Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Missing File

The Missing File by D. A. Mishani
HarperCollins, 3/19/2013
Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062195371

Detective Avraham Avraham must find a teenage boy who has vanished from his quiet suburban neighborhood. Police detective Avraham Avraham knows that when a crime is committed in his sleepy suburb of Tel Aviv, there is little need for a complex investigation. There are no serial killers or kidnappings here. The perpetrator is usually the neighbor, the uncle, or the father. As he has learned, the simplest explanation is always the answer. But his theory is challenged when a sixteen-year-old boy named Ofer Sharabi disappears without a trace while on his way to school one morning. There is no simple explanation, and Avraham's ordered world is consumed by the unimaginable perplexity of the case.
The more he finds out about the boy and his circumstances, the further out of reach the truth seems to be. Avraham's best lead is Ofer's older neighbor and tutor, Ze'ev Avni. Avni has information that sheds new light on the case-and makes him a likely suspect. But will the neighbor's strange story save the investigation?
Told through dual perspectives, The Missing File is a crisp, suspenseful tale that introduces an indelible new detective and offers an evocative portrait of suburban life and tension with a universal reach. As it draws to its startling conclusion, D. A. Mishani's twisting mystery will have readers questioning notions of innocence and guilt, and the nebulous nature of truth.

My Thoughts:

The Missing File is a debut crime/procedural novel by D. A. Mishani, an Israeli crime writer, editor and literary scholar. When Hannah Sharabi, the mother of teenager Ofer Sharabi, reports her son as missing in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Detective Avraham Avraham is sure that he will turn up and doesn't take her seriously. However, when she returns the next morning saying Ofer is still missing, Avraham realizes that he must start an investigation into the missing teen. 
The obvious suspect is neighbor Ze'ev Avni who was also Ofer's English tutor. Since the reader is privy to Ze'ev's thoughts and actions, he is clearly the main suspect right from the beginning. 
Avraham approaches his investigation almost reluctantly and with what feels like a lot of trepidation. He does not seem to have a great deal of confidence in his abilities and in his team. In contrast to the clever, spot-on detective of most police procedurals who is one step ahead of everyone, Avraham is seemingly one step behind and confused. It is an odd feeling in a crime novel to wonder if the detective is up to the challenge of the investigation. In the meantime, the reader knows all about the activities of neighbor Ze'ev and he is clearly setting off all sorts of red flags.
The story does take a turn and comes together in the end but it follows few of the formula's we are used to, especially concerning the twist at the very end (which I wondered if it was the true reason earlier, so other's might also guess this.) Avraham is a protagonist who doesn't seem to have many heroic virtues, which can make it difficult to feel a great amount of sympathy for him. On the other hand, The Missing File is written to reflect a more realistic picture of an investigation rather than the idealized fictional version we are all so used to seeing.
There were some instances where I felt like something was lost in this translated novel, but since I have an advanced reader's copy some of those mis-steps could have been corrected in the final published novel. In the end I did feel connected enough with Avraham to want follow him on future investigations and maybe get a better hold on this melancholy character.
Highly Recommended
No quotes since I had an advanced reading copy.
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC for review purposes.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Children of No One

Children of No One by Nicole Cushing
DarkFuse, 3/26/2013  
novella, 50 pages
ISBN13: 9781937771812
Sadism, nihilism, poverty, wealth, screams, whimpers, sanity and madness collide in Nowhere, Indiana
For Thomas Krieg, Nowhere is a miles-long, pitch-black underground maze in which he’s imprisoned dozens of boys for the past ten years—all in the name of art.
For two brothers, Nowhere is the only place they clearly remember living. A world unto itself, in which they must stay alert to stay alive. A world from which the only escape is death.
But for an English occultist known only as Mr. No One, Nowhere is much more…and much less: the perfect place in which to perform a ritual to unleash the grandest of eldritch deities, the God of Nothingness, the Great Dark Mouth.
My Thoughts:
Children of No One by Nicole Cushing is about an artist who has made an underground maze in Nowhere, Indiana. In this maze of complete darkness, he has imprisoned boys for ten years. All the boys know is the darkness and a bell that rings, signaling that the angels have left them food. One young boy may remember light or some previous life but his brother scoffs at him.
This surreal sadistic maze is a performance art project created by Thomas Krieg. Art Patron, and I use that term loosely, Mr. MacPherson, is willing to risk almost everything to be the first patron to experience this performance art project first hand. Working with Krieg is an occultist, nihilist artist, Mr. No One, who may have some other agenda for the performance of the art project.
Children of No One is creepy. It's not just "Oh, that's creepy." It's "OH! That is SO CREEPY!" It's Night Gallery Creepy. It's Twilight Zone Creepy. It's Tales From the Darkside creepy. It is the stuff of childhood nightmares creepy. And if that is not enough, it also has a message about art. If the art depends upon the misery and suffering of people and relies on man's inhumanity to man in order to exist, in other words, sadism, is it really art?
It is a very short novella at approximately 50 pages, and very disturbing. And did I mention creepy? If this were a television show I would have been cringing, covering my eyes and squirming, while saying things like "Ick....oooh... ugh... ohohohoh..."
Highly Recommended, and maybe even very highly recommended for those who enjoy being scared.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of DarkFuse via Netgalley for review purposes.


