Sunday, June 25, 2017

Eight Is Enough

Eight Is Enough by Tom Braden
Open Road Media: 6/20/17
eBook; 173 pages
ISBN-13: 9781504045353

Eight Is Enough by Tom Braden has been re-released by Open Road Media in the eBook format. This is a highly recommended, nostalgic look-back at parenting in the early 70's. Although many things in the book are dated now, the original book was published in the mid-seventies, it still provides many amusing anecdotes and practical parenting advice, as well as some personal opinions. Just as the TV show, Braden does address some serious concerns he had at the time, including drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex, along with more amusing stories. Admittedly, there is a lot of name dropping in the book. It's hard to say if this was intentional or simply a reflection of the life the Braden's lived.

Many people will recall the popular TV show of the same title and loosely based on Braden's book. Parents are Tom and Joan (only in the TV show stepmother Abby appeared very quickly since the original actress playing Joan died after 4 episodes). The eight children are: David, Mary, Joannie, Susan, Nancy, Elizabeth, Tommy, and Nicholas. Tom Braden actually lived a rather colorful, interesting life, but was played, as I recall, as a rather affable and agreeable advice-giver on the TV show. The show did tackle some tough, timely issues but naturally things were solved quickly.

There were several interesting quotes, but I'll only share three.

The first was Mother's Rule, meaning Braden's mother: "The 'good' books we force upon the young in contravention of our knowledge that the purpose of the young is to contravene. Therefore, learning must be secret and illegal. If you really want a child to read something, there is only one way: Hide it." My mother insisted that nobody had ever tried her rule. But I have. It works. I hide the 'good' books, or I put them on the highest shelves.

"I think the deans of our colleges have yielded too easily. Respect, consideration, thoughtfulness and kindness, privacy and forbearance are still virtues worth inculcating. And when they fall before the strength of the new sexual morality, style loses meaning and, I should think, college dormitories become barns. I’m sure I sound old-fashioned."

"There is a time in the life of a man and a woman, between childhood and adulthood, between dependence and responsibility, between desire and the ability to cope with it, between wanting something and deciding to earn it, when the human being, physically grown and emotionally childish, is a very dangerous animal."

Disclosure: My
review copy was courtesy of Open Road Media.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Girl on the Leeside

Girl on the Leeside by Kathleen Anne Kenney
Nan A. Talese: 6/20/17
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385542395

Girl on the Leeside by Kathleen Anne Kenney is a recommended deferred-coming-of-age story for a woman in Ireland.

Siobhan Doyle has been living with her Uncle Kee since her mother died when she was two years-old. Now twenty-seven, she helps her Uncle Kee run the family pub. The two also share a passion for reading and discussing Irish folklore and poetry together. Until Tim Ferris, an American professor of Irish literature, arrives to discuss poetry with her Uncle, Siobhan has been protected by Uncle Kee, content to live and work at the pub, while keeping to herself, and secretly writing her own poetry. Now she may be opening herself up to the world and new experiences for the first time. Suddenly some secrets may be revealed and her future may hold more options than simply working at the pub.

Pluses include the lovely writing and the Irish poetry sprinkled throughout the novel. Minuses include the many mentions of Siobhan's small stature, long hair, and fairy-like appearance. It is a stretch to also believe that today someone would be as naive and sheltered as Siobhan is portrayed here - but then this is fiction. The dialogue is a bit stilted at times and, although this is a coming-of-age story, it is the "lite" version. There are a few too many unrealistic circumstances for my tastes.

If you like novels that are light, gentle reads about Ireland, Irish poetry, and a late first romantic interest, then this may be a nice choice to bring along on your summer vacation.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Nan A. Talese.

The Substitute

The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan
House of Anansi Press: 6/13/17
eBook review copy; 399 pages
ISBN-13: 9781487002350

The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan is a highly recommended psychological mystery.

