Thursday, November 26, 2020

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
6/28/16; 288 pages

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance is a very highly recommended memoir about growing up in a poor-working class family.

"It would be years before I learned that no single book, or expert, or field could fully explain the problems of hillbillies in modern America. Our elegy is a sociological one, yes, but it is also about psychology and community and culture and faith."(pg 144)

This is a personal memoir about about a growing up in a poor working class family who originally came from Kentucky’s Appalachia region and moved to Middletown, Ohio with the hopes of bettering their lives. What they found out is that it is hard to escape from the background of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma and that one generation tends to inflict this same treatment on the next. What they also had was love, strength, and support through their whole extended family. Vance tells his life's story, the trauma, the struggles with a drug addicted mother, how his grandparents provided a safe and secure place for him, his decision to join the Marines, and his eventual graduation from Yale Law School. Vance is still effected by his chaotic upbringing, as would anyone who experienced an upbringing similar to it. He and his sister Lindsay were subjected to "adverse childhood experiences," or ACEs, daily and the consequences of their childhood reach into adulthood. Hillbilly Elegy is an honest look at his family, their struggles, and his personal analysis of the issues facing them and others like them.

At this point Hillbilly Elegy has polarized opinions from people, pro and con, many of which are basing their feelings on their political opinions and matters outside of the book. I'm reviewing the book, and it is an excellent memoir, bluntly honest, discerning, troubling, moving, and even provides a modicum of hope. The attitudes he sees afflicting those in Middletown can actually also be seen in other groups of young people who haven't had to deal with the same hopelessness or struggles. I don't know the answer, but I've seen first hand young people who take their jobs seriously and work hard, but at the same time I've also seen those who refuse to work and blame their eventual job loss, etc. on others rather than their own attitude. In answering the question Vance asks, "How much of our lives, good and bad, should we credit to our personal decisions, and how much is just the inheritance of our culture, our families..."  I would tend toward the idea that people need to take personal responsibility, but I know that is easier said than done. On the other hand, while people are dismissing the book based on politics, I also know first hand that coastal elites do look down on the rest of the country. Vance may have actually tapped into a larger concern that faces other groups as well as the hillbillies.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Tinderbox

The Tinderbox by Laura Elliot
12/1/20; 352 pages

The Tinderbox by Laura Elliot is a recommended psychological thriller.

Sophy and Luke's marriage is over due to his gambling problem. The two have separated and Luke has went to a treatment center. Sophie has sold her business and is selling their house in order to pay off his debts. In order to provide a home for her two daughters, 14 year-old Isobel and younger daughter Julie, Sophie has accepted the position as a live-in nurse for Jack Hyland. Jack was horrible burned and disfigured in a fire and will need help and assistance in his recovery. Sophie and her daughters will be living on the main floor of his home, Hyland Hall. When they arrive, the three are shocked to see the home is is such disrepair, but Isobel is the only one openly complaining. When Jack's nephew, Victor, who lives next door shows up, it becomes clear that he wasn't told about Sophy's job and that Jack and Victor are not as close as Victor claims. Victor, however, sets out to charm Sophy and the girls.

The narrative unfolds in alternating chapters through the point of view of Sophie or Isobel. We become well acquainted with these two characters and their thoughts. Sophy feels that this position is a life saver as it provides a home for her and the girls. Isobel calls the upstairs the Fear Zone and finds the whole house creepy. She really starts out as a rather immature, bratty character, but you know from the opening of the novel that a teenage girl will be calling the Garda (police in Ireland) to say her life is in danger, so you know something is going to go terribly wrong. The pace starts out slow after this opening hook but eventually picks up later in the novel.

The suspense is in following the action to reach the point where the phone call is made. The main problem is that the whole plot is so terribly predictable. It partially follows a sort of Gothic plot outline, where there are unknown threatening elements, a crumbling ancestral home, a sequestered disfigured owner, a charming relative, and an ominous sense of foreboding danger. It doesn't help that the younger daughter, Julie, is attached to a child-size mannequin, treats it like a real person, and is trying to practice ventriloquism with her. Victor seems smarmy and untrustworthy from the start, making you doubt Sophie's intelligence when she responds to his advances. Yes, The Tinderbox is worth reading, but I knew where it was going almost right from the start so there wasn't a whole lot of suspense for me.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bookouture

Big Girl, Small Town

Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen
12/1/20; 320 pages
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen is a unique recommended debut novel - highly recommended for the right readers.

