Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Registry

The Registry by Shannon Stoker
HarperCollins, 6/11/2013
Trade Paperback, 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062271723


Welcome to a safe and secure new world, where beauty is bought and sold, and freedom is the ultimate crime
The Registry saved the country from collapse, but stability has come at a price. In this patriotic new America, girls are raised to be brides, sold at auction to the highest bidder. Boys are raised to be soldiers, trained to fight and never question orders.
Nearly eighteen, beautiful Mia Morrissey excitedly awaits the beginning of her auction year. But a warning from her married older sister raises dangerous questions. Now, instead of going up on the block, Mia is going to escape to Mexico—and the promise of freedom.
All Mia wants is to control her own destiny—a brave and daring choice that will transform her into an enemy of the state, pursued by powerful government agents, ruthless bounty hunters, and a cunning man determined to own her . . . a man who will stop at nothing to get her back.

My Thoughts:

The Registry is a dystopian  novel by Shannon Stoker that introduces us to a world where men purchase young women for wives through the Registry. Young men must all serve in the military before they are allowed to buy a wife. The girls are sold by their families and the government gets a percentage of the sale.  While female children are valued for the potential wealth they can bring to their fathers, the government encourages all male children to be given up to orphanages.

Eighteen year old Mia is sure she will bring one of the highest bride prices ever. That's all she is concerned about until her older married sister shows up at the house horribly malnourished and bruised. Even as their parents contacted her husband and he is dragging her away, she manages to tell Mia about information she left hidden at the house which proves that everything may not be exactly as it seem. A week later Mia learns her sister was murdered by her husband, and she begins to believe the information her sister left behind.

When Mia's parents plan to sell her to a cruel, wealthy man, Grant Marsden, she makes plans to escape along with her friend Whitney. They end up coercing Andrew, a young man who was working on her father's farm, into assisting them as they attempt to flee to Mexico.

The chapters open with quotes from either The Registry Guide for Girls or The Boy's guide to Service, depending upon from whose point of view that chapter is written.

While The Registry may sound eerily similar to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, please note that it's not of the same caliber. The Handmaid's Tale is by far the superior novel. This is a quick, easy novel to read and although Stoker has made some social statements in it, they aren't quite as finely honed and focused as Atwood's. Mia was also an implausible, sometimes annoying main character for me.

It's not that Shannon Stoker has written a bad novel. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I overlooked all sorts of inconsistencies and questions about the plot and the character's actions because, based on the opening chapters, I assumed that it was a young adult novel. I was rather taken aback when I discovered that it is not being marketed as such. With the age of the main characters, the simplicity of the plot and characterizations, I assumed it was YA - and liked it much better while I was under that assumption.  Adult readers may want to keep this in mind

It was also a bit disconcerting to see that The Registry is the first novel in a purposed new series. At this time I'm unsure if I would seek out the next in the series.

For the purpose of this review, I'm going to highly recommend The Registry by Shannon Stoker as a YA novel

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

Saturday, June 22, 2013


F9 by Michael McBride
DarkFuse, June 6, 2013
ebook, 65 pages (estimate)

The rate of violent crime is on the rise, and nowhere is this more evident than in the state of Colorado.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me...
It's called Acute High-Altitude Neuropathic Dissociation—or, more commonly, Mile High Syndrome—and Dr. Ellis Randall Harding, a neurologist, is determined to understand why. For him, it's personal. He was there on September 24th, 1994 when a gunman walked into the library and started shooting.
I once was lost, but now I'm found…
The answer is locked inside the mind of a monster who shot and killed nine people in 1968. The problem is he's in a vegetative state and incapable of communicating with anyone, except for Dr. Harding, who has figured out how to utilize medical imaging technology to amplify and interpret the killer's brain activity.
Was blind but now I see…
But as Dr. Harding learns, there are some things that mankind was never meant to understand. Chief among them, the true nature of evil.