Two arguing voices echo off the walls of Nowhere, Indiana: the voices of teenage boys, one a tenor who sometimes crosses the border to a baritone, the other a baritone who sometimes crosses the border to a bass. The topic of their current debate: the possible existence of light. There’s no evidence of it to be found, at present, but one of them raises the possibility it may have been there, once. A long, long time ago. (Location 57-60)
“Now listen here, James. That’s crazy talk.”
“You wanna know what’s crazy? The idea that only three things ever existed.”
“The dark, the walls, the us. That’s it, until we make our way out of here and into Heaven. That’s where the light is. The only place the light is. You see any evidence to the contrary?”
“Sure. The food.”
“Food’s just part of us. We take it inside ourselves, dumbass.”
“But who brings it out to the Target Zone? Where does it come from?”
“No wonder you got kicked out of school. I reckon you failed your oral exam on the qualities and characteristics of angels. That’s, what, fifty percent of your senior year grade?”
“Lookit, it wasn’t even a real school. I mean, you have to remember what it was like before. We had a real school, before. In the light. There were big people there. Bigger than us, at least. Don’t you remember the bigger man who always used to say things like ‘bullcrap’? He lived with us.” No reply. “I mean, you have to remember. We made it into first and second grade before all the changes. I remember holding something in my hands. There were flat, thin things that my fingers used to flip through. It was how we learned. There’s something wrong with all this. I’ve always known there’s something wrong with all this. The best thing the Tutors ever did is kick me out. Let me go my own way.” (Location 74-90)

“You might be surprised by how much I already know about your project, Mr. Kitterman. There’s gossip afoot among us patrons of the arts. Whispers implying that you and Thomas Krieg have been at this for ten years now. Raising dozens of children in a pitch-black maze. Deciding how much food and water to give them, where to leave it, how to alert them to its presence. Calibrating the environment. Getting the details right. I hope you’ll understand that a man in my position doesn’t like to be kept waiting to see such a masterpiece.” Kitterman cleared his throat, took another drag of his cigarette, and cleared his throat again. Listened. “I’m aware Mr. Krieg is a perfectionist,” MacPherson said. “Don’t get me wrong, I like that in an artist. But he needs to be reasonable. He can’t keep his fans waiting like this. I think the last time I saw his work was in that Lebanese prison, back in ’85. His public has been patient long enough, I think. Don’t get me wrong, I admire his fastidiousness. But you should tell Krieg that, at some point, an artist has to stop obsessing over the perfection of his work and put it out there to be enjoyed by the audience.” (Location 124-134)

Kitterman scratched his neck. Then, for the first time during this meeting, he looked MacPherson in the eyes. “I can see you’re enthusiastic about all of this. And serious about this. That’s good news for you. I hope you’ll understand that Mr. Krieg will require you to undergo a few background checks before we’ll grant you permission to view the piece. For starters, we’ll need to verify your statement that you were in the audience in that Lebanese prison in ’85.”
“You’re not the only one with means, sir. If you attended the performance in Lebanon, we should still have the records. A precaution, you understand. We don’t like the idea of audience members enjoying the show, but then finding themselves afflicted with a bad case of scruples after it’s all over and providing anonymous tips to unfriendly branches of the government. By keeping thorough records of everyone who attends our shows, we protect ourselves. If Krieg goes down, then the audience goes down, too.” (Location 154-162)

It would mean a seven-figure hit from the tax man, but well worth the insights into Krieg’s method he’d be granted by the agreement. Well worth the apex of Behavioral Art. The suffering children—how he yearned to see them outside of his daydreams. Location (226-228)
And the bells keep clanging, telling the brothers they still have time to be fed by the Angels—all they need to do is negotiate the twists and turns. All they have to do is feel their way around until they reach the right alcove of Nowhere—the place where the Angels ring bells and give out food. The place where they and all the other boys from Nowhere gather and trade war stories about the misery they went through to arrive at the bells. The place in which they swap survival tips, and sleep. (Oh how deeply they sleep, even though they pass out amidst the chiming of the bells. Oh how they dread waking up to silence because that means the Angels have moved farther on into Nowhere; someplace so far away they can’t even be heard.)  (Location 244-249)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Rainbow Virus

The Rainbow Virus by Dennis Meredith
Glyphus, February 2, 2013
Paperback, 408 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0981884813
The Rainbow Virus is a gripping, realistic bioterrorism tale that launches readers on a harrowing adventure with the flips and plunges of the wildest roller coaster.

At first, loner scientist Arthur Lupo seems the most eccentric bioterrorist of all time. After vanishing from his lab at a biotech company, he releases viruses that only turn their victims a palette of colors. But then his chief pursuers—disgraced FBI agent Bobby Loudon and obsessive CDC epidemic-tracker Kathleen Shinohara—discover a horrifying fact. The brilliant Lupo has stolen the world's most lethal viruses from the Army's bioterrorism center.

Lupo reveals that his first viruses were only a test. He dramatically proves their infectivity by transforming the terrified citizens of Denver into a rainbow of colors. In a chilling declaration, he announces that he will now release an unstoppable artificial virus whose spread will decimate the world's population.

Loudon and Shinohara must race against time, a mysterious assassin, and a secret government faction to find Lupo and stop him.

Author and veteran science writer Dennis Meredith has crafted this riveting tale drawing on his decades of experience working at leading research universities such as Caltech, MIT, Cornell and Duke.

My Thoughts:
The Rainbow Virus by Dennis Meredith is about a bioterrorism attack that turns people different colors - at first the colors blue, red, and yellow, later many more shades and tints including lilac, magenta, chartreuse, egg plant, maroon, pine green, golden, turquoise, etc. While the color change does not appear to harm people beyond their pigmentation, the implications of what is inexplicably happening to people alerts the FBI and CDC. Bobby Loudon, FBI agent, and Kathleen Shinohara, CDC investigator, join forces to try and find who is responsible for the rainbow colored people.
Arthur Lupo is a brilliant young scientist who has apparently decided to turn to bioterrorism. In his personal research Arthur devises a way to insert a change of color into a person's genetic code controlling pigmentation. Loudon and Shinohara soon discover that Arthur has samples of deadly viruses that he has taken from AMRID (Army Medical Research Institute for infectious diseases.) Clearly, Arthur may have a more sinister use of his knowledge in mind. He may be planning to release deadly viruses that could wipe out the human population in a global super-pandemic outbreak consisting of many fatal viruses. Arthur is elusive and cautious, however, and complicating the pursuit is the presence of a mysterious group with another agenda.
While I love virus books of the nonfiction and fiction variety, Meredith does a nice job of keeping it simple for those who value a good action plot over lots of virus details. He explains what he needs to in order to move the plot along. This is clearly an action/adventure novel about bioterrorism and not a treatise on deadly viruses.
There is a point past the half-way mark where the investigation seems to slow down and lose the real feeling of urgency present in most of the book. That could be due to the developing relationship between Loudon and Shinohara. Personally, when a crazy scientist is loose and has found a way to turn people all shades of colors, like designer M&M's, and everything indicates that looming in the very near future is the potential of a deadly bioterrorism attack using this technique to infect people with deadly viruses, I'd like investigators to take the search seriously and set the personal attraction aside until later. But that could just be me. I'm funny that way.
Very Highly Recommended
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the author via Netgalley for review purposes.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Guilty One