Warren Botts is a socially awkward man pursuing his PhD in Biology who decided to take a break from his lab. Warren accepted a position as a substitute science teacher at the middle school where the principal is his academic adviser's brother. When he notices Amanda Fuller, a student, standing by a tree in the backyard of his rental house very early one morning, he chooses to ignore her and goes for a run instead. This is the same girl who repeatedly stopped by his house asking him to help her with her science and he was advised to tell her he could help her at school but she had to stay away from his house.

When Warren returns from his run, he looks out the window and sees Amanda hasn't moved. Suddenly he notices the rope and realizes what has happened. After he calls the police with a garbled message, he clearly is the prime suspect in the girl's murder and public sentiment in the small community turns against him.

Warren's chapters alternate with the first person account of an anonymous narrator who is likely one of Warren's students and clearly the one who planned Amanda's demise. This person is a burgeoning psychopath who is extremely intelligent, but emotionally damaged, stunted, and detached from any meaningful interpersonal connections. The one exception is the younger sister nicknamed "Buddon."

As the narration progresses in the alternating chapters, it appears that the two stories are going to intersect and combine, but the truth is not revealed until the very end of the novel. The Substitute is not a nail-biting tense, fast-paced novel of suspense, but rather a slowly emerging story of two solitary people who have more in common than either of them realize. It is also an in-depth character study of these two people. The tension comes from the treatment of Warren Botts over Amanda's death and the suspicions of who the anonymous narrator is and what they might do next.

It is a beautifully written novel. Lundrigan captures Warren's obsession with numbers and counting things along with his socially awkward ineptness perfectly, while also introducing us to the chilling mind of a young psychopath. If there is any drawback to this fine novel it is due to the slow pace. (Another drawback would be the intelligence of Warren's choice to be a substitute teacher at a middle school.) Although it is a superior work of fiction, it is not a novel that compels you to stay up too late at night reading. The excellent writing, however, will help you persevere to the end. The end will be worth the time invested. It totally surprised me.



Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of House of Anansi Press.

Tell My Dad

Tell My Dad by Ram Muthiah
Waimea Publishing: 6/16/17
eBook review copy; 282 pages
ISBN-13: 9780997390667

Tell My Dad by Ram Muthiah is a recommended thriller featuring a vigilant killer trying to eliminate pedophiles.

It becomes increasingly clear that there is a serial killer on the loose. Only this killer is targeting the pedophiles and writes "Stay Away" or "Stay Away from Little Girls" on the foreheads of his victims.  While the authorities are struggling trying to solve the recent rash of abducted girls in the San Francisco Bay area, a monk wearing a red robe and a mask has no problem finding the culprits - and he is doling out deserved justice, violently, to those who are guilty.

The plot of the story was based on real events which provided the author impetus to write Tell My Dad. Clearly the subject matter, rescuing young girls from harm by abductors, makes this a compelling novel where you are cheering for the serial killer because the abductors deserve to die (painfully). Muthiah provides a backstory for the vigilante later in the narrative that helps make sense of his reasons for seeking justice, at all costs, and how he acquired the skills to do so. It is a quick read and the action moves along at a fast pace.

So, the subject matter is gripping, which can account for the many high ratings; however, the actual quality of the writing is simply okay. Parts of the novel do not flow smoothly and feel choppy, especially at the beginning. The dialogue doesn't feel natural. There is a part later in the novel with an FBI intern that, well, no spoilers here but even I can't stretch my credulity that far.  I was even unsure if I would finish it at one point, but I did want to see how Muthiah would conclude his novel.

In my final analysis, I will concede that if you don't take notice the quality of the writing and simple want a thriller with action the moves along swiftly, Tell My Dad fits the description.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Waimea Publishing.

Turf

Turf: Stories by Elizabeth Crane
Soft Skull Press: 6/13/17
eBook review copy; 208 pages
ISBN-13: 9781619029347

Turf: Stories by Elizabeth Crane is a very highly recommended collection of twenty-two short stories. With an eye for detail, Cranes demonstrates sometimes matter-of-fact, sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes tongue-in-cheek observations. The stories included may be lists or observations or short stories or brief glimpses into a life. Although a few were not quite winners for me, the collection was excellent when considered as a whole. The stories can be loosely organized into themes as you read, which begs you to compare them. The writing is quite good and all the stories flowed smoothly and held my interest.

