AURARIA by Tim Westover

Fantasy.  Fabulism.  Mythic fantasy.  Magical realism.  I so miss the old simple genre categories: mystery, romance, adventure, thriller.  You know what I mean?  Because where the heck do I slot this book, where water spirits take over the river and springs,, moon maidens swim at night, haunted pianos play on their own, headless revenants haunt the highways and byways, and there is an invincible terrapin that lives under the mountains and tells stories and sings songs.

Actually, Auraria is a real place, (a ghost town, now) which has been turned upsidedown in this piece of fiction.   The story is based on much of the local folklore and superstitions. Auraria, Georgia had a very brief gold rush in the early to mid-1800s; then most of the people left again.

In the novel, after the gold rush,  some stayed, running pharmacies and bars and hotels. They farmed and were turkey drovers and, no matter what their regular work was, most of them sought gold.

A land speculator sends his assistant to the town to buy up all the land.  He plans to build a dam, thereby flooding the town, and resell the land above the water line of the newly formed lake.  He also wishes to build a luxury resort hotel, and inveigles  a couple of railroad speculators into building a railroad to the town, which formerly only had a semi passable road as access.

The story is all about greed, gold lust, broken dreams, secrets, lies and what happens when you plan for the future.   Like I said, it is littered with ghosts, spirits, and lots of strange creatures.

I liked it well enough, although fabulism/mythic fantasy/magical realism are not really my thing.

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BEYOND DEATH by Deb McEwan

This is the first in what is or will be a series call The Afterlife.  Doesn’t anybody write a one-off anymore?  I guess not.

Although a lot of people liked this book, some calling it ‘sensational’, I was frankly underwhelmed.  The basic premise is that when you die, you go to a place that isn’t a place while the authorities decide what to do with you.  You are attended by an angel, who keeps complaining about how busy they are, what with a cruise ship having just sunk and all, so your instructions are to hang around and wait until they can get to you.  Oh, yeah, and if you want, you can pop back into your earthly life from time to time to check up on the family and friends, but they can’t see you and try as you might, you can’t really interfere anymore in earthly matters.

First of all, the logic of a lot of the plot didn’t make much sense.  All the angel staff are busy because of a sinking cruise ship?  Talk about First World White People problems.  What about the millions who are dying daily around the world?  Do you mean to tell me that every freaking angel is busy with the over-monied white people on a cruise ship?

It concerns primarily a young woman who just got engaged, takes a taxi home to her own apartment, the taxi driver is busy fiddling on the floor for his phone and gets them into an accident in which they are both killed.   There are a couple of other people who die and I forget how because my mind drifted just a wee bit at that part.  OK, I fell asleep.  All right?  Are you happy now?  So it is all about the lives and secrets of the family and friends of these dead people and how they cope, with these dead people trying to interfere.

Told as a straight chick lit story, minus the dead people, would have made a pretty good chick lit book.  Working it around the Dearly Departed made it a mashup that frankly didn’t work all that well for me.

While it was a pretty good idea for a book, it was merely close but no cigar, as they say in…  well I don’t know where they say that.  I surely can’t imagine a series based on this.

I like my ghosts ghostly and not whining and complaining all the time, and my haints  doing some decent spooking.  This?  Well, no.

 

THE POSTMISTRESS by Sarah Blake

This is the kind of book you had better read now, because among other things, it is about the post office, and delivering mail, and the writing and receiving of letters.  When was the last time you had a paper letter from someone?  Do you still get a lot of mail?   Email is taking over, and soon, our little children will be saying, “Mumsy, what is a post office?”

It is set at the beginning of World War II.  the war to end all wars.  Oh, wait, no.  That was World War I, which obviously did not end all wars.  There are currently something like 134 major ‘conflicts’ happening throughout the world.  Might be more, hard to get a good count.  There are 15 big hot spots.  But, yeah, back to 1940, the German nightly bombing of London has begun, and a young reporter, Frankie Bard, is sent to London to work with Ed Morrow, reporting nightly on the radio of what she sees going on in London.

