ALIAS GRACE is a work of historical fiction based on the true story of Grace Marks who was a servant girl accused of murder and was one of Canada's most notorious female criminals. She was "involved in the 1843 murder of her Richmond Hill, Ontario, employer Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. Her conviction for the murder of Kinnear was controversial and sparked much debate about whether Marks was actually instrumental in the murder or merely an unwitting accessory." Atwood provides a very vivid account of Grace and her life which is told mainly in Grace's own words from her childhood in Ireland through life as a servant in colonial Victorian Canada and then to the murder of her employer at the age of sixteen. Most of the story is told by Grace through Dr. Simon Jordan, a mental illness specialist who is hired by a group of reformers and spiritualists that are seeking a pardon for Grace. Dr. Jordan becomes enamored with Grace and eventually learns the relationship between her and her employer, his housekeeper, Nancy, and the servant James McDermott who was hanged for the murders. But who is telling the truth? Was Grace an accomplice in the murders? Did she have a hand in planning them? Or was she merely a young girl who went along with McDermott's plan out of fear for her own life?
Atwood uses themes of social and feminist comment in the novel and explores the relationships between sex and violence in a repressed society. She also reflects on the time-period's ambiguity about the nature of women and whether Grace must have been forced into an act of violence or was she inherently evil. This is the first novel by Atwood that I have read and I thought it was very well-written and fast-paced and I would highly recommend it. I'm sure I will be reading more of her works including THE HANDMAID'S TALE that I have on my TBR stacks.
This was really a demented retelling of Alice in Wonderland. It really does not use the classic Alice or Wonderland but sets the story in a fictional place called the Old City which is run by a set of gang bosses who may be named after characters in the original Alice but are far more deadly and perverted. These include Cheshire, the Walrus, the Caterpillar, and the Rabbit. The book starts out with Alice in a mental hospital communicating through a wall with Hatcher, a man who remembers little of his life but becomes friends with Alice. When a fire at the asylum allows them to escape, Alice and Hatcher set out to the Old City in search of the Jabberwock, a monster who kills malevolently and who is tied in some way to Hatcher. They are also seeking the Rabbit who Alice had encountered years earlier and who left a scar on Alice so she would be recognizable when she returned to the Old City. The Rabbit may also have a weapon than can be used against the Jabberwocky and information about Hatcher's past.
The story is full of violence and perversion. The Walrus is probably the worst of the bunch...he captures young girls so he can rape and eat them! The story meanders along with Alice and Hatcher getting involved in one violent encounter after another and along the way Alice discovers that she has special gifts to help in their quest.
Overall, this was an interesting twisted take on the Alice story but I would not recommend it for the squeamish! I know there is a sequel to this one called The Red Queen which continues Alice and Hatcher's quest to find some of Hatcher's past and I'll probably be reading it as some point.
One of the best sci-fi novels I have read in some time. Silverberg has always been one of my favorites in this genre and in my opinion, this is one of his best! The novel details an alien invasion over a 50-year period using one family, the Carmichaels, as a focus. The Carmichaels struggle for years through several generations to try to rid the earth of the invaders with no success. Any attempt at killing the invaders results in harsh reprisals including a virus that kills more than half of earth's population. The invaders seem to be invincible and use humans as slave labor. During the invasion, many earthlings collaborate with the invaders and these "quislings" are hated and despised by the rest of humanity. There are several complex characters in the book mostly in the Carmichael family. The patriarch of the family fought in Vietnam and was named Anson, a name passed down through the generations and a nice tribute by Silverberg to Robert Anson Heinlein. Overall, a high recommendation for this one.
This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015; in my opinion, a very well-deserved award. This was a very poignant story which focuses on two young people coming of age prior to and during World War II. The first is Marie-Laure, a French girl who lost her sight at age six. Her father worked as a locksmith in the Paris Museum of Natural History and was able to create very detailed models of their home and the surrounding streets of Paris to help Marie learn to navigate the city. The second is Werner, an orphan who lives with his sister Jutta in a Children's home in a mining city in Germany. Werner and his sister are enchanted by a radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they can hardly imagine. Werner becomes expert in repairing and building radios which is later an asset to the Germans in tracking down members of the resistance during the war.
