HELPLESS

BARBARA GOWDY

Rachel is an usually beautiful nine-year old girl, dark skinned with “miraculous chromium yellow” hair. Celia is a single mother, working hard at two jobs to make ends meet. Luckily they have Mika in their lives. He is their landlord who gives them a great deal on their apartment but is also a friend and almost an uncle to Rachel.  Ron is a nerdy appliance repairman who drives around town looking at young girls. One day he spots Rachel. “Yes, he said to himself, something happened. I fell in love. Only as he thought it did he realise it was true. A ripple of terror went through him … he began to see himself for what he was: a man gearing up for suffering.” He began stalking Rachel. He created a back story for Rachel that her life at home was terrible, full of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. He convinced himself that she would be better off with him. Ron begins to convert the basement of his home into a girl’s bedroom, awaits his chance while promising his baby-hungry girlfriend that they will adopt a child.  The night of a blackout he gets his chance and steals her away. He convinces his girlfriend to help him care for Rachel.

I don’t want to reveal more of the plot but Gowdy is an excellent writer. All the main characters are helpless in their own way. It’s a great read.

COMPANY TOWN

MADELINE ASHBY

Go Jung-Hwa is unusual. She is completely organic. No augmentations, as most people have added to their physical selves. Hwa is a skilled fighter and bodyguard for the sex workers’ union but she hates her body because of a birthmark that stains her skin. Zachariah Lynch, one of the wealthiest people in the world, hires Hwa to protect his heir, his youngest son and genius, Joel.  Joel and Hwa are stalked by an invisible serial killer who targets both them and the sex workers Hwa used to guard. How do you defend yourself against an invisible agent?

If you enjoy dystopian fiction, this novel is for you.

UNDERGROUND AIRLINES

BEN H. WINTERSAirlines

In this alternate reality the US is not a superpower; in fact, most western nation have economic sanctions against the US because four of the 48 states still have slavery. Amendments have enshrined slavery in the constitution. Victor is a former slave. His tenuous freedom is granted to him by Mr. Bridge, a shadowy figure with the federal marshals, who has hired him to track escaped slaves for return to the south to their owners. An escaped slave was only truely free when he crossed the 49th parallel into Canada. Victor — who excels at his work and has captured more than 200 people — infiltrates an abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines, and is forced to confront his own complicity.

Colour is most important to Victor as he describes the black characters we meet: “… all the kinds of faces the world calls black: brown and tan and yellow and orange, copper and bronze and gold.”

“What the slave wants but can never have is not only freedom from the chains but also from their memory.”

 

“Now I see things differently. It took me some time, but I know the secret now. Freedman Town serves a good purpose — not for the people who live there, Lord knows; people stuck there by poverty, by prejudice, by laws that keep them from moving or working. Freedman Town’s purpose is for the rest of the world. The world that sits, like Martha, with dark glasses on, staring from a distance, scared but safe. Create a pen like that, give people no choice but to live like animals, and then people get to point at them and say ‘Will you look at those animals? That’s what kind of people those people are.’ And that idea drifts up and out of Freedman Town like chimney smoke, black gets to mean poor and poor to mean dangerous and all the words get murked together and become one dark idea, a cloud of smoke, the smokestack fumes drifting like filthy air across the rest of the nation.”

Beautifully imagined and well written Underground Airlines will keep you thinking for al long time.

ALLIGATOR CANDY: A Memoir

DAVID KUSHNER720x405-kushner

Candy  is an intense, dark memoir. In October 1973, Jon, the author’s 11-year-old brother, rode his bike into the woods near his house in Tampa, Fla., and never returned. David, the author was 4. What happens to the family is truly the stuff of nightmares. This memoir is a loving and agonized examination of what Jonathan’s kidnapping and murder did to the family and what it and what subsequent child murders did to society. The family was shocked into silence. No one knew what to say or what to do. This was before there was counseling for children. David felt unable to ask questions. He felt over whelming grief, ” If only I ….”  It is silence that does the most damage, and in the weeks after his brother’s body was found and the two killers apprehended, the thing Kushner recalls most vividly is the closed doors in the house. “We were cast out of orbit, each of us drifting into our own time and space, occasionally feeling the gravity of one another’s pull.”