My Thoughts:
F9 is a new novella by Michael McBride. Mass murders are on the rise all over, but especially in Colorado according to research by Dr. Ellis Randall Harding. He is determined to talk to a surviving perpetrator of an event that happened years ago.
"His name was Niall Lester Davenport and on December 12, 1968, he walked into a crowded ski lodge in Breckenridge, Colorado, wearing a white ski suit and balaclava and opened fire with a twelve-gauge pump-action Remington shotgun. Nine people were killed. Another twenty-two received various degrees of medical treatment. Eyewitness accounts couldn’t agree as to how many times he stopped to reload, but all of them concurred when it came to the fact that not only had he taken his time, he had hummed the entire while. I simply called him Subject F-Zero, or FØ. (Location 29-33)
The trouble is that Davenport has lapsed into a vegetative state and he is completely unresponsive to outside stimuli. Dr. Harding has a theory that he wants to test: is geography, something in the actual physical location of the front range in Colorado, some how responsible for producing mass murderers?
McBride has Harding introduce himself to us and his theory:
"My name is Dr. Ellis Randall Harding M.D. and I’m a neurologist. I also completed an additional neuroradiology fellowship, which allows me to interpret, if not formally diagnose, CT—computed tomography—and MR—magnetic resonance—medical imaging scans. I’ve spent the majority of my adult life and the entirety of my professional career researching the unique phenomenon I’ve coined the “Mile High Syndrome,” or, more formally, Acute High-Altitude Neuropathic Dissociation. (Location 81-84)"
Dr. Harding was himself a victim of a school shooting incident in 1994, which fuels his desire to find an answer.
"I found myself gazing into the abyss from beneath a table in Norlin Library on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, Colorado, on September 26, 1994. I’m sure you remember the date. Definitely not one anyone around here is likely to forget anytime soon. (Location 123-124)"
While he utilizes magnetic imaging to unlock the secrets hidden in Davenport's brain, Dr. Harding's research may uncover facts he didn't know existed and set into motion actions he can't control.
In F9, McBride has written a fast-paced, satisfying, extremely well written novella. It's material of this quality that makes me a fan of short stories. (Perhaps a collection could be released someday?)
 I very highly recommend F9.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of DarkFuse via Netgalley for review purposes.


The New Flesh

The New Flesh by Keith Deininger
DarkFuse, 5/21/2013
paperback, 260 pages
ISBN-13: 9781937771775

When Jake, a shy fourth grader, starts a fire in the woods behind his school that gets away from him, he's punished and forgiven. But his life is never the same. Three years after the incident, the dreams begin. Dreams of flames and a strange creature Jake calls The Melting Man. Waiting and watching with an insidious grin, it lures him deeper and deeper into his darkest fears, and closer to an otherworld of fire and torment. And then, Jake begins to see The Melting Man wherever he goes.

Come with me, Jake...Come and see...

As his dreams bleed into waking life, Jake realizes he's being dragged toward a very real apocalypse, and that The Melting Man's powers are growing stronger. Asleep, awake, or trapped between the two, Jake must fight to understand not only who and what The Melting Man is and what the dreams mean, but how this creature and Jake's mysterious family legacy ties into a disturbing, violent and enigmatic film associated with his father, a failed screenwriter.

But there may be no way to stop what has already begun...because this is a new nightmare...a new terror...a new Flesh...
My Thoughts: 

The New Flesh by Keith Deininger struck a wrong chord with me right at the start. I couldn't blithely accept the whole violent porn-film-making right at the start and didn't want to. The plot just kept going downhill for me. While it was setting up the horror part of the novel, I couldn't get beyond my initial disgust and it just got worse.  Although I normally only accept copies of novels I think I will appreciate, I am sorry but I can't recommended The New Flesh.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of DarkFuse via Netgalley for review purposes.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Salt Sugar Fat

Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss 
Random House, 2/26/2013
Hardcover, 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9781400069804