The novel is told in short chapters which alternate between Marie's and Werner's stories. The novel begins with the Allied bombing of Saint-Malo, a walled city on France's coast where Marie and Werner finally come together. The story then delves into the past of each character with Marie and her father having to flee Paris when the Germans invade and end up in Saint-Malo at Marie's uncle's residence. Meanwhile, Werner has been selected to attend a very harsh military school where his skills at radios and electronics are honed and put to use by the Germans.
The story is very haunting and heart breaking with both Marie and Werner losing many people they loved along the way. I was really captivated by this one and was sorry to see it end. A very high overall recommendation.
Back in the 70s and 80s I read quite a few MacDonald crime novels including several in the Travis McGee series and pretty much enjoyed them all. It's been awhile since I've read him (although I did read CAPE FEAR a couple of years ago). Anyway, this one was quite different from any of his previous novels that I have read. It's a not-so-straight-forward murder mystery told from the perspective of several different people. The murder victim is Wilma Ferris who is the head of a profitable cosmetics company. She is also a very unlikable person and tends to antagonize most all of her acquaintances. The murder takes place at her mountain house on a lake during a party attended by several of her business acquaintances and friends. It appears she is drowned while skinny dipping in the lake but she is actually murdered by a stab to her skull. So who committed the crime?
The story is told from the perspective of the guests attending her party which include her accountant, publicist, ad agent, a female TV star that is sponsored by the cosmetics firm, and her artist lover. Spouses are also there including the wife of the accountant who is enthralled with Wilma and tries to emulate her. But otherwise most everyone had a reason to despise her and any of them could be the murderer. The novel is narrated by each guest as separate chapters that relate what happened before and after the murder.
I thought the story probably could have been told in a few chapters as a novella or short story. The alternating narratives tended to confuse the story for me and it was a little hard to keep track of all the characters. But overall, I thought it was well-written and showed the mind-set, frustrations, marital conflicts, and jealousies of well-to-do people of the time (published in 1954).
This is the second book in Estleman's series featuring Valentino, a UCLA film archivist or Film Detective. I really enjoyed the first entry in this series, Frames, which was about Valentino finding the fabled lost footage from the epic silent film Greed along with a dead body in an old movie theater called the Oracle that Valentino bought and wants to restore to its former glory. Well in Alone, he is still working on the restoration but in the mean time a millionaire developer named Rankin tells Valentino about some lost footage of Greta Garbo where she debuted in an early ad called How Not to Dress. Rankin's dead wife was a friend of Garbo's and along with the footage, his wife had corresponded with Garbo for years before both of their deaths. But then Rankin shoots and kills his assistant who was supposedly blackmailing him because of a letter from Garbo to Rankin's wife showing that they were in fact Lesbian lovers. But is this really the truth or did Rankin kill the assistant for another reason?
To me, this novel was sort of a letdown. Like I said, I really enjoyed the first novel in the series with Valentino's involvement with the Greed footage. But this one was lacking in that Valentino really wasn't that relevant to the murder by Rankin and subsequent investigation. Valentino does have some problems with a shady building inspector who wants a payoff to okay the renovation of the Oracle and he has some on and off moments with his girlfriend, Harriet, who is also an LAPD medical examiner. But overall, there was not much action and very little mystery to the story. I did however enjoy the tidbits about early Hollywood and Greta Garbo in particular. Estleman also provides a good bibliography of related books as well as Garbo films at the end. I will probably read more in the series and hopefully the next one, Alive!, about Bela Lugosi's screen test for Frankenstein will be better.
