Monday, December 31, 2012

Books of 2012

It's time for the best books of 2012!
This has been a good year for reading.
As many of you know, normally my lists are simply in order of date read but this year I have tried to place my top fiction and nonfiction selections in order of preference. 
Fiction - top 10
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Requiem for an Angel by Andrew Taylor (3 books)
Flashback by Dan Simmons
The Salt God's Daughter by Ilie Ruby
The Scar or Railsea by China Miéville
Shout Her Lovely Name by Natalie Serber
Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey
honorable mention
The Odds by Stewart O'Nan
Oyster by Janette Turner Hospital
The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle
Nonfiction - top 5
Spillover by David Quammen
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Bullied by Carrie Goldman
The Discovery of Jeanne Baret by Glynis Ridley
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan
2012:  93 books;  35,482 pages
The asterisks represent a very highly recommended book
January - 6 books, 2723 pages
*1. 11/22/63 by Stephen King, 864 pages, 1/2/12, very highly recommended
*2. The Five by Robert McCammon, 518 pages, 1/8/12, very highly recommended
*3. The Discovery of Jeanne Baret by Glynis Ridley, 304 pages, 1/14/12, very highly recommended
*4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, 381 pages, 1/17/12, very highly recommended
*5. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, 416 pages, 1/29/12, very highly recommended
*6. Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood, 240 pages, 1/31/12, very highly recommended
February - 5 books, 1735 pages
7. Arguing with Idiots by Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe, 336 pages, 2/5/12, highly recommended
*8. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, 576 pages, 2/9/12, very highly recommended
*9. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, 247 pages, 2/12/12, very highly recommended
10. The Shack by William P. Young, 256 pages, 2/23/12, recommended
11. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach, 320 pages, 2/28/12, recommended
March - 5 books, 2150 pages
12. Tritium Gambit by Erik Hyrkas, 230 pages, 3/3/12, highly recommended
*13. The Real Science Behind the X-Files by Anne Simon, Ph.D., 318 pages, 3/6/12, very highly recommended
14. A Song I Knew by Heart by Bret Lott, 336 pages, 3/11/12, recommended
15. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, 352 pages, 3/15/12, recommended
*16. Requiem for an Angel by Andrew Taylor, 914 pages, 3/22/12, very highly recommended
April - 9 books, 3094 pages
*17. The Scar by China Miéville, 656 pages, 4/1/12, very highly recommended
18. A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois, 369 pages, 4/5/12, highly recommended
19. The Day The World Ends by Ethan Coen, 128 pages, 4/6/12, recommended
*20. Don't Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon, 464 pages, 4/10/12, very highly recommended
21. The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch, 304 pages, 4/17/12, highly recommended
*22. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker, 368 pages, 4/21/12, very highly recommended
23. Tastes Like Human by Noel Boivin and Christopher Lombardo, 124 pages, 4/22/12, highly recommended
*24.The Chimera Seed by Matthew Tully, 384 pages, 4/26/12, very highly recommended
25. America Pacifica by Anna North, 297 pages, 4/29/12, highly recommended
May - 3 books, 1147 pages
26. Desolation Road by Ian McDonald, 363 pages, 5/5/12, highly recommended
27. Drowned by Therese Bohman, 224 pages, 5/9/12, highly recommended
*28. Flashback by Dan Simmons, 560 pages, 5/23/12, very highly recommended
June: 13 books, 4111 pages
*29. The Didymus Contingency by Jeremy Robinson, 296 pages, 6/4/12, very highly recommended
30. The Last Hunter - Descent by Jeremy Robinson, 282 pages, 6/4/12, highly recommended
*31. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy, 132 pages, 6/6/12, very highly recommended
*32. Movers, Dreamers, and Risk-Takers: Unlocking the Power of ADHD by Kevin Roberts, 250 pages, 6/11/12, very highly recommended
*33. The Odds by Stewart O'Nan, 192 pages, 6/9/12, very highly recommended
34. Moby-Duck by Donovan Hohn, 416 pages, 6/12/12, highly recommended
*35. Railsea by China Miéville, 448 pages, 6/15/12, very highly recommended
36. This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer, 239 pages, 6/16/12, recommended
*37. Oyster by Janette Turner Hospital, 400 pages, 6/18/12, very highly recommended
38. Every Last One by Anna Quindlen, 320 pages, 6/21/12, highly recommended
39. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, 528 pages, 6/24/12, highly recommended
*40. Shout Her Lovely Name by Natalie Serber, 240 pages, 6/26/12, very highly recommended
*41.The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle, 368 pages, 6/29/12, very highly recommended
July - 10 books; 3521 pages
42. Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane, 324 pages, 7/2/12, highly recommended
43. The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell, 341 pages, 7/3/12, highly recommended 
44. Earth Unaware: the First Formic War by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston, 368 pages, 7/6/12, highly recommended 
**45. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, 432 pages, 7/7/12, very highly recommended
*46. Safe People by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, 208 pages, 7/12/12, very highly recommended
*47. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, 288 pages, 7/17/12, very highly recommended
*48. The Devil Colony by James Rollins, 672 pages, 7/21/12, very highly recommended
49. The Human Disguise by James O'Neal, 368 pages, 7/22/12, so-so
50. The Double Human by James O'Neal, 336 pages, 7/22/12, so-so
*51. I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD by J.J. Keeler, 184 pages, 7/26/12, very highly recommended 
August: 12 books, 4634 pages
52. House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier, 352 pages, 8/2/12
**53. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, 576 pages, 8/3/12, very highly recommended
54. A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller, 384 pages, 8/5/12, highly recommended
55. Primeval by David L. Golemon, 368 pages, 8/10/12, highly recommended
*56. The Last Plague by Mark Osborne Humphries, 380 pages, 8/13/12, very highly recommended
57. Legacy by David L. Golemon, 624 pages, 8/17/12, highly recommended
*58. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, 286 pages, 8/21/12, very highly recommended
59. Whiplash River by Lou Berney, 320 pages, 8/22/12, highly recommended
*60. On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder, 512 pages, 8/25/12, very highly recommended
61. The Three Day Affair by Michael Kardos, 256 pages, 8/26/12, highly recommended
Sharp: A Memoir by David Fitzpatrick, 368 pages, 8/28/12, highly recommended
*63. The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler, 208 pages, 8/29/12, very highly recommended
September: 8 books, 2640 pages
*64. Sulan by Camille Picott, 296 pages, 9/7/12, very highly recommended
*65. Things Your Dog Doesn't Want You to Know by Hy Conrad and Jeff Johnson, 9/10/12, 240 pages, very highly recommended 
66. The River by Michael Neale, 320 pages, 9/14/12, highly recommended
*67. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon, 480 pages, 9/17/12, very highly recommended
*68. Planet Taco by Jeffrey M. Pilcher, 320 pages, 9/19/12, very highly recommended
69. The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry, 312 pages, 9/24/12, highly recommended
70. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier, 320 pages, 9/25/12, highly recommended
*71.The Salt God's Daughter by Ilie Ruby, 352 pages, 9/27/12, very highly recommended 