Majella is a 27 year-old woman on the autism spectrum who lives in a small village in Northern Ireland that is still experiencing the effects of the Troubles. Majella keeps a running list of what she likes (a short list) and dislikes (a much longer list). Mostly she dislikes other people. She spends her days taking care of her needy, alcoholic mother, Nuala, and works at Salt and Battered, the local fish and chips shop. She has regular customers who you can mark the time by their appearance and the job is a known routine. We know her father fell into a depression after the death of his brother Bobby and left Majella and Nuala years ago. The novel starts after the death of her grandmother a result of her being beaten in her home.

Big Girl, Small Town follows Majella's daily routine over a week. It is all very routine, mundane, and, well, boring. We hear the same conversations, the same questions repeatedly throughout the novel. The chapters are headed by items off Majella's list. Interspersed into the daily routine are occasional a new occurrence, an emotional memory, or a change in the routine, otherwise it is the same routine and a lot of details about her personally. There is character development, but due to Majella's personality, it feels rather basic. Her life experience is insular, restricted to her routine, enabling her mother's alcoholism, her basic wants, and her list.

Some of the dialogue is written phonetically, which at the beginning can take a while to parse. The flow of the writing feel already has a choppy and awkward feel, so the phonetically written parts don't help. This, added to the monotony of Majella's daily routine and the repetition can make it a struggle to continue to read. I kept at it because there have been so many good things said about this debut novel. I was waiting for the emotional payoff or a big reveal or twist, but the ending, although hopeful, doesn't provide quite what I was hoping to see. Additionally, the lack of closure over several major events in the novel left me disappointed. In the final assessment, I'm recommending the novel based on my experience, but I understand that other readers might connect with it more that I did.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

To Tell You the Truth

To Tell You the Truth by Gilly Macmillan
9/22/20; 352 pages

To Tell You the Truth by Gilly Macmillan is a highly recommended twisty mystery.

Lucy Harper is the famous, wildly successful author of novels featuring her beloved character Detective Sargent Eliza Grey. The trouble is, her latest novel doesn't have Eliza in it and her publisher wants it rewritten. Her husband, Dan, an unsuccessful writer, is currently her manager. He is upset at her and the loss of income due to her rewrite, but he is also making important decisions without consulting her. When Dan disappears, it becomes known that Lucy has changed her name and this isn't the first time she's been involved in someone's disappearance. In 1991 when Lucy was nine and her brother Teddy was three, she secretly left the house late at night with Teddy to watch a summer solstice celebration in the woods outside Bristol, England. Something happened that night and Teddy disappeared. The case was never solved. Now, with Dan missing, Lucy's a suspect, but as the novel progresses, Lucy becomes an increasingly unreliable narrator and it also seems there is more going on than we know.

The novel features the current story line with chapters following the events from 1991 interspersed in between them. Both timeline present an interesting story. We also learn that Eliza, Lucy's character in her novels, actually began as her imaginary childhood friend. Dan's actions are also suspect. The plot itself, however, follows a tried and true formula. As I was reading I kept thinking I had recently read several books with the same plot. Macmillan does do a great job presenting the story and upping the suspense, so it is still a formula that works to create an enjoyable mystery. The ending is a bit unexpected and didn't quite work for me.

Lucy clear becomes increasingly an unreliable character. As she begins to talk to her imaginary friend, Eliza, it brings her sanity into question. You know she lied to police about what really happened in 1991, so is she telling the truth now? She is a reticent, odd character who constantly questions her own thoughts and decisions, which in turn makes her more unreliable. Even the people she is talking to as she tries to figure out what happened to Dan cast doubt on her grip with reality/sanity. The layers of duplicity keep piling up as the plot unfolds.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Blind Vigil

Blind Vigil by Matt Coyle
12/1/20; 336 pages
Oceanview Publishing
Rick Cahill Series #7

Blind Vigil by Matt Coyle is a very highly recommended classic PI novel and the seventh in the Rick Cahill series.

Private investigator Rick Cahill was blinded by a gunshot wound to the face nine months ago while on his last case (Lost Tomorrows, #6 in the series). Now he is trying to learn to live without sight at his home in San Diego and, perhaps, find a new direction to his life. When his friend and sometimes partner Moira MacFarlane asks for his help on a case, he acquiesces. Apparently Moira is interviewing Rick's estranged friend, Turk Moldoon, and she wants Rick to sit in on her interview of Turk about the case. She is sure Rick will be able to tell if Turk is telling her the truth or not, something that is important to her after a previous case turned out disastrously. Turk wants Moira to follow his girlfriend, Shay, to find out if she is having an affair. Rick is sure Turk is telling the truth, so Moira takes on the case. Then Shay is killed, Turk is the main suspect, Moira is furious with Rick, and Rick is determined to discover the truth behind Shay's murder and defend his friend. And who is the man Rick keeps smelling as he follows Rick?

