Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Man of the Year

Man of the Year by Caroline Louise Walker
Gallery Books: 304 pages
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781982100452 

Man of the Year by Caroline Louise Walker is a recommended character driven psychological thriller.

Dr. Robert Hart has just been named Man of the Year in Sag Harbor, but that award may have been premature. His beautiful second wife, Elizabeth, is there to witness his acceptance speech, along with his son, Jonah, and Jonah's friend, Nick. But when Robert notices that Nick may be paying a bit too much attention to Elizabeth, and that she is responding, he is not thrilled when Elizabeth invites Nick to stay in their guest house for the summer. Robert needs to take matters into his own hands and get Nick out. One lie seems to lead to another and before long Robert is trying to cover his tracks.

The first part of Man of the Year is told exclusively through Robert's voice, which makes it challenging because the man is not a likeable or compelling character. His paranoia can be over-the-top.  After a shocking event, the second part of the novel takes over. At this point other voices add to the narrative and make the totality a more fascinating and intricate web of details and lies. In the end, none of the characters are particularity likeable, but the complicated lies and subtle threats they all undertake certainly will hold your attention. I liked the different voices relating what happened and their own deceits through their point-of-view. This added a nice layer to the story that was desperately needed after so many chapters of Robert's narrative.
This would be a good choice for a summer vacation read or an airplane book. It will hold your attention, but you aren't going to cry if you should lose or misplace the book and never finish it. The writing is good enough to take note of Walker as an author to watch.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Gallery Books


Tiny by Kim Hooper
Turner Publishing Company: 6/11/19
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781684422425

Tiny by Kim Hooper is a highly recommended about three people grieving and dealing with a tragedy.
Nate and Annie Forester's three year old daughter, Penny, was hit by a truck in a tragic accident. Nate is in denial, trying to go on with life and hold it all in. He has returned to work, because someone has to bring in some money. Annie is inconsolable and unable to move beyond her overwhelming grief. Annie doesn't comprehend how Nate can go on as normal. The couple is becoming increasingly distant with each other as they grow apart.
Josh is a young man who was driving the truck that hit Penny. It was an accident. She ran out in front of his truck. He wasn't speeding, but couldn't stop in time. The accident has also changed his life. He wants to find a way to talk to Nate and Annie, to apologize. He begins watching their house, when he sees Annie leave, suitcase in hand, one morning and later sees Nate return home and subsequently distressed, holding a note, presumably from Annie. From watching the couple, Josh knows where Annie went - to a small community of people living in tiny houses. He wants to tell Nate what he knows, but doesn't understand how to approach him.
This is a heartbreaking novel as every person is grieving and unable to meaningfully communicate and share their feelings and inner thoughts with each other. The writing is very good. Hooper captures the overwhelming grief all the characters are going through and how they are acting after the tragedy. The death of a child is always difficult. When it is due to an accident, when there is no clear fault, the questions of what if can take over for everyone involved. Hooper handles this in a compassionate and understanding way while propelling her characters forward in her plot. The characters are all well developed and you will care about what happens to all three of them. The ending is a wonderful denouement and offers hope.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Turner Publishing Company.

The Good Sister

The Good Sister by Gillian McAllister
Penguin Random House: 6/11/19
eBook review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525539391

The Good Sister by Gillian McAllister is a highly recommended novel detailing the relationship between two sisters and a riveting courtroom drama.
Martha and Becky are sisters who have always had a close relationship. The novel opens after with Becky is about to stand trial for suffocating Martha's 8-week-old baby, Layla who died under her aunt Becky's care. Martha refuses to believe that Becky is guilty, but all the evidence seems to point to her. Becky was acting as a nanny for Martha. Layla was a difficult baby, who cried incessantly from what may have been acid reflux, and was unconsolable. When Martha had to leave town for two days and her husband Scott is at a conference, Becky is left in charge of Layla and Layla is found dead under her care.
The novel alternates chapters between the point-of-view of the two sisters and also follows the trial as witnesses give testimony. The result is that the reader is privy to hidden feelings of resentment on Becky's part, and Martha's hidden quest to prove that Becky is innocent and someone else was there and guilty. The perspective of many of the witnesses is also presented before they take the stand, with their testimony following, which clearly shows how everything can be twisted to mean something else.
McAllister does a skillful job developing the characters into real individuals, and the close relationship between the sisters is believable. At the same time, she keeps the tension rising as new personal revelations between the sisters is revealed and as each new witness takes the stand. It begs the question: Can you really know another person, even someone you think you know?  And how will the extended family handle a situation that is almost guaranteed to tear any family apart?

