Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Beginner's Goodbye

The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
Knopf Doubleday, 2012
Hardcover, 208 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307957276

Anne Tyler gives us a wise, haunting, and deeply moving new novel in which she explores how a middle-aged man, ripped apart by the death of his wife, is gradually restored by her frequent appearances—in their house, on the roadway, in the market.
Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron spent his childhood fending off a sister who wants to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, a plain, outspoken, self-dependent young woman, she is like a breath of fresh air. Unhesitatingly he marries her, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage. But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy’s unexpected appearances from the dead help him to live in the moment and to find some peace.
Gradually he discovers, as he works in the family’s vanity-publishing business, turning out titles that presume to guide beginners through the trials of life, that maybe for this beginner there is a way of saying goodbye.
A beautiful, subtle exploration of loss and recovery, pierced throughout with Anne Tyler’s humor, wisdom, and always penetrating look at human foibles.

My Thoughts:
In The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler, Aaron, a 36-year-old editor for his family owned small vanity press in Baltimore, loses his wife in a tragic accident that almost destroys their home. Aaron, who has a crippled right arm and leg, ends up moving in with his overprotective sister while the house is being repaired. After some time passes, he begins to experience visits from his dead wife, Dorothy.
Through the visits from Dorothy, Aaron reflects on their life together and the difficulties they had, even while they loved each other. What I appreciated about Aaron is that he is a very real, flawed, complex character who struggles to find happiness even while he remembers small details about his courtship and marriage to Dorothy that aren't all picturing an idyllic marriage.
Anne Tyler is wonderful and The Beginner's Goodbye just reinforces my opinion of her writing. This isn't a heavy, depressing book. Oh, there are sad, moving parts, but it feels charming, humorous, and introspective as Aaron narrates his navigation through the stages of grief and comes to terms with his life.
While this is a much shorter novel than I would generally expect from Tyler, it is an incredible character study as Aaron works through his emotions and comes to some conclusions about himself and his marriage.
Very Highly Recommended - one of the best


The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted. opening

Other people pretended not to recognize either one of us. They would catch sight of us from a distance, and this sort of jolt would alter their expressions and they would all at once dart down a side street, busy-­busy, much to accomplish, very important concerns on their minds. I didn’t hold it against them. I knew this was a lot to adjust to. In their position, I might have behaved the same way. I like to think I wouldn’t, but I might have.

The ones who made me laugh aloud were the ones who had forgotten she’d died. Granted, there were only two or three of those—­people who barely knew us. pg.3-4

I had moved in by then with my sister, who lived in our parents’ old place in north Baltimore. Was that why Dorothy came back when she did? She hadn’t much cared for Nandina. She thought she was too bossy. Well, she was too bossy. Is. She’s especially bossy with me, because I have a couple of handicaps. I may not have mentioned that. I have a crippled right arm and leg. Nothing that gets in my way, but you know how older sisters can be.

Oh, and also a kind of speech hesitation, but only intermittently. I seldom even hear it, myself.

In fact, I have often wondered what made Dorothy select the moment she did to come back. It wasn’t immediately after she died, which is when you might expect. It was months and months later. Almost a year. Of course I could have just asked her, but somehow, I don’t know, the question seemed impolite. I can’t explain exactly why. pg. 4-5

Maybe the reason I didn’t ask Dorothy why she had come back when she did was that I worried it would make her ask herself the same question. If she had just sort of wandered back, absentmindedly, the way you would return to an old address out of habit, then once I’d brought it up she might say, “Oh! My goodness! I should be going!”

Or maybe she would imagine I was asking what she was doing here. Why she had come back at all, in other words. Like when you ask a houseguest how long he’s planning to stay and he suspects you’re asking, “When can I hope to be rid of you?” Maybe that was why I felt it wouldn’t be polite.

It would kill me if she left. I had already gone through that once. I didn’t think I could do it all over again. pg. 6-7

Maybe it was just a long, long way to travel, and that’s why it took Dorothy all those months to come back.

Or maybe she had first tried to do without me, the way I had first tried to do without her—­to “get over” my loss, “find closure,” “move on,” all those ridiculous phrases people use when they’re urging you to endure the unendurable. But eventually, she had faced the fact that we simply missed each other too much. She had given in and returned.

That’s what I liked to believe.
 pg. 8

That was one of the worst things about losing your wife, I found: your wife is the very person you want to discuss it all with. pg. 54

If there were a twelve-step program for cola drinkers, I bet she would have sent them a healthy contribution. pg. 92

...I've never forgotten that title. Mixed Company. I'll say. It summed up everything that was wrong with the institution of marriage. pg. 142

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Sharp: A Memoir by David Fitzpatrick
HarperCollins, 8/21/2012
Advanced Reading Copy, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062064028


Sharp is the story of a young man who began his life with a loving family and great promise for the future. But in his early twenties, David Fitzpatrick became so consumed by mental illness it sent him into a frenzy of cutting himself with razor blades. In this shocking and often moving book, he vividly describes the rush this act gave him, the fleeting euphoric high that seemed to fill the spaces in the rest of his life. It started a difficult battle from which he would later emerge triumphant and spiritually renewed.
Fitzpatrick's youth seemed ideal. He was athletic, handsome, and intelligent. However, he lived in fear of an older brother who taunted and belittled him; and in college, his roommates teased and humiliated him, further damaging what sense of self-esteem he still carried with him. As he shares these experiences, Fitzpatrick also recounts the lessons learned from the broken people he encountered during his journey—knowledge that led to his own emotional resurrection.
Sharp also demonstrates the awakening of a writer's instinctive voice. With prose that is tough and gritty, profound and insightful, Fitzpatrick takes us inside his head while he manically cuts himself, but these episodes are presented with a dignity and insight that has never been seen before. His writing also possesses a lightness of touch that brings humor to a subject that doesn't naturally provide it.
Above all else, Sharp is a tale of hope, a soul-baring quest of a lost man who returns to himself, overcomes his demons, and reclaims his life. It is destined to become a classic memoir.