The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne
HarperCollins, 3/19/2013
Trade Paperback, 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062195517

An eight-year-old boy is found dead in a playground . . . and his eleven-year-old neighbor is accused of the crime. Leading the defense is London solicitor Daniel Hunter, a champion of lost causes.
A damaged boy from a troubled home, Daniel's young client, Sebastian, reminds Daniel of his own turbulent childhood—and of Minnie, the devoted woman whose love saved him. But one terrible act of betrayal irrevocably shattered their bond.
As past and present collide, Daniel is faced with disturbing questions. Will his sympathy for Sebastian and his own memories blind him to the truth? What happened in the park—and who, ultimately, is to blame for a little boy's death? Rethinking everything he's ever believed, Daniel begins to understand what it means to be wrong . . . and to be the guilty one.

My Thoughts:

In The Guilty One, Lisa Ballantyne's debut novel, eleven-year-old Sebastian Croll is accused of killing an eight-year-old neighbor. Daniel Hunter is his assigned solicitor for the defense. While trying to defend Sebastian, Daniel reflects on his own very troubled childhood. The case coincides with the death of Minnie, the woman who was Daniel's foster parent and who later adopted him. 

Daniel had cut off all contact with Minnie, but the trial and Minnie's death has made Daniel introspective - pondering his past actions while defending a present day troubled child. The chapters alternate between the uneasy and anxious present day defense and trial of Sebastian with the disturbed and resentful past of Daniel. As we slowly follow the progress of Sebastian's case we also learn more about Daniel's past  until both storylines culminate in some uneasy revelations and insight. Minnie both betrayed and saved Daniel. Will the same be said about Sebastian, who is currently living in a very dysfunctional family.
Ballantyne expertly delves into this tense exploration of childhood violence and the root causes of its manifestation, and, ultimately, the potential power of forgiveness and redemption of love. We know the two mysteries right at the start: Sebastian may have killed a child and Daniel has been estranged for 15 years from his now deceased mother. What keeps you reading with breakneck anticipation is the slowly revealed facts about both mysteries. Daniel certainly had anger and rage inside him as a child and Minnie had the patience of a saint with him. Why was he estranged from her? Is Sebastian also filled with uncontrollable rage, or was it a stranger who killed 8 year old Benjamin?
I appreciated the alternating chapters and the unfolding of both stories. The writing is superb and the descriptions are atmospheric and very realistic. (Some descriptions are intense and could be disturbing for some readers.) All I can say is that I flew through this book and was very satisfied with the conclusion of both the story lines. Yes, I did cringe at times, and my heart broke at other points, but this was a thoroughly enjoyable murder mystery that I
Very Highly Recommend.

Lisa Ballantyne was born in Armadale, West Lothian, Scotland and was educated at Armadale Academy and University of St Andrews. She spent most of her twenties working and living in China, before returning to the UK in 2002, to work in Higher Education. She lives in Glasgow; this is her first novel.

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Heart Like Mine

Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany
Washington Square Press, 3/19/2013
Paperback, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781451640564

Thirty-six-year-old Grace McAllister never longed for children. But when she meets Victor Hansen, a handsome, charismatic divorced restaurateur who is father to Max and Ava, Grace decides that, for the right man, she could learn to be an excellent part-time stepmom. After all, the kids live with their mother, Kelli. How hard could it be?
At thirteen, Ava Hansen is mature beyond her years. Since her parents’ divorce, she has been taking care of her emotionally unstable mother and her little brother—she pays the bills, does the laundry, and never complains because she loves her mama more than anyone. And while her father’s new girlfriend is nice enough, Ava still holds out hope that her parents will get back together and that they’ll be a family again. But only days after Victor and Grace get engaged, Kelli dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances—and soon, Grace and Ava discover that there was much more to Kelli’s life than either ever knew.
Narrated by Grace and Ava in the present with flashbacks into Kelli’s troubled past, Heart Like Mine is a poignant, hopeful portrait of womanhood, love, and the challenges and joys of family life.

My Thoughts:

Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany follows the lives of three women: Grace McAllister, Ava and Kelli Hansen. Grace is newly engaged to Victor Hansen, divorced father to Ava (and her brother Max) and ex-husband of Kelli. Grace doesn't want children, but finds that after falling in love with Victor that she might be willing to try being a part-time stepparent to his children. Suddenly Victor's ex-wife, Kelli, dies and he and Grace now have full-time responsibility of his two children.
This novel is told through the three different voices of Grace, Kelli, and Ava. Kelli's passages are looking back at her life and answering the questions everyone has about her life. Grace and Ava are both dealing with this new relationship and struggling to determine what their relationship to each other will be - or if they even want one.
I appreciated the three different point of views Hatvany uses to tell the story. She gives the reader real insight into what her characters are thinking and why. Even when you want to tell them that they are making a bad decision or to at least reconsider that choice, it all comes across as very real. This made the book extremely readable. The fact that I was rooting for Grace and talking back to her (in my mind) tells you that I was invested in this novel and her character. I didn't like Victor at all, by the way.
However, there were a few places where the story seemed to lag a bit or the character's choices just didn't make sense to me. My main "What's up with that?" question came when Grace took time off work and seemingly set her career aside way-to-easily to take over picking kids up from school and doing the job of a parent. And Victor expected her to. Hello? They weren't married, and perhaps, just maybe, Grace needed to step back, move out of Victor's place, and let Victor learn to be a single parent rather than allowing him to shoehorn her into ex-wife Kelli's role. Okay, that assumption, that Grace would just suddenly be happy to be a mother and take time off from her job, just seemed too pat and dry for me.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Washington Square Press via Netgalley for review purposes.
No quotes as I had an advanced reading copy.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The End of the Point