I received this as a Kindle e-book as part of the Amazon Prime program. It was an unusual mystery about a young girl (Nadia Tesla) in the Ukrainian community in Hartford, Connecticut, who was kidnapped at the start of the novel by a former acquaintance who is trying to find out what she knows about her godfather's business. The godfather had died in an apparent accident but Nadia thinks he has been murdered. The novel switches back and forth between what Nadia is doing in the present to solve the murder and an episode in her youth where she was put through a 3-day test to win a survival badge. Along the way, a lot of Ukrainian history is found to be connected to the godfather's death. This is mostly about what happened after WWII when many Ukrainians were liberated from Nazi concentration camps and were known as displaced persons (DPs). The Soviets were trying to repatriate the DPs and send them back to the Ukraine but most were considered enemies of the state and were executed when they returned. The parts of the novel dealing with this history were very fascinating and educational especially in light of the current situation in the Ukraine. Overall, I would recommend this one. It is actually prequel to a series of books about Nadia Tesla which I may also seek out.
Another good page-turner from Rollins about the nefarious genetic manipulation of DNA in animals and humans! This one reminded me a lot of some of Michael Crichton's novels such as "Next" which was also about genetic engineering and intelligent animals. I was also reminded a lot of H.G. Wells classic "Island of Dr. Moreau" - one of my Wells favorites. I really enjoyed the setting of the first part of the story in the bayous of Louisiana and would give this one a very favorable recommendation.
I really enjoyed this rather long Pulitzer Prize winning novel about two Jewish cousins who get into the comic book business during its Golden Age in the 1930s. First of all, I grew up reading comics in the 60s and doted on the exploits of The Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Superman, et al. so this book was really right up my alley. In fact, Stan Lee, the creator of many of the Marvel superheros and who just died recently, was actually featured in this novel and was a source of information for the author.
The book starts out when Sammy Clay meets up with his cousin, Joe Kavalier, who has escaped from Prague and the Nazis in 1939 to arrive in New York via a very circuitous route through Russia and Japan. Sam finds out that Joe is a very talented artist while Sam can come up with some interesting story ideas that they end up pitching to a novelty company that Sam works for. Thus, "The Escapist" is born and becomes one of the big hits of the comic industry in the late 30s. But Joe is really not happy and is trying to come up with some way to rescue the rest of his family from the Nazis in Prague. And then WWII happens sweeping Joe off to try to single-handedly defeat the Nazis while Sammy stays home and tries to deal with his sexuality.
The novel is long (over 600 pages) and full of adventure and surprises. It almost reads like a comic book with the various adventures and mishaps that happen to Kavalier and Clay. It was also very informative giving loads of information about the comic business and what happened in the early 1950s when censors came down on the business. Overall, a high recommendation for this one.
Another super James Rollins adventure story! I took this book with me on a business trip to Florida and read it on the plane and at the hotel. Hard to put down with non-stop action and very interesting premises about life itself and how man may have evolved. Some very wicked people were also in this adventure - Louis Favre and his Indian girl-friend "Tshui" (who got thrills out of torture and shrinking heads!) had to be some of the nastiest villians I have encountered in recent memory. Overall - a fun and exciting read.
A few months ago, I read Philip Roth's THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA. In this alternate history, Roth poses the question "what would have happened if Charles Lindbergh, a Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semitic isolationist, had been elected president in 1940." In the novel, Lindbergh gradually unleashes quasi-Nazi forces in the US. He negotiates a cordial understanding with Adolf Hitler, and accepts his anti-Semitic policies. All of this has profound effects on the American Jewish population and America in general. Henry Ford also plays a role in the fictional government posed by Roth. After reading this, I wanted to know more information about Lindbergh and his political views.
I have had AMERICAN AXIS on my shelves for several years and finally got around to reading it. The book details the historical anti-Semitic views and Nazi sympathies of both Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh prior to and during WWII.