Disturbing but powerful, this is a must read.

Photo of Jon and little brother David.

Link to excerpt in Rolling Stone.

1035x1028-Alligator-Candy-Back-Jacket-Photo

THE UNQUIET DEAD

unquietAUSMA ZEHANAT KHAN

An unusual death.   A man fell off a cliff. But was it an accident, a suicide, or a murder. Who was Christopher Drayton? A wealthy patron of the arts, supporting the new museum of Andalucia, the Spanish state with most Moorish influence. But could he be Drazen Krstic, the driving force behind theSrebrenica massacre of 1995, in the genocidal war that followed the break up of Yugoslavia. Esa Khattak, head of Toronto’s Community Policing Section, and Rachel Getty, his sergeant, handle minority sensitive cases, are tasked to find a solution to this case.

This a great mystery. Don’t miss it. I want to read more of her books. Her next is the Language of Secrets.

This is a LINK to a Bosnian woman’s victim’s statement to a UN’s inquest. Khan had an extensive author’s note at the end of the novel.

A PLEASURE AND A CALLING

pleasurePHILL HOGAN

Pleasure opens with one of the funniest first chapters ever written. Mr. Heming, a small town real-estate salesman, considers himself to be the town’s protector. When he reminds a dog walker to pick up the dog’s leavings and is told to piss off, he gleefully scoops up the poop, goes home to retrieve the walkers house key and leaves the shit in the middle of the man’s white carpet. He has keys for all the homes his company has ever sold.

But he is not a peeping Tom. He immerses himself in others’ lives.  “I don’t peep through windows. … I am not a stalker, or a voyeur. I am simply sharing an experience, a life as it happens.” “Among strangers’ belongings is where I am most at home…I know where they keep their private things, how they arrange their lives. I follow their plans and make mine around them.” 

“… a god at play.”

I loved how it starts off hilarious then gradually becomes creepier and creepier.

Anyone who reads this thriller will want to change their locks anytime they buy a new house.

AN UNTAMED STATE

ROXANE GAYstate

“Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones,” is the opening sentence of this powerful novel. Mireille Duval Jameson, a stubborn, quick-tempered daughter of Haitian immigrants who’s a mother to a baby boy and wife to a handsome, all-American husband. One ordinary morning, on the way to the beach with her family, while visiting her wealthy parents’ home back in their native Haiti, she is kidnapped and held for ransom — an unfortunately all-too-common occurrence in country marked by staggering inequality. But despite his vast, self-made fortune, Mireille’s proud father refuses to pay her captors. Her father believes that if he pays the million dollar ransom then the rest of his family will be more at risk from fortune seakers. It is then the torture begins. Her captures spend the next thirteen days subjecting her to gruesome acts of sexual violence and torture. When she is finally release she feels completely and utterly dead inside; she has such a sever case of PTSD. The novel is quite a page turner.

CATARACT CITY

cityCRAIG DAVIDSON

AKA: The Rough Side of Life

And very rough it is.Dead end lives. Cataract follows the lives and relationships of two boys/men Duncan and Owen. The novel opens with Duncan being released from prison for some unspecified crime. The first person he calls is his old friend Owen, now a police officer who was instrumental in jailing Duncan. When they were around 10-year-olds they were taken — essentially kidnapped  — by their wrestling hero, Bruiser Mahoney while their fathers got in a fight with some local bullies. Their hero gets them lost in the bogs and forest around Niagara and dies — leaving them to find their way home, dodging pedophiles and overcoming hunger.   The ending eerily echoes the beginning episode. Their nemesis is a most repugnant man Drinkwater who adds to the hell of their lives.  “He was a scientist, you could say, and his field of study was suffering.” Yet they keep returning to him for various reasons. Duncan is able to create and maintain a relationship with a woman but of course she is unwilling to wait the years he is in jail.

Cataract City is a nickname for  Niagara Falls.  — It’s based on the Latin word for waterfall. Cataract is well written, frequently a page turner but not for every one.