The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver
HarperCollins, 3/5/2013
Hardcover; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062184849

A place out of time, Ashaunt Point—a tiny finger of land jutting into Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts—has provided sanctuary and anchored life for generations of the Porter family, who summer along its remote, rocky shore. But in 1942, the U.S. Army arrives on the Point, bringing havoc and change. That summer, the two older Porter girls—teenagers Helen and Dossie—run wild. The children's Scottish nurse, Bea, falls in love. And youngest daughter Janie is entangled in an incident that cuts the season short and haunts the family for years to come.
As the decades pass, Helen and then her son Charlie return to the Point, seeking refuge from the chaos of rapidly changing times. But Ashaunt is not entirely removed from events unfolding beyond its borders. Neither Charlie nor his mother can escape the long shadow of history—Vietnam, the bitterly disputed real estate development of the Point, economic misfortune, illness, and tragedy.
An unforgettable portrait of one family's journey through the second half of the twentieth century, The End of the Point artfully probes the hairline fractures hidden beneath the surface of our lives and traces the fragile and enduring bonds that connect us. With subtlety and grace, Elizabeth Graver illuminates the powerful legacy of family and place, exploring what we are born into, what we pass down, preserve, cast off or willingly set free.

My Thoughts: 
The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver is a family saga that basically covers three generations, with the connection being their summers spent at the coast in Ashaunt, Massachusetts. Graver opens the novel with a brief passage about the arrival of the first Europeans to the point. Then she proceeds to 1942,  when the Porter family, three daughters and entourage arrive at the coast to find the army occupying a large portion of it with barracks and viewing platforms. This portion of the narrative is told through the voice of Bea, the Porter's Scottish nanny, but introduces us to other members of the family, especially Helen, the oldest daughter and Jane the youngest.

Then the novel jumps briefly to 1947 with letters from Helen, written when she was in Europe. It quickly switches to Helen's diary entries from 1960. The next section is set in 1970 and follows Helen's troubled oldest son, Charlie. The final year followed is 1999. Every character in The End of the Point is struggling with change and finding their place in the changing world around them.
Of the characters, Scottish nurse/nanny Bea is the most compelling. She has the courage to leave Scotland to seek employment in America, but struggles with truly living her own life. She is fretful about Janie and dislikes Helen, but is resolutely devoted to the Porter family and resists any change in her life that does not include them. I was totally swept up with Bea's story and looked forward to seeing the rest of this family saga through her eyes, an outsider but privy to the inside workings of the family.
However, once The End of the Point moved on and away from Bea's voice, for me it went down hill. Additionally, all the leaps from one time to another made the narrative feel abrupt and disjointed to me. In some ways I wish Graver had chose to connect the time periods by observing family members through Bea's eyes, and with her insight and perceptions about the situations. Once the first section from 1942 was over (a third of the novel) it went downhill for me. While I didn't care for the characters of Helen or Charlie, I was interested in Bea to the very end and looked for information on her life as the story continued.
What elevated my opinion of The End of the Point was Graves skillful writing. Graves writing ability shines through several murky plot points. She had some lyrical passages that just sang and resonated with me. Her powers of observation and description are incredible. So, even though parts of the novel didn't work for me it is Highly Recommended for the writing.  

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

Elizabeth’s TLC Tour Stops:

Tuesday, March 5th: Caribousmom
Thursday, March 7th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, March 11th: nomadreader
Tuesday, March 12th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, March 13th: Speaking of Books
Thursday, March 14th: she treads softly
Monday, March 18th: Cold Read
Tuesday, March 19th: Book Chatter
Thursday, March 21st: Books in the City
Monday, March 25th: Book Addict Katie
Tuesday, March 26th: BookNAround
Wednesday, March 27th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Thursday, March 28th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Tuesday, April 2nd: missris

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Thousand Pardons

A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee
Random House, 3/12/2013
Hardcover, 224 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812993219 

In this sharply observed tale of self-invention and public scandal, Dee raises a trenchant question: what do we really want when we ask for forgiveness?
Once a privileged and loving couple, the Armsteads have now reached a breaking point. Ben, a partner in a prestigious law firm, has become unpredictable at work and withdrawn at home—a change that weighs heavily on his wife, Helen, and their preteen daughter, Sara. Then, in one afternoon, Ben’s recklessness takes an alarming turn, and everything the Armsteads have built together unravels, swiftly and spectacularly.
Thrust back into the working world, Helen finds a job in public relations and relocates with Sara from their home in upstate New York to an apartment in Manhattan. There, Helen discovers she has a rare gift, indispensable in the world of image control: She can convince arrogant men to admit their mistakes, spinning crises into second chances. Yet redemption is more easily granted in her professional life than in her personal one.
As she is confronted with the biggest case of her career, the fallout from her marriage, and Sara’s increasingly distant behavior, Helen must face the limits of accountability and her own capacity for forgiveness.