Henry Ford propagated one of the most vile anti-Semitic campaigns in American history in the 1920s and 1930s. Ford used his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, to blame the Jews for most of the world's troubles. The newspaper introduced Americans to a variety of virulent anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, including the notorious "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" which purported to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. A series of Ford's articles trumpeting this theme was translated into German and published in book form as "The International Jew". The book was later cited by many Nazis as deeply influential and Hitler even hung a portrait of Ford over his desk at his Munich headquarters and told a Detroit columnist that he regarded Ford as "my inspiration." Ford is the only American mentioned in Hitler's manifesto, Mein Kampf. The Nazis presented Ford with Germany's highest civilian decoration, the Order of the German Eagle, on his 75th birthday in 1938. Although Ford tried to repudiate his anti-Semitic views, he and his company provided military equipment to the Nazis during the war and even used slave labor in its plant in Germany.
After Lindbergh's historic flight across the Atlantic and the kidnapping and murder of his first born child, he became disenchanted with his fame and with America. He came to know a French doctor, Alexis Carrel who became his mentor. Carrel was a firm believer in "Eugenics", the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics. Lindbergh became to believe this as well and was soon preaching anti-Semitic beliefs. He was soon taking many trips to Germany and even wanted to move his family there because of his infatuation with the country. He became a dupe of the Germans who used him to vastly inflate German air estimates at a time when the German air force was much weaker than it pretended. The book argues that Lindbergh's well publicized description of German air superiority played a major role in the west's decision to appease Hitler at Munich in 1938. Soon after this, Germany also presented Lindbergh with with their highest civilian honor, the Order of the German Eagle. The book describes Lindbergh's prominent role as a leader of the isolationist movement after the commencement of the second world war in Europe and as a spokesperson for the America First Committee lobbying to keep America out of the war. President Roosevelt told his secretary of Treasury, "If I should die tomorrow, I want you to know this. I am absolutely convinced that Lindbergh is a Nazi."
This book was full of interesting facts about both Ford and Lindbergh that I was previously unaware of. It also was very informative in showing the atmosphere of America prior to and during the war and providing many fascinating details of the misguided feelings of not only Ford and Lindbergh but much of America.
I really enjoyed this novel of Japan. It's about an American psychologist, Alex Thorn, who is in Japan to find out what happened to his son, Cody, an exchange student at Shizuyama University, who was killed in an accident. Cody's body was shipped back to the States with no explanation as to what happened to him or who had paid any medical bills for him. All Alex had to go on was a bill from "Gone With the Wind" funeral services for shipment of the body. And when the body was received, it had had its heart surgically removed. So what had happened to Cody and why? Alex's quest leads him to Gaby Stanton, a professor who was fired from Shizuyama and is now working for "Gone With the Wind" selling extravagant fantasy funerals to older Japanese. Gaby insists that the funeral company did not ship the body back to the States and she has no knowledge of what happened. So Gaby ends up helping Alex get to the bottom of the mystery. This leads to finding that Cody may have met up with members of the Japanese mafia, the yakuza, which then leads to questions about the people Gaby is working for. And how does this all relate to her getting fired from the university and a somewhat questionable professor there? Gaby tells Alex to expect the unexpected and to try to understand what is not being said. As Alex is drawn to Gaby, she is reluctant to get into a relationship because of a medical condition which she feels keeps her as an outsider especially in the States.
I thought this novel really gave the reader a sense for life in Japan showing how the Japanese feel about Americans or gaijin and the many differences between the two cultures. The book also discusses the Japanese medical system which appears to be a universal system where all are treated without insurance. This seemed very relevant to the debates going on in Congress about Medicare for all or a universal health care system in the U.S. The novel also contained many interesting characters that were well developed and added to the storyline. One of the most interesting was Mr. Eguchi, Gaby's boss at "Gone With the Wind", who could only communicate in English using Beatles lyrics. I have never spent time in Japan other than being stationed in Okinawa during the 70s which was very Americanized at the time. I will probably never get to go there so this book was a good substitute for a Japanese experience.
Robert Bloch's fictionalized account of the notorious serial killer, H. H. Holmes. Holmes was also the subject of Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America which I thought was a great nonfictional account of Holmes and the murders he committed during the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Holmes may have killed as many as 200 people, mostly young unsuspecting women. What motivated Holmes is a mystery, but he is considered one of America's earliest serial killers.