THE ORENDA

JOSEPH BOYDENboyedn

o·ren·da:   a supernatural force believed by the iroquois Indians to be present, in varying degrees, in all objects or persons, and to be the spiritual force by which human accomplishment is attained or accounted for.

Boyden describes the forces that led to the decimation of Canada’s First Nations culture. The novel is set in is set in mid-17th-century Huron territory, during a period of brutal skirmishes between the Huron and the Iroqouis, just as the Catholics launch their campaign to convert aboriginal peoples. The story is told by three rotating voices. The vengeful Bird, whose beloved family was murdered by the Iroquois; the equally vengeful Snow Falls, the Iroquois girl he kidnaps partly to assuage this loss; and Christophe, sent by his superiors in New France to convert the natives. The novel opens in winter, and with bloodshed. The great Wendat – Huron – elder and warrior, Bird, massacres a party of Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, and kidnaps a young girl. She is called Snow Falls, and Bird, haunted by the slaughter of his own wife and children at the hands of his arch-enemy years before, insists on making her his own  child. “She contains something powerful,” he thinks. This seems to have been a common practice at the time. Also taken as prisoner was a “Crow,” or Jesuit, who the Haudenosaunee party had been escorting home to torture to death.  Bird finds him “big, thick through the chest and clearly strong,” he asks, “is he not the most awkward man I’ve ever met?” Snow Falls, carried by the big Jesuit through the snow, is neither grateful nor impressed. When the “other prisoner” bends over her, “he smells so bad that I want to throw up, his breath stinking like rotted meat.” She wants to kill Bird in revenge and be rid of the foul-smelling Crow.  The priest believes the native peoples are less than human. “Forgive me, Lord, but I fear they are animals in savagely human form.”

This page turner is a must read for all.

GONE GIRL

GILLIAN FLYNNgone

I love the way Flynn gradually peals back the layers of both characters and plot to expose the inner core of the truth. I laughed out loud at the ending it is so great. This is a great book so I don’t want to reveal too much. The book opens on the fifth wedding anniversary of Amy and Nick Dunne. But by the end of the day Amy is gone. Disappeared. Passages from Amy’s diary show her to be a perfectionist but also unhappy. Having lived in New York city all her life, she is bored in her husband’s small home town. Nick, like the reader, knows when a man’s wife goes missing, the husband is usually to blame.

Go get your copy right now!

 

Quote:   “‘What are you thinking, Amy? The question I’ve asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?’”

Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren’t his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what did really did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife? And what was left in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war.

THE TRIAL OF FALLEN ANGELS

angelsJAMES KIMMEL, JR

Brek Cuttler, a big name astronaut  and later lawyer, found her self on a deserted train platform. She is covered in blood and there are three holes in her chest. The transition between living and dead isn’t an easy one. And for victims of violence, it may be even more difficult. Cuttler isn’t ready to look at all her memories, especially of how she died and what happened to her little pre-school girl. She is told she is Shemaya Station and that because she is a lawyer she will be a presenter, similar to a defense attorney, only without the arguments. Souls are presented in the Courtroom for determination of where they will spend eternity. To present a soul, Cuttler is given awareness of all the soul’s memories. Presenters practically relive the soul’s lifetime. She learns how here life is connected to other souls even through the past generations. “If I had remembered everything, I could not have possibly known how deeply interconnected my life had been to so many different people.”

angels1Angel‘s is a spiritual thriller, an amazing book.

 

DADDY LOVE

daddyJOYCE CAROL OATES

Robbie Whitcomb is a happy, precocious five-year-old boy living in Ypsilanti, Michigan with his mother Dinah and father, Perry “Whit” Whitcomb, a popular disc jockey. Whit is mixed race, a source of pain for Dinah’s mother Geraldine. But Geraldine is a mere irritant to this young, happy family, until the day Dinah and Robbie run errands at the local mall. There the unthinkable happens. Robbie is grabbed and taken. His mother is run over by the perp and dragged under the van. Robbie is drugged and placed in a sarcophagus like box where he can’t move and can barely breath. The horror begins. The pedophile kidnapper forces little Robbie to call him Daddy Love. He uses praise to control the boy but acknowledges that “punishment is fun” to administer.