My Thoughts:
In A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee, Ben and Helen Armstead have a marriage that is predictable but also in crisis. Lawyer Ben's nefarious, self-centered and irresponsible actions wreck complete destruction on the family. Ben, facing several legal issues, is sent off to rehab and his assets are frozen. Helen is advised to divorce Ben, which she does, and then she must find a job.
Helen, who was a stay-at-home mom for many years ends up finding a job with a very small public relations firm in Manhattan. It turns out that she has a gift for crisis management PR as she persuades clients to apologize for their real or perceived misdeeds. This quickly turns into a great job with a top firm ($90k plus benefits). Helen ends up selling the family home and moving with their adopted Chinese daughter, Sara, to the city.
While I wanted to like this novel there are just too many glaring problems with it for me. First, this novel has a message of forgiveness - that seemingly an apology can make-up for any number of infractions. The problem is that none of the apologies presented have any basis in reality. The majority have their genesis as PR stunts. The others are incongruous with the facts or the personalities (specifically Hamilton and Ben later in the novel.)
Another glaring problem is Helen's job. Please... She is not working for over 18 years other than doing the local fund raising events, and volunteer work, etc., that stay-at-home-moms are noted for doing. Then she suddenly gets a PR job, at which she is so gifted that in a seemingly short span of a few months and with uncommonly fair prevailing circumstances, she is miraculously hired by a top firm. She goes from zero to 90k plus benefits a year in a matter of months. Let me clue you in - it ain't gonna happen. In reality she would find a job at which, if she is lucky, she'd make more than minimum wage and get benefits. I can suspend disbelief for a novel but I'm not willing to go this far a field.
There were some other niggling problems that also took away from the forgiveness message for me. It almost seems to me that this novel is incomplete, or perhaps it loses focus before it is a fully realized narrative.
The good parts of  A Thousand Pardons include great writing and a quickly moving plot that keeps you reading. He also gifts his characters with some keen insight into their problems and feelings - even though this insight is inconsistent.
Recommended - for those times when Dee's gift for insight shines through the murkiness
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House and Netgalley for review purposes.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Appearances and Other Stories

Appearances and Other Stories by Margo Krasne
Wasteland Press; October 28, 2012
Trade Paperback, 160 pages
ISBN-13: 9781600477911

In this debut collection, Krasne wields insightful irony and cathartic black humor to illuminate her themes of loss, yearning and survival, bringing to it a biting female perspective. An adept stylist with an ear for dialogue and an eye for personal foibles, Krasne cleverly captures the distinct voices of her characters as they strive to negotiate the subtle and not-so-subtle minefields of family obligation and personal conflict. She has a knack for getting inside her characters' heads as they strive to keep up appearances. Readers will most surely recognize themselves, their friends and family members in all of these beautifully rendered stories.
My Thoughts:
Appearances and Other Stories is Margo Krasne's debut short story collection. The twelve story collection is organized into two parts. Part One: The Wallach's, contains nine stories about the Wallachs, a Jewish family living in New York City. The stories focus on Alice, the youngest daughter, and how she perceives her family, but mainly her parents. Each story is exquisitely crafted to capture the misunderstandings, affection, resentments, and history that happen in every family. The stories cover Alice as a teen to an adult. In Part Two: The Other Stories, Krasne's shares three separate, unrelated short stories. 
Stories included are:
Part One: The Wallach's: The Bacher Boy; The Move; In The Living Room; Truce; Coda; Last Wishes and All That; The Fifth Question; Appearances; The Last Rumba.
Part Two: The Other Stories: At The Algonquin; Re-unions; Stopping Time.
All the stories in this collection are stunning, extraordinary... The Wallach family stories were heart breaking, but so brilliant in their execution and poignant in their revelations. If forced to pick one story that was my least favorite, I'd have to say "Re-unions," but that is simply based on my reaction to it, certainly not on the quality of the writing.
Very Highly Recommended 
Margo Krasne, born and raised in Manhattan, has always led two lives. As a radio advertising producer, she sculpted; as a sculptor, she was an extra in commercials, and for the past 24 years, as a communications coach and author of Say it with Confidence, she writes fiction whenever possible.
"You did go out with the Bacher boy, Alice, I remember it distinctly."
Alice looks at her mother propped up in bed - the stained rose-satin bed jacket in sharp contrast to her mother's alabaster skin now tinged with yellow violet veins - and tells a half-truth, "Well, I don't, Mom. I don't remember going out with him at all."
"But you did, dear. I'm certain of it."
"If you say so," Alice says as she rearranges the pillows. "There! Better?"
Alice needs to change the subject. The last thing she wants is to have old resentments creep in; she's worked too long and hard to put them at rest. Besides, this is not the time. Not the time at all. "The Bacher Boy" pg 3
Mr. Wallach continues his harangue and Alice tries hard not to listen. But her eyes well up distorting the woman in the painting, and the two on the sofa, until they appear as shapes seen through a windshield in a rainstorm. Alice digs the nail of her third finger into her thumb. It's a trick her father aught her. Inflict pain on one part of your body to keep your feelings from showing. Only it doesn't work. Well, she will not break down in front of him. Not! "In the Living Room" pg. 25-26
They had been at war since she was six months old. A war, according to her mother, Alice had started. "I know you were six months old. Six months! We just couldn't understand it."
Well, neither could Alice. But she'd accepted her mother's version.... Well, no more. Not to render metaphorical overkill, but digesting what her mom had been dishing out was over. The time for a refutation had come. Besides, she was under express orders to "Do it!"
"Mom, you have to think it strange I was capable of hating anyone, nevertheless my own father, at six months of age?" She knows the response will be borne, as always, on a sigh of resignation. It is.
"I'm not saying it wasn't strange, just that's the way it was."
"You've got to realize how crazy that sounds."
"Oh, Alice, please. This is neither the time nor the place." "Truce" pg. 29
What had her first therapist said? Rebels are attached to that which they rebel against? "Appearance" pg. 71
A part of my brain is frozen. Another part has this weird idea that the doctor's pronouncement is my just desserts for hating suspense. That this entire scenario is tied to my life-long habit of skipping to the last page. That's it, isn't it? Due to my refusal to read along, moment by moment, page by page, without knowing how a story ends, I have been sentenced to death - the time and date approximate, but definite to occur. "Stopping Time" pg. 125
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the author and Premier Virtual Author Book Tours for review purposes.    