October: 8 books, 2544 pages
*72. Bullied by Carrie Goldman, 368 pages, 10/4/12, very highly recommended
*73. Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan, 384 pages, 10/8/12, very highly recommended
74. Married at Fourteen by Lucille Lang Day, 352 pages, 10/11/12, so-so
75. Frozen by Mary Casanova, 264 pages, 10/12/12, recommended
76. Not Famous Anymore by Michael Loyd Gray, 236, 10/18/12, recommended
77.Blood Line by Lynda La Plante, 480 pages, 10/23/12, highly recommended
*78.Plague by H.W. "Buzz" Bernard, 250 pages, 10/26/12, very highly recommended
79. Stranded by Anne Bishop, Anthony Francis, James Alan Gardner, 210 pages, 10/28/12, highly recommended
November: 7 books, 2661 pages
80. One Moment In Time by Glenn Snyder, 270 pages, 11/6/12, recommended
**81. Spillover by David Quammen, 592 pages, 11/7/12, very highly recommended
82. The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris, 470 pages, 11/13/12, highly recommended
83. Lasso the Stars by L.L. Nielsen, 260 pages, 11/20/12, so-so 
*84. San Miguel by T. C. Boyle, 384 pages, 11/21/12, very highly recommended
85. A Slow Cold Death by Susy Gage, 293 pages, 11/22/12, highly recommended
86. Lunch with Buddha by Roland Merullo, 392 pages, 11/30/12 highly recommended
December: 7 books, 2261 pages
*87. I Am Lucky Bird by Fleur Philips, 273 pages, 12/3/12, very highly recommended 
*88. Confessions of Joan the Tall by Joan Cusack Handler, 260 pages, 12/4/12, very highly recommended
89. Never Hug a Nun by Kevin Killeen, 189 pages, 12/13/12, very highly recommended
90. Invisible by Carla Buckley, 400 pages, 12/20/12, highly recommended
91. Hard Twisted by C. Joseph Greaves, 304 pages, 12/23/12, highly recommended
92. Retribution by Andy Harp, 546 pages, 12/25/12, highly recommended
*93. Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey, 289 pages, 12/26/12, very highly recommended

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See

Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey
Soho Press, 12/26/2012
Hardcover, 289 pages
ISBN-13: 9781616951290

A studio executive leaves his family and travels the world giving free reign to the bipolar disorder he's been forced to hide for 20 years.
In her tour-de-force first novel, Juliann Garey takes us inside the restless mind, ravaged heart, and anguished soul of Greyson Todd, a successful Hollywood studio executive who leaves his wife and young daughter and for a decade travels the world giving free reign to the bipolar disorder he's been forced to keep hidden for almost 20 years. The novel intricately weaves together three timelines: the story of Greyson's travels (Rome, Israel, Santiago, Thailand, Uganda); the progressive unraveling of his own father seen through Greyson's eyes as a child; and the intimacies and estrangements of his marriage. The entire narrative unfolds in the time it takes him to undergo twelve 30-second electroshock treatments in a New York psychiatric ward. This is a literary page-turner of the first order, and a brilliant inside look at mental illness.

My Thoughts:
Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey chronicles the tortured life of Greyson Todd. Greyson suffers from bi-polar disorder, a fact he's tried to keep concealed and resisted for years. In the opening he is successful Hollywood studio executive who leaves his wife and daughter. He subsequently spends a decade traveling around the world, his mental health slowly disassembling as his illness progresses unchecked until he ends up in a New York psychiatric hospital. 
During the time he is receiving twelve thirty second electroshock treatments, three intertwined timelines in Grayson's life are expertly presented in short chapters. The three timelines include: Greyson as a child/young man dealing with his own father's struggles with mental health; Greyson as a married man and father grappling with his own depression; and the decade of Grayson traveling, when his unrestrained bipolar disorder races toward a manic state.
As Grayson recounts:
"That was fun. While it lasted. But it didn’t. It never does. And now, it—all of it—is too much. Too hot. Too bright to hear. Too loud to see. And with no way to turn it down, there is no sleep, nothing to stop the onslaught. (Location 1960-1963)"
For a debut novel, Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See is certainly a spectacular achievement for author Juliann Garey. It is a real page turner. While reading you know where Grayson is heading, but have no idea of all the agony and turmoil he goes through before he gets to the psych unit. At times it can be a gritty novel. Not only is Grayson full of acrimony, sarcasm, and rage at times, he is also drawn in a self destructive state to lurid places and risky behavior. At the same time, on some level, Grayson knows where he is heading and he is terrified of his fate; juxtaposed to this is Grayson's occasionally witty, acute, and insightful recognition of his actions and situation.
Combining skillful writing and great pacing, Garey made Grayson into a real, compelling character. Even if you are disgusted by his actions, you have sympathy for him because you know he needs help. You know he knows he needs help, on some level, even while he makes a self-destructive run away from getting help or admitting he needs help. Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See is certainly a masterful accomplishment.
Very Highly Recommended - not an easy read but a stunning debut novel
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House's Soho Press and Netgalley for review purposes.