I would not have wanted to read this when my son’s were little. It is a good but horrifying read. But we have to remember that most child victims are kidnapped and abused by people that they know.

 

AFTERWARDS

afterwards

ROSAMUND LUPTON

A tragedy. The private school is burning. Grace runs into the conflagration searching for her teenage daughter, Jenny. “Motherhood isn’t soft and cozy and sweet; it’s selfish ferocity, red in tooth and claw.”  Grace finds her but before she get her out a wall falls on them. Firefighters have trouble getting to the burning school because of the abandoned cars of terrified parents. We meet the pair again in the hospital where there bodies are in the burn unit but they are disembodied spirits who can communicate to each other but not to others. “I’m a sliver-thin light, diamond sharp, that can slip through gaps in the world we know. I will come into your dreams and speak soft words when you think of me. There is no happy ever after – but there is an afterwards.
This isn’t our ending.”  It appears that the fire was arson. The search to find the unsub is undertaken by Grace’s sister -in-law Sarah a police officer and detective. Jenny is given three weeks to live; her heart is giving out. Grace is found to be brain dead. Though in spirit they try to figure out this mystery.

A good mystery.

A PIMP’S NOTES

GIORGIO FALETTI

Set in Milan, in 1978, Faletti uses the real life events like the Red Brigade and terrifying political kidnappings to to build his plot. We follow anti-hero Bravo, a man that makes money off the wealthy by catering to their legal, and illegal, needs. When one of his ladies gets into trouble, Bravo ends up being framed and part of a larger conspiracy.  A passionate puzzle solver with his blind neighbour and friend, Bravo now has to solve the puzzle of who and how and why people are framing him. Makes for a thrilling ride.

 

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

RANSOM RIGGS

Jacob has grown up listening to his grandfather’s strange stories, although as he grows into his later teens he doesn’t believe the stories
the way he used toas boy. When he witnesses his  grandfather’s death by a vicious attack by one of the strange monsters form the stories he is both confused and inquisitive. Haunted by his grandfather’s last words, Jacob is determined to find out the truth.

Jacob manages to convince his therapist and his parents that a holiday away from home in a remote island off the coast of Wales is just what he needs to clear his head. Once he’s there, however, he realises that all his grandfather’s stories were true. Peppered with creepy photographs, the story is one of adventure and fantasy. Jacob is a great narrator, one who’ll appeal to children and adults. On the island, he finally feels like he’s found a place where he belongs and a sense of purpose in his life. Despite the image on the cover, this is not a horror story. It is more a magical fantasy world that we enter when we go with Jacob into Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

The book is fill will unusual pictures. The story is quirky and fun. Meant for teens, it is still an  enjoyable fantasy for adults.

I AM DAVID

ANNE HOLM

David is a well crafted jewel that will touch your heart.  It was written for young adults but has lots to say to adults.

David is twelve years old. All his life he has lived in a concentration camp in Eastern Europe. It is a terrible place. David knows nothing of the outside world except those things his one good friend and mentor, Johannes, now dead, told him. He has no story, no memories to hold on to, he doesn’t know the names of his parents, or whether they are alive or dead even, what his religion is, or from which country he comes. It is not even clear to us, the readers, whether the camp is Nazi or perhaps post-war Russian. David knows only one thing: that he is David. It is not much upon which to build a life, is it? But it is all he has. And on the day that The Man, one of the camp guards hated by David, but one who has always been strangely protective of him, offers him a chance to escape, his name is the only thing he has to take with him. The Man has provided him with a compass, a bottle of water, and a bar of soap, David himself has only his name to bring.