Meanwhile, a sweet young woman marries a young doctor, and they move to his hometown, a small place on Cape Cod, where he tries to make up for the drunken mistakes of his doctor father.  Iris is appointed the new Postmaster for the town,  and so begins the disparate threads that will come together in an unexpected way.

Frankie records a nightly broadcast from London about the blitz and the daily experiences there.  She tells of her meeting up with a little guy in a shelter, and taking him home to his apartment only to find that the building has been pretty much demolished, killing his mother, and Frankie’s roommate journalist.  Hearing this broadcast, the doctor, after unsuccessfully attending a woman giving birth to her fifth or sixth child, but who dies in childbirth, probably due to his reluctance to call in more experienced help, decides to go to London to help out, thereby running away from his problems, and leaving his new bride to cope on her own.

Frankie has a reporter friend who is very concerned about the plight of the Jews in Germany and other European countries,  and Frankie is sent on a trip through Germany by train to garner local color.  What she finds are massive crowds of Jewish people fleeing for their lives, the cruelty of the German soldiers, and the reality of war.  In a coincidence found only in novels, Frankie meets that Cape Cod doctor husband in a bomb shelter, he gives her a letter to send to his wife in case of his demise, and she then watches later as he steps off a curb into the path of an oncoming vehicle and is killed.

After her trip through Germany, she is shattered, and goes back to New York, where she decides to go to that small Cape Cod town to deliver the letter in person, and it is there that the lives of the Postmaster, Frankie and the doctor’s wife all come together.

So there is a lot about the run up to the Holocaust, about fear of Germans in the US,  about the fear of German submarines attacking the coast.

The title of the book comes not only from the Postmaster Iris, but during a conversation between Iris and Frankie, Frankie refers to Iris as the postmistress, to which Iris huffily replies that she was the postMASTER.  The US does not have the title of postmistress, that was a British thing.

Good read, I guess something of women’s fiction, as it had mainly to do with the three women.

 

 

 

BOOKED TO DIE by John Dunning

This is a re-issue of the author’s first book, published in 1992,  a murder mystery, police procedural, and mighty fine, folks.  Mighty fine.  It won the Nero Award, and the Dilys Award.  I know, I don’t know what they are either, but then, it’s hard keeping up with all the various awards.

Our hero, Cliff Janeway (nifty name, no?),  is a homicide detective, has had trouble nailing the prosperous low life who is responsible for a number of murders in the city,  finally loses it, catches the guy, takes him out to some remote area and mano a mano, they fight it out, and he beats the kabooble out of the guy.  The guy is found, still alive, and claims that Cliff had handcuffed him and beat him with a weapon.  Cliff is under investigation, and decides to quit the force.

But you know what?  This book is all about book selling.  Yeah, how cool is that.  It is all about the acquiring of valuable used books, and you might be surprised to know, as was I,  that it isn’t just the really old books that are valuable.   A lot of current or recent best sellers are, also, if they are pristine first editions, and/or have been signed by the author, etc., and there is an ongoing competition probably in every city,  by bookmen who scour the thrift shops, and Goodwill, estate sales, yard sales, etc. looking for that overlooked big money book they can pick up for pennies.   And, if this book is to be believed, they can be killed for their valuable collections.

So our boy Cliff opens a used book store starting off with his own personal collection, and before he is even open, a young gal comes in looking for a job and talks him into hiring her.  She turns out to be a fast learner and a real asset.

Meanwhile, there is a damsel in distress, (distressed by that nasty a$$ whom Cliff beat up), and he is caught up in that issue, plus right before he quit the force, a raggedly ol bookman, who spent his days looking for the said overlooked treasure with which to make his fortune, is found dead in an alley.  Why would anybody kill him?  He had nothing, was nothing, and would seem to be harmless.  So although now no longer on the force, Cliff continues to investigate the old guy’s murder.

Really good mystery, good characters, and some more dead bodies.  What’s a decent murder mystery without a few murders, right?  There are five in this series, and he has a number of other books, as well.