excerpts from my Kindle:
Willing suspension of disbelief. That’s what they call it in the movies. Like the story about how each procedure will be over in less than a minute. And how you won’t feel a thing. How you may be foggy for a while, but in the end you’ll be better. You’ll be whole. I want that. So I suspend my disbelief. I let them hook me up. Willingly. And then they give me something. And when I close my eyes, I am neither asleep nor awake but rather suspended in the dark, somewhere between the two. Willingly suspended. Watching. I feel my eyelids being taped shut and hear the gentle hum of the electricity. I have no choice but to give in and let the story tell itself. Location 10-15
All day, every day, there is so much noise. Everything seems so much louder than it used to. I just want to be left alone. My wife is not quiet about what she considers to be my increasingly reclusive tendencies. She wants more. I don’t have what she wants. So I’ve paid off the mortgage, signed a quitclaim deed putting the house and a trust in her name, and I’ve packed a small suitcase and locked it in the trunk of my Mercedes. Nameless, easily accessible offshore accounts have been established. Location 43-46
Some people shouldn’t be parents. I simply found out after the fact. I cannot tolerate the myriad responsibilities anymore—birthday parties and teacher conferences, soccer games and ballet recitals. And just as intolerable is the suffocating guilt of not attending those things. I cannot stand to disappoint. So better gone than absent. It is the only way to love her. Location 61-63 |
After lying to my mother, spending her money, or cheating on her, my father liked to play the good husband. He’d fix leaky faucets, give my little brother a bath, take a stab at the laundry. That night he cooked dinner. Location 180-181

I hated him enough to tell, but I loved her more—enough not to. Besides, I thought, I could hold this over his head for years. It was my first lesson in strategic negotiation. Location 223-224
I wonder if I am the only ECT patient who’s noticed. I’ve come to realize lately that if you’re really crazy most people assume you’re also really stupid. They either speak to you in a quiet, slow voice as if speaking to a retarded child or enunciate and yell as if addressing a hard-of-hearing, demented senior. Either way, I resent it. Location 976-978

So maybe it would be justice, I think, the panic slowly rising as I go under. Maybe this is karma coming around to vindicate the victims of my bad behavior. Karma coming around to bite me in the ass. Location 1590-1591

“We are all of us—well, with the exception of people who have just fallen in love and those lucky demented few who see life’s glass as three quarters full—we are just getting by. We do our jobs and love our families and take pride in our kids’ accomplishments. Some people believe in God because that makes watching the nightly news a little easier. But our ups and downs stay within a manageable range. That’s what I want for you.” Location 3580-3583

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Retribution by Andy Harp
Second Star Online Publishing, November 2012
Paperback, 546 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1480148031

In the pitch-black cargo hold of the Pakistani airline freighter crossing the Atlantic, a wooden crate filled with levers for a weaving machine also had another object buried inside. If it makes it to its delivery point, an American city would become uninhabitable for a century. In this chilling thriller, Retribution is more than the story of a deep-cover mission to stop a terrorist with a core stolen from an Islamabad nuclear weapon. Here, the operative does much more to flush out the target than a hunt and chase. He becomes a carrier of a highly contagious strain of a deadly disease. In this oh-so-authentic story, author Andy Harp draws upon his experiences as a Marine who has served across the globe to create a uniquely real novel filled with breakneck thrills and plot twists.

With action that flies from New York to London, from Peshawar deep into the mountains of the Hindu Kush, and from Islamabad to Chicago, Retribution weaves political conspiracy and a perilous intelligence operation, hi-tech military technology and deadly current events, all with the crucible of a determined Jason Bourne-like character in conflict with just-as-determined a killer, into a classic “mission” thriller that delivers the kind of nail-biting suspense, realism and a kicker surprise at the end that is in the style of Ludlum, and the best of Thor and Flynn. The story is engrossing, the hero is remarkable, and the personal cost he pays for both his survival and success changes the man.

My Thoughts:
Retribution by Andy Harp is an action packed thriller where secret operations abound. Opening with an embassy bombing, soon several terrorist plots are shown to be in the works, both international and at home. A deep cover mission is in the works to stop all the terrorist activity. In an effort to stop the terrorists, the life and health of operative Will Parker is at an even greater risk than would normally be taken.

Retribution can favorably be compared to Tom Clancy novels. There are a lot of characters and the action and various terrorist plots culminate in nail biting suspense as they all try to work as fast as possible before the ultimate deadline. Harp knows his stuff, which lends authenticity to the action. Using planes as weapons is as frightening as it is now a part of our reality.

Some of the issues I had with Retribution are due to the format I read it in. I think this may be one of those books that would work better as a paperback where you can flip back to keep track of the characters. I find that much more difficult to do with an e-reader. But, that said, Retribution was the sort of sheer adrenaline-junkie suspense that is so much fun to read just for escapism when you are on a vacation.
highly recommended for those seeking military based action/adventure escapism
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Netgalley for review purposes.