From a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter at The New York Times comes the explosive story of the rise of the processed food industry and its link to the emerging obesity epidemic. Michael Moss reveals how companies use salt, sugar, and fat to addict us and, more important, how we can fight back.
In the spring of 1999 the heads of the world’s largest processed food companies—from Coca-Cola to Nabisco—gathered at Pillsbury headquarters in Minneapolis for a secret meeting. On the agenda: the emerging epidemic of obesity, and what to do about it.
Increasingly, the salt-, sugar-, and fat-laden foods these companies produced were being linked to obesity, and a concerned Kraft executive took the stage to issue a warning: There would be a day of reckoning unless changes were made. This executive then launched into a damning PowerPoint presentation—114 slides in all—making the case that processed food companies could not afford to sit by, idle, as children grew sick and class-action lawyers lurked. To deny the problem, he said, is to court disaster.
When he was done, the most powerful person in the room—the CEO of General Mills—stood up to speak, clearly annoyed. And by the time he sat down, the meeting was over....
In Salt Sugar Fat, Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter Michael Moss shows how we got here. Featuring examples from some of the most recognizable (and profitable) companies and brands of the last half century—including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Kellogg, Nestlé, Oreos, Cargill, Capri Sun, and many more—Moss’s explosive, empowering narrative is grounded in meticulous, often eye-opening research.
My Thoughts:
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us is by Michael Moss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist. While Salt Sugar Fat may seem like a nutritional guide, it really is a look at the history of the convenience food industry and their use of sugar, salt and fat in their products. Moss takes us inside companies like General Foods, Kellogg, Coca-Cola, Kraft, and Nestle, and shows us the development of some famous products. From the lab research to the marketing campaigns, Moss delves into what the food giants do to entice us not only to try their products, but to crave them and  keep coming back for more.
Part of this requires finding the bliss point for the food. Moss writes: "For all ingredients in food and drink, there is an optimum concentration at which the sensory pleasure is maximal. This optimum level is called the bliss point. The bliss point is a powerful phenomenon and dictates what we eat and drink more than we realize. The only real challenge for companies when it comes to the bliss point is ensuring that their products hit this sweet spot dead on. (Location 515-518)."
Of course it is sugar, salt, and fat that people enjoy and the food giants would not have products without these key tastes. Combine the bliss point in the convenience foods with clever marketing campaigns and it's no wonder people are deceived by what the labels really indicate. It is not the presence of sugar, salt, and fat in foods, but the large quantities found in convenience foods that may end up spurring a national debate on health.  Diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity are all linked to the highly processed foods and their phenomenal amounts of sugar, salt, and fat.
Yes, we all knowingly buy the soda, chips, cookies, and cheese that may be undermining our health. One of the questions may be at what point are the food companies responsible for the unhealthy amounts of the sugar, salt, and fat in the things we are buying? Aren't we responsible for our own choices? But aren't they also responsible on some level for the deceptive advertising on products? Or the marketing of these products to children? I think these questions have actually been asked for years with no satisfactory answers.
While I'm not going into specifics, I see enough examples of unhealthy lunches being provided to children by parents who, I truly believe, think they are providing a healthier lunch than what the schools could provide. The sugary drinks, convenience yogurts, snack packs, prepackaged meals, sugary processed fruits....  While I can't hold the food giants responsible for parental choice, I can't help but wonder if these highly processed foods teeming with salt, sugar and fat were not available wouldn't these kids be taking a healthier lunch? Of course, looking at the other side, these foods normally do ensure that the child will be eating some lunch. Obviously, I'm not going to solve the questions here, and we all need to accept the fact that the food giants will not be giving up these three key ingredients.
In the epilogue Moss writes: "It had taken me three and a half years of prying into the food industry’s operations to come to terms with the full range of institutional forces that compel even the best companies to churn out foods that undermine a healthy diet. Most critical, of course, is the deep dependence the industry has on salt, sugar, and fat. Almost every one of the hundreds of people I interviewed in the course of writing this book—bench chemists, nutrition scientists, behavioral biologists, food technicians, marketing executives, package designers, chief executives, lobbyists—made the point that companies won’t be giving these three up, in any real way, without a major fight. Salt, sugar, and fat are the foundation of processed food, and the overriding question the companies have in determining the formulations of their products is how much they need of each to achieve the maximum allure. (Location 5662-5668)"
Will this book change me? It may certainly make me more intentional in the grocery store. All of the processed convenience foods were originally imagined as occasional fare rather than a staple or all inclusive part of our diet. Salt Sugar Fat may be part of the clarion call that sends more people back to preparing most meals from scratch. However, I think even Moss would admit that to expect people to give up all convenience foods will likely not happen, and in the end he doesn't provide any answers to the problem.
Very Highly Recommended
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House via Netgalley for review purposes.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

And When She Was Good

And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman
HarperCollins, 6/4/2013
Trade Paperback,  314 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062197733 