My Thoughts:
Sharp: A Memoir by David Fitzpatrick is not an easy book to read. Oh, Fitzpatrick is extremely articulate and the memoir is definitely well written, but the raw emotions he shares with candor and honesty makes this one tough book to read. It is truly about going to hell and back - if hell is a mental state.

After college mental illness gripped author David Fitzpatrick's life and began almost two decades of torment. He began cutting at age twenty-three after breaking up with a girlfriend. Before this, however, he endured years of bullying, first at the hands of his older brother and later by his college roommates. He accepted the abuse with a stoicism that defied logic.

Once his low self esteem combined with depression his psychosis was obvious when it resulted in extreme self-injury; this lead to years in the psychiatric wings of hospitals and extensive therapy, including drugs and shock treatments. He freely shares his experiences and all the raw emotions he was feeling, including the thoughts he was dwelling on when his psychosis overtook rational thought.

In some ways I felt like this memoir was almost too open and honest. Some of his sexual experiences weren't necessary to share in much detail. I was also concerned in several places that his descriptions could potentially be a trigger for those inclined to self-harm.
While the details of his illness and therapy over the years are disturbing and difficult to read, the real story is that, in the end, Fitzpatrick is liberated from his path of destruction and regains his life.

Highly Recommended - but not for the faint hearted.

David Fitzpatrick was born in Dearborn, Michigan, grew up in Connecticut, graduated from Skidmore College, and earned his MFA degree from Fairfield University in 2011. He works part-time at an auto dealership and is married to a graphic designer and fellow writer, Amy Holmes. His works have been published by The New Haven Review, Barely South Review, and Fiction Weekly. He lives in Middletown, Connecticut.
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes. 
David's Tour Stops:

Tuesday, August 21st: Our Little Bit of Wonderful
Thursday, August 23rd: Sara’s Organized Choas
Monday, August 27th: StephTheBookworm
Tuesday, Augut 28th: she treads softly
Wednesday, August 29th: Twisting the Lens
Thursday, August 30th: Paperspines
Tuesday, September 4th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, September 5th: Between the Covers
Thursday, September 6th: In the Next Room
Friday, September 14th: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Three Day Affair

The Three Day Affair by Michael Kardos
Mysterious Press, 9/4/2012
Hardcover, 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802120267

The first debut novel from the newly relaunched Mysterious Press introduces a phenomenal new voice in the realm of crime fiction.
Will, Jeffrey, and Nolan are lifelong friends. Each have gone their separate ways as adults, living their own lives while forging their own careers. They have no reason to believe anything extraordinary will befall them. Until one shocking moment changes everything…
Will is a part-time drummer who spends the rest of his time in recording studios. He has lived a sheltered existence. Then one night Jeffrey attempts to rob a convenience store, drags a young woman into Will’s car, and shouts a single word: “Drive!” Shaken and confused, Will obeys.
Suddenly three ordinary men find themselves completely out of their element, holding a young girl hostage without the slightest idea of what to do next. They are already guilty of kidnapping and robbery; it is only a matter of time before they find out just what else they’re capable of. For these four people, three days will decide their fate—between freedom and prison, innocence and guilt…and life and death. In the tradition of Scott Smith’s classic A Simple Plan, THE THREE-DAY AFFAIR marks the emergence of a truly talented new crime writer.

My Thoughts:

I dare you to start The Three Day Affair by Michael Kardos and not race through to the end. Thankfully I had the time to do just that after starting it. Will, Jeffrey, Nolan, and Evan are old college friends who get together for a weekend reunion of golf with the guys every year. All four are successful in different ways: Jeffery is a dot com millionaire, Nolan is running for Congress, Evan is a lawyer, and Will is a struggling record producer. Both Will and Jeffrey are married and expecting their first child. 

As the narrator, Will inspires trust as the story unfolds. The guys are coming to his home for their weekend this year. His wife is leaving town so the friends can have a testosterone filled weekend. Will plans to ask his friends to invest in his  plans to open his own independent record label, but this year the reunion starts in an unexpected way for Will, Jeffrey, and Nolan. 

Stopping at a convenience store, Jeffrey robs the store and kidnaps the young female clerk. Coming out of the store, jumping into the car he orders Will to "Drive!" and a confused Will does, without questioning why. Suddenly the three friends are in an impossible situation and are trying to find a way out of their dilemma. I don't want to say much more than that.

Kardos is an excellent writer. The characters are well developed and realistic. I thought I knew everything that was happening but I'll have to admit to a few surprises. The present day chapters are juxtaposed with chapters about earlier interactions between the characters, especially when they were in college. This was a well written, easy to read, and extremely enjoyable mystery. The ending actually surprised me.   Highly Recommended


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Mysterious Press and Netgalley for review purposes.