First, you can jump into Blind Vigil without having read the previous novels. I have read the previous novel, Lost Tomorrows, but I'm sure anyone could read Blind Vigil as a stand-alone. The writing is straightforward, the investigation is logical, and the pace is quick. This really is an entertaining, engaging, fast read that will also holding your attention from start to finish. If you like classic noir PI novels, you really need to check out this series.

Personally, I like the way Coyle portrays his hard boiled detective in this series and Rick Cahill is a great character. Rick is compelled to discover the truth no matter the cost and with his current lack of sight this compulsion may put him in danger. He may also be putting any chance of personal happiness at risk with his girlfriend, Leah, as they try to make a long distance romance work. As he investigates the case on his own with some help from Moira due to his impairment, he makes very logical connections and observations, putting the pieces together while trying to prove Turk is not guilty.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Oceanview Publishing.

Miss Benson's Beetle

Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce
11/24/20; 368 pages
Random House

Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce is a very highly recommended novel featuring two very different women going on the adventure of a lifetime.

As a ten-year-old in 1914, Margery Benson was shown a book of fantastical creatures by her father and she was immediately taken with the golden beetle of New Caledonia, an island in the South Pacific. Thirty-six years later, in 1950, Margery is a teacher of domestic science and has reached a breaking point. Forfeiting her job, she grabs a new pair of boots belonging to a colleague and runs out of the building. Margery has decided she must go on the expedition that she has dreamed about for years. She is going to travel from Britain to New Caledonia to find the golden beetle. She sells almost everything she owns and places an ad in the newspaper for an assistant who speaks French to accompany her, but ends up with the one woman she wasn't even going to interview: Enid Pretty. The two women, who are complete opposites, board the RMS Orion headed to Australia and then on to New Caledonia. Unknown to them, however, they are being followed by a delusional man who thinks he must head Miss Benson's expedition.

The golden beetle may not even exist, but the two women take on an extraordinary adventure, face one crisis and trial after another, and, ultimately, become friends. This is a wonderful, captivating, quirky novel, with all the warm fuzzies, that has incidents of sadness, danger, uncertainty, endurance, and comedy, but fundamentally it showcases the important life-changing power of friendship. The characters absolutely shine in this novel and are fully realized with an acumen and depth that makes them feel real. Ultimately, they are portrayed as complex women, with both strengths and weaknesses, as they experience trials and growth in their characters. It is the characters that make this novel, although the expedition is interesting and you will keep reading for both the plot and the characters.

The writing is admirable and splendidly captures both the characters and the narrative. I enjoyed the physical journey the characters undertake as much as the personal growth they exhibit. The plot does have a few incidents that stretch believability but, as with most adventure novels, you can easily set them aside and just enjoy the action in the narrative. This is simply a beautifully written, uplifting story. Even with the dark moments and the trials the two go through, Miss Benson's Beetle is an accomplished novel to read for escapism, especially during a trying time. It must be said that the final scene in the novel was absolutely perfect.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Kingdom

The Kingdom by Jo Nesbo
11/10/20; 416 pages
Knopf Doubleday

The Kingdom by Jo Nesbo is a very highly recommended twisty, dark, standalone thriller. Once you start it, this one is un-put-down-able.

As they were growing up Roy Opgard has always been there to look after and defend his younger brother, Carl. Roy is a mechanic who currently runs a service station, with hopes to own his own station someday. Carl went off to college in the USA and then went to work in Canada where he had great success. Carl is now coming back to Os, the remote Norwegian village where he grew up with Roy. He arrives with a wife, Shannon Alleyne, and plans to build a resort and spa on the mountain that the brother's jointly own. These two brothers have a dark past and are survivors.

This is an absolutely riveting thriller and Nesbo's writing will expertly play on all your emotions with his narrative slight of hand. As old secrets are slowly exposed, it also becomes clear that the brothers need to make more plans. Make no mistake that it is also an unsettling, disturbing novel where violence, suspicious accidents, and abuse are prevalent. The tension and trepidation continues to grow and spread out as each part of the narrative unfolds.