In the comfortable suburb where Heloise Lewis lives, she's just a mom, the youngish widow with a forgettable job who somehow never misses a soccer game or a school play. In the state capitol, she's the redheaded lobbyist with a good cause and a mediocre track record.
But in discreet hotel rooms throughout the area, she's the woman of your dreams—if you can afford her hourly fee.
But now, after a decade, her secret life is under siege. Her once oblivious accountant is asking loaded questions. Her longtime protector is hinting at new dangers. Her employees can't be trusted. One county over, another so-called suburban madam has been found dead in her car, a suicide. Or is it? And then she learns that her son's father, a killer and former pimp, might be released from prison. With no formal education, no real family, and no friends, Heloise has to remake her life—again. Disappearing will be the easy part. The trick will be living long enough to start a new life.

My Thoughts:
In Laura Lippman's And When She Was Good Heloise Lewis, aka Helen, is, from all appearances, a single mother and successful lobbyist for the Women's Full Employment Network living in Turner's Grove, Maryland. Only a select number of people know that in reality she is a suburban madam. Heloise keeps her personal life and privacy carefully guarded while she tries to run her successful business and raise her son.
Heloise grew up as Helen Lewis, the daughter of an abusive father and submissive mother. When her father told her that her looks were forgettable (and later beat her), she took it to heart and now, as an adult, she tries to blend in, and avoid arousing anyone's suspicions. While she blames her father for the path her life took and her lack of education, they are the result of Heloise's own poor choices. But Heloise is intelligent and resourceful, as she manages to build up a successful business behind a legitimate business facade.
The chapters alternate between the current day Heloise and Helen from earlier times. As Heloise struggles with her current problems, we slowly learn what took place in her life as Helen and how her actions and decisions back then are encroaching on her life today. Heloise wants to live a quiet life with her son, Scott, but circumstances are looking more and more like someone wants her dead - and it could be Scott's father, a man who knows nothing about his son. Most people think Heloise is a widow, but Scott's father is alive and well - and in prison.
The suspense slowly builds as more and more of Heloise's past is revealed and the reader begins to suspect the problems that may arise in her present situation. While it's no real surprise who the bad guys are in this novel, it is a pleasure reading to find out what is going to happen next. In deference to Lippman's considerable talent and writing ability, I'll admit I read And When She Was Good quite quickly because I was simply unable to put it down. 
I did struggle with an inability to be completely accepting of Helen's feelings that she was trapped in her life's choices. I just kept saying in my mind that her problems were a result of her poor choices. Yes her father was an abusive jerk, but he didn't force her down the path she chose. And, while I agree that in the sex and porn industry that the women are someone's daughter, neighbor, mother, sister, it should be noted that the men who objectify and take advantage of the woman are a large part of the problem. It is a hot topic that merits debate way beyond the scope of a novel.
Highly Recommended

Laura Lippman is the author of eleven novels featuring Baltimore private detective Tess Monaghan, seven stand-alone novels, and a short story collection. Her six most recent books have all been New York Times bestsellers. Lippman has won numerous literary prizes for her work, including the Edgar®, Anthony, Nero Wolfe, Agatha, Gumshoe, Barry, and Macavity Awards. A recent recipient of the first-ever Mayor's Prize, she lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband, David Simon; their daughter; and her stepson.

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

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Land of Decoration

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen 
Picador, 3/5/2013
Trade Paperback, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250024077
Judith and her father don’t have much—their house is full of dusty relics, reminders of the mother she’s never known. But Judith sees the world with the clear Eyes of Faith, and where others might see rubbish, Judith sees possibility. Bullied at school, she finds solace in making a model of the Promised Land—little people made from pipe cleaners, a sliver of moon, luminous stars, and a mirror sea—a world of wonder that Judith calls the Land of Decoration. Perhaps, she thinks, if she makes it snow indoors (using shaving cream and cotton balls and Scotch tape) there will be no school on Monday. Sure enough, when Judith opens her curtains the next day, the world beyond her window has turned white. She has performed her first miracle. And that’s when her troubles begin.
With its intensely taut storytelling and gorgeous prose, The Land of Decoration is a breathtaking story of good and evil, belief and doubt.

