Sunday, January 20, 2019

Once a Liar

Once a Liar by A.F. Brady
Park Row Books: 1/29/19
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780778369974

Once a Liar by A.F. Brady is a highly recommended thriller.

Peter Caine is an eminent, successful Manhattan defense attorney. He is handsome and charming to those he meets, those who could be some use to him, but Peter is, in reality, a sociopath with no remorse, guilt, or shame for any of his actions. His life and career have been carefully constructed on a foundation of lies and the certainty that he deserves more. 

When his ex-wife, Julianne, dies, Jamie, the estranged son Peter gave up custody of and has no relationship with, comes to live with Peter and Claire, his current girlfriend. Peter has been living with Claire for eight years while simultaneously having an on-going affair with Charlie (Charlotte), the step-daughter of his arch nemesis, New York County DA Harrison Doyle. In fact, it was his on and off affair with Charlie that broke up his marriage. When Charlie is found murdered, the evidence increasingly seems to point to Peter's guilt.

As the narrator of Once a Liar, Peter Caine is an intensely dislikeable character. The story, through Peter's eyes, follows events from the past and present and offers insight into his character, or lack thereof. Peter is a very well-developed character, even as his integrity is increasingly in question and his sociopathy becomes progressively clear as the plot advances. He is an unreliable narrator, but an honest one based on his point-of-view.

Once a Liar is a well-written novel, especially in terms of the character development of Peter. Initially Brady doles out interesting insight into Peter's back story and character, which grips your attention, but then the pace of the novel slows for a bit in the middle. Keep reading, however, because all the little insights will matter and the pace quickly picks up again. The ending twist is great. Some readers might guess parts of it, but probably not the complete picture. This is a very satisfying thriller.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Park Row Books.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Golden Tresses of the Dead

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley
Penguin Random House: 1/22/19
eBook review copy; 352 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780345540027
Flavia de Luce Series #10 

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley is the very highly recommended 10th Flavia de Luce novel. Twelve-year-old Flavia has formed a private detective agency with Dogger and the two take on their first case and client.

Arthur W. Dogger & Associates, Discreet Investigations, is now in business at Buckshaw. Flavia and Dogger discover their first case at her sister Ophelia's wedding in the chapel at Bishop’s Lacey. How did a severed finger end up in the wedding cake and who does it belong to? Then they take on their first client when Anastasia Prill asks them to find some stolen letters belonging to her father. The case deepens when something happens to Miss Prill and two missionaries, Doris Pursemaker and Ardella Stonebrook, end up staying at Buckshaw. While Flavia and Dogger are applying their detective skills to the cases, Flavia's cousin, Undine, seems intent to be in the way.

Flavia is well established as a chemistry prodigy in the series set in 1950s England. It's always nice to see a strong female character with a gift for science featured in a novel. At this point she is a well-developed character and it is entertaining to follow along the plot as she deduces clues, works in her lab, and follows leads to solve the case. Flavia and Dogger work great together and it's nice to see him gently helping Flavia. I would predict that Undine is going to begin to play a much larger role in the books and will take over Flavia's former bratty persona, as in this outing Flavia is definitely maturing and growing up. It almost seems that she is older now and might need another birthday soon.
These are all well-written novels and are Bradley inserts a fair amount of humor in the narrative that makes these novels even more enjoyable than simply a who-done-it.  While not YA, all of the Flavia novels are suitable for teens to adults. They should be read in order so you have Flavia's whole backstory and family history.  The word is the Bradley will be continuing the series, so expect more cases for Arthur W. Dogger & Associates, Discreet Investigations in the future.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

I Invited Her In

I Invited Her In by Adele Parks
MIRA Books: 2/5/19
eBook review copy; 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9780778369219

I Invited Her In by Adele Parks is a recommended thriller.

Melanie Harrison is surprised to receive an email from her university friend Abigail Curtiz. They haven't been in contact with each other since 1999 when Mel became pregnant with her son after a one-night-stand and dropped out of school. Seventeen years have passed and now Mel is happily married to Ben, and living in Wolvney, England, with their three children. Abi sends her an email explaining that she is in the midst of a contentious divorce and is returning to the UK after living in America. Abi is a minor TV personality who interviews celebrities for a living, so Mel is surprised that she doesn't have other friends to contact.

Mel ends up inviting Abi to come and stay indefinitely with her family and is shocked and surprised when Abi accepts. Once Abi arrives, Mel is consumed and infatuated with her every whim. Soon it becomes quite clear to everyone but Mel that Abi does not mean well to Mel or her family. Abi's stay is without an end point and the family is beginning to crack under the strain of hosting this  demanding guest.