There are several mysteries hidden in the novel and the tale of each one will eventually be told. Since the setting is a small town, everyone's secrets and history often come back to light. Os seems a small, insular,  provincial place where past and present actions are always noted and remembered. I am in awe of how carefully Nesbo plotted this novel and allowed Roy, the narrator tell the story. Just when I thought one thing was true, I'd learn a few chapters later that it was another thing altogether.

Roy, as mentioned, narrates the novel, tells the stories, and explains his complex relationship to his brother, Carl. Roy is a complicated character and since he is the rather reticent narrator we very slowly learn more about him, his past, and the secrets he holds. He also has a great capacity for violence, but he is also logical to a fault. Towns people consider his a decent man, although Roy might disagree.

After a slow but steady plot advancement throughout the whole novel, the final denouement is shocking, surprising, and unforeseen. Dark, disturbing, and utterly engrossing, I was seized by the compelling, intricate plot and held captive until the end. This is a contender for my favorite books of the year.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday .

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Lord The One You Love is Sick

Lord The One You Love is Sick by Kasey Thornton
11/17/20; 232 pages
lg publishing 

Lord The One You Love is Sick by Kasey Thornton is a very highly recommended, beautifully written heartbreaking collection of short stories that, as a whole make a novel of profound depth.

The stories take place in rural Bethany, N.C. and open with reactions to and repercussions of the heroin overdose of 23-year-old Gentry Coats. Nettie, Gentry's mother, feels the judgement of the town and the church focused on her and judging her. Gentry's life-long best friend Dale is in the police academy and Gentry's death sends him into a spiral of guilt. His marriage suffers and he eventually has a mental breakdown. Ethan, Gentry's quiet withdrawn younger brother becomes agoraphobic. A family in the area struggles with an unspeakable secret and the repercussions are heartbreaking. At the same time a group of older men meet every at their self-named Table of Knowledge at Austin’s Grill, oblivious to the real issues in the town.

The writing is breathtakingly  beautiful and absolutely perfect in this collection, even when the subject matter is heartbreaking and emotionally agonizing. Each story in this collection, taken together, create a picture of life in this small town and how one death is connected to an undercurrent of secrets, gossip, and denial. Thornton uses different points of view in these stories, which makes them stronger and poignant when viewed as a whole. The subjects Thornton covers from this small town include drug addiction, mental illness, gossip, prejudice, sexual abuse, and domestic violence, to name a few. She manages to capture psychological insight into each character and treats them as individuals with tenderness and understanding, even when the subject matter is tragic and agonizing. Yeah, you will likely cry while reading Lord The One You Love is Sick. This is an excellent collection.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of lg publishing

Out of Her Mind

Out of Her Mind by T.R. Ragan
11/10/20; 284 pages
Thomas & Mercer
Sawyer Brooks #2

Out of Her Mind by T.R. Ragan is the highly recommended second novel featuring crime reporter Sawyer Brooks.

When the bones of a young girl are found in Sacramento’s Land Park Sawyer is on the story for the Sacramento Independent and begins looking into all the missing girls from the area. Then twelve-year-old Riley Addison disappears and Sawyer is certain that there may be a serial kidnapper/killer of young girls working in the area. Sawyer obsessively pursues any and all leads, certain that she will uncover the psychopath responsible. Her sister Aria begins to help in the investigation. Sawyer has also been assigned the case of the Black Wigs, a group of vigilante women who have been operating in the area and taking revenge on the men who attacked them. They were The Crew in the first book and unknown to Sawyer, her sister Harper is a member of the group. The three sisters, Harper, Aria, and Sawyer, are survivors of a horrific childhood as covered in the first book, Don't Make a Sound.

Out of Her Mind follows two different story lines. We have Sawyer and her investigation and Harper and her group of vigilantes. The writing is good and the action moves quickly. You will definitely want to know what happens and see a resolution to both story lines. Alas, you will get your wish for one, but not the other, which is likely because book #3 is due out in 2021. I did enjoy reading it after I set aside a few of my feelings over the subject matter in both narrative threads. The dialogue is a little stilted and the investigation felt routine, even when new information is discovered.  The characters are developed, but perhaps not as well as I would like to see, but that could be because I didn't read the first novel. It would be nice, perhaps, to have one or two main female characters who are not emotionally damaged.

This is a dark investigative thriller and the subject matter is disturbing in both story lines. That is not to imply that child abductions, abuse, rape, and violence don't happen, but perhaps this isn't a great year for such a bleak, disturbing drama. I didn't read the first novel in the series, and although some of the background information was recapped here, it still felt as if I was missing part of the story. However, this novel felt so ominous that I'm not sure if I want to peruse the first one, or at least not right now.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Thomas & Mercer.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Move

The Move by Felicity Everett
1/23/20; 352 pages

The Move by Felicity Everett is a recommended domestic drama.