My Thoughts:
In The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen a ten year old girl, Judith, creates everything in her land of decoration from bits of scraps and rubbish. The book opens with Judith creating her land following the creation story from the book of Genesis. Judith's mother died after her birth, leaving her stern father to raise her alone. She and her father read the Bible daily and belong to a religious group that is sure Armageddon is coming soon and requires them to go door to door proselytizing others.
Her father works at the mill, while Judith attends the local school where she is bullied daily. After she is inspired by a visiting preacher, Judith is convinced that she is able to perform miracles when she makes it snow in her land of decoration and then a freakishly early, hard snow storm occurs in real life. She also is convinced that she is hearing God's voice. When the workers at the mill go on strike mill and her father becomes a scab, the teasing and tormenting of the family escalates, putting both Judith and her father into a crisis of faith. (Not that it matters to the story but Judith and her father are probably Jehovah’s Witnesses.)
This is a difficult novel to assign a rating. First, I had to force myself to keep reading at the beginning of The Land of Decoration. It just wasn't flowing for me or capturing my attention in any way. It did, eventually, but I couldn't help but think that if the prose had been tightened up, if the action picked up a bit quicker it might have been more engaging right away. I guess there were several other tough parts of the book for me. I struggled with Judith's inability to talk to her father. Her miracles and conversations with God left me wondering if she was schizophrenic.
Recommended, but a rather disconcerting book
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Picador via Netgalley for review purposes.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Glass House 51

Glass House 51 by John Hampel
Bzff Books, 3/17/2013
paperback, 432 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0962799228
Glass House 51 is the insanely amazing adventure—or misadventure—of a lifetime, of one Richard Clayborne, a hard-charging young marketing maverick at gigantic AlphaBanc's San Francisco branch.
Hyper-ambitious Richard has been offered an intriguing assignment: Get online via NEXSX and make e-time with the lovely, brilliant (and doomed) Chicagoan Christin Darrow. All to set a trap for the reclusive—and very deadly—computer genius, Norman Dunne, aka the Gnome.
Three lovely young women dead in the streets of Chicago. And the Gnome, a former AlphaBanc employee, is the main suspect. But there just might be another AlphaBanc agenda in the works. . . .
Little does clueless Richard know what is in store: a tangled, twisted—and very treacherous—journey through the AlphaBanc underground, but by the time he realizes it, he's in too deep to get out.

My Thoughts:

When John Hampel wrote Glass House 51 his goal was an updated version of 1984. What makes his take on the future so chilling now, is the current controversy on exactly how much personal information the government is collecting on all of us. In Glass House 51 the giant banking corporation
AlphaBanc is collecting, storing, and using all kinds of information about their employees - and many other citizens. Richard Clayborne is an employee on the fast track to the inner echelon of  AlphaBanc. But what exactly are the plans these power-hungry men (and woman) have and does Richard really want to be a part of these plans? And have they revealed their true reasons for wanting to catch the Gnome, a coding genius?
I had to chuckle at Hampel's description of the programmers AlphaBanc seeks:
“But seriously, it is the ones who fail to show up for the interviews, those who favor long hair down to their shoulders—or are shaved completely bald—and wear the same wretched plaid lumberjack shirt for weeks on end because they are positively glued to their workstations, those are the ones we seek out.” (Location 1277-1279)
Take note of the following quote:
“Well then the world we live in now is totally crazy—and really frightening,” said Clayborne. “Is that the trade-off today? Personal freedom, the right to privacy, sacrificed for our fight against terrorism?”
“Right now it is. I have to admit that even I was kind of freaked out about the, uh, incredible surveillance technology out there, but now,” the Epenguin yawned, “I guess I’m just resigned to it..." (Location 1708-1711)
The absolute most chilling thing about Glass House 51 and AlphaBanc is the news while reading it. The NSA's collecting information on average citizens, the IRS targeting citizens, the complicity of technology companies in granting them access to collect information, the new X-box requiring a camera which is potentially always watching and listening ... Good golly! It is well on it's way to the new 1984 in John Hampel's Glass House 51. That's maybe all I want to say because this book review is probably already being flagged for my mention of the NSA... twice.
highly recommended
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Bzff Books via Netgalley for review purposes.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Flight Behavior

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
HarperCollins Publishers; 6/4/2013
Trade Paperback, 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062124272

Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man.
She hikes up a mountain road behind her house toward a secret tryst, but instead encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome.
As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.

