Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs

The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs by Janet Peery
St. Martin's Press: 9/19/17
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250125088

The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs by Janet Peery is a highly recommended look at the dysfunctional, aging Campbell family.

In Amicus, Kansas, the Campbell family has long been through the actions of their patriarch, Abel. Long retired, Abel was a town lawyer and later a judge. He ruled his family, including Hattie, his wife, via his scathing comments, exacting expectations, and demanded to be the center of attention. Hattie wonders of their family, once well-regarded by the community, is now considered to be to total decline as all of her and Abel's children were, and some are still, plagued by alcoholism, drug addictions, divorces, and foreclosures.

Of the five surviving children, it is the youngest, Billy, who receives the brunt of his father's loathing, yet the bulk of his mother's love and ever-present enabling. The rest of the siblings know Billy's issues, even as they deal with their own. Certainly it is Billy's health and addictions that have monopolized the family discourse for years.

This is a family drama where the family members are all playing out long-held roles despite the fact that the parents are in their late 80's, heading to 90s, with children in their early 50's to mid-sixties. The roles they have played and continue to play in their family's dynamics remain predictable and consistent, as the members seem to be unchanged, or unable to change and part ways with the familial role they have consistently acted out. And Hattie, bless her heart, plays favorites with such devotion that it is amazing that that all of the rest of the adult children don't simply let go of their need for approval. Yet they all cling to their bond of birth and replay old feuds and their need for their parent's approval.

There is no doubt that The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs is a beautifully written novel, both lyrical and descriptive. Peery's adept descriptions and details about the setting and her character's fears and foibles will resonate with many people who have experienced complex family dramas of their own. The characters are finely drawn and feel like real individuals. The Campbell's come to life as a real family comprised of individuals who are hurting, each in their own way. The story itself is slow moving as it recounts these latter years in the life of the senior Campbells and their children visiting them. Hattie is the heart of the story, along with her favorite Billy, while everyone else vies for her love.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of St. Martin's Press.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Lightning Men

Lightning Men by Thomas Mullen
Atria/37 INK: 9/12/17
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501138799
Darktown Series #2

Lightning Men by Thomas Mullen is a highly recommended sequel to Darktown. This historical fiction crime novel is set during the racial tensions of the 1950's South. In an overcrowded and rapidly changing Atlanta, the segregated city is patrolled by a segregated police force. It is two years since Officer Denny Rakestraw and "Negro Officers" Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith were first introduced inLightning Men. The three officers are trying to keep the peace amidst volatile situations.

Officer Denny (Rake) Rakestraw finds himself embroiled in the midst of racial tension as black families begin to move into a formerly white neighborhood, Hanford Park. This attracts the attention of the Klan and Nazi brown shirts, putting Rake in the position of following the law or showing loyalty to his family, who are Klan members. Boggs and Smith are trying to work within the system to stop the sale of moonshine and drugs in Darktown, their area of the city, but their investigation implicates powerful men, including members of the police force. They too, are faced with the dilemma of trying to enforce the law while protecting their families while street fights and gun violence increase.
In Lightning Men Mullen blends  a crime novel with historical fiction. There are indications that Darktown and Lightning Men are the first books in a continuing series. I do regret not reading Darktown before Lightning Men, although you can certainly read Lightning Men and follow the plot. I think that reading the first book in the series, though, would provide me with even better developed characters and a more extensive background into their lives. If you have a copy of Lightning Men, though, don't let this comment stop you from reading it. The characters are still very well developed and are complicated, flawed individuals.

Superb writing helps keep the intricate and complex plot moving along swiftly, while including plenty of period details, attitudes, and actions that show a realistic historical setting. Although this is a historically accurate novel, it isn't, however, always an easy book to read. Mullens accurately depicts segregation and racism, which can feel brutal and raw as you are reading.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria.

Keep Her Safe

Keep Her Safe by Sophie Hannah
HarperCollins: 9/19/17
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062388322

Keep Her Safe by Sophie Hannah is a recommended thriller. 

Cara Burrows runs away from her home and family in England for an expensive resort and spa in Arizona. When the clerk mistakenly gives her a key to a room that is already occupied by a man and a teenage girl, Clara is upgraded to a bungalow. The next day Cara overhears another guest claiming to have seen the mysterious Melody, a girl whose parents were convicted of her murder seven years earlier. Then detectives come to halfheartedly investigate the sighting. Cara decides to get online with the spa-provided tablet and research the story of Melody Chapa.