First, the opening premise requires that the reader set aside a healthy dose of disbelief. For me it remained ludicrous throughout the novel and required a conscious effort to believe that anyone would invite a famous someone they hadn't seen for years to come and stay indefinitely in their modest home just because she showed some support for her years ago. Sure, I'd exchange emails, maybe meet them somewhere for coffee, but I would never invite them to stay for however long. That is stupid. Mel's instant devotion to someone she really was never that close to is odd.

Now, after you manage to set that huge MacGuffin aside, Parks does get kudos for creating tension and suspense as the narrative switched perspectives between Mel, Abi, and Ben. The narrative is a bit padded, but the plot is intriguing. Neither Mel nor Abi are likeable characters, but if you read thrillers and enjoy predicting plot developments, you'll keep reading to see if your predictions are right. (You will be correct, btw.) Continuing to read the story will be based on how engaged you are in seeing lives disintegrate and plans for revenge take place.

There are some nice details and emotional insights about raising children and marriage. This isn't an awful book, but it is predictable. In spite of my lack of surprises over any plot twists, I was engaged with the plot, even if it was just to see the train wreck I knew had to be coming at the end and I wasn't disappointed.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books


Crucible by James Rollins
HarperCollins: 1/22/19
eBook review copy; 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062381781
Sigma Force Series #13 

Crucible by James Rollins is a very highly recommended action/adventure thriller and the 13th addition to the Sigma Force Series. Rollins never lets you down!

On Christmas Eve Sigma Force commander Gray Pierce and his best friend, Monk Kokkalis, return to Monk’s house in Silver Spring, Md., where they discover the house has been broken into and is a wreck. Monk’s wife, Kat, is lying unconscious on the kitchen floor. Even more alarming is that Monk's two daughters, six-year-old Penny and five-year-old Harriet, are gone, along with Gray's pregnant wife, Seichan. Kat is the only witness to what happened, but she is in a semi-comatose state and cannot speak - until a way is found to communicate with her.

What they find out, along with other events, sends the team to the site of a massacre in Portugal. The lives of five women who led an international network of female scientists have been murdered and 21 year-old Mara Silviera, whose AI research they were funding, is missing. Somehow the current cutting edge AI research is tied to a group that dates back to the Spanish Inquisition, but the ultimate stakes are even more dire. 

Crucible is another exciting addition to the Sigma Force Series. Rollins always delivers pulse-pounding, nail-biting action and bases his story on historical facts and current scientific research resulting in a great mix of action, history, and science. The story itself is full of twists and surprise along with the trade-mark action you expect. As usual, do not skip Rollins author's notes at the end about his research for the novel. I've said it before, and I'm going to repeat myself here, but I appreciate the fact that Rollins treats his readers with respect and a nod to their intelligence and ability to comprehend a complex plot.

As expected the writing is impressive as the various plot threads move along and are all equally captivating. This was a novel that will result in the "just one more chapter" mantra. Although I have read almost all the Sigma Force novels in order, I think you could enjoy this one as a stand-alone as Rollins provides enough background information on the characters. There is, however, a greater depth to the story if you know the characters, their backgrounds, their struggles, and their relationships. I will always take the time to read anything Rollins writes. He always delivers a fast-paced interesting thriller.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Women Rowing North

Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher
Bloomsbury: 1/15/19
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781632869609 

Women Rowing North: Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing As We Age by Mary Pipher is a highly recommended examination of the issues facing aging women.

Pipher tackles the cultural, personal, social, and developmental issues and challenges women face as they age and explores ways women can cultivate happiness through their responses. She shares stories from women in a variety of circumstances, backgrounds, and economic circumstances, and demonstrates how their struggles result in them becoming  authentic, empathetic, and wise people. The summary of her encouraging advice is that happiness is a choice and skill set you can develop as you live a life of authenticity, gratitude, and adapting

In Women Rowing North Pipher doesn't shy away from the problems older women face, including health issues, ageism, loneliness, misogyny, lookism, caregiving, and loss. She notes that: "Old women in America suffer a social disease. For us, ageism may be an even more serious challenge than aging." She offers practical advice and suggestions as she shares the stories of the various women interviewed and featured along with her own personal journey in the book. She purposes that: "One of the great gifts of our later years is the possibility of authenticity....which comes from growing out of fears into wholeness."

She divides the book into three sections. The first section deals with the challenges that may face aging women. The second discusses the skills women need to navigate aging, with the ability to adapt being pivotal. The third section discusses the importance of relationships. Pipher realistically points out that, "We do not need to like all of our family members. Who does? Especially as we get older, we can select the people who we want to consider as family....No matter what our families are like or how difficult people are to get along with, we can almost always find at least one person to love."

Pipher has a calm, affirming writing style and this book should have a wide appeal to women approaching or in their sixties and beyond.  While her advice won't apply to every aging woman, it does provide a platform for individuals to chart their own course, set boundaries, confront obstacles, and make their way through this time of life. "We can set priorities and separate the essential from the nonessential. We can ask, 'Am I spending my time in accordance with my values?'... Each of us has the freedom to decide what is essential."