My Thoughts:
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver follows Dellarobia Turnbow's accidental discovery of millions of monarch butterflies wintering on her husband's family farm in rural Tennessee instead of in Mexico. Dellarobia married her husband, Cub, at seventeen when she found herself pregnant. Now she is 28 and unhappy in her current life, the stay at home mother of two living in the shadow, and under the thumb, of her husband's parents. She discovered the butterflies when she had all intentions of running away, looked like a lake of fire to her and resulted in sending her back home.
"The flame now appeared to lift from individual treetops in showers of orange sparks, exploding the way a pine log does in a campfire when it's poked. The sparks spiraled upward in swirls like funnel clouds. Twisters of brightness against a gray sky." (pg. 14)  “Unearthly beauty had appeared to her, a vision of glory to stop her in the road. For her alone these orange boughs lifted, these long shadows became a brightness rising. It looked like the inside of joy, if a person could see that. A valley of lights, an ethereal wind. It had to mean something." (pg. 15-16)” 
Her "vision" ends up being called a miracle and may result in saving her family financially, but the monarchs are actually a disturbing result of something much more ominous. When word of the monarchs gets out, a college professor, Dr. Ovid Byron, arrives along with others, to study the phenomena and try to find an explanation for what could result in the demise of the monarchs. Additionally, Bear, Dellarobia's father-in-law, is also a real threat to the monarchs as he is strapped for cash and plans to have the area the butterflies are in logged, clear cut. With her husband Cub a passive follower of his parent's wishes and a mother-in-law, Hester, who has never liked Dellarobia, it seems she is the only one listening to the warnings of Dr. Ovid and the other researchers. 
Flight Behavior can be found in many of the characters. Dellarobia is obviously fighting her desire to flee. But it soon becomes clear that all the characters have something that they are fleeing from or would like to escape or even run toward. Even as the monarchs are in a new wintering area that is most certainly not going to be hospitable to them, all the people coming to study or see the butterflies are moving into Dellarobia's world, one that they don't understand and hold many assumptions about. The news media spins the story of the butterflies into a miracle rather than telling the horrible truth they really portend.
Kingsolver uses her both her degrees in biology and Appalachian roots as she delves into the effects of global warming in Flight Behavior. Rather than ramming the information and how we can help into the novel, she takes it to the level of Dellarobia. One good example occurs about 2/3rds of the way through the novel when Dellarobia is told what is in a pamphlet on how she can help prevent climate change by a man who says that her people (implying local hicks) need to read the information more than anyone. The thing is that most of the ways people can help that are in the pamphlet don't apply to her at all. She doesn't eat out; she doesn't make unnecessary trips anywhere. She always shops at thrift stores. She is actually more on track because of necessity than many of the citizens the man assumes are better informed.
Flight Behavior has been on several lists as the best book of the year or a notable book to read. The laudatory comments are well deserved. It is an extremely well written novel that delivers a message without becoming too heavy handed. I'll admit that even though I didn't care for the character of Dellarobia at first, I did come to appreciate her and the growth she shows in Flight Behavior. Even as the scientists struggle to answer questions of why this is happening, Dellarobia asks and answers her own questions of why concerning her life and choices. Flight Behavior is certainly a novel that held my rapt attention and I very highly recommend.

Barbara Kingsolver’s work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has earned a devoted readership at home and abroad. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal, our country’s highest honor for service through the arts. She received the 2011 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for the body of her work, and in 2010 won Britain’s Orange Prize for The Lacuna. Her novel The Poisonwood Bible was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Before she made her living as a writer, Kingsolver earned degrees in biology and worked as a scientist. She lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia.

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Silver Star

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls
Scribner, 6/11/2013
Hardcover, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781451661507

Jeannette Walls has written a heartbreaking and redemptive novel about an intrepid girl who challenges the injustice of the adult world—a triumph of imagination and storytelling.
It is 1970 in a small town in California. “Bean” Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, a woman who “found something wrong with every place she ever lived,” takes off to find herself, leaving her girls enough money to last a month or two. When Bean returns from school one day and sees a police car outside the house, she and Liz decide to take the bus to Virginia, where their Uncle Tinsley lives in the decaying mansion that’s been in Charlotte’s family for generations.
An impetuous optimist, Bean soon discovers who her father was, and hears many stories about why their mother left Virginia in the first place. Because money is tight, Liz and Bean start babysitting and doing office work for Jerry Maddox, foreman of the mill in town—a big man who bullies his workers, his tenants, his children, and his wife.
Jeannette Walls, supremely alert to abuse of adult power, has written a deeply moving novel about triumph over adversity and about people who find a way to love each other and the world, despite its flaws and injustices.