The writing is excellent and the plot is well-presented and well-executed. Even the most seemingly innocent event can be twisted to mean something else.  The courtroom scenes are believable and heartbreaking. Even if you have an idea of what happened (and I did right from the start) it won't diminish your enjoyment of this novel. This is a wonderful courtroom drama and will hold your attention from beginning to end.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Paper Wasp

The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora
Grove/Atlantic: 6/11/19
eBook review copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802129413

The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora is a highly recommended, dark, twisted tale of a friendship between two women.

Abby Graven is stuck at her parent's house in Michigan working as a cashier in a supermarket. She obsessively creates detailed drawings of visions from her dreams that are often premonitory, and she follows the films of director, Auguste Perren. She also obsessively follows the acting career of her former best friend, Elise Van Dijk. When Abby and Elise reconnect at their ten-year high school reunion, a drunken Elise gives Abby her private number. Later Abby shows up in Hollywood and calls Elise. This results in a renewal of their friendship as Elise confesses she has no real friends and she invites Abby to stay with her. Abby becomes a pillar of support, a confidante, and a personal assistant to Elise.

Abby watches as Elise drinks too much, dates an arrogant, narcissistic man, and doubts her abilities while resenting the other egotistical actresses around her, but she also claims to be an artist, which embitters Abby. This novel shows the weird, dark side of Los Angeles and Hollywood. It also brings Abby closer to her idle, Auguste Perren, and his Rhizome retreat/compound, which teaches actors to use their dreams. Elise attends as if it is nothing, but Abby has obsessed with being there for years and religiously follows and practices Perren's dream-imaging techniques. At the same time Abby is still having her dream/visions and drawing them.
As would be expected, this reconnection is not going to result in anything good. Told in the second person, this is a disquieting, twisted, ominous novel that is the story of an uneven friendship, obsessions, a confession of hidden secrets, and a dairy of stealthy plans. Even when you know it is going to take a foreboding turn, it still will hold your attention, and the turn it does take is simultaneously unexpected and obvious.
The writing is excellent, even while it is taking bizarre turns, and you will find yourself compulsively reading just one more chapter. The ending is frightening and ominous, but Abby can explain and justify every turn she takes, as if it were all predetermined - which it has been through her dream visions. If it sounds like this is a rather odd visionary tale, it is. It is akin to a diary written to your obsessions.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove/Atlantic.

Above the Ether

Above the Ether by Eric Barnes
Arcade Publishing: 6/11/19
eBook review copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781628729986

Above the Ether by Eric Barnes is a highly recommended prequel to his climate change science fiction novel The City Where We Once Lived.

The stories of six sets of vastly different characters are told in short vignettes set in the climate changed world Barnes first created in The City Where We Once Lived. The weather patterns are unpredictable and violent, while the ground is poisoned, and the government is unable to provide any assistance. This novel covers the changes before, that led to the world he created. None of his characters are given names, rather they are named by a description. We follow the stories of: a father and his two children fleeing a tsunami in the Gulf; an investor making money betting on disasters; a couple punishing themselves over their sons addictions, while wildfires rage around them; a doctor and his wife living in a refugee camp for immigrants; a young man with a violent past and present is working at a carnival; and the manager of a fast food chain in a city of fierce winds. The different characters and their stories converge on the city which is half abandoned and the setting for The City Where We Once Lived.

The writing and the stories are presented in a dream-like, fragmented manner in a harsh apocalyptic setting. This is one of those novels that you will either commit to finishing or you will set it aside. While the characters are going through turmoil and unbelievable hardships, Barnes seems to purposefully keep his characters set apart, at a distance from the readers, as if they are just another small group of diverse people suffering. The writing simply tells their story while holding the reader at a distance - until the end. It is left up to the reader to decide if they will care or not - or if they feel this reality he has created will mirror our own world. It is definitely bleak and almost hopeless, as there is a glimmer of people coming together and helping each other at the end.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Arcade Publishing.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker

Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker by Kathleen Hale
Grove/Atlantic: 6/4/19
eBook review copy; 176 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802129093

Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker by Kathleen Hale is a highly recommended collection of six previously published essays that have been revised since their original publication. This is a collection described as portraying both predator and prey. In these autobiographical essays, Kathleen Hale openly and candidly discusses her mental health and presents/confesses clearly and consistently several difficult incidents in her life. She never tries to present herself as above the fray or better than others.