While reading about the case of infamous American murder victim, Cara suspects that the teenage girl she saw and heard the first night, in the room she mistakenly was given the key to, was Melody. She discusses her suspicions with Tarin Fry and her daughter, Zellie, along with the staff. She asks to see the detectives, but disappears before she can tell them what she saw and heard.

Keep Her Safe is entertaining when the backstory of the Melody Chapa case is discussed. The theories and investigation of the case combined with the occasional excerpts from the writing by some unnamed girl hook you into the mystery. However, you also have to suspend a whole lot of disbelief to keep reading and believing in the plot. It helps that Hannah is a good writer so there aren't technical flaws. There are other flaws.

The reason given for why Cara ran away from her family to a place she couldn't afford was unbelievable. Really. You're going to think there must have been more to it, but there isn't. And, honestly, it made me respect her less as a character. The whole paying a stranger to hold her cell phone for her was ridiculous/stupid. The plot is kind of silly. Bonnie Juno is a joke. Allowing only local cops, resort management, Juno, and guests to meet and talk about the sightings of Melody and the disappearance of Cara and another person was implausible.  And, yet again, the character of Tarin Fry is a florist from Lawrence, Kansas. Really? (Novelists, please stop pointing at a map and deciding that Lawrence, KS looks like a good place to have an unlikable character live. I'm starting to get a complex about this. Please consider some other places in fly-over territory.)

I'm recommending Keep Her Safe because I read it to the end and was entertainer by it, even when there was a wee-bit of eye rolling over some of the details.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Bad Kansas

Bad Kansas by Becky Mandelbaum
University of Georgia Press: 9/15/17
eBook review copy; 176 pages
ISBN-13: 9780820351285

Bad Kansas: Stories by Becky Mandelbaum is a very highly recommended collection of eleven short stories. This collection is the well-deserved winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for 2017.  

All of the stories use Kansas as a metaphor for dislocation and disconnection, as well as a location.  All of her characters are appealing and quirky as they deal with various relationships. Mandelbaum delves deep into their psyches and concerns with others as well as themselves.

There is no question that this is an exquisite collection of stories where every one of them is exceptionally well written.  At time poignant and other times humorous this is a masterful collection and likely portends great things to come in the future for Mandelbaum. The stories include: Kansas Boys; The Golden State; A Million and One Marthas; Go On, Eat Your Heart Out; The House on Alabama Street; Night of Indulgences; Stupid Girls; Thousand-Dollar Decoy; First Love; Queen of England; and Bald Bear.

Most of the stories are set in Lawrence, Kansas or nearby (hardly there) Vineland. This is worth noting because the city is very much used as a place and a recognizable character in the stories. Since it is also currently my home, I recognize many of the places, streets etc., if only by name/reputation. If anyone attended the University of Kansas, they will also likely have a more memory-laden recall of various areas where students tend to congregate. Yet again, I don't think Kansas is all that bad, and most certainly Lawrence is hardly representative of the state, but it seems the state is doomed to be an example of a bad place to live.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the University of Georgia Press.

Unshakeable Trust

Unshakeable Trust by Joyce Meyer
FaithWords: 9/12/17
eBook review copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781455560066

Unshakeable Trust: Find the Joy of Trusting God at All Times, in All Things by Joyce Meyer is a highly recommended guide to encourage you to trust God with everything.

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8 

Joyce Meyer writes in the opening: From the very beginning of this book, I want to emphasize that trust is not an obligation that we owe God; it is a privilege that He makes available to us. We are invited to trust God, and by doing so, we open the door to a life of peace, joy, and fruitfulness. When we mix a healthy portion of trusting God into everything that we do, it enables us to live without worry, anxiety, fear, reasoning, or debilitating stress.

 It is difficult to trust, especially if your trust has ever been broken, and without a doubt it has because we have all had our trust broken in big and small matters. A broken trust reinforces our tendency to be independent and self-reliant. That is the root of what makes it a struggle to let go of our control and trust God. The thing we need to remember is that learning to trust God is never going to result in disappointment - people, yes, but never God. And, beyond a very basic general trust we need to strive to trust God in every area of our lives: spiritual, relational, emotional, and financial.