Six years ago, my band’s bassist was shot dead in a New York nightclub. Her name was Gwen Dalton, and she’d only been with the band a few months when she was killed. opening

I wasn’t making music anymore, but I was helping others to make it. Cynthia got promoted several times at the PR firm. And when we found out she was pregnant, we were glad. Three years had passed since our move to Newfield, and we felt ready for this child in our lives. By then, violent crime was about the furthest thing from my mind, until the night when I helped one of my best friends kidnap a young woman. Location 48-51

"Just do me a favor and don’t get into too much trouble while I’m gone.” As if this were going to be a wild bachelor party instead of old friends catching up. Playing a few rounds of golf. A little poker. “And maybe carry my suitcase for me.” I brought her bag to her car, asked if the tank was full, if the cell phone was charged.
“Call me before you go to bed,” I said. We kissed, and my fingertips brushed the small of her back as she bent down to get in the car. I stood on the front lawn, squinting in the sunlight, as she backed out of the driveway, waved her pretty fingers, and drove away. Location 108-112

“You’re going to run into costs you never expected. That’s how business works. So if you think you’ll need fifty thousand, then you ought to be raising a hundred. So no, I won’t invest ten thousand. But I’ll invest twenty.”  Location 135-136

I hadn’t planned to ask anyone other than Nolan for money this weekend. But now that the matter was on the table, I couldn’t help weighing Jeffrey’s enormous wealth against the relatively small investment Nolan was asking him to make. Okay, so Jeffrey was feeling a little gloomy lately. But still. If our situations had been reversed, I liked to think I would’ve opened my checkbook without any hesitation. Location 187-190

Sometimes Cynthia asked me what we talked about when we got together and played our rounds of golf. She must have imagined us on the course baring our souls, the game primarily an occasion for the talk of old friends. But it wasn’t that way. We talked, but mostly we golfed. Conversation tended to center around the previous shot, the next hole. Which club to use, which way the green might break. At night, over steaks, we’d reminisce. We had a deep well of stories from which to draw. But weightier conversation felt almost like an intrusion, business to be gotten through. Location 214-218

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On a Farther Shore

On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder
Crown Publishing Group, 9/4/2012
Hardcover, 512 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307462206
Nonfiction, biography

Published on the fiftieth anniversary of her seminal book, Silent Spring, here is an indelible new portrait of Rachel Carson, founder of the environmental movement
She loved the ocean and wrote three books about its mysteries, including the international bestseller The Sea Around Us. But it was with her fourth book, Silent Spring, that this unassuming biologist transformed our relationship with the natural world.
Rachel Carson began work on Silent Spring in the late 1950s, when a dizzying array of synthetic pesticides had come into use. Leading this chemical onslaught was the insecticide DDT, whose inventor had won a Nobel Prize for its discovery. Effective against crop pests as well as insects that transmitted human diseases such as typhus and malaria, DDT had at first appeared safe. But as its use expanded, alarming reports surfaced of collateral damage to fish, birds, and other wildlife. Silent Spring was a chilling indictment of DDT and its effects, which were lasting, widespread, and lethal.
Published in 1962, Silent Spring shocked the public and forced the government to take action-despite a withering attack on Carson from the chemicals industry. The book awakened the world to the heedless contamination of the environment and eventually led to the establishment of the EPA and to the banning of DDT and a host of related pesticides. By drawing frightening parallels between dangerous chemicals and the then-pervasive fallout from nuclear testing, Carson opened a fault line between the gentle ideal of conservation and the more urgent new concept of environmentalism.
Elegantly written and meticulously researched, On a Farther Shore reveals a shy yet passionate woman more at home in the natural world than in the literary one that embraced her. William Souder also writes sensitively of Carson's friendship with Dorothy Freeman, and of her death from cancer in 1964. This extraordinary new biography captures the essence of one of the great reformers of the twentieth century.

My Thoughts:
On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder is a biography of Silent Spring author Rachel Carson. On a Farther Shore is being published on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring. It seems to me that everyone should know who Rachel Carson is and what Silent Spring was about, but, much to my surprise, that is not the case. With its publication in 1962 Silent Spring exposed the dangers of DDT to the general public and really set into motion the beginning of the modern environmental movement. At the time DDT was the miracle pesticide and it was going to eradicate many of the pests that plague human populations.
Souder's thorough biography portrays Carson as an unassuming, likeable woman with great underlying strength. While she was trained as a biologist at a time when a woman in the sciences was uncommon, she also had always enjoyed writing. Carson found a way to combine her two interests. She worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a writer but also wrote articles in her free time. Carson never married and supported her family all her life.
Souder also covers many of the writers who influenced Carson (Richard Jeffries, Henry Williamson, and Aldo Leopold) and plenty of information about the times in which she lived (nuclear testing, cold war tensions) as well as the emerging discovery that pesticides perhaps were not the answer. Half the book covers the writing of Silent Spring and the repercussions that followed. Carson, exhausted from her battle with cancer and under enormous stress, died shortly after the publication of Silent Spring in 1962.
In On a Farther Shore, Souder, an esteemed environmental writer, has given us a very well written, well rounded, well researched tribute to Rachel Carson. The biography includes Notes, a Bibliography, and an Index (which makes me say, "Yes!")
Very Highly Recommended

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Crown Publishing and Netgalley for review purposes.
William Souder is the author of three books. "A Plague of Frogs" in 2000 followed the investigation of outbreaks of deformed frogs across North America. "Under a Wild Sky," a 2004 biography of John James Audubon, won numerous awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. "On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson," will be published by Crown in September 2012 on the 50th anniversary of Carson's "Silent Spring." Mr. Souder lives in Grant, Minnesota.


