty of other characters, Caroline's mother, her boss Roger at the consulate, Paul who becomes her French lover, his wife Rena,  in Poland Zuzanna Kasia's sister, her mother, her father, Pietrik and camp workers, and more.

Author';s notes first page.
The first page of the book "If I'd known I was about to meet the man who'd shatter me like bone china on terra cotta, I would have slept in."  Sometimes books with the interwoven stories of distinct characters do not tie it all together, or become tiresome flipping among the characters,  but not so in Lilac Girls where the author writes masterfully keeping connections and not  diminishing the story line. The author comments on page 492, "writing in first person, it's so easy to get immersed in the characters, good and bad.  So, yes it was a wonderful relief, after living with some of the terrible things that happened in the camp to switch back to write about Caroline's life in New York City." 

Being of Polish ancestry I was especially drawn into the nightmare of the stories.  I learned on page 207 that  "kroliki" in Polish means medical guinea pigs.  This caught my eye because my maternal grandfather's  half brother's last name was Krolicki.  The writing is excellent and originally  descriptive throughout the novel, as on page 460, " She and her strong-willed sister Kasia were as different as chalk and cheese"  Never heard that comparison before. 

Page 163, in Ravensbruck,  "As the days grew shorter, Zuzanna warned us to keep our spirits up, for sadness was often a more potent killer than disease.  Some just gave up, stopped eating and died."   


I give this book a hearty 5 stars *****.  I understand the author is working on a prequel now.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Read this back in August-September 2017, finally posting here.  It was another Best seller back when and an Oprah Book Club selection, published in 2008.  Another I thought I might read someday so when I found it so cheap at the book sale, scooped it.  Not all that interesting to me, but anyone who has interest in dog training and or mutes will find it more enhancing.   Writing is very good, almost lyrical at times, always descriptive and not overly wordy, 562 pages, and the author indicates it was a long time work in progress. A unique feature of this novel is that each chapter has a distinct title.  

The prologue opens in 1952 in Pusan, South Korea, a world away from northern Wisconsin, the setting of the novel. 
Inside flap
 "After dark the rain began to fall again but he had already made up his mind to go and anyway it had been raining for weeks.  He waved off the rickshaw coolies clustered near the dock and walked all the way from the naval base, following the scant directions he'd been given, through the crowds in the Kweng Li market square, past the vendors selling roosters in crude rattan crates and pigs" heads and  poisonous looking fish lying blue and gutted and gaping on racks, past gray octopi, in glass jars, past old women harking kimchee and bulkogi, until he crossed the Tong Gang on the Bridge of Woes, the last landmark he knew."   Such an opening is intriguing and gives a flavor of the descriptive alluring writing.  

Some other writing for a better flavor of this text:  Page 23  "Though her foster childhood had sensitized her to familial loss, the need to keep her family whole was in her nature from the start.  To explain what happened later by any single event would deny either predisposition or the power of the world to shape.  "

Or how about this describing the sighting of an otter, lyrical, "  Page 25, "They saw an otter once, floating belly up in the floodwater, feet pointed downstream, grooming the fur on its chest--a little self contained canoe of an animal."  

For my taste there was too much about dog trainoing and I was getting bored until his father's accident happened about pages 122-123 when I knew things would change significantly but not how.  

The description of grief is memorable, Page 161, "There followed for each of them good days and bad.  And often Edgar's best moments coincided with his mother's worst.  She could be cheerful and determinedly energetic for days on end and then one morning he would walk downstairs and find her hunched at the kitchen table, haggard and red-eyed.  Once lapsed, nothing could deliver her.  It worked the same with him.  Just when normal life felt almost possible--when the world held some kind of order, meaning, even loveliness the prismatic spray of light through an icicle, the stillness of a sunrise, some small thing would go awry and the veil of optimism was torn away, the barren world revealed.  They learned somehow, to wait those times out.  There was no cure, no answer, no reparation."  

Page 257 continues about grief and what's real:  "Edgar, do you actually think that how long a person grieves is a measure of how much they loved someone?  There's no rule book that says how to do this.  She laughed bitterly.  Wouldn't that be great?  No decisions to make.  Everything laid right out for us.  But there's no such thing.  You want facts, don't you?  Rules.  Proof.  Your're like your father that way.  Just because a thing can't be logged, charted, and summarized doesn't mean it isn't real.  Half the time we walk around in love with the idea of a thing instead of the reality of it.  But sometimes things don't turn our that way.  You have to pay attention to what's real, what's in the world.  Not some imaginary alternative, as if it's a choice we could make."  

Page 457-8 abppput chance and coincidence. "So much of the world was governed by chance.  If they had left Henry's house a day earlier they might have been in Canada that very moment, maybe even at Starchild Colony.  Life was a swarm of accidents waiting in the treetops, descending upon any living thing that passed, ready to eat them alive.  You swam in a river of chance and coincidence.  You clung to the happiest accidents--the rest you float by."  

And near the end of the novel, " "The after image of the fire-flash twisted in the air before him like a violent snake."