Contents:


Everywhere, Now: Crane journeys from city or state or continent (Rome, Oklahoma, Seattle, Australia, Nevada, Idaho, etc.) sharing a commonplace, specific event that happens during the same moment in time. "In Rome, a woman who won a prestigious art fellowship falls in love with a local.... Somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma, a UPS guy delivers a package... In Seattle, a barista... In Australia, a woman’s house just washed away, she watched it from a tree."

The Genius Meetings: Geniuses meet to talk with their own kind. "On the first Wednesday of the month we meet at one of our homes to discuss our achievements and share our profound and original thoughts." "We meet to congratulate ourselves but also to purge ourselves. We meet to share things we cannot share with you."

Star Babies: An imagined future expansion of the current social media tabloid culture is explored. "First the star babies took over the state of California. Star babies multiplied rapidly in Los Angeles, slowly pushing out all the other babies, out into the Valley and as far east as Joshua Tree."

Roosters: Stream of consciousness chronicling a woman's search through a store. "I am pretty sure a bag of kettle corn or two is just what I need. I’ll just get three. Because today I am going to be kind to myself. That is what the books say I should do and so that is what I will do. I will start by treating myself to whatever I want. Here I come, fancy cheese."

Here Everything’s Better:  A woman focuses on a tall woman she seems to repeatedly see while shopping.

Some Concerns: A list of fears, large and small. "I am afraid that this shirt does not go with this sweater. I am afraid that my outfit does not match. I am afraid that my outfit is too matchy-matchy."

Where Time Goes: A rambling discussion of the fluid nature of time "...if you look for it, it might turn up in places you wouldn’t have much reason to think about. A lot of this time was left behind by the former owners of this house, all of whom eventually died there. These people did the best they could with their time, but they didn’t know the truth..."

Looking: A list of what the author likes looking at.

All the Wigs of the World:  "Bigwigs are everywhere, all around us. If you are the biggest wig in one world, you can be sure there is another world with a bigger wig than you. If you are not the biggest wig in your world, there is still a good likelihood that there is a smaller wig than you."

Mr. and Mrs. P Are Married: The life of two people who eventually have a histrionic relationship is chronicled.

Best Friends Seriously Forever: Two fourteen year old girls who are best friends, go through a traumatic experience.

Old Friends: Two longtime friends get together in New York.

Justin Bieber’s Hair in a Box: "Justin Bieber’s hair is in a box on your dresser, a gift for your niece.."

Stella’s Thing: We follow Stella through a time in her life involving her tattoos. "Stella had two tattoos: a bee on each clavicle, bee-sized. It hurt when she got them."

Notes for an Important American Story: Notes highlighting not the story as much as the self-importance of an author of literary fiction as the story is conceived. "This is a story about a man whose heart is large but full of rage. Or just angst. Or just malaise. Something like that."

Heroes: A six-year-old boy makes a unlikely superhero out of Bob Brown, a disagreeable man who saved a child from getting hit by a bus.

Turf: "This story takes place in the large Midwestern city of Hicago, which as you are surely aware, does not even exist, much of it not existing at a dog park very close to the intersection of Hackhawk and Heaver, which is also made up." The two main characters are dog walker Hulie and the dog owner Helizabeth.

Video: "We did not exist before now. We are young and nameless and our skin is unblemished and our hair is just like this and we keep our faces blank, always."

Wind: On the last day of her life, a grandmother wakes up to discover that she has gone bald overnight.

We Collect Things: "Our deal is we collect things. The only requirement for membership is a collection of one thousand things. More is fine. More is better. Our preference is for collections of just one type of thing, but we are not exclusive in this way."

Today in Post-Apocalyptic Problems:  A post-apocalyptic story where a couple finds a baby in a bucket on their doorstep.