The new book to which Kennedy referred, Silent Spring, was a bristling polemic about the indiscriminate use of pesticides. It was unlike anything Carson had previously written. Although not yet actually a book—it wouldn’t be published for another month—in June three long excerpts from Silent Spring had appeared in consecutive issues of the New Yorker. By the time of Kennedy’s press conference, the New Yorker articles had raised public alarm in the United States and abroad and prompted the chemicals industry to launch an angry and concerted effort to discredit Silent Spring and destroy its author. Location 91-95

Critics remarked, time and again, that there was something bracing and surprising in the fact that a woman should have such a profound understanding of the physical environment. They also believed her to be a heroic correspondent regularly at sea on research vessels hurtling through storms, or swimming among the fish teeming on the coral reefs of the tropics—a false impression that she never bothered to correct. A friend who once drew a caricature of Carson’s public persona had depicted her as an Amazon towering at the edge of a stormy sea, a harpoon in one hand and a writhing octopus in the other. Carson, who would have been more accurately shown hunched over a microscope or in the library surrounded by piles of books, thought the drawing hilarious. Location 109-115

When a comprehensive ban ended the era of atmospheric testing in August 1963, more than five hundred nuclear devices had been exploded aboveground—about two hundred of them by the United States. A by-product of these tests was the debris carried on high-altitude winds that eventually returned to earth as radioactive fallout—notably the isotopes strontium 90 and iodine 131. High concentrations came down in the central United States, where people, especially children, were exposed through the consumption of milk from cows that were pastured in areas where fallout landed. Radiation exposure was understood to be a potential health hazard, but for years there was no scientific agreement as to how serious it might be. In 1957 a group of prominent scientists who believed radioactive fallout had as yet done little harm to humans nonetheless urged the United Nations to seek an international limit on atmospheric testing. Location 183-189

The furor over Silent Spring began at once. In the weeks following publication of the first excerpts in the New Yorker, moody stories expressing shock and outrage began appearing in newspapers across the country. Some compared the book to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and predicted an earthquake of change in the way pesticides were used. Most reports nervously welcomed Carson’s dire warning about chemical contamination of the environment, although many also acknowledged a rapidly building counterattack from trade groups and a chemicals industry that decried Carson’s book as unscientific and one-sided, arguing that she took no account of the economic and health benefits achieved through the use of pesticides. Location 200-205

Carson eventually discovered this was all a lie—that not only was one of the masses in her breast malignant, but it had already metastasized at least as far as her lymph nodes. Over the next two years, as she struggled to finish Silent Spring, Carson endured the cancer’s steady spread and a series of brutal radiation treatments that at times seemed to slow but could not halt the progress of the disease. When the Life magazine piece came out in early October 1962, Carson, who had never been sturdy looking, appeared haggard and elderly. Life glossed over this, describing her look as “gentle.” Location 278-282

Carson suffered from acne, which at times covered her face and shoulders. She had only a few, unusually plain dresses, all of them sewn by her mother. Like most of the other girls, she wore a bobbed hairstyle, sometimes with a tight Marcel wave put in with a hot iron, so that her hair fit the shape of her head like a helmet. Never shy in class, never unprepared, Carson always knew the answer to any question and was eager to give it. A few girls who got to know her a little discovered that Carson also had a subtle wit, was alert to pretense or shallowness, and could be slyly observant of her classmates. But this was a side of her personality she rarely showed off. Mostly invisible, Carson came off as a quiet, awkward girl who usually skipped social events and was thought to be either a recluse or a studious bore. Some students resented her academic skills and the earnest impression she made on her instructors.  Location 408-415

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Whiplash River

Whiplash River by Lou Berney
HarperCollins Publishers, 7/10/2012
Trade Paperback,  320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062115287
Shake Bouchon Series #2

Having left his life of crime behind, former getaway driver Charles "Shake" Bouchon has finally realized the dream of owning his own restaurant in Belize. Unfortunately, to do so he's had to go deep in debt to a murderous local drug lord named Baby Jesus. And when Shake thwarts an attempted hit on an elderly customer named Quinn, things go from bad to worse.  
Next thing Shake knows, his restaurant's gone up in flames and he's on the run from Baby Jesus, two freelance assassins, and a beautiful but ferocious FBI agent. Out of options, Shake has to turn to the mysterious Quinn for help. Suddenly Shake's up to his neck in a dangerous score that he'll never pull off unless he can convince an even more dangerous ex-girlfriend to join him.

My Thoughts:
Whiplash River by Lou Berney is one fun, crazy adventure. Charles "Shake" Bouchon has supposedly left his life of crime behind to pursue his dream of opening a restaurant in Belize, which was, unfortunately, financed through a risky loan from Baby Jesus, the head of a local drug smuggling operation. Suddenly Shake's dream literally explodes and he finds himself on the run with a senior citizen, Harry Quinn, whose mysterious past seems to be just another long story waiting to be told.
Shake saved Harry's life once, but why would someone  be trying to kill Harry, and now Shake, and who is ordering the hits? Will Shake meet the attractive Evelyn or see his former girlfriend, Gina, again? Traveling from Belize to the USA to Egypt while being stalked by an FBI agent and hunted by two hired killers, Shake may be looking at more dire consequences than an end to his dreams.
I don't want to give away too much of the plot because following it is most of the fun. Berney has written TV pilots and it shows. The writing is  tight, smart and funny and clever and... it's great. The plot is action packed and races along quickly. I can picture this as a series that will have some longevity. There is action, humor, gun play, chases, narrow escapes, and even a little romance.
All the characters are well developed as individuals with human flaws. Shake is wonderfully inept at times and Harry was a hoot. I could really visualize this old guy and all his stories that you aren't sure how much is true, even while they never quite offer up the complete truth or all the information you actually need. It's was easy to follow the characters along too, even though he does have a cast of them.
Make no mistake about it, Whiplash River is funny and clever. This is a sequel to Burney's first novel, Gutshot Straight (2010). I am going to have to get my hands on a copy of it ASAP. While you can certainly appreciate Whiplash River as a stand alone novel, after reading it, I predict you will feel the same way I do and want to read the first novel. 
Whiplash River is highly recommended to offer up some great escapism and entertainment!
Lou Berney is an accomplished writer, teacher, and liar who has written feature screenplays and created TV pilots for Warner Brothers, Paramount, Focus Features, ABC, and Fox, among others. His short fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Ploughshares, the Pushcart Prize anthology, and other publications. His first novel, Gutshot Straight, was named one of the ten best debut crime novels of the year by Booklist and nominated for a Barry Award.
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from  HarperCollins and TLC for review purposes. 