He must go south to the coast, find a ship bound for Salonica in a place called Italy, and then go north, until he gets to Denmark. That is all he knows. And he is on his own, accompanied by only his determination to get to Denmark, his terror of being recaptured and losing this new, sweet freedom, and the confusion of his thoughts. For David, the world is not only a frightening place, full of danger and menace, but also an incomprehensible one. He doesn’t know what an orange is, what a sandwich is, or even how to smile. He has no concept of beauty or pleasure. He doesn’t even understand truly what colour is, and when he finds colour it is overwhelming: “David was familiar only with various tones of grey and brown, and of course the blue of the sky. Well, yes, he had once seen a little red flower that had strayed inside the camp wall. Apart from that colour was something he had only heard of… He did not know how long he stayed there on the mountainside, sitting motionless, just gazing… only when everything grew strangely misty did he discover that he was crying. Far below him lay the sea, a sea bluer than any sky he had ever seen. The land curved in and out along its edge: in and out, up and down, all green and golden with here and there the red of flowers too far off to be clearly seen. Beauty.”

A must read. It is a slim volume so doesn’t take much time.

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP

S J WATSON

Christine wakes up wondering where she is and who she is sleeping with. “Oh shit, he’s married.” she thinks as she see his wedding ring. When she goes into the bathroom to clean up what she sees in the mirror is all wrong. The woman in the mirror is much older than she is. When she sees her old hands she wants to scream. What is going on? When the man wakes up Christine and the reader learn that she is amnesiac after a car accident twenty years ago. The unknown man she woke up beside is her husband, Ben. Christine goes through this every morning!

Unknown to Ben she has been working with a doctor and researcher, Nash, who has her writing in a journal. Everyday he calls her and tells her where she hides her journal. The first words written in the journal are DON’T TRUST BEN. The more she journals the more memories are stimulated. But too frequently the memories are different than the stories that she has heard from her husband.

The book should have been at least 100 pages shorter. It was quite repetitive especially at the beginning. Needs skimming. But still worth the read. This is the second brain damaged book that I’ve read lately. See Left Neglected.

Mice

GORDON REECE

Shelly was being bullied at school by her former best friends; she never told, mice don’t complain. “Mice are never rude. Mice are never assertive”  Her mother also a mouse was bullied at work and at home before and during the divorce. Her mother caved in to every unreasonable demand from her husband, Shelley’s father, who left her for a twenty-something girl. “Mum” signed away all right to alimony and a share of her husband’s pension, and she even returned some of the gifts he’d given her during their marriage. When the school bullies almost killed Shelly, the mother and daughter moved out of town to a cottage at the end of a road where no one would bother them. They rejoiced in their privacy: gardening, reading, playing and listening to classical music. Shelly did not go to school rather tutors came to her. They felt their life was an ideal life for mice. On the eve of Shelly’s 16th birthday their pastoral, idyllic lifestyle is destroyed when a  cat burglar enters their home and they stop being mice.

There were times that I skimmed parts of this novel but I still recommend it. A good read.

NEVER KNOWING

CHEVY STEVENS

Sara’s childhood had been less than ideal. Her father had always favoured his two biological daughters. When Sara decides to search for her birth parents she never could have imagined the immense ramifications. First her birth giver Julie won’t have anything to do with her. Then she finds out that Julie is the one woman who survived the serial killer known as the Camp Site Killer. How will this impact her own daughter and her relationship with her fiance.

Knowing is repetitive for the first three-quarters of the novel so needs a lot of skimming. But it has a great ending.

THE NIGHT STRANGERS

CHRIS BOHJALIAN

A deliciously well written mysterious thriller. Chip is a pilot who is forced to land his regional jet on Lake Champlain. He prays that he can create a miracle like the pilot who landed on the Hudson River with out a single death. He does not succeed; most of the passengers die. His wife Emily decides that the best thing for the couple and their twin ten year old daughters is to move to the calm and peace of northern New Hampshire. They purchase a Victorian house that has lots of rooms and back stair cases and hidden passages. There are even weapons secreted in unusual places. But most mysterious is the door in the basement that has been sealed shut with thirty-nine 6-inch-long bolts.

The neighbours are friendly but weird. All the women have names of herbs and plants. They all have green houses and they grow strange plants that they have found from around the world with which the make salves, tinctures and potions. Their baking is succulent but somewhat off at the same time.  And they are obsessed with the twin girls.

A must read. Also read Bohjalian’s Twin Sister Radio, which is fantastic.

 

I liked this cover better than the cover of the copy I read so I borrowed it.