Of course Bloch takes a lot of liberties with the story of Holmes. He changes the name to G. Gordon Gregg and provides a female newspaper reporter named Crystal as the protagonist who is trying to find out what exactly Gregg is doing in his hotel, known as "The Castle." Gregg has been engaged to several women who disappear and his wife supposedly died in a fire at their home on the other side of town leaving Gregg with a large insurance settlement. And what happened to the workers and contractors who were not paid for the building of the Castle? The Castle is filled with secret passages and staircases. Will Crystal be able to penetrate the castle and get to the bottom of Gregg's misdeeds without him suspecting?
I have read a few other books by Bloch including his classic, Psycho, the basis for the Hitchcock film as well as many of his short stories which appeared originally in Weird Tales magazine. He is always good for a thrill or two. But this novel fell a little flat for me. Bloch really didn't divulge much of Gregg's motives and methods until near the end of the novel. I would recommend reading Larson's Devil in the White City instead for a more realistic and horrifying account of the real H.H. Holmes.
**BE WARNED: THIS NOVEL CONTAINS THE MOST EXPLICIT DESCRIPTIONS OF SEX AND VIOLENCE I HAVE EVER ENCOUNTERED**
This is obviously a satire on the excesses of the overpaid yuppies working on Wall Street in the late 80s. The protagonist, Patrick Bateman, is a psychopath of the most depraved and violent type. Bateman narrates the novel and provides descriptions in repetitive detail of 80s fashion, high-end food and restaurants, hair and body care products, high-end electronics including VHS recorders and stereo equipment, and music reviews of Phil Collins, Huey Lewis, and Whitney Houston. Bateman is also very misogynistic and has no empathy for anyone. And to no surprise, he idolizes Donald Trump! And then amidst his high scale lifestyle, going to business meetings at pricey restaurants and snorting cocaine at fashionable New York clubs, he commits rape and murder. From 1001 Books: "Descriptions of nouvelle cuisine and Armani jackets are as pornographic, here, as descriptions of anal rape. Pop music, movies, and fashion--these are so complicit in a murderous culture that they become part of the murder...the extremity of the violence, coupled with the uninflected way in which it is described, produces a strange, ethereal dimension to the writing, which is as close as the novel can come to an ethics..."
I read this book mainly because it is on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. But I really was unprepared for the graphic sex and violence. I have read other reviews of this novel and many give it high praise but for me, I felt it just went too far. I'll have a hard time getting some of this out of my mind!
Finished reading this today. It always amazes me how early explorers had the courage to do what they did. This is especially true of polar exploration. I mean what would it take to head off into the polar regions in a balloon?? Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of the Andree expedition so I am glad was able to read about it. This book reminded me of some of the biographies I read growing up in the 1960s - it was nostalgic in a way. I was also a fan of Jules Verne growing up and this expedition could have come straight from his pen! Overall a very fascinating story. It is definitely amazing how the story and photos were preserved and discovered over 30 years after the fateful balloon voyage. The mystery of why Andree and his crew perished is also very interesting. The writer of the introduction to the book is quite sure they perished by carbon monoxide poisoning from their cooking stove, however, if you read the Wikipedia.com article on the expedition, the theory that the men succumbed to trichinosis that they got from eating undercooked polar bear meat is suggested along with some other theories. Recommend this book to anyone interested in early exploration of the polar regions.
A year or so ago, I read THE DEVIL CREPT IN by Ahlborn after seeing her name on a list which purported to be the ten best horror writers alive today. I thought this was a very good horror story which kept my interest throughout. Later I saw APART IN THE DARK on a book trading site so thought I would read something else by Ahlborn.
This one actually contains two short novels: THE PRETTY ONES and I CALL UPON THEE that had been previously released as ebooks. I thought both of these were again good tales of terror and I will probably be looking out for more of Ahlborn's novels.