Lou's Tour Stops:

Tuesday, August 2nd: Book Reviews by Elizabeth A. White

Thursday, August 9th: Mysteries and My Musings – review

Monday, August 13th: No More Grumpy Booksellers

Tuesday, August 14th: Conceptual Reception

Thursday, August 16th: Life In Review

Monday, August 20th: Mysteries and My Musings – Q&A

Tuesday, August 21st: West Metro Mommy

Wednesday, August 22nd: she treads softly

Thursday, August 23rd: Mockingbird Hill Cottage

Monday, September 3rd: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Wednesday, September 5th: Seaside Book Nook

Thursday, September 6th: M. Denise C.

Monday, September 10th: Lance Mannion

Wednesday, September 12th: Kristina’s Favorites

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Random House, 7/24/2012
Advanced Reading Copy, 286 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812993295


Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him—allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.

And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.

A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise—and utterly irresistible—storyteller.

My Thoughts:

In The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Harold Fry is a retired salesman who sets off on an unplanned cross country trek wearing yachting shoes and a simple jacket.  When Queenie Hennessey, a friend Harold worked with 20 years ago, writes him from a hospice that she is dying of cancer, he immediately writes an awkward reply but, after a chance encounter on the way to post the letter, he decides he must deliver his message in person. Harold believes that his sacrificial journey will somehow make Queenie live longer.  Thus begins his unlikely pilgrimage that lasts 87 days and covers 627 miles.

As Harold steps out in faith and sets off on his journey, his real motives are slowly revealed. The quest gives Harold ample time to take the opportunity to reflect on his life. Harold leaves his wife, Maureen, without a word of explanation until after he starts his journey.

Maureen and Harold have long standing issues they need to ponder and analyze. Both need to delve into some hard truths about their lives and marriage. While they both perceive the failing state of their marriage differently, unknown to each other, they actually come to many of the same realizations even while they are unable to talk about their feelings. They need to confront the truth about their son. Harold needs to face some hard facts from his childhood.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry starts off on a rather optimistic, redemptive note.  It certainly doesn't initially feel like it is going to address any serious issues or face anything too complex. But, while Harold is walking to save Queenie's life, he is really examining his own life. And, while Maureen initially worries over his mental state, she eventually must also deal with herself.

Chapters alternate between Harold and Maureen and surprised me with the seriousness of the topics confronted in Harold and Maureen's lives. What initially seems to be a whimsical decision is fueled by guilt, regret, and the need for atonement.  The novel seriously covered what it is to be loved as a child and an adult. It scrutinizes what love, marriage, parenthood and friendship can be, as well as regret, forgiveness, denial, and grief.

I was really cheering for Harold on his pilgrimage and found myself telling him to go get a sensible pair of boots for hiking or a backpack or... but that is part of charm of this novel. Charm that pulls you in and then, as Harold is walking through real physical pain, he also starts to reveal some other pain in his life. By the time this novel was over I was totally enthralled and definitely a fan. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was recently long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes.  



Rachel Joyce’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, July 2nd:  Book Club Classics!
Tuesday, July 3rd:  Alison’s Bookmarks
Thursday, July 5th:  Literate Housewife
Friday, July 6th:  Amused by Books
Monday, July 9th:  A Bookworm’s World
Tuesday, July 10th:  My Book Retreat
Wednesday, July 11th:  Under My Apple Tree
Monday, July 16th:  BookNAround
Tuesday, July 17th:  Life in the Thumb
Wednesday, July 18th:  Luxury Reading
Thursday, July 19th:  Book Chatter
Monday, July 23rd:  Sarah Reads Too Much
Tuesday, July 24th:  Write Meg!
Wednesday, July 25th:  Coffee and a Book Chick
Thursday, July 26th:  It’s a Crazy, Beautiful Life
Monday, July 30th:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, July 31st:  Joyfully Retired
Thursday, August 2nd:  A Musing Reviews
Monday, August 6th:  Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, August 8th:  Boarding in my Forties
Thursday, August 9th:  Bibliosue
Friday, August 10th:  Chaotic Compendiums
Monday, August 13th:  The Picky Girl
Tuesday, August 14th:  Col Reads
Wednesday, August 15th:  Caribousmom
Friday, August 17th:  Jenn’s Bookshelves
Monday, August 20th:  The House of the Seven Tails
Tuesday, August 21st:  She Treads Softly
Wednesday, August 22nd:  Knowing the Difference