Meyers teaches in each chapter, with numerous examples from her own life and the Bible, that we can set the pain and circumstances of our past behind, delve into the Word of God, and start trusting the Lord with all our hearts. This will result in a life that can withstand difficult trials while filled with grace and joy. Certainly I can give examples from my own life where I placed my situation in God's hands and trusted that He would make all things work together for my good. I have experienced God taking what appeared to be an impossible situation and making it all work out for my good in the end. However, keep in mind that like Joseph, you may still have to go through trials and it may take time.  You may also need to ask the Lord to help you trust Him more.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of FaithWords.

The Names of Dead Girls

The Names of Dead Girls by Eric Rickstad  
HarperCollins: 9/12/17
eBook review copy; 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062672803

The Names of Dead Girls by Eric Rickstad is a highly recommended police procedural/thriller. Detectives Frank Rath and Sonja Test work together again to track a depraved killer through rural Vermont and into Canada. This is a sequel to The Silent Girls, but can be read as a stand alone novel.

Rachel Rath is now a college student and she us being watched. Frank Rath and Rachel are sure the man who is watching her is the same man who killed her parents when she was a baby. Ned Preacher is out on parole now and he has called Frank, threatening Rachel. Frank has tried to protect his niece/adopted daughter from the horrifying details of her parents death, but now Rachel wants to know - and she may need to since Preacher is planning to harm her.

When Dana Clark, a woman who was the only survivor of an attack by the Connecticut River Valley Killer, goes missing, and another girl is found murdered, Frank Rath leaves retirement and works again with Sonja Test to investigate the murders and try to figure out if it is the Preacher or someone else. They are looking at old cases along with the new ones to try and piece together the information they need to find the killer. This includes withing with Canadian police detective Inspector Gerard Champine. Apparently there have been similar murder cases in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

The writing is excellent and there are several twists to the plot.  Rickstad does an excellent job developing his characters while ratcheting up the suspense as the murder investigation is underway. The ever present, oppressive fog is both a character and a setting in The Names of Dead Girls. The heavy fog infiltrates the whole book and creates a foreboding atmosphere that, in turn, increases the tension you feel when reading. The Preacher and the heavy fog are both very creepy.

This is a nail biter, full of suspense, and should hold your attention from start to finish.  It did feel like the actual procedural part, the detective work, was slightly lacking and it would have been nice to see more of the steps and the discovery as it all pertained to the investigation. While the main investigation is solved, there are still a few unanswered questions that may point to another book in the series.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Good Daughter

The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter
HarperCollins: 8/8/17
hardcover; 528 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062430243

The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter is an outstanding, intense, exemplary, very highly recommended thriller. It will grab your attention from the first page, become an obsession, and consume every free second while wringing every emotion out of you. Seriously - this novel is excellent.

The prologue opens twenty-eight years ago. After their Pikeville, GA, home had been burned down by someone who didn't like their father, attorney Rusty Quinn, the family moved into an old farm house. Sisters Charlotte (Charlie) and Samantha (Sam) Quinn were in the kitchen with their mother, Gamma, when Zach Culpepper and an accomplice broke into their home, looking for their father. Rusty wasn't there so the men terrorized his family, murdering Gamma, and then traumatize and harm the two sisters, leaving both physically and psychologically damaged.

Charlie is the good daughter. She is a lawyer, like her father, and still living in Pikeville. She is currently separated from her husband, ADA Ben Bernard, when she makes a poor life choice. This results in her inadvertently being on the scene and a witness to a horrible crime and tragedy that takes place in the local middle school.  The crime horrifies the whole town and causes Charlie to flashback to the trauma from her childhood. Naturally, Rusty, who believes everyone deserves an advocate, will take on the defense.

The Good Daughter is a wonderfully complex multilayered novel. There is heart-wrenching violence, conflicted emotions and struggles alongside humorous and heart-breaking scenes. The writing is, as expected from Slaughter, excellent - sophisticated, detailed, and intricate. The plot is perfectly presented, with the present day contrasted with past events as more information slowly comes to light. The setting, the character development, the twists... are all perfectly executed. It held my rapt attention from beginning, tossed me around through oh-so-many new developments, had me a messy-crying mess at one point, and finally left me speechless and breathless at the end.

How many ways can I extol Slaughter for The Good Daughter? This is a must-read for all fans of thrillers/crime novels. Really, read it. It is an extremely rare you-will-miss-your-flight-if-you-are-reading-it-while-in-an-airport novel. Read it first, then take the flight. You will thank me for very highly recommending it and then I predict you will look at Slaughter's other novels.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book courtesy of HarperCollins for TLC Book Tours. 

Tour schedule