Fifty Three Miles North by North East of Navy Pier
The pilot gripped the yoke of the aircraft until her tiny, dark hands turned nearly white, choking out all of the circulation. The Cessna single engine seaplane fought the wind as she kept it on its heading, south by south west, just above the whitecaps that were churning below on Lake Michigan. “Allahu akbar,” she kept repeating to herself in a whisper. “Allahu akbar.”  Location 30-33

As for Margaret Elizabeth O’Donald, since her days at Stanford she had been the polar opposite of Pat Stuart, always the one with her desk piled too high. Copies of Jane’s on weapons and shipping were shuffled with satellite imagery and intelligence memos across her desk. Jane’s was a spy’s bible. The encyclopedia of weapons and war machines contained the specifics on every killing machine ever made. And Maggie took great pride in knowing exactly where each copy lay, along with the scattered photos and documents. She also knew the mess drove Stuart crazy. Location 92-96

A flash of brilliant light came through both windows, and an explosion followed that rocked the building like a sonic boom. It sounded more like a deafening thud than a crack, as if the winds had muffled the sound in some strange way. Book, magazines, and files tumbled to the floor as the bomb’s concussion wave passed through the building. Pat lurched back to the window.
“What the hell was that?” Maggie ran over to the window on his side of the embassy and peered over his shoulder. The sandstorm continued to rage outside. “They must have used the storm to camouflage the attack,” she said as alarms began to sound throughout the building. The red light from the staircase just outside the door began to flash continuously. “God, it may not be over.” Location 129-135
The concussion from the blast shattered windows for several city blocks. The crater on the edge of the building quickly filled with water as the main to the embassy was sheared in the blast. It was an odd sight of smoke, blowing dust, and water spraying up from the pipe. As the winds began to die down with the passing of the storm, the smell of burned rubber, wood, and human remains overwhelmed the rescue crew searching through the pile of debris for survivors. Location 168-172

“I am told that the cement truck had about two tons of explosives in it. It left a crater twenty feet deep. Six are reported missing, with no trace that they ever even existed.” The flight surgeon spoke in his low, somber voice, barely audible over the hum of the engines. “How about the ambassador?”
“He wasn’t even in the embassy at the time.”
“Do you know who the six missing are?”
“Two Marine guards, three locals, and the security officer.” Location 221-224

He felt sick. She would not have been in Qatar but for him. It was supposed to be a safe place. The relationship risked both his marriage and career. He had weighed the decision carefully. She had to be placed out of sight. He just didn’t anticipate how good she would become in her new job. Maggie was coming up with intelligence that no one had even a hint of. Location 229-232

“Someone in Riyadh is trying to point the CIA in our direction. It is my understanding that the CIA woman in Doha has now been transferred to Walter Reed Hospital. We need to find her source.” And with that, for the first and last time in their meeting, Yousef smiled. Location 522-524 

“Good. Are you getting an idea of what this involves?”
“Given your interest in the CDC, I would surmise that you will carry a very bad bug into the camp and release it, and as a consequence Mr. Yousef will become sick and quickly die.”
“Right. Or, failing that, it should flush your target out into the open. If Yousef gets sick and has a doctor near him, he’ll likely be told that the only thing that can save him will be very special antibiotics at a high-end hospital. That should limit the number of places he could run to. Meanwhile, if the bug works quickly enough, or if the doctor misdiagnoses him, he dies in his camp.” Parker paused. “Along with hundreds or thousands of others, if you don’t mobilize shipments of vaccine and antibiotics into the region quickly enough.”
“We’ll take care of that,” Scott said. “But what about you? Being that close to a germ like that?” Location 1067-1073

Stewart offered a last warning: “You need to understand that although NM-13 has a seventy to eighty percent chance of being stopped, it also has a twenty to thirty percent chance that nothing will work." Stewart’s tone became somber. He stood directly in front of Parker, so as to allow no escape, and looked him directly in the eyes. “Once that packet is open and you feel it in your hand, you have, at the outside, twelve hours before bleeding out of every portal in your body.” Location 1161-1164

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hard Twisted

Hard Twisted by C. Joseph Greaves
Bloomsbury USA, November, 2012
Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781608198559
In May of 1934, outside of Hugo, Oklahoma, a homeless man and his thirteen-year-old daughter are befriended by a charismatic drifter, newly released from the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. The drifter, Clint Palmer, lures father and daughter to Texas, where the father, Dillard Garrett, mysteriously disappears, and where his daughter Lucile begins a one-year ordeal as Palmer's captive on a crime spree-culminating in the notorious Greenville, Texas "skeleton murder" trial of 1935.
C. Joseph Greaves weaves a chilling tale of survival and redemption, encompassing iconic landscapes, historic figures, America's last Indian uprising, and one of the most celebrated criminal trials of the Public Enemy era, all rooted in the intensely personal story of a young girl's coming of age in a world as cruel as it is beautiful.

My Thoughts:
Hard Twisted by C. Joseph Greaves is an impressive fictional account of the real people Clint Palmer and Lottie Garrett. It is 1934 when 13 year old Lottie and her father, Dillard, meet Clint, a charming drifter, they both end up moving to Texas with him where Dillard suddenly disappears and Lottie is essentially kidnapped and left to depend on Clint, a psychopathic killer and sexual predator, during a year long ordeal. The narrative is told from Lottie's point of view as she and Clint end up traveling together across the southwest and subsequently covers what may have happened in the John’s Canyon Murder and the “skeleton murder trial” of the Depression Era. Excerpts from a fictional trial are interspersed with Lottie's story.