I give this a 4**** althought he subject was not to my liking the writing kept my interest.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris

What a slog along forever saga this novel was, all 740 pages, took me over a month to read it sporadically.  It was an Oprah Book Club pick back when, published in 1995.  A friend recalled it was one I wanted to read long ago and so she sent it to me for my birthday in November.I am always grateful to be remembered by people on my birthday and I really do appreciate a book as a gift.  My goodness, I do not think I will read anymore by this author.  At first I thought it would be more of a spurt, almost interwoven short stories about the multitude of characters, but no, it went along  a very long tale about several main characters, all interwoven around the fictional town of Atkinson, Vermont and the newcomer to this small town, Omar Duval.  I was compelled to read it though to the end to find out if Marie Fermoyle the divorced single hard working mother of 3 would ever wise up to the con of Duval.  

The writing is good but beyond me how this author found so much to say and say and say about the town and people. My first impression is that it would be somewhat like tales in a poverty area of Appalachia probably because it begins by  describing Duval's arrival when he "came down off the mountain into Atkinson."  There are a multitude of stories all converging in this small town USA,some pathetic, some annoying, some tiresome and some intriguing, so the novel offers a range of reading.  Just about the time I thought I had identified the  primary themes, another emerged.  

Page 102: "The three of them used to visit here every Sunday after Mass.  But that had
Back Cover
ended when Aunt Helen accused Norm of stealing her mission box.  She said there were five dollars' worth of dimes in it, enough to feed two Chinese babies for one year.  His mother went crazy.  She told Helen she had a hell of a nerve accusing her son of thievery when she, Helen, was the biggest thief in the whole world.  And, Benjy knew, a liar too; there had been only thirty one dimes in the box."    Marie Fermoyle is the struggling woman raising her children meagerly while her exhusband Sam wanders in and out of alcohol rehabilitation facilities.  Sam Fermoyle though comes from a wealthy family and will inherit abundance if his mother ever passes away, the mother is an elderly lady incapacitated  by  severe  dementia, kept at home in a crib.  The long suffering local Monsignor thought he finally got some help from the new priest Father Gannon, who soon adds to the problems the church has by being to free with the people and ultimately engaging himself with Alice, Maries's  daughter.  There is not one single character who does not fight some sort of demon, or go along with it.  


I would give this a 3 ***It is not really a bad  read if someone wants to read drama after personal drama, perhaps this novel fits the bill.  Described  as a good summer read, perhaps so.    

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Still Life by Louise Penny

Finished this book, 312 pages  in a few nights as I battle off a coughing hacking cold that descended upon me.  An excellent read, published in 2005, proving yet again that there are many wonderful books, mysteries , not necessarily just current best sellers.  I am grateful to my friend who found it and sent it to me.  I will be passing it along now to another friend.  So many of the  great characters continue with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Detective Beauvoir of the Surete du Quebec solving a murder back in the fictional village of Three Pines, outside of Montreal. The suspense and writing are every bit as intriguing as the first Louise Penny I read, in 2017,"The Brutal Feeling" and posted my review here finally January, 2018.  Louise Penny knows how to keep the mystery a secret up until the end as with the other book, I never correctly guessed  "who done it?" until she reveals it  near the end of the book, page 291 and with an almost dire outcome avoided by the detectives.  

It was a return to the familiar with many of the same characters in Three Pines, Gabri, Olivier, Ruth the eccentric,  Myrna, Clara and Peter and with new additions, Ben, Yolande, Timmer and  Nicole, a detective trainee whom Armande sends packing. This book I learned that Myrna is a black woman, something I had not gotten reading the other.  Fortunately the book stands on its own and one need not read any of these in sequence or from the beginning.   

Back cover
This tale focuses on the death of Jane Neal, an elderly village lady, at first it is assumed to be accidental but quickly turns to murder by bow and arrow, yet.  Page 1 begins"  Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday.  It was pretty much a surprise all round.  Miss Neal's was not a natural death, unless you're of the belief everything happens as its supposed to.  If so, for her seventy six years Jane Neal had been walking toward this final moment when death met her in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines.  She'd fallen spread-eagled, as though making angels in the bright and brittle leaves."    Descriptive writing, and the scene is set.  

Pg 20, Clara and Ben are talking,  "Oscar Wilde said that conscience and cowardice are the same thing.  What stops us from doing horrible things isn't our conscience but the fear of getting caught."  

Pg 24, "Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table," Jane said almost under her breath.  

Looking back now after finishing this I can see just how the author  draws the reader in, with clues that do not seem more than part of the conversation.  I did not get this until I began writing this.review, yet they wqere quotes I had identified as ones I would include here.  

Pg. 47 Gamache is reflecting, , "And the pall of grief that settled on this little community was worn with dignity and sadness and a certain familiarity.  This village was old and you don't get to be old without knowing grief.  And loss.."  

Pg. 140, Myrna is discussing choices, faults, quoting Shakespeare , "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.....  "The vast majority of troubled people don't get it, the fault is here but so is the solution.  That's the grace." 