Thursday, August 23rd:  Reading on a Rainy Day

Friday, August 17, 2012


Legacy by David L. Golemon
St. Martin's Press, copyright 2011
Mass Market Paperback, 624 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250008657
Event Group Series #6
The United States is ready to make a triumphant return to the moon, striking out boldly into the solar system in an attempt to regain the confidence of the heady days of the Apollo program. But a shocking discovery at Shackleton Crater brings the first Prometheus mission to an abrupt halt.
Remote robots have uncovered human skeletal remains—and forensic analysis at NASA reveals the corpse to be over 700 million years old. As the news of this discovery is leaked across the universe—and a battle rages over the truth of our heritage—the Event Group is tasked to unravel the mystery behind this ancient visitor. Colonel Jack Collins once again leads a team of the world’s greatest scientists and philosophers on a journey that will take the Event Group into the realm of space and confront one of humanity’s most pressing questions: Could something—or someone—else be coming to finish a war that began almost a billion years ago?
My Thoughts:
Legacy is the sixth novel in David L. Golemon's popular Event Group series. In this novel, as in his others, there is a whole lot going on at the beginning that will all be tied together in the end. Legacy is really a sequel to the first Events Group novel, Event, and there will certainly be a third in this story arc. The description will give you an idea of the direction of the story.
I was anticipating reading this novel, and, while it certainly is action-packed, in some ways all the gun-fight and battles overwhelmed the science fiction elements that actually captured my interest. But, all in all, it is another strong addition to the series by Golemon. The mass market paperback edition also featured an excerpt from Ripper.
This is one of those books that you are going to eventually read if you're following the series. If you aren't a fan yet, you could always wait for the third book that will end the story arc continued here. Highly recommended for fans
"The Moon."
Gus turned toward the man who had spoken earlier. "Get on the radio and get Director Compton out here. Tell him to hurry."
The two men quickly left he shack and disappeared into one of the six trailers that circled the two houses.
"Now tell me what's so important about the Moon, and then we'll talk about those other fellas that are coming."
Mahjtic moved his eyes and looked at Gus once more. The shaking had stopped and in the dim glow of the Mickey Mouse night light Gus could see Mahjtic trying to focus.
"The Moon, Gus. The Moon - " pg. 6
"...I have buried the mine because the technology and the truth of the world's past will not save our country now." pg. 21
Operation Columbus had been momentarily halted on train tracks outside Quito, but would not remain there for long. Soon a secret that belonged to the entire world would be reburied behind steel and concrete. pg. 47
“Oh, no, no, no—you bastard—you bastard!”
Lee sat up so fast that Alice had to lean back to keep from being knocked silly by the man’s still large frame. He sat up and his left eye opened and he had a look of murder on his face. The ugly scar ran under the eye patch covering his right eye and ran pink into the gray hairline. Gone were the dashing good looks of the Hollywood leading man that was once General Garrison Lee. Now all that remained was a dying man with a guilt-ridden memory and a woman who had fallen in love with him in only a few short years after the war.
“Garrison, wake up,” she said as she tried to gently push him back onto the bed.
Finally Lee took two large breaths and looked over at Alice, allowing his one eye to adjust to the faint light filtering into the bedroom. He blinked and then finally realized where he was. He slowly lay back, but not before taking Alice’s hand in his own.
“Dreaming,” he said as his eye closed.
“Yes, I know,” Alice said, leaning over and kissing his brow.
“It’s hell dying, old woman. All the ghosts start to pop open the tailgate to the welcome wagon.” He opened his eye and looked at Alice. He tried to smile and for the first time in her life she saw that Lee had a tear in his good eye that he didn’t try to swipe away.
“I tried to bring him home alive. I—” pg. 56

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Last Plague

The Last Plague: Spanish Influenza and the Politics of Health and War by Mark Osborne Humphries
University of Toronto Press, Fall 2012
Trade Paperback,  380 pages
ISBN-13: 9781442610446

The ‘Spanish’ influenza of 1918 was the deadliest pandemic in history, killing as many as 50 million people worldwide. Canadian federal public health officials tried to prevent the disease from entering the country by implementing a maritime quarantine, as had been their standard practice since the cholera epidemics of 1832. But the 1918 flu was a different type of disease. In spite of the best efforts of both federal and local officials, up to fifty thousand Canadians died.
In The Last Plague, Mark Osborne Humphries examines how federal epidemic disease management strategies developed before the First World War, arguing that the deadliest epidemic in Canadian history ultimately challenged traditional ideas about disease and public health governance. Using federal, provincial, and municipal archival sources, newspapers, and newly discovered military records – as well as original epidemiological studies – Humphries' sweeping national study situates the flu within a larger social, political, and military context for the first time. His provocative conclusion is that the 1918 flu crisis had important long-term consequences at the national level, ushering in the ‘modern’ era of public health in Canada.

My Thoughts:
The Last Plague: Spanish Influenza and the Politics of Health and War by Mark Osborne Humphries documents the history of how Canadian federal health officials tried to control epidemics. Starting with the early history, especially how officials handled the cholera epidemics, Humphries carefully documents the official response and reactions to the epidemics. While the method of containing cholera was based on isolation and decontaminating immigrants, this proved ineffectual in handling the flu pandemic of 1918. It also clearly indicated a need for standardized policies in place and lead to the creation of a federal Public Health Department in Canada. This also signified the beginning of modern health care in Canada.  It's really only a matter of time until another flu pandemic hits and better preparation can, perhaps, save more lives.
Long time readers of She Treads Softly know that I have a particular fondness for books on plagues and peoples. Humphries' excellent, scholarly volume is a great edition to my collection. He actually had some information that I have never read before.  I do have one wee complaint. The tables and charts didn't translate so well in my Kindle edition. Plus I find it awkward to look up notes and sources on a Kindle. What this means is that I will be purchasing a paper edition of this book for my collection. I need to be able to easily turn to the notes, etc., while I read.
The Table of Contents include:
I. Introduction
II. Establishing the Grand Watch: Epidemics and Public Health, 1832-1883
III. 'Everybody's Business is Nobody's Business': Sanitary Science, Social Reform, and Mentalities of Public Health, 1867-1914
IV. A Pandemic Prelude: The 1889-90 Influenza Pandemic in Canada
V. Happily Rare of Complications: The Flu's First Wave in Canada and the Official Response
VI. A Dark and Invisible Fog Descends: The Second Wave of Flu and the Federal Response
VII. 'A Terrible Fall for Preventative Medicine': Provincial and Municipal Responses to the Second Wave of Flu
VIII. The Trail of Infected Armies: War, the Flu, and the Popular Response
IX. 'The Nation's Duty': Creating a Federal Department of Health
X. 'Success is somewhere Around the Corner': The Changing Federal Role in Public Health
XI. Conclusion
XII. Bibliography of Sources Consulted

Yes, there are extensive notes, a bibliography, index, illustrations, figures and tables, acknowledgements  - all things that make me happy in a nonfiction book.
Mark Osborne Humphries is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Very Highly Recommended - especially if you also have a consuming interest in books on plagues and pandemics and how they were handled.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Netgalley for review purposes.