In the Author's Note and Acknowledgements, Greaves notes: "Hard Twisted, although based upon real people and true events, is entirely a work of fiction. My first exposure to the saga of Clint Palmer and Lottie Garrett came in somewhat dramatic (Location 2770-2773)....That chance discovery began a personal odyssey that would play out in fits and starts over fifteen-odd years, setting me onto the trail of what I would come to regard as one of the great, untold stories of the American West. (Location 2776-2777).
When researching for the book, Greaves notes something that Lottie and her father didn't know: "Clint Palmer was a sexual predator and a career criminal who, when he first encountered young Lottie Garrett in May of 1934, was only four months removed from his latest incarceration, a three-year stint in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, for kidnapping, statutory rape, and violating the Mann Act. (Location 2854-2856)"
While still in manuscript, Hard Twisted was named Best Historical Novel in the Southwest Writers 2010 International Writing Contest, a well deserved honor. Hard Twisted is clearly a very atmospheric novel and the setting plays a role in Lucille's isolation and dependence on Clint. Although the reader knows from the beginning that something is going to go very wrong, the suspense grows as Lucille begins to figure out Clint's true nature while totally dependant upon him. Greaves does a great job with the historical setting and placing Lucille in the period.
Alas, there is nothing new under the sun. While we tend to think people are worse now, there were always those among us who are sociopaths and do not follow societal rules and norms. It is chilling to know that this is based on a true story. I also personally found the fictional trial questioning Lottie as some sort of femme fatale rather depressing. I would hope and pray that we have come a long way beyond blaming a victim. 
Highly Recommended - especially if you enjoy historical fiction set in the Depression.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Bloomsbury and Netgalley for review purposes.


The court: Very well. Does counsel wish to voir dire?
By Mr. Hartwell: Thank you, Your Honor. Isn’t it true that you and Mr. Palmer cohabited together over a period of several months during the years 1934 and 1935?
A: Did what?
Q: Cohabited. Lived under the same roof.
A: Well. There weren’t no roof to speak of. (Proceedings interrupted.)
The Court: Order. Not another peep, I warn you. And the witness will answer counsel’s questions without gratuitous exposition.
By Mr. Hartwell: You lived together as man and wife.
By Mr. Pharr: Objection.
The Court: Sustained.
By Mr. Hartwell: You shared a bed? Or a bedroll?
A: It weren’t never my idea.
Q: But isn’t it true that you held yourselves out to the public as man and wife? (Location 22-28)

Who was that man?
Just a man. He said he knowed you.
He didn’t mean like that. More like my kind is what he meant.
What’s your kind?
Her father stirred the skillet, and paused, and stirred it again. He tapped the spoon on the iron rim. Only the good Lord knows what’s in a man’s heart, Lottie. Happy is the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked nor walks in the way of sinners. He wiped his nose with his wrist. That there’s from Psalms. (Location 60-63)
Lottie paused with her foot on the running board as Palmer held the door. Packin her kit bag, I reckon. We’ll fetch her up in Hugo. He closed the door and circled the truck, clapping dust from his hands, his eyes scanning the highway in both directions. The cab where she waited was spare and tidy and bore the masculine smells of motor oil and leather and old cigarettes. A spider crack stippled the corner of the windscreen. A cowhide valise, like a doctor’s bag, rested on the seat beside her. Palmer clambered in and slammed the door, setting his hat atop the valise and raking his hair with a hand. He looked at her and smiled. He turned the ignition and pressed the starter and mashed the pedals, working the shift lever up and back until the gears ground and caught and the truck lurched forward, rocking and wheeling southbound onto the empty highway. That weren’t too difficult.
What all’d you tell him?
Oh, let’s see. That I was Clyde Barrow and needin me a gun moll, and that we all was gonna rob us some banks and shoot our way down to Mexico.
She giggled. You’re crazy. (Location 115-122)

I’m sorry, she said, sniffling. I know it’s the Lord’s will. The slap was swift and sharp, the force of it spinning her sideways into the table.
What did I tell you about that nonsense? She raised a hand to her face. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came. She turned and ran for the door. He caught her in the front parlor and pulled her backward, kicking and squirming, and he wrestled her onto the sofa. Hold on now. I said stop, dammit, and settle down. His hands gripped her wrists, straitjacketing her in his lap.
I hate you!
You listen to me for one second. Just listen. She struggled again, and then was still. I done fed you, and I drove you all the way down here so’s you could have a little fun for yourself, and all I ast in return was one little thing. All I ast was for you to quit your mealymouthed holy- rollin for one goddamn day. Now is that so much? Huh? Is it? He leaned and tried to turn her, but she wouldn’t turn. Come on, Lucile. Where’s that other cheek I keep hearin about? (Location 234-242)
When I was a kid, he told her, I couldn’t wait to get quit of this place. I run away, and I come back, and then I run away again. Finally, when I was sixteen, I run away for good. At least I thought I did.
How come?
He shrugged. I don’t know. The old man went and got remarried. I guess I felt like I’d lost my place somehow, and that if I got away and looked somewheres else, I might find it again. Almost like you can’t really be home until you know what else is out there, and then you figure out for yourself that whatever it is, it ain’t really home. Does that make any sense?
What happened?
Your place. Did you ever find it again?
He squatted and plucked a grass stem and held it in his mouth. I don’t know. I don’t know if you ever know a thing such as that. Maybe I did, but I just didn’t realize it. Or maybe I ain’t got there yet. He removed the stem and studied it. Maybe I’ll get there tomorrow, or the day after that. Or maybe I won’t never get there a’tall. Or maybe you’re there right now. He looked up at her face, guileless and pink in the low light of sunset. By God, you may be right. He stood and placed the hat on her head. Maybe I am at that. Palmer backed the sofa onto the porch, and when he went inside again, he returned with four warm bottles of orange Nehi and the last of the bourbon whiskey. He popped the caps on his belt buckle and lined the bottles along the railing, topping them off each in turn with a measure of whiskey. They sat with their boots on the railing and sipped their drinks... (Location 256-268)

Tears were in his eyes by the end, and she at the sight of them reached to wipe his face, and in so doing became the very girl of his story. (Location 1440-1441)

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Invisible by Carla Buckley
Random House, 12/11/2012
Paperback, 400
ISBN-13: 9780440246053

Growing up, Dana Carlson and her older sister, Julie, are inseparable—Dana the impulsive one, Julie calmer and more nurturing. But then a devastating secret compels Dana to flee from home, not to see or speak to her sister for sixteen years.
When she receives the news that Julie is seriously ill, Dana knows that she must return to their hometown of Black Bear, Minnesota, to try and save her sister. Yet she arrives too late, only to discover that Black Bear has changed, and so have the people in it.
Julie has left behind a shattered teenage daughter, Peyton, and a mystery—what killed Julie may be killing others, too. Why is no one talking about it? Dana struggles to uncover the truth, but no one wants to hear it, including Peyton, who can’t forgive her aunt’s years-long absence. Dana had left to protect her own secrets, but Black Bear has a secret of its own—one that could tear apart Dana’s life, her family, and the whole town.