Contents include:
Catfish: An essay rehashing the 2014 catfishing by a G.R. YA reviewer and Hale's response, which was to catfish and stalk the reviewer. (More on this later.) 
Prey: Hale recounts her sexual assault as a first year college student and the two trials in which she testified against her attacker. This is the strongest essay in the collection.
I Hunted Feral Hogs as a Favor to the World: Hale and a friend take a trip to hunt feral hogs in Florida.  Although, perhaps the weakest essay in the collection, it does capture the crazy stalker theme.
Cricket: This is a description of a trip to Atlantic City to watch the Miss America pageant, as well as describe the audiences reaction to it.
Snowflake: Hale is allowed to visit, after extensive preparation, a community of people suffering from "environmental illness" which is located in Snowflake, Arizona.
First I Got Pregnant. Then I Decided to Kill the Mountain Lion.: A pregnant Hale becomes obsessed with a mountain lion living in nearby Hollywood’s Griffith Park and is sure she needs to track it down and kill it before her child is born.

Okay, now to address the elephant in the room. While I obviously don't condone her stalking a reviewer, reviewers have to realize authors can look into their profiles and perhaps expand their research to find out more about their negative and positive reviewers. We also need to admit that "gangs" of negative reviewers can also happen when someone doesn't agree with a differing opinion, and then tells all their friends about their outrage. In 2007 I blogged a negative review. Comments from my readers were in agreement and one respectfully disagreed. Life went on until 2011 when someone online stumbled across the review and proceeded to immediately and repeatedly attacked me and called in their online friends to do the same. I pulled the post down. The stalkerish behavior and trolling can go both ways. (This is an unbiased review of the book. I did not followed the previous "Hale-no" controversy.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove/Atlantic.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson
HarperCollins: 6/4/19
eBook review copy; 896 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062458711 

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson is a highly recommended science fiction/fantasy thriller. This is a brilliantly unique novel with great characters and world building established in a cautionary premise.

Richard “Dodge” Forthrast is a multibillionaire from a game company he founded. Now he can enjoy his life, especially spending time with his niece Zula and her daughter Sophia. When something goes wrong during a routine medical procedure, Dodge is pronounce brain dead and put on life support. This is when his family discovers that the will he made many years earlier called for his body to be frozen and stored at a cryonics company. The company is now owned by tech entrepreneur Elmo Shepherd. Legally bound to follow the directive, Dodge's friend Corvallis Kawasaki, who is also the executor of his will, acquiesces. Dodge's brain is scanned and its data structures uploaded and stored in the cloud, until it can eventually be revived.

Years later Dodge's grandniece, Sophia, is able to download Dodge's brain into a digital world. Now Dodge (Egdod) is a god in a bitworld he creates, and other downloaded brains find a place in it. At this point the story alternates between what is going on in Bitworld and the real world, or Meatspace.  Societal structures and power are explored in both worlds. Bitworld resembles a fantasy world, with footholds in ancient mythology and religion, and provides a sort of life after death for those scanned and downloaded into the digital world. 

Fall, or Dodge in Hell is absolutely a grand epic drama, featuring both an entertaining narrative and compelling reading. It  explores the interfacing of human imagination and artificial intelligence and begs the question whether technological breakthroughs are helping or harming humanity. This continues the story in Reamde, with recurring characters from that novel, but is a standalone novel. The writing is consummate Stephenson, so it is a detailed, complex story presented in a massive novel. But the whole story is here, so there is no waiting for a part two.

This is a well-written imaginative novel that explores life and eternity, and combines technology, and spirituality in one literary saga of science fiction and fantasy. The characters in both worlds are well developed and well imagined. The time line is approximately a human life span in Meatspace, but eons in Bitworld. I normally don't read much fantasy, so when the narrative mainly followed Bitworld, it lost a bit of the fascination for me. 4.5 rounded down

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.