Nick and Karen have bought a house in the country that Nick has been fixing up for Karen as she recovers from an unknown illness. (It is assumed that it was a mental breakdown.) Nick was having an affair, which is supposed to be over now, and this move is to signify a new start and putting the past behind them. She meets the new neighbors, while missing her old friends, and is trying to make this new start successful. It seems that Nick, though, may have plans of his own and Karen is not sure she can trust him as odd things start to happen.

This novel is much slower paced than I was expecting and is really a story about a woman who doesn't trust her husband. The villagers they meet are a diverse bunch and they are depicted as such. The house has an odd vibe for Karen, but we don't know if it is her projecting her feelings. Is Nick sabotaging her?  Karen is a potter and Nick has built her a studio in the garden, but still she has doubts. Does Nick have plans she doesn't know about or is he truly re-devoting himself to their marriage? The writing does a good job building up suspense and highlighting Karen's paranoia. The starting scene sets up the plot for ensuing drama. Then the novel had some eerie scenes, where you were scared for Karen's safety, but nothing confirmed. I found it difficult to connect with the characters or really feel engaged in the plot. There is a final twist in the tale, but I found the final denouement a bit disappointing. The Move is okay, but don't expect a thriller.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins

Little Cruelties

Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent
11/10/20; 352 pages
Gallery/Scout Press

Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent is a highly recommended psychological drama featuring a dysfunctional family.

At the opening of the novel two unnamed brothers are attending the funeral of the third brother. Then Little Cruelties delves into the lives of the three Irish brothers, William, Brian, and Luke Drumm. The brothers were all born a year apart into a home where their mother, a narcissistic actress and singer, pitted the brother's against each other for her attention while their father tried to be fair.  The home that was full of turmoil as the boys fought for their mother's indifferent affection, but she had her favorite. The brother's themselves played cruel games against each other and always tried to justify their side.

The novel unfolds in four parts and is narrated by the brothers, starting with the oldest, Will, followed by Brian and ending with Luke. Their chapters/stories jumped around in time during their sections where we hear them talk about their childhood and past leading up to their current lives. In the final fourth part of the novel you hear from all three brothers. Will is a film producer who is arrogant, self-centered, immoral, and a misogynist. Brian is self-centered, insecure, ruthless, and is only out for himself. Luke becomes a wildly successful pop star, but struggles with his self esteem, addiction and mental health issues. Each brother tells their story, their shared family history, but through their own point-of-view and perspective. The difference in the way they view the same events is startling and disturbing.

It becomes quite obvious that the brother's are all unreliable narrators. Their accounts are all riveting, if only because they highlight how absolutely reprehensible the brothers are, especially Will and Brian. Luke's behavior is also wretched, but he is battling addicted and mental illness so he does get a pass in some ways. There is nothing positive in any of their interaction with each other because none of the brothers have empathy or truly care for the other two.

The narrative is engrossing, if only because you know a disaster is looming ahead and something in the brother's lives must explain what will happen in the future. But.. oh my are these unlikable characters, start to finish. I also will admit I had an adverse reaction to the brother's stories jumping around in time, back and forth over the years. Chapters are dated, so you know where you are in time, but I think I would have preferred their stories told in a linear fashion. This is a dark, bleak dysfunctional family drama that will hold your attention.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Gallery/Scout Press

After All I've Done

After All I've Done by Mina Hardy
11/10/20; 310 pages
Crooked Lane Books

After All I've Done by Mina Hardy is a highly recommended domestic psychological thriller.

Diana Sparrow was in an accident five months ago that left her missing two months of her memory. What she does know now is that her husband Jonathan is having an affair with her best friend, Valerie. Jonathan's mother, Harriett Richmond, lives in a guest and comes over daily to help Diana. Diana is slowly recovering but is becoming tired and annoyed by Harriett's constant presence. She is also having nightmares about the accident and burying something. Divorcing Jonathan isn't an option because of their prenup. Diana seems to be on the road to recovery, but she keeps having setbacks.  Her sessions with her psychiatrist don't seem to be helping either.

Chapters in the first part of After All I've Done alternate between narration by Diana and Valerie; a third narrator is added after this providing a new twist to the story. All of the characters in this novel are unreliable narrators. Diana says she doesn't remember, Val talks of a scheme, Jonathan is a sleazeball, and Harriett is the worst of them all. It's clear everyone is lying about something and odd occurrences seem to be multiplying. Most normal people would start the confrontations, but then everyone's sanity - and angle - is also at play here.