My Thoughts:

In The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls we meet 12 year old Jean "Bean" Holladay, her 15 year old sister Liz, and their mother Charlotte. Charlotte, an irresponsible mother and aspiring singer, leaves the girls on their own for a bit too long in a small town in California. When Bean sees a police car outside their house and senses that trouble may be ahead, the girls take a bus to Byler, Virginia, the small town where their mother grew up and where their Uncle Tinsley still resides in a decaying mansion.
Circumstances surrounding their unstable mother result in the girls living with Uncle Tinsley, who offers them some measure of security, for the school year.
The Holladay family used to own the cotton mill, but their glory days and wealth are long past. Knowing that they need jobs to earn some money for clothes, the girls eventually find themselves working odd jobs for the mill foreman, Jerry Maddox, a controlling bully. Bean also gets to know her deceased father's side of the family, where the inspiration for the title of the story is found. Once school starts, Bean finds herself trying to adjust and fit in while Liz is leaning toward nonconformity.
Maddox is an evil, one dimensional character and it is clear right from the start that he will mean trouble. What was surprising was that Wall's didn't have the girls show the same kind of canny ability Liz had when they had a man on the bus bothering themThe Silver Star is set in 1970 during racial integration of the schools, which is a secondary story in the novel, and the Vietnam War. The novel mentions To Kill a Mockingbird, and takes some inspiration from it, as well as Wells' own personal background, especially in the character of Bean and her mother.
Walls is known for her best selling memoir, The Glass Castle, and a true story about her grandmother, Half Broke Horses.  Walls did many things right in The Silver Star, her first novel, addressing universal themes like societal injustice, peer pressure, bullies, and abuse. However most of the characters weren't fleshed out beyond Bean, and would have benefited from more development. It did grip my attention, though, and had me racing to find out what happened to the girls.
highly recommended
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Scribner via Netgalley for review purposes.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bobcat and Other Stories

Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 6/11/2013
Trade Paperback, 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9781616201739 

Rebecca Lee, one of our most gifted and original short story writers, guides readers into a range of landscapes, both foreign and domestic, crafting stories as rich as novels. A student plagiarizes a paper and holds fast to her alibi until she finds herself complicit in the resurrection of one professor's shadowy past. A dinner party becomes the occasion for the dissolution of more than one marriage. A woman is hired to find a wife for the one true soulmate she's ever found. In all, Rebecca Lee traverses the terrain of infidelity, obligation, sacrifice, jealousy, and yet finally, optimism. Showing people at their most vulnerable, Lee creates characters so wonderfully flawed, so driven by their desire, so compelled to make sense of their human condition, that it's impossible not to feel for them when their fragile belief in romantic love, domestic bliss, or academic seclusion fails to provide them with the sort of force field they'd expected.
My Thoughts:

Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee is a collection of seven short stories. The stories included are: Bobcat; Banks of the Vistula; Slatland; Min; World Party; Fialta; Settlers.
"Bobcat," the opening story, features a dinner party that foreshadows some unexpected results and entertains doubts about the veracity of more than one guest's story.
In "Banks of the Vistula" a student plagiarist is known but not quite revealed.
"Slatland" has a character who encounters the same therapist twice in her life under very different circumstances.
A young woman helps find a suitable spouse for her male best friend in "Min".
In "World Party" a committee composed of peers must rule on the behavior of another professor.
During a summer retreat at "Fialta" student architects learn more about life than academics. 
The closing story, "Settlers," features close friends over several dinner parties, culminating in one unforgettable one.
All of these stories feature characters who are well educated. Many are involved in academia as students or professors. Lee's stories are all told from a first-person perspective as they delve into juxtaposed contrasting themes involving faithfulness, friendship, security, apathy, honesty, and relationships. The writing is richly descriptive and captures many nuances and layers of thought and meaning in each of the stories. Often it felt like what was at the edge of being said or revealed was looming over the seemingly everyday conversations between the characters.