My Thoughts:
Invisible by Carla Buckley is a mystery that features complex family relationships and a mystery. Dana Carlson's sister, Julie, is dying. When Dana is called by Julie's teenage daughter, Peyton, she hurries back to Black Bear, Minnesota. After being estranged from Julie for 16 years, she arrives too late to say good-bye to her sister. Peyton, who is already emotionally distant from her peers, is understandably suffering and Dana stays after the funeral to try and help her and Julie's husband, Frank. Frank, however, resumes drinking and resents Dana's presence. 
Adding to this already volatile mix is the notebook Julie left behind. She was sure that something caused her illness and it was making others in town sick too. Dana, amid her own regrets and worries, takes on the investigation her sister started, much to the resentment of the whole town.

Invisible  has been favorably compared to novels by Jodi Picoult, which I think is a fair comparison. While there is an overwhelming mystery over the cause of Julie's illness, as well as another mystery in Dana's life, there are also many underlying themes, including regret, redemption, addiction, greed, secrets, government safety regulations, to name a few.
The chapters alternate between Dana's and Peyton's point of view. Peyton's chapters open with her discussing a different marine species, which gives clues to her emotional state. Both Dana and Peyton are well developed characters and you will gain some understanding of Julie through their eyes. Frank was less developed and a bit more formulaic.
The plot for the main mystery and the family drama, although somewhat predictable, is engaging and kept my attention. In some ways the mystery involving Dan's demolition work felt like an unnecessary addition to the novel, although bringing up her issues with her partners made sense. Even though circumstances had me reading this novel over a much longer period of time than I would normally take, I enjoyed the pacing of the plot and never felt as if I should just rush to the end.
Highly Recommended

Quotes:    Read an Excerpt
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House and Netgalley for review purposes.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Never Hug a Nun

Never Hug a Nun by Kevin Killeen
Blank Slate Press, 12/8/12
Paperback, 182 pages
buy the book

From first crushes and cafeteria lines, hidden forts and secret passwords, learning the Cub Scout oath and robbing the Ben Franklin, to hanging out on the train tracks, running from the police, enduring stuffy classrooms and, of course, dodging projectile vomit, Never Hug a Nun laces the reader into the Keds of young Patrick Cantwell—a boy who really wants to be good, but who, like his hero The Wolfman, always seems to fall short.
Set in Webster Groves in 1966, the story takes readers on a laughing, head-shaking, I-remember-doing-that-stuff ride through the rigors of practicing good penmanship, the rites of spring kickball, unsupervised summer days filled with Velvet Freeze daydreams of starting a band at least as good as The Beatles, and, finally, to those dying seconds when a boy reaches out bravely to hold the 220-volt live wire of a girl’s hand.

My Thoughts:
The title comes from a time when Patrick Cantwell tells us in Never Hug a Nun, "She seemed like she wanted to hug him, so he quickly stuck his arm out straight to shake hands with her from a distance. It was his general policy to never hug a nun. (Location 697-698)"

Never Hug a Nun by Kevin Killeen recounts the life of Patrick Cantwell through his first grade year and into second grade at Mary Queen of Our Hearts Catholic School. It is 1966 in Webster Groves, Missouri. Patrick secretly pines after a girl in his class, Ebby Hamilton, but is too shy to declare his love. It is during the time the Beatles are taking America by storm, including Patrick's older brother, John. The Parish moms are all reading Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and gluing green stamps into books. The dads all work downtown. In Webster Groves boys will be boys - this includes Patrick and John, who struggle to sell Parish raffle tickets, have an encounter with a railroad cop, experience some disgusting bathroom antics and experience an encounter with law enforcement.
Never Hug a Nun is humorous even as it tackles the extremely serious thought processes of the young protagonist. The chapters are short, very much reflecting the feeling of an older child recounting his memories of events in his childhood. The jump from family events to school events flowed naturally, as a child's life flows freely from school to family events to summers. It is well written and felt like a real memoir to me. It could be that growing up in the 1960's in the Midwest simply made the characters very real to me because I knew these kids, or kids like them. I can remember being in the first grade around this same time period, and going over to a friends house where his older sister was constantly playing Beatles records. I can remember being able to run around much more freely than it would be prudent to allow any child to do today.
I also enjoyed Kevin Killeen's blog entry from December 9th:

"...Kind people, many of whom left dishes in the sink, ventured out to get a copy of the novel at Charlie Brennan’s Fontbonne Book of the Month Club taping Nov 27, at the KMOX Holiday Radio Show Dec 3, and at the Webster Groves Book Shop Dec 8.
Many of the men whispered confessions of their own delinquent past as they purchased the book, then hid it under arm and hurried to their car.  Most touching was the procession of parish mothers, some of whom remember the author as a “troubled student,” purchasing two or three copies to impress upon their grand children the dangers of going the wrong way...."
I really enjoyed this short novel and would very highly recommend it.
Even though I had a Advanced Reading Copy from Netgalley for my Kindle, I need to quote the following conversation in the book:

“You’re going to sleep in your underwear?”
“Yeah,” John said, getting out his transistor radio. “I want to sleep naked, to get a really good night sleep like Tarzan, but Mom caught me trying it and said I have to at least wear underwear.”
“She said it’s a sin to have nudity.”
“What’s nudity?”
“It’s when you don’t wear underwear.”
Patrick lay on his back and looked at the ceiling. “Once, when I couldn’t find any underwear, I went to school with nudity under my pants.”
“That’s not nudity. That’s just stoo-piddy.” (Location 320-324)

Read the first chapter: Excerpt

A reporter with KMOX radio since 1995, Kevin Killeen has confused listeners for the past ten years with his regular morning feature, A Whole ‘nother Story. Killeen has also authored the KMOX Holiday Radio Show, an original comic play with a holiday theme, for the past 15 years or so. In Never Hug a Nun, Killeen attempts to escape his declining faculties, by casting his mind back to the days of his youth when he spent long summer days on the train tracks or hanging out at the Velvet Freeze and wishing he were a teenager.
A 1982 graduate of UMSL, Killeen studied fiction writing under comic novelist David Carkeet who corrupted him with thoughts of getting published someday. Married with four children, Killeen enjoys asking his kids — again — to please, pick up their shoes, moving the sprinkler around a dying lawn, and going to garage sales on Saturday with his mother.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Netgalley for review purposes and I was happy to also join the TLC book tour. 
The TLC tour schedule

The giveaway has ended and a winner has been chosen.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Confessions of Joan the Tall

Confessions of Joan the Tall by Joan Cusack Handler
CavanKerry Press, 11/13/2012
Trade Paperback, 260 pages
ISBN-13: 9781933880334

A memoir written in the voice of a twelve year old Irish Catholic girl living in the Bronx in 1954, Confessions recounts one year in the life of Joan, a very tall, religious, funny, self-conscious, emotionally imprisoned, lovable girl whose journey takes her from innocence, isolation, and inhibition to the beginnings of freedom and awakening. Fiercely committed to seeing only the good, the Joan who greets us is flush with the beauty of life and the Lord. Gradually, however, she sinks into the devastation of adolescent self-consciousness over her many problems including her unusual height, unbridled guilt, and conflicted, often painful, relationships with family.

Confused by her Catholic commitment to confess all one’s wrongs on the one hand and her mothers’ dictate to say nothing of what happens inside the family ‘four walls’, Joan struggles to find a place where she can reveal all that torments her—this relief she finds in her notebook. In this ‘place’ of solace and grace--the format, a kind of Confession--Joan is freed to know and reveal herself in all her flaws and frailties.

My Thoughts:
Confessions of Joan the Tall is an extraordinary memoir that recounts a year in the life of author Joan Cusack Handler. In a seemingly simple style, Joan Cusack Handler manages to capture the anxiety she felt over her perceived lack of piety and her way above average height. Set in the mid-50's in the Bronx, eleven (but almost twelve)year-old, Joan is the third child in an Irish Catholic family of four. Written as a series of short journal entries, Joan confesses her concerns over her devotion to God, her sins (including hating her brother Sonny), and her anxiety caused by having a small bladder and tall height (almost 6 feet tall).
Confessions of Joan the Tall is an honest, surprisingly poignant memoir that explores the thoughts of an 11 year old girl dealing with the pressures of her life. Chiefly among these pressures is her Catholicism, which burdens her with concerns over not being good enough or disappointing Jesus, her church, and family. While I was not raised Catholic, I can certainly understand that expectations from anyone can burden you with anxiety if you chose to try to live up to those standards. I think growing up Catholic might give you an even greater, deeper understanding of some of Joan's concerns.
When compared to young almost 12 year old girls today, Joan's thoughts may seem immature, but for those of us who are a little older, it is very easy to empathize with young Joan. Some things, like Joan's anxiety over the day everyone's height is measured at her parochial school, certainly bring back to mind the days when everyone in my public school was measured and weighed all together and comments were made without any regard to the feelings of the children being herded through the line.
Confessions of Joan the Tall is written in the voice of eleven-and-a-half-year-old year old Joan. I felt that Joan Cusack Handler was quite successful writing in capturing the angst young people feel. Even while Joan is in the throes of anxiety, there are witty, humorous sections right alongside touching, painful passages. As you progress through this year in Joan's life, you will see personal growth as she begins to recognize alternate ways to view her family and their actions, as well as her height. This is such a tumulus time in any adolescence life... as my adult daughter would say, "Damn you, puberty."

I would Very Highly Recommend Confessions of Joan the Tall, especially for anyone who grew up Catholic and went to parochial school.
Let me also mention that the cover of Confessions of Joan the Tall  is gorgeous and the book itself is of superior quality. It would make a wonderful gift.
This is the first book in a new library of books being offered by CavanKerry Press.  In their own words: “In keeping with our thematic emphasis for all of our books on Lives Brought to Life, CavanKerry Press is proud to announce the addition of Memoir to our publishing program. Confessions of Joan the Tall is the inaugural volume on Cavan Kerry’s Memoir List.”
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the CavanKerry Press and TLC for review purposes. 

Bronx native, JOAN CUSACK HANDLER has two published poetry collections—GlOrious and The Red Canoe: Love in Its Making, and two anthologies that she’s edited: The Waiting Room Reader: Stories to Keep You Company, Vol.1 and The Breath of Parted Lips: Voices from The Robert Frost Place, Vol.1. Confessions is her first full length prose book. Recipient of five Pushcart nominations and a Sampler Award from The Boston Review, her poems have appeared in Agni, Boston Review, Poetry East and The New York Times and her prose, including chapters from Confessions of Joan the Tall, in Indiana Review, Tampa Review, and Southern Humanities Review. In all of her literary work, Handler’s aesthetic project is the exploration of voice—its evolution and recreation on the page. In her other lives, she is the founder/publisher of CavanKerry Press Ltd. and a psychologist in clinical practice.