A key question that surprisingly remains unanswered is this: Did influenza change how average Canadians responded to epidemic disease?  Location 165-166

In my investigation of this important question I have traced the development of official and popular responses to the problem of disease management from the first epidemic of cholera in 1832 to the influenza pandemic of 1918. I have also drawn upon the methods and literature of medical, social, military, and political history. My answer will be that the 1918 flu was a transformative event that had far-reaching consequences for both society and public health policy Canada, marking a significant shift in the dominant ideologies and strategies of public health governance.32  Location 171-175 
As trade networks grew, new diseases that were common (or endemic) to non-European places were transported across oceans and continents. Finding previously unexposed populations, these became the great epidemic diseases of the nineteenth century. The most feared of these plagues was cholera, a disease that would shape public health in Canada for nearly a century.  Location 270-273
British medicine was thus divided between those who saw the threat as external and those who saw it as internal. According to R.J. Morris, in formulating strategies to combat the disease, the state had two options: ‘contagion meant quarantine with loss of trade and disruption of family life – miasma meant cleansing and poor relief on a massive scale, expensive for rates and charitable subscriptions.’ The British government chose a middle course and embraced both strategies.25  Location 289-293

According to Barbara Rosenkrantz, Americans like Canadians have ‘tended to respond to disease and disorder as though they were corruptions imported to [an] uncontaminated continent from foreign sources.’43 Foreigners from Europe – especially the Irish – became victims of angry mobs. There were murders in Chester, Pennsylvania, as armed crowds fired on ships as well as on those who were trying to flee New York City.44  Location 333-336
Canadian disease management policies were as much about protecting the social body from unwanted groups as they were intended to protect Canadians from real diseases. This is why the long American border was not seen as a serious source of contagion in comparison to the main Canadian immigration ports. Americans were regarded as ‘racial’ cousins – wayward as they may have been politically and ideologically, they were nonetheless British or northern European in ‘racial’ ancestry.  Location 582-585

The Canadian quarantine system thus provided the main defence against the ‘evils’ of immigration, with disease acting as both a symptom of a larger socio-economic problem as well a convenient excuse to deny undesirables entry to the country.131 As a public health governance strategy, quarantine arose from an ideology that accepted this link as fact. In part, this was based on observation and tradition.  Location 593-596
The association between immigration and disease was strengthened by fears that a rapid influx of immigrants was weakening an inherently healthy Canadian nation.  Location 915-916

Since the late nineteenth century there have been five influenza pandemics: 1889–90, 1918, 1957, 1968, and 2009.16 Each pandemic has resulted in a higher mortality rate from flu than would normally be expected.17  Location 1153-1155
In 1918, a particularly virulent H1N1 strain of influenza emerged, causing the most devastating influenza pandemic in history.4 According to Alfred Crosby, the 1918 pandemic crossed the globe in three distinct waves. It began in the spring of 1918 before dissipating in the summer. A second wave in the fall was followed by a third in the winter of 1918–19; in some places this final wave lasted until 1920.5 Crosby holds that the first wave caused few deaths and would likely have gone unnoticed but for the second and deadly wave in autumn. While the name ‘Spanish flu’ suggests that the 1918 virus first appeared on the Iberian Peninsula, researchers agree that this was not the case. Because Spain was not a combatant during the Great War, the uncensored Spanish newspapers were the first to publish accounts of the disease in May 1918; the international press subsequently began to refer to it as ‘influenza of the Spanish type,’ or Spanish flu.6  Location 1264-1271

Canadian historians have long argued for a European origin, claiming that the Spanish flu arrived in Canada with soldiers returning from the Great War during the summer of 1918.28 According to Janice Dickin McGinnis, the Spanish flu first appeared in Canada in July 1918 on-board two troopships, the Araguyan and the Somali, both of which she assumed carried soldiers returning from the Great War. Eileen Pettigrew’s The Silent Enemy reiterates Dickin McGinnis’s assertion, suggesting that the first case of flu appeared in Canada as early as 26 June 1918.29 But new research into the epidemiology of the pandemic suggests that the first wave occurred in Canada much earlier, in the winter and spring of 1918.  Location 1332-1337

The earliest account of influenza within Canada’s civilian population comes from southeastern Quebec, where the epidemic began on 15 September in a Victoriaville college.64 This time the source of the infection was not American soldiers, but American Catholics attending a regional Eucharistic Congress.65  Location 1755-1757 

Friday, August 10, 2012


Primeval by David L. Golemon
St. Martin's Press, 2010
Hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780312580780
Event Group Series #5

Twenty thousand years ago, when early man made his way to North America, a tribe of prehistoric predators made the great trek as well. But these giant, deadly beasts seemingly became extinct…and humans lived to become the most violent creatures on Earth. Man’s brutal nature reached a boiling-point with the execution of Russia’s last czar and his entire family. But some believed that the czar’s children, Alexei and Anastasia, survived—and came to America with the treasury of the Romanov dynasty. That legend was born on July 17, 1918—and lives on to this day…
Almost a hundred years later, a battered journal—the only evidence left from the night of the Romanovs’ execution—turns up in a rare bookstore. Suddenly everyone’s trying to decipher the location of the Romanov treasure…and people are turning up dead along the way. Enter the Event Group, the most secret organization in U.S. history. Colonel Jack Collins is charged with finding out what really happened to Alexei and Anastasia. To get to the truth, he and his team will have to travel to the continent’s last deep wilderness where men have been vanishing for centuries— and come face to face with a mythical enemy from the dawn of time….