 

THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls

And over here to your right, ladies and gentlement, we have the quintessential dysfunctional family, with the requisite alcoholic father who drinks up all the family money, and steals from his kids to buy more alcohol.  Seems like a common theme, doesn’t it.

This is a memoir,  sad, engaging, and full of questions like why?  why?  and WTF?   The two parents are basically hippie types, they live off the land, meaning they don’t pay their rent and are always moving, sometimes living in camping style out in the desert.  Mom has a teaching certificate which doesn’t do much good as she doesn’t like to work, preferring to stay home and paint.  Dad works sporadically, that is until he gets fired, usually for anger management issues.  Well, that and drunkeness.

The four children are left to raise themselves, and the book is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, but also spotlights that not everyone has the same amount of resilience in their bucket.

After living in horrifying poverty in Appalachia,  where the kids ate by foraging in trash cans and being fed by neighbors, the kids manage to escape, one by one, to go to college.  All of the kids became successful, while the parents never rose above their addiction and poverty, and never really wanted to.   One day in Manhattan, the author came across her parents rummaging in the trash on the street.  All efforts on the part of the kids to help them were in vain.   The parents wanted no help, and preferred their homeless lifestyle.  Eventually, they ended up as squatters in an abandoned building, where they found a community of other squatters, and lived there for years.  The youngest sister developed mental problems, and spent a year in a psychiatric institution after trying to stab her mother with a knife.  On her release, she disappeared into California.

It was a truly compelling story, one you couldn’t put down, something like watching a train wreck.   Loved the book.

The author was a  former gossip columnist for MSNBC.com .  This memoir was made into a movie, with a bunch of famous actors.  It is supposed to be released in August, this year.

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THE DEAD DETECTIVE AGENCY by Peg Herring

Young secretary Tori Van Camp wakes one morning on a luxurious ocean liner where she is offered whatever a person might desire: food, clothes, recreation, and the companionship of congenial people. But Tori has no memory of booking a cruise. What she does have is a vivid recollection of being shot point blank in the chest.

I am rather taken by the idea of death being on a luxury cruise.  Just think, you can eat all you want and never gain weight.  New clothes for every meal and activity.  I could get used to that.   But drat, it is really just an interim place, to give the newly dead a chance to regain their equilibrium before moving on to whatever is next.  Gradually, the memories of the person’s life fade and become unimportant, allowing them the ability to boogie on down the road.

But Tori can’t let go of her old life and her memories, because she has no idea why someone would kill her.  She is determined to go back and find out.  It’s not against the rules, going back.  But you have to get permission.  And it is better if you go with an experienced traveler.  She is assigned a detective, a man who refuses to let go of his old life, and has returned many times to do some detective work for people who want answers to various questions concerning their lives.  Tori insists on going with him, and together they set off to find the reason she bit the Big One.

Not the most rigorous of mysteries, but lots of fun, because, really, how often do you come across a dead detective, hopping from person to person in order to get from place to place?  Kind of like Uber for the Formerly Alive.  One time, our detective, having run out of human taxis, had to take a cockroach.  Talk about cramped.

SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn

Sometimes I have to be in just the right place for  certain writers, and that is true for a Gillian Flynn novel, because they are dark, quirky, strange, with an unsettling undercurrent that makes you absolutely positive that something unpleasant is about to happen.

Sharp Objects is her first book, published in 2006.  It is a testament to my short attention span that after reading Gone Girl  although I acquired her other books, I never got around to reading them, other lovers having intervened.  Her debut effort earned her a couple of awards.

A young woman reporter in Chicago, the product of a hypochondriac mother, a strange and quiet step father, a dead sister, is sent back to her home town by her paper to report on the murders of two preteen girls.  She stays in her mother’s house, where she is in contact with her strange half sister, now thirteen, an odd mix of mean girl and sweet mama’s baby.

While nosing around, trying to find out more about the deaths of the two murdered girls, she stumbles on facts that lead back to her own childhood, and we readers discover that she has been in psychiatric care for cutting.  It is an obsession she still struggles with, but is holding her own.

It is a creepy read, and one you cannot put down.  I don’t want to tell you too much.  You’ll learn more than you really want to know when you read it.