Notes for A Dad Story:  Another window of insight into the framework of creating a story.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Soft Skull Press.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Wilders

Wilders by Brenda Cooper
Pyr Books: 6/13/17
eBook review copy; 367 pages
ISBN-13: 9781633882652

Wilders by Brenda Cooper is a highly recommended coming-of-age dystopian science fiction novel.

In the near future cities have expanded to megacities that take care of most of the populations every need. The land outside the cities is set aside for wilding, or returning it to a natural state, sans humans with the exception of those hired in the capacity to assist returning nature to a natural balance. Coryn Williams and her sister Lou grew up in Seacouver, a merging of Seattle and Vancouver.  After their parents' suicides, Lou was hired to join a rewilding crew and left the city. She left Coryn behind at an orphanage, occasional sending her bland emails about the beauty she sees in the wild. Once Coryn becomes of age, she chooses to leave the city with Paula, her companion robot, to look for her sister.

Outside the city's dome, the world is much different and more treacherous than Lou let on. Coryn is in almost constant peril of being harmed, robbed, and having Paula stolen from her. Even the weather, uncontrolled outside the city dome, is dangerous and unpredictable. While it seems that most people outside can't be trusted, Coryn manages to press on, meets a few people who may be friends, and she eventually does find Lou; but everything Lou wrote about outside to Coryn doesn't seem to reflect the reality of the life Lou is living. There is also some risky plan and private agenda between Lou and some people Coryn knows are evil. The only problem is that no one, not even Lou, trusts her enough to tell her what is going on.

This is the first book in a future series. Admittedly, I enjoyed Wilders considerably, although it felt like it was a whole lot longer than 367 pages while I was reading it. Part of the issue is that even though the plot has interesting little scenes or hooks in it to propel you forward with bursts of speed, the action is rather slow moving. Once you keep reading, not all the interesting bits are fully explained and the world building is a little lacking.

You need to set aside certain expectations and roll with the narrative in this case. The story flows smoothly, and we reach a conclusion of sorts, but obviously more books in the series will mean more information about the city, etc. Coryn is an interesting character and there are several other interesting characters along the way. Now, we don't get to know too much about any of them, except Coryn, but I'd imagine future books will flesh out people more completely. Wilders reads like a YA title and would be highly suitable for that audience.  This is a nice start to a new series.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Pyr Books.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan
Scribner: 6/13/17
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501116841

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan is a very highly recommended, clever, appealing mystery with a likeable protagonist.

Lydia Smith, thirty, is a clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore. When Joey Molina, one of her so-called "BookFrogs" (regulars who spend most of the day in the store), commits suicide on the third floor of the store just before closing time, she is devastated. She is also surprised to discover that twenty-year-old Joey has a picture from her tenth birthday party in his pocket. Joey also, inexplicably, left her name as the one to contact to inherit his meager worldly possessions. Lydia collects the books he seemed to have left for her, but the books are oddly defaced and may contain some sort of message.

As Lydia tries to figure out what was happening in Joey's life that led him to suicide, her traumatic past and buried memories begin to intrude on her thoughts. His suicide brings back terrible visions of her childhood when she suffered a traumatic event that changed her life. When Lydia's picture runs in the paper, it does help her best friend from that time, Raj Patel, reconnect with her, but it also helps a detective find her again. The answers about Joey's death seem to lead Lydia to reexamine her childhood and a twenty-year-old cold case.

This is an excellent novel. It is well paced, with an intricate plot that and a perplexing mystery. Along with the plot, Sullivan seamlessly describes and establishes an astute sense of place for all his characters. The characters are wonderfully realized - unconventional and realistic.  Lydia tells the present story and what is happening to her today. Flashbacks are told through her father's point-of-view to explain part of what happened in Lydia's childhood, until Lydia remembers what she experienced. It is perfectly presented and flows seamlessly from one part of the story to the next, past and present.

I was entranced by and riveted to every page of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. Not only is it an excellent, clever novel, it's hard to believe it is a debut novel. I really liked the character of Lydia and her other friends at the bookstore. It's rather nice to have a great summer read with a likeable character where you want everything to turn out for the best.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.