My Thoughts:
Primeval by David L. Golemon is the fifth book in his Event Group Series. There is a lot of back story to set up for this one. It begins in 20,000 BCE with people and creatures crossing the Bering Strait land bridge. Then jumps to Russia in 1918 where Tsar Nicholas has a plan in place to save some of his children, Anastasia and Alexei. Then the action is back east of Glacier Bay, Alaska. Next it's 1962 and Operation Solar Flare has begun. Finally, before the present day, it's 1968 and the novel follows a group of grad students following the Stikine River in Canada. 
Finally we are all up to date. In the present day someone is after a treasure connected with the Romanov dynasty. Jack's sister Lynn has been taken captive by the murderous thugs and it's time for the Event Group to step in, figure out what is really going on, and save the day. Even though this all sounds complicated, Golemon moves us pretty quickly through the back story to the present and then the action takes off.
Golemon has a large cast of characters in his books and you need to keep track of them as you are reading. Although Primeval could be a stand alone novel, it really helps if you already know many of the characters and their back stories.
The Event Series books are all fast, fun reads and perfect escapism.
highly recommended - especially if you are following the series


20,000 year BCE The grass was tall and abundant. The men watched as the herd of giants grazed on the sweet, salt-laden growth close to the edges of the warm seas. The waters lapped at the north and south shores of the narrow spit of land as it traveled eastward toward the new and unknown world where the sun was reborn each day.  opening

The giant creature stood over eleven feet tall. Its sheer weight alone was equal to eight of the humans it followed. The massive head had a broad brow, indicating the possibility of it carrying a brain near equal to that of a man’s. Its ability to walk upright made the animal quick of foot and steady on uneven terrain. The eyes held the spark of intelligence like no primate before it. The mouth was filled with teeth capable of chewing the harsh grasses, twigs, and bushes of the western continent—being flat and broad—as well as the large, sharp incisors of the meat eater.
The great beast was not usually a scavenger. In its natural element of forest or jungle, its kind excelled at providing for its females and its young. The art of camouflage came naturally to the hairy beast, blending in well no matter the terrain due to its thickness of fur and its ability to vary the crevasse and valleys of that fur, creating many broken lines and never a clean silhouette. pg. 5

1918, Russia: "Two of your children are guaranteed to survive tonight. That is how you must look at this....Tonight, above all else, you must be braver than your reputation."
Tsar Nicholas stopped suddenly... pg. 13

Annie, as I have come to call the girl, and I have spoken of the strangeness that surrounds us, and we both agree that a feeling of "knowing" has entered our thoughts, even our dreams. Knowing that whatever is out there, has been there for our collective memories to conjure in our waking lives. It's as if we have lived this journey a million years ago, a retained and collective memory of the danger in the night suffered by our ancestors. pg. 20

In the night came the nocturnal cry of They Who Follow, as they, too, waited for their lands to be visited by med from the outside world once more. The woods swallowed them, and they became one with the world that nurtured and protected them. pg. 28-29

The code name, Operation Solar Flare, would be lost forever, never to be mentioned in the annals of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, nor would the official histories of the U.S. navy and air force have anything placed into their archives telling the world that the United States was prepared to strike first against the Soviet Union. pg. 34

"Jack has done more for the stability of this nation than anyone in either houses, or the other branches of service.....The colonel is capable of getting out of any trouble. He thinks faster on the run than any man I have ever known. If he gets into trouble, he gets out of it. He doesn't fall into traps, Senator; he sees trouble coming and avoids it, which is how he keeps our field teams alive. He is the best at what he does." pg. 61

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Killing in the Hills

A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller
St. Martin's Press, 8/21/2012
Kindle edition, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250003485

In this powerful, intricate debut from a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Keller, a mother and a daughter try to do right by a town and each other before it's too late.
What's happening in Acker's Gap, West Virginia? Three elderly men are gunned down over their coffee at a local diner, and seemingly half the town is there to witness the act. Still, it happened so fast, and no one seems to have gotten a good look at the shooter.  Was it random? Was it connected to the spate of drug violence plaguing poor areas of the country just like Acker's Gap? Or were Dean Streeter, Shorty McClurg, and Lee Rader targeted somehow?
One of the witnesses to the brutal incident was Carla Elkins, teenaged daughter of Bell Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, WV. Carla was shocked and horrified by what she saw, but after a few days, she begins to recover enough to believe that she might be uniquely placed to help her mother do her job.
After all, what better way to repair their fragile, damaged relationship? But could Carla also end up doing more harm than good—in fact, putting her own life in danger?

My Thoughts:

A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller is a debut novel due to be released this month. This fast paced mystery is set in the fictional  Acker's Gap, West Virginia. The novel opens when Carla, the teenage daughter of county prosecutor Belfa (Bell) Elkins, witnesses three old men gunned down at a local fast food joint. While Bell is following the case along with Nick, the local sheriff, she is also concerned about how Carla's reaction to witnessing the murders is going to influence her ongoing rebelliousness. Bell already has her hands full investigating another case. Additionally, t
he overwhelming poverty of the area has resulted in an increase in crime and there is the growing menace of an illegal drug ring.
This is a wonderful, complex first novel. As it follows the investigations and everyone movements, the novel slowly reveals Bell's past and how this has impacted her personality.  A Killing in the Hills asks how far will you go to protect those you love as it explores how drugs have crippled poverty stricken areas in the Appalachians. Keller did a great job of establishing the setting and her character development was achingly real.
I'm going to be looking forward to more novels by Julia Keller featuring Bell Elkins. Even while this was certainly a self-contained novel, it felt like there were many more stories that could be told and a few story lines that could be pursued in future novels. A Killing in the Hills is an excellent introduction to a new mystery series.
Highly Recommended
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of St. Martin's Press and Netgalley for review purposes.