THE PRETTY ONES was a tale about a young woman, Nell, working at an office in Manhattan who commutes there every day from her dingy apartment in Brooklyn that she shares with her brother, Barrett. She is what could be described as mousy and quiet and most of her coworkers make fun of her by disparaging her clothing and her looks. This story takes place back in the 70s when the "Son of Sam" was terrorizing the city by killing young dark-haired women. Then when Nell is rejected by one of her office mates who she tries to make friends with, the girl winds up dead. But who killed her? Was it the Son of Sam or could it have been her brother, Barrett? This one takes some very violent turns with somewhat of a surprise ending that I did, however, see coming.
I CALL UPON THEE is about a young woman, Maggie, who is away at college and suddenly gets an emergency call from her sister to return home to Savannah because her other sister, Brynn, has died. Brynn was always an odd one, dressing in goth outfits and listening to weird music. She also showed Maggie how to summon the dead using a Ouija Board. When Maggie was young she would visit the cemetery with Brynn and wanted to make friends with a young girl buried there. This one was really a good horror yarn and had very good character development, especially for a short novel. Of the two stories, I liked this one best.
I thought this was a very unsettling ghost story. Mark and Steph live in Cape Town, South Africa with their young daughter, Hayden. Then they experience a home invasion that leaves them very shaken and nervous living in their home. At the suggestion of a friend, they end up doing an apartment swap to provide for a cheap way to go to Paris for what they hope will be a calming experience. But when they get there, they find the apartment to be a hellish dump with a very disturbing background. No one is living there other than a squatter in an upper apartment. The place is dirty and musty and contains some unpleasantness like buckets of hair in the closet. The person upstairs warns them to leave and then later commits suicide by jumping out a window. Mark and Steph do leave early but something seems to go with them...a specter that makes Mark think his dead daughter from a prior marriage has returned. The novel is told from alternate perspectives by Mark and Steph. While Steph feels that Mark is going insane, Mark tries to find out why his dead daughter seems to be haunting him. All of this leads to a somewhat shocking conclusion.
Overall, a mild recommendation for this one with its overall brooding atmosphere and sense of foreboding.
Well, I quite enjoyed this latest Cussler novel! As in all of his books, it was a page-turning adventure. In this one, Dirk Pitt and NUMA save the world from an evil Canadian energy mogul and along the way find a way to stop global warming! As usual the events were somewhat far-fetched and included the usual coincidences but it was full of action and interesting ideas. I also really found interesting the information about Franklin's lost expedition in the 1840's in search of the Northwest Passage. I always learn something new when I read Cussler's novels.
I really enjoyed this marvelous book that uses college baseball as a backdrop. It's a story about friendship and coming of age written with a deep sense of emotion and is full of characters who are vulnerable, quirky and very unforgettable. The main protagonist of the story is Henry Skrimshander, a very promising shortstop who is recruited to play on the Westish College team in rural Wisconsin. Henry's Bible is The Art of Fielding, a baseball manual written by the fictional Aparicio Rodriguez, a Hall of Fame shortstop for Henry's beloved St. Louis Cardinals. (Aparicio was based on the fictional combination of Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Smith). Henry seems destined for greatness and actually ties Rodriguez's NCAA record of 51 consecutive games without an error which leads to scouts from the Big Leagues looking seriously at him. But then an errant throw makes Henry doubt himself and his game suffers drastically.
But Henry is not alone in this very satisfying story. Henry was recruited to Westish by another student, Mike Schwartz, a strapping catcher who acts as his trainer and mentor. Then there is Owen Dunne, Henry's roommate who describes himself as a gay mulatto. The college president, Guert Affenlight, is also a Herman Melville scholar and has a special interest in Owen that he is trying to keep secret. And then there is his daughter, Pella, who moves in with him when her marriage falls apart.
The baseball sequences in this novel are very well written and provide a great overall background for the story. Henry's meltdown as he struggles to get his game together and the other characters reactions to it really provides the drive to the novel but the other sub-plots involving Affenlight and Owen, and Pella and Schwartz add even more substance to this powerful tale.