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tim Rowland’s Creature Features

Tim Rowland’s Creature Features  by Tim Rowland
High Peaks Publishing, 11/16/2012
eBook, 160 pages
ISBN-13: 9780976159742

When Tim Rowland’s earlier book of his animal essays, All Pets are Off, was published, readers immediately clamored for more... So here’s a new volume of over 75 columns, from the introduction to the farm of bovines Cleopatra and Heifertiti, the Belted Galloway beauties, to the further antics of Hannah the English Bulldog and Juliet the tiny Siamese---and of course, more of the joyful bouvier des Flandres named Opie---that’s sure to provide loads of smiles and even outright guffaws.

My Thoughts:

Tim Rowland’s Creature Features is a new collection of 75 essays from Rowland's column at Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Maryland. The essays, written between June 2008 and October 2012, are all about the animals Tim and his wife Beth lived with on their "Little Farm by the Creek" in  Boonsboro, Maryland.
Rowland writes:
"Will Rogers said he ever met a man he didn’t like; by contrast, my wife Beth and I never met an animal we didn’t like. No question about it, our course is less challenging than Mr. R’s. But that doesn’t mean that our souls have not been tried time and time again, and our patience stretched well beyond the breaking point to the regions where it snaps and sends us over top of Mars." Page 11

"So we started with a pair of dairy goats. Or maybe it was the flock of chickens. It all starts to run together at this point. Pretty soon we had an ark-like assembly of about every farm animal that comes to mind. People who collect cars go through the same dynamic, I suppose. After a while the frame of logic shifts from 'Do we need it?' to 'What’s one more?' ” Page 12

"So with this collection of essays, I am letting animals past and present know that I forgive them. I absolve them of their sins, because hopefully some good has come from it, and I can focus on the laughs and entertainment they have provided to both myself and, hopefully, the reader.
Now if only the animals can see their way clear to forgive me. Page 12

Their wide assortment of animals (pets if they have a name, food if they don't) include: Juliet, the Siamese cat; Hannah the bulldog; Opie the Bouvier des Flandres; Magellan the zucchini eating pig, Roosters Stink and Chuckles, Doodlebug the cantankerous miniature horse; Cappy the horse, cows Cleopatra, Heifertiti, and the princesses; goats Hillary and Horsefly; plus horses, donkeys, more goats, llamas, chickens, geese, more pigs, and turkeys.

Some of the essays included in this collection are:
Egyptian royalty takes up residence on farm
Patch makes horse berry upset
Magellan the pig as adventurous as namesake
Ill-fitted pair finds short-term love on the farm
Cats live to make people look foolish
Broody duty has disastrous underpinnings
Rooster that eats stink bugs not for sale at any price
Chuckles the rooster avoids date with death
Goats, pigs compete for overconditioned kudos
This Thanksgiving promises to be the best ever
British invasion brings changes in pig culture
Turkeys go to big garnished platter in the sky
Darwin was wrong: Sometimes it’s “survival of the most pathetic.”
An Elizabethan collar by any other name would be a ‘Happy Hat”

This collection was hilarious. I laughed, hooted, snorted, whooped, chortled, wheezed, sputtered, chuckled, snickered, guffawed, howled... In other words, as I was reading Tim Rowland’s Creature Features, I sounded like I belonged on Tim and Beth Rowland's farm. The stories are short and easy to read, but thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining. The word play Rowland engages in is a great part of what made these short essays so wonderful and satisfying. I wish I could share one of his columns with you, but you'll have to settle for some selected quotes below and read the book.
I'd like to also read Tim Rowland's earlier book, All Pets are Off, which is more about his pets while Creature Features focuses on other animals on the farm. 

Very Highly Recommended - I loved this collection

Great News! I received the following from Beth Rowland:

And because of the requests we received after your and other reviews on Tim's tour, we made his earlier book All Pets are Off available as an ebook. It's available on Kindle now and is coming to seven other platforms over the next weeks. 

 I've bought my copy!


This assigns a lot of logic to the thought patterns of a dog, an enterprise that to my knowledge has made no person rich. But I was willing to hear the man out.Page 15 

Natural Resources folks say the bear—fairly small and about 18 months old—had probably just gotten kicked out of his mom’s domain and was looking for new turf he could call home.

First, mad props to the bear community for realizing something that we, as a human race, still haven’t mastered. That being, when you turn 18, you need to get out. There are no 26-year-old bears living in their parents’ basements surfing the Internet and showing no real interest in advancing past their career as night manager at Wendy’s. Page 19

I have a soft spot for turtles, as do all people who were not allowed to have a dog or cat as a child, and for whom a turtle became the Pet of Last Resort. I even went so far as to put a leash on mine to add to the delusion.Page 22  

I never knew much about mares before, but to them, everything is High Drama. For drama, mares make a teenage girl look like Alan Greenspan. Page 29

Broody hens are basically chickens that want to become mothers. They stop laying eggs and do nothing but sit sullenly on a nest all day watching “The Guiding Light.” Page 62 

Hannah’s issue is that she wants to, as Beth says, “Be with her people.” If you have watched a dog show, you know that a bulldog is not in the hunting class, herding class or working class, they are simply listed as “companion dogs.” This means they have no discernible, professional contribution to society. In the human world, they would be known as “consultants.” Page 70 

He was quite handsome, but like a lot of pretty boys didn’t always have the mental firepower to match. Page 86  

Tim Rowland is an award-winning columnist at Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Maryland. He has written for numerous history and outdoor magazines and news syndicates nationwide.
He has also authored several books, most recently Strange and Obscure Stories of the Civil War and including All Pets are Off: A Collection of Hairy Columns, Petrified Fact: Stories of Bizarre Behavior that Really Happened, Mostly, Earth to Hagerstown, High Peaks: A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Maryland's Appalachian Highlands: Massacres, Moonshine & Mountaineering.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the author and Premier Virtual Author Book Tours for review purposes.   


Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Tale of Lucia Grandi; The Early Years

The Tale of Lucia Grandi; The Early Years by Susan Speranza
Brook House Press, 10/20/2012
Trade Paperback, 426
ISBN-13: 9780944657010

When an old woman is asked to recount the story of her life, she tells an intense and poignant tale about growing up in and surviving a warring suburban family during the 1950s and ’60s.
Written as a memoir, each chapter describes a particular incident in Lucia’s life which shows the constant struggle between her parents and the perverse effect it has on her and the family. From her complicated and unwanted birth, to her witnessing a suicide at age 3, to her stint as a runaway at age 14, the story progresses to the final crisis where as a young woman, she is turned out of her house and banished from her family forever.
Told in breathtakingly beautiful prose, this is a powerful and timeless story of a dying woman’s courageous attempt to come to terms with her past and the troubled family that dominated it.
My Thoughts:
The Tale of Lucia Grandi by Susan Speranza begins with 110 year old Lucia sitting, waiting for something, in a retirement home.
"The world thinks me dead, but there is a lot of life left in these old bones yet. I’ve been absent from the world for a long time. But I’m here. Waiting.
I’m an old woman now. I spend my days looking out on a world where once I have had my play." (Location 99-103) 
Then a doctoral student in literature asks 110 year old Lucia to share her life's story:
"She looked down nervously, as if the reality of my static existence here at the end of my life embarrassed her. Then she cleared her throat, raised her head and looked directly at me, adopting a more formal stance. “My name is Beatrice Cummings. I’m a doctoral student in Literature at the University and my dissertation is –” she hesitated as if trying to find the right words “– my dissertation examines the oral histories of living people, autobiographies, as it were, told by older people…”
A silence fell over the room, as she turned her head and looked at me askance. She continued. “I’d like to know if you would be willing to tell me your –” and again she hesitated “– your life’s story.” (Location 138-144)
Lucia considers her question, and, with the tape recorder humming in front of her, she decides:
"Of one thing I was certain. Whether she was simply a graduate student or some harbinger of life’s end, I knew that so long as I spoke, I could extend this moment forever. For in this one moment I was still alive, I was still safe. And even though I was old, I wanted to stay alive. I wanted to be safe.
But what was I going to talk about?"  (Location 183-186)
Thus begins the tale of Lucia Grandi's life.
The narrative flows just like a memoir and is so well executed that I really forgot that this is a novel and not an autobiography.  Even before her birth, Lucia mere existence was a battle.
"Even then, before I knew my name or was conscious of life and the world, my battle began, my endless war with existence and its cruel, arbitrary nature. Before I knew the word no or could say or think or feel the word no, I uttered it in some silent and long forgotten language: no, I will not submit; no, I will not accept this; no, it will not be. I will not let it be... So I clung to life with a tenacity that would define me, and that awful, continuous struggle with existence would shape every aspect of my life to this end." (Location 253-257)
Lucia is born on June 1, 1951, the second daughter in a volatile family. Her parents, Ruth and Leonard, are at war with each other. Neither of them wants a second daughter. It is into this loveless and sometimes brutal home that Lucia is born.
"So it was on that early June morning, I fell with a thud into this unwelcoming family as if the Stork had played a perverse joke on me and on them – and dropped me into the wrong nest. Thus I began my life.
Even when Ruth and Leonard didn’t intend it, they indulged in irony. So they named me Lucia, which means light, yet it was always the darkness that informed my life. And they named their eldest child Jocelynn which means joy. Yet never was there a child so joyless or so melancholy. It wasn’t really her fault; she was merely a female version of Leonard who was serious and grim by nature." (Location 296-303)
This exquisitely written novel follows Lucia's life up to age 23. As she shares the events that made up her, she also relates the history of several of her family members. Lucia is a girl who learns to keep her mouth shut, but now, telling her story as an old woman, she is free to share exactly what happened and what she thought and felt as she reflects on the events in her childhood.
This novel is presented so convincingly as a memoir that, as I was reading I truly forgot it is fiction. It all seems so true to life. I became totally wrapped up in the reminiscing of Lucia about her childhood experiences and traumas. I grieved over what she perceives the events and various trials are teaching her. I fumed at her parents and their treatment of Lucia. The recounting of the family history and stories concerning various relatives added a reality to the narrative.
I was so totally wrapped up in this novel that the ending came way too abruptly for me and left me stunned. "What!" my mind screamed. "You can't just stop there, in 1974!"
Thankfully, since this is The Tale of Lucia Grandi; The Early Years there will be another novel and Lucia's story will continue. But, it still ended too unexpectedly for me. I do wish author Susan Speranza had eased me into the ending a bit more gently. Of course, the ending also brought me back to the stunned reality that this is a novel, not a memoir.
Bravo, Susan Speranza!  The Tale of Lucia Grandi; The Early Years totally engrossed me and left me wanting more. The writing is so articulate, the characters are so convincing, and the descriptions so real that I was transported into Lucia's life. Apparently, The Tale of Lucia Grandi; The Early Years was formerly published under the title of My Life in Dogs, the Early Years. It was a Quarter finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest and was also on the short list of finalists in the 2012 Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Competition.
Very Highly Recommended - even though I wanted the rest of Lucia's story right now(!).

When he realized I was there, he cried, “No, don’t look!” and scooped me up, covering my eyes protectively with his hand as he turned and left the room with me. But it was too late. I had seen, and seeing then became a habit of my life. Never again was I able to avert my eyes, or leave the veil that covers so many truths untouched. So it was on this beautiful Easter Sunday that I awakened to life and to the sad tragedy that is human existence. Location 230-233

She, therefore, lived in fear of the moment when she would be called upon to give an answer or solve a problem or use a skill that required something other than rote memory or sheer force. So she had panic attacks at a young age, and she hated anything and anyone she couldn’t control either through force or memory. It was fitting then that she hated me, for I was quite the opposite, with acute perceptions, an agile mind and a quick tongue that sliced through everyone’s illusions like a deadly sword. I flitted and ran through life; I evaporated and reappeared in front of everyone’s eyes like an insubstantial being. As hard as they tried to grasp me, I always slipped like water through everyone’s controlling hands. Location 336-341