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bloomsbury via Netgalley.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Dreamers

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Penguin Random House: 1/15/19
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812994162

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker is a very highly recommended unique, light science-fiction novel about a mysterious epidemic and a town placed under quarantine.

The mysterious sleeping illness began on a college campus in Santa Lora, an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California. A freshman girl returns early to her dorm room and stumbles right into bed. When she is still asleep the next morning, her roommate, Mei, thinks nothing of it and leaves for the day. When she is still asleep that evening, the paramedics are called and she is hospitalized. Then another victim falls into a deep sleep and can't be woken up. At first the remaining students from that floor at the residents' hall are quarantined. Then as the disease begins to spread more rapidly, the whole town is placed under an enforced quarantine.

The number of sleepers requiring care reaches 500 by 18th day. Most victims simply stay asleep, although some die. The dreamers must be cared for, which requires many medical professionals and volunteers. The victims seem to be actively dreaming, with increased brain activity, but why? From a few Dreamers who have woken up, we know they have vivid dreams that seem real. Some have lived whole lives, some feel no time has passed, others re-live memories, and some believe they have had premonitions of the future.

The narrative changes perspective from one character to the next as the story unfolds. The characters are handled with compassion and a nuance that ties them all together while they experience the fear of an unfathomable epidemic and have no way to escape. Some of the characters include: Mei, a college student who was an outsider; a survivalist father and his 12 and 11 year-old daughters; a couple with a newborn baby; a biology professor; a college student dreamer who is pregnant; and a neuropsychiatrist trapped in town. Their emotions and fears are handled realistically with empathy and mercy.

The Dreamers is simply exquisite. This is a skillfully written, breathtakingly beautiful novel that is also a page-turner, full of tension and uncertainty. I was glued to the pages and compulsively reading just one more chapter. The pacing is perfect and the transition between the diverse points-of-views keeps the suspense and tension rising as the narrative unfolds. Walker displays compassion to her characters as she follows their thoughts and actions while the unfathomable epidemic rages around them. I especially loved the details of the life beginning and developing in sleeping, but pregnant, Rebecca, and the resolution of this narrative thread.

I read and loved Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles and I think I love The Dreamers even more. This is a novel that could provide book clubs with an abundance of discussion topics.

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

Talk to Me

Talk to Me by John Kenney
Penguin Random House: 1/15/19
eBook review copy: 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735214378

Talk to Me by John Kenney is a very highly recommended, brilliant, wry commentary on news in the current age of social media and the fall-out which results from a public thrashing.

The narrative opens with Ted Grayson contemplating suicide by not opening his parachute while skydiving. What would lead a man to this? Ted is a fifty-nine-year-old beloved news anchor at the peak of his career when an ill-advised profanity-laced outburst directed toward a young hairstylist is recorded. She puts it on social media and the video goes viral. As public opinion is created through sound bites in this age of immediate gratification and most people seem to obtain their news through social media and memes, the fall-out is instantaneous.

Unknown to most people is that Ted's personal life is already in shambles. His wife of 30 years, Claire, has fallen in love with another man and is planning to divorce him. He has been estranged for years from his adult daughter, Frances, a writer for a popular sensational fake news website. He has some health concerns that he has kept secret from everyone. All Ted really had was his career and onscreen news persona. Any question of actually listening to Ted about what happened and why he had the tirade is dismissed. Now he has nothing and Ted's reputation and career are destroyed as the sound bites take over, the press attacks continue, and protests begin.

Talk to Me is outstanding. This is the novel that I have been waiting to see written and Kenney does an excellent job capturing the public outcry following a ripped-from-the-headlines situation that has gone viral and is out of control. In this age of news via assumptions, memes, quick judgements, and instantly taking offense, Talk to Me demonstrates how reporting the news has been replaced with people looking for the sensational and the worst in all situations based on their viewpoints. Stories are based on what is trending, with the number of comments ruling. People are quick to form an opinion, be offended, and take a stance based on incomplete or incorrect facts. Yeah, Ted seriously messed up in a career-ending move and needed the wake-up call, but the continued media onslaught was excessive.

The development of the characters is exceptional. They are all flawed, selfish, damaged people, but Kenney's memorable portrayal makes them sympathetic even when you question their judgement. The video of this one mistake Ted makes has gone viral, but a life consists of many mistakes. How many of us could endure the media scrutiny of every nuance of our lives and come out flawless. They have all made a shambles of their lives and the very public downfall of Ted's career and the subsequent media feeding frenzy is amplifying their flaws. There is a moment when a small glimmer of hope enters the narrative toward the end that offers some hope.

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