(The giveaway has ended and a winner has been notified.)

Monday, December 3, 2012

I Am Lucky Bird

I Am Lucky Bird by Fleur Philips
 New Dawn Publishers, 7/15/2012
Trade Paperback, 273 pages
ISBN-13: 9781908462046


When her mother AnnMarie mysteriously vanishes from the small town of Plains, Montana, 12 year old Lucky Bird's childhood comes to an abrupt end. Left alone to defend herself against her suddenly abusive grandmother Marian Bird, and forced to endure the twisted predatory game played by Marian's lover Tom Cressfield, Lucky's life soon descends into a nightmare.
Even when she manages to escape, the outside world can't take away the brutal images of her past. Still haunted by her mother's disappearance and the trauma that followed, Lucky is easily led down a path of self-destruction, a path that only the intervention of a handsome young stranger and his family seems to offer any hope of guiding her away from. But first, she will have to confront her demons, and the dark truths that they kept hidden...
The literary debut of brilliant new author Fleur Philips, MFA Creative Writing student at Antioch University Los Angeles, I Am Lucky Bird is an intensely gripping, heart-wrenching novel, telling the tale of Lucky Bird through her suffering, her long, hard-fought struggle against strife and adversity- and, in its breath-taking climax, of Lucky Bird's inspirational triumph, as she finally uncovers the sinister secrets behind it all...

My Thoughts:
I Am Lucky Bird by Fleur Philips introduces us to Lucky Bird, a young woman living in Plains, Montana. The closest person to being a mother to Lucky, Ann Marie, cares for Lucky until she mysteriously disappears when Lucky is twelve. Lucky is then basically left to fend for herself, albeit with visits from Marian Bird, the woman she considers her grandmother. Marian drops off groceries, as well as verbally abuses and terrorizes Lucky, at least once a week. And then there is Tom, Marian's creepy boyfriend...

Lucky is most certainly an abused and neglected child in most of this tragic novel. Lucky does make a friend, a new girl to Plains, Rika, and soon the girls grow close and make plans to escape from Plains. Before they can escape, another horrible tragedy befalls Lucky and her life is once again in turmoil.  As the novel continues, Lucky's life is the opposite of what her name implies. Even when she does manage to get out of Plains her life continues to spiral down, out-of-control
Even though it is set in Montana, I Am Lucky Bird captures the essence of tragic Southern coming-of-age story, like Bastard out of Carolina. It has also been favorably compared to White Oleander. And, though it might be considered a YA novel, it handles some very dark, adult themes, so it would be for those on the older age span of YA fiction.

Fleur Philips is an excellent writer. I Am Lucky Bird  is beautifully written debut, even while the subject matter is difficult to read. She did a notable job giving Lucky a distinctive voice. Even when Lucky is at her lowest, I empathized with her because I understood what she was thinking, even when her decisions were poor choices and lead to more heart break. I Am Lucky Bird  should be adapted to be made into a movie. Some of the elements, especially the tie-in with birds, could be beautifully captured in a movie.
Now, I do have one small complaint about the ending. Do not read beyond this point if you are going to read the book - and I'm going to very highly recommend that you do just that. I will try to be vague just in case you continue.
The very end of the novel ties up loose ends for sure, but it also went too far in the other direction for me. For Lucky to get answers about her past and have some closure was all exceedingly good and satisfying and right. But, when she also came into even more overwhelmingly good things, well, that took it just one step too far for me. I would have ended with the closure and avoided the and-there-is-even-more-fabulous news ending. (I hope that was vague enough to not spoil too much.)
Very Highly Recommended -  Don't miss the giveaway found after the quotes!
Fleur Philips is a graduate student at Antioch University in Los Angeles, pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing. She attended the University of Oregon in Eugene where she was awarded placement in the Kidd Tutorial Creative Writing Program. After a short-lived acting career (she was a “featured extra” on Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can), she completed three manuscripts. I Am Lucky Bird is her first novel and was selected as a general fiction finalist for the 2011 Book of the Year Award from ForeWord Reviews. She’s currently working on her second novel which will be released in the summer 2013. She lives in Upland, California, and when she’s not writing, she’s cheering for her son in his athletic endeavors.
Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book BookSparksPR for review purposes.
My existence was just one of the many tragic events in the life of my grandmother, Marian Ann Bird. She told me she found me in an empty cardboard box next to an industrial garbage bin in the alley behind the Green Valley Bar in Plains, Montana. opening
I never called AnnMarie by anything other than her first name. She was, in a sense, my mother, but I always considered her to be more like a sister, and this was only because we lived together. pg. 1
It was later that evening, while AnnMarie sat on the edge of my bed carefully brushing through the twisted tangles of my long brown hair, that she asked me not to tell Marian about what I saw in the kitchen.
"He stayed outside and I brought him the envelope, okay?" she said.
"Okay," I replied. pg. 6
The silence around me was so thick and heavy that at one point I thought my eardrums might actually explode.
And then I was so completely terrified I couldn't move. I couldn't close my eyes. I couldn't even breathe.
I waited. AnnMarie didn't come home. pg. 13
throughout the day, I'd convinced myself that everything would be okay. But at that moment, I knew my life would never be the same. What I didn't know was just how horrible it would become. pg. 21
From that moment on, reading became her life. The characters in the books she read may not have been tangible in this world, but they were living and breathing in another dimension outside of the one AnnMarie physically walked in, and in that realm, they were close enough for her to touch and feel. pg. 25
She still spent most of her time at Tom's, but when she did return home, it was for the purpose of hurting me. pg. 32
Something dark and evil was lurking on the horizon, and when I looked out across the river, I saw a storm in the distance, twisting and writhing like a room full of snakes. I was 14 years old - too young to truly understand he threat that lingered, but old enough to know the fear I felt was terrifyingly real. pg. 43

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