I realized early on that I was simply not the child they had hoped for or even liked. There was nothing I could do, no way I could be that would make them love me. I refused to grovel. Eventually, I came to accept that they simply did not love me, and took comfort in the fact that, unlike Lynn, I was free. So I set myself against my parents and in a larger way, I suppose, I set myself against life itself. Perhaps I could accept the fact that my parents did not love me, because I had the love of the one person who had come to mean everything to me in life. My grandfather. Location 374-379
Bernard was not my real grandfather. Location 382-382
Nothing prepared Bernard for what he was to experience in the trenches of France. Not even life at the orphanage was that brutal. He lived by day and night in a hole in the ground on the Western Front, living like a rat among men and rats in filth and fear. At first, he wasn’t very good with a weapon. He had relied all his life on his fists; but he became more adept at using a rifle and learned to shoot and kill with a ferocity born out of fear and the will to survive. Location 507-510

That night, I learned many things. I learned how little effect I had on anything or anyone around me. That no matter what I did, or said or how I acted or did not act the world would go on much as it always had; I could do nothing to change anything or anyone in the least. That was the night I learned despair. Location 776-778

But oh how wrong both Ruth and Lynn were, as life would prove them. We would all eventually learn the truth of things, that the Bogeyman really does exist and there is something to fear in the night. Location 946-948

But I saw the truth of things early in life. She was terrified. For her, danger lay everywhere. She talked big, but did very little, never venturing from the myriad safe paths in life, until the end when necessity forced her down that most fearsome and dangerous path of all. Location 1414-1416

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from my Kindle from the author and TLC for review purposes. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Square Peg

Square Peg: My Story and What It Means for Raising Innovators, Visionaries, and Out-of-the-Box Thinkers 
by Todd Rose with Katherine Ellison
Hyperion, 3/5/2013
Hardcover, 256 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1401324278

Square Peg illuminates the struggles of millions of bright young children—and their frustrated parents and teachers—who are stuck in a one-size-fits-all school system that fails to approach the student as an individual. Rose shares his own incredible journey from troubled childhood to Harvard, seamlessly integrating cutting-edge research in neuroscience and psychology along with advances in the field of education, to ultimately provide a roadmap for parents and teachers of kids who are the casualties of America’s antiquated school system.

With a distinguished blend of humor, humility, and practical advice for nurturing children who are a poor fit in conventional schools, Square Peg is a game-changing manifesto that provides groundbreaking insight into how we can get the most out of all the students in our classrooms, and why today’s dropouts could be tomorrow’s innovators.

My Thoughts:
Albert Camus said, "We are all special cases." Square Peg: My Story and What It Means for Raising Innovators, Visionaries, and Out-of-the-Box Thinkers by Todd Rose, with Katherine Ellison, certainly proves that we are all special and unique, especially in the way we approach learning. Square Peg is both a memoir and a personal manifesto. Todd Rose was a bright child who could not seem to avoid trouble and was quickly labeled a delinquent. Part of his problem was the way the educational system reacted to him in a misguided attempt to change or alter his behavior. Rose ended up a high school drop out, but he later went on to become a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Rose elaborates on four ideas derived from the study of complex systems and recent neuroscience findings: variability is the rule (our perceptions and reactions are much more dynamic and diverse than previously thought); emotions are serious stuff (children's emotional states do influence their ability to learn); context is key (the circumstances can effect the behavior - this includes labeling children with a disorder); feedback loops determine long-term success or failure (chaos theory and small changes making a difference). At the end of each chapter Rose offers a summary of the "Big Ideas" from that chapter and "Action Items" for parents.
It was enlightening to see what Rose's mother and grandmother did right as Rose makes a case for student centered education. He makes it clear that we can't fix a child's behavior. Behavior is an extremely complex system that originates from the interaction of a person's biology, past experiences, and immediate context. If we can understand this complex systems, we could learn to do a better job as teachers and parents in supporting and educating kids, rather than setting them up for failure. Once a child is caught up in a negative feedback loop, it is hard to escape.
Medicating ADHD children so they can fit into the environment of school, while beneficial for many, may not completely address the root cause of a child's learning difficulties. The stress children can feel while at school does not help their ability to learn. Finding a way to use current technology to help all children individualize their education could potentially transform education and help many overcome their special needs or limitations.  For example, Rose himself had problems with his short term memory, so the ability to record a multi-step series of instructions with built in reminders would have benefited him enormously.
Square Peg is entertaining as well as informative. I appreciate the "Big Ideas" and "Action Items" at the end of each chapter. It is a nice way to summarize what points Rose believes are the most important from all the information and personal anecdotes he provides. Square Peg includes an epilogue with Rose's current research findings, chapter notes, and a bibliography.
Very Highly Recommended -  I truly enjoyed this book!

Todd Rose is a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, international lecturer, and leading thinker in the field of educational neuroscience. Today, Todd works at the forefront of innovation in learning science and education, contributing new insights about learning variability and helping to design new educational technologies flexible enough to support all students in reaching their full potential.

Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who has written three books on neuroscience and learning differences, most recently Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention, as well as related articles for media including The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Atlantic magazine.

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

TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS for Square Peg:

Monday, March 4th:  Life Unfocused
Tuesday, March 5th:  Two Bears Farm and the Three Cubs
Wednesday, March 6th:  She Treads Softly
Thursday, March 7th:  Overstuffed
Friday, March 8th:  Book Club Classics!
Monday, March 11th:  Family Volley
Tuesday, March 12th:  Attention Deficit Whatever
Wednesday, March 13th:  Misbehavin’ Librarian
Thursday, March 14th:  Positive Thinking and ADHD
Friday, March 15th:  Smart Kids with LD
Monday, March 18th:  Earnest Parenting
Tuesday, March 19th:  Pragmatic Mom
Wednesday, March 20th:  Book Snob
Thursday, March 21st:  Luxury Reading
Friday, March 22nd:  Susan Heim on Parenting guest post
Monday, March 25th:  There’s a Book
Wednesday, March 27th:  Stiletto Storytime