Pg. 279, Gamache is marveling "at the people who chose to live in this area.  Was Margaret Atwood a garbage collector perhaps?.......No one was who they seemed.  Everyone was more And one person in this room was very much more."  

Pg 303, "This is what comes of trust and friendship, loyalty and love, thought Peter.  You get screwed.  Betrayed.  You get wounded so deeply you can barely breathe and sometimes it kills you.  ......."

A 5 ***** read thoroughly enjoyed and savored it.   

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Painter's Daughter by Julie Klassen

Al;though I was unfamiliar with her and do not usually read this genre of romantic novels, I read this book and a few others by Julie Klassen, a MN author after she came to town to speak at the Library. That was back in 2016 and recently I noticed I had not included it here.  It is a tale of love, betrayal, trust,  family, forgiveness just as the complimentary bookmark that came with it describes.  I found it easy reading and not as trite as I had expected.  In fact, it was a good diversion for me.  

I learned from Julie's talk that she is almost exclusively drawn to the era of the 1800's in England for her novels and has traveled there multiple times, meeting characters who may resemble some in her books.  It was fascinating to learn how the covers are chosen and how much work goes into that almost as much as the novel.  From the others who attended the talk, she is a very favorite author for many women who read all her books and anticipate the next one. 
There is usually a moral to the story and always a distinct choice between right and wrong, etc.  One small excerpt from pg 58, "Would she and Captain Overtree have children together?  Sophie wondered.  It seemed difficult to imagine when he would barely look at her, let alone touch her.  But he was a man of faith, apparently.  So might he help her raise the child she already carried to love and fear the Lord?  She hoped so--if he lived.  Even though faith had not played a role in her upbringing, she wanted it for her own child."  That gives a hint of the story line.  As I recall I did enjoy reading this book and have since read a few on my Kindle app.  

The back cover is a good preview and shows the countryside.  The author, Julie Klassen claims to love all things Jane from Jane Eyre to Jane Austen..I give this book 3 ***, entertaining, and well written.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Camel Club and Wish You Well by David Baldacci

July 1, 2011 from my  other blog, copied here .  The other blog was before I set this one up just for books. 


I finished reading a few more books to add to my side bar.  Just last night, I turned the last page 435 on one of my go to author's David Baldacci, an excellent story teller, "The Camel Club."  I have not ever had a disappointing read by him and in this book different yet again, I think he must be meeting with another of my favorite authors, Vince Flynn.  The Camel Club published in 2005 introduces Oliver Stone and his friends who exist on the fringes of Washington, DC to seek the truth about the country's business.  This is a mystery, thriller, terrorist, suspenseful novel at it's best.  Until I read this,  my  favorite Baldacci  read years ago was "Wish You Well."  Now it is a toss up.  Somehow I had jumped sequence because I first read the second in this venue,  which is not a series,  with the same four characters, charter members of the club, Oliver, Caleb Shaw, Reuben Rhodes, and Milton Farb but in this they join forces with Alex Ford, a secret service agent against a sinister plot of terrorists and ideologues that threaten the stability of the nation and the world.  I don't want to ruin the story for anyone, but this twister kept me glued to the pages and in today's topsy turvy  world with  repetitive crises in the Mid east, this work of fiction could be predictive.

Oliver, whose true identity is revealed in this book, claims they chose camel because camels have great stamina and never give up, but Reuben, reveals  page 432",, in the  1920's there was another Camel Club and at each meeting the members raised their glasses to oppose Prohibition to the last drop of whiskey."   As always Baldacci writes well and introduces spectacular characters. Besides the four, there are ever so many more characters such as Djamila,  a Muslim nanny, an Iranian posing as an Egyptian undercover of her peaceful job;  two sided  secret service agents who bring the country to the brink of the unthinkable; the ideologue Muslims who have infiltrated and settled into unsuspecting areas of employment waiting their moment; Brennan, the President of the United States, who is from a small town outside Pittsburgh, PA where terror manifest,  North Koreans, Carter Gray  the US Intelligence Czar appointed by the President  (this book was written before we had Czars...) and more officials and agents.  Camel Club is suspenseful and  kept me guessing to identify who are the villains and who are the champions and that suspense kept me reading.   Pg.154...."..he became Oliver Stone, a man of silent protest who watched and paid attention to important things...."  Pg. 40 describing the issues faced today, ..."not a war of professional armored battalions vs. turbanned rabble in the streets toting rifles and RPGs.  And it was not simply  a difference of religions.  It was a  battle against a mind-set of how people should conduct their lives, a battle that had political, social, and cultural facets melded together  into an exceedingly complex mosaic of humanity under enormous strain."    Pg. 69.."ignorance and intolerance, in pairs, never  one without its evil twin."  Pgs 100-101  well describe the history of the Muslim and  mideast turmoils  from the Syrians, Chechniyans, Mindanos, Kuwait, Lebanon,  Afghanistan, Morocco, Kurds, Iraquis, Baathists, Taliban, Mali and Senegal and more.   Baldacci has  summarized the escalation of problems the world faces today.   I fully recommend this thriller and as I said, I hope it is not predictive.