All the characters are disagreeable - every single one. In a novel like this I'd normally like at least one person to trust and that's purposefully not happening here. The plot does get more interesting once the third narrator is added along with a whole other side to the plot. Hardy keeps the action moving quickly, though, which takes some of the pressure off a lot of character development and focuses it all on the current situation involving all these characters.

You'll likely know where this one is going long before the denouement, but it is a twisty entertaining ride to get there. The writing is good, the plot is engaging, and while you'll dislike all the characters, you'll keep reading simply to find out if what you've guessed is happening is in fact happening. (You're guessing correctly. It follows a tried and true formula.) Hardy throws plenty of surprises and action into the mix of this domestic thriller to keep it entertaining and suspenseful until you reach the conclusion you saw coming.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crooked Lane Books

Sunday, November 1, 2020


Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
new edition 10/6/20; original edition 2009; 640 pages
Thomas Nelson

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas is a very highly recommended biography of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In this new updated 2020 edition a number of typographical and other small errors from the first edition have been corrected. I enjoyed my copy of the first edition immensely and it is a privilege to read the new introduction and reacquaint myself with an incredible man of faith.

"'Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. God will not hold us guiltless.' Though the words have never been directly traced to Bonhoeffer, do they not sum up what he said in so many other ways?" This biography of theologian and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) is an important and inspiring work that should be a must-read for any one who wants to know what the Christian principle of "dying to self" means. The idea of setting yourself aside and living for others and for God is often thought to be a severe task that only a few saintly people can do, but as Paul proclaimed, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Bonhoeffer fundamentally understood and embraced that belief.

Metaxas presents Bonhoeffer's life, starting with his family and upbringing leading to the various influences in his life that led to his profound faith and convictions. He also covers the historical background of the times for those who might not be well acquainted with it. Many readers will already know something about Bonhoeffer's work as a theologian and his resistance to Nazism and their atrocities, and his death, but this biography is a full account of his life and the decisions and choices he made that eventually led to his execution. It is well documented and Metaxas carefully notes the many primary sources and papers he consulted to write this very complete and accessible biography of an amazing man.

This is a life that speaks for itself, and Metaxas wisely allows the information and documents he presents to tell the story of Bonhoeffer's life.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Thomas Nelson.

The Preserve

The Preserve by Ariel S. Winter
11/3/20; 256 pages
Atria/Emily Bestler Books

The Preserve by Ariel S. Winter is a recommended procedural set in a science fiction future controlled by robots.

Robots now control the world after the human population was almost annihilated by a plague. In this future world the AI rulers have opened a series of preserves, areas where people can live and rebuild their society and population. When the first murder occurs on the SoCar Preserve in South Carolina, Jesse Laughton, the Chief of Police in SoCar, is assigned to investigate the case.  At the same time a series of robots have turned up dead from indulging in sims, which are illegal programs that are akin to drugs for robots. The murdered man was Carl Smythe, who turns out to be a hacker who wrote and sold sims. It's a tricky situation. It looks like the murders  are related and could be used as a reason for the robots to close the preserves. Jesse's former partner from the Baltimore PD, a robot named Kir, comes to assist Jesse with the case.

This is essentially a procedural. If I look at it as simply a procedural and murder mystery, it is a satisfying read, but if I allow any of my sci-fi expectations to trickle in and expect more descriptions and background information it becomes a lesser novel. I chose to read it as a procedural in an interesting setting. The world building is rudimentary. The futuristic setting, with robots the controlling class who have allowed the setting up preserves for humans, is not so incidentally suppose to resemble any of a number of times the ruling group has set up an area, district, ghetto, camp, etc. to segregate another group. The groups of robots actually simply resemble humans in their prejudices, attitudes, etc. I guess I'd like a society run by robots to resemble not feuding human groups, but a more logical unemotional fact based system.

It is odd, but Kir, the robot partner of Jesse, is the most likeable character in the book. Jesse is not a character that you will connect with of feel a lot of sympathy for. He has debilitating headaches throughout the novel and they are almost mentioned too frequently. I am assuming they are migraines, but that is never openly said. I kept waiting for some explanation behind the continuous mention of them but any commentary about the cause for these headaches is never broached. The problem is that he repeatedly mentions that the headaches are interfering with his ability to do the investigation.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria/Emily Bestler Books.