In several cases, as I reached the end of a story I was filled with a sense of melancholy. The endings struck me as raw, unfinished, in a way because there was no definite conclusion, or, perhaps, overriding answer to some of the concerns of the characters or actions in the stories. It made each story sort of an exquisite little glimpse into only part of a life, never the whole.  This created a sort of a "little Match Girl" syndrome for me; I was seeing these glimpses of brilliance that ended too soon and I wanted more. The quandary is, naturally, that giving me more would not necessarily equate a better story.
very highly recommended
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill via Netgalley for review purposes.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Little, Brown & Company; 6/4/2013
Hardcover, 375 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316216852

The girl who wouldn't die hunts the killer who shouldn't exist.
"The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless. It has a terrible fury all its own."
Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future.
Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women, burning with potential, whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times.
At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He's the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable-until one of his victims survives.
Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins the Chicago Sun-Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez, who covered her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth . . .
THE SHINING GIRLS is a masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.

My Thoughts:

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes shadows Harper Curtis, a time traveling serial killer in Chicago and his last potential victim, Kirby Mazrachi. After Harper finds the House, the secret that allows him to travel through time, he began looking for the shining girls, the girls that have special potential, a spark, inside of them. They all must die. From 1934 to 1993 Harper finds them when they are young, leaves a token of some sort with them and then comes back to kill them in the future when they are adults. After he kills he leaves behind another token - something he has taken from another victim.
Kirby should have been a victim, but, beating all odds, she lived through his brutal attack. Now her overriding goal is to find Harper and stop him. Kirby uses her internship with Dan Velasquez, a former crime reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper to help track Harper down by looking for his victims. She knows the man who attacked her is a serial killer. What she doesn't know is how the House allows him to escape.
The Shining Girls is a combination science fiction/thriller. As the chapters jump through time and to different victims, paying close attention to the year and the character for each chapter will benefit readers. Although the novel includes time travel, which naturally places it in the science fiction genre, any technical aspects of the time traveling are ignored, reducing it more to a clever way to move the plot along. This lack of any explanation beyond the house wanted it, results in The Shining Girls really being more the thriller as we follow the murders.
Not that being a thriller is necessarily bad. Kirby is a determined character and I think that most readers will be very involved in her search, hoping she succeeds in finding Harper's identity. As Harper travels in different time periods, Beukes does take care to set the historical details in place to at least capture some of the nuances of the different time periods. There are indications that this could be "the" novel of the summer. It is certainly a good choice for a vacation book, but doesn't have some of the surprising twists that might be expected.
Highly Recommended
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Little, Brown & Company via Netgalley for review purposes.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Big Brother

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
HarperCollins; 6/4/2013
Hardcover, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780061458576 
When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at her local Iowa airport, she literally doesn't recognize him. In the four years since the siblings last saw each other, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened?
And it's not just the weight. Imposing himself on Pandora's world, Edison breaks her husband Fletcher's handcrafted furniture, makes overkill breakfasts for the family, and entices her stepson not only to forgo college but to drop out of high school.
After the brother-in-law has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It's him or me. Putting her marriage and adopted family on the line, Pandora chooses her brother—who, without her support in losing weight, will surely eat himself into an early grave.
Rich with Shriver's distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat—an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much we'll sacrifice to rescue single members of our families, and whether it's ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.

Today I'm featuring a highlight on Big Brother by Lionel Shriver. Her current novel again focuses on today's current headlines/obsessions. This time it is a family's destructive relationship with food. Pandora was a caterer. Now married to Fletcher, she cooks to show love. Her brother, Edison, is using food to ease his pain and has gained hundreds of pounds.
What is being said about Big Brother: 
“A searing, addictive novel about the power and limitations of food, family, success, and desire. Shriver examines America's weight obsession with both razor-sharp insight and compassion.” Booklist“Shriver brilliantly explores the strength of sibling bonds versus the often more fragile ties of marriage.”
Gary Shteyngart
“The fellowship of Lionel Shriver fanatics is about to grow larger, so to speak. Big Brother, a tragicomic meditation on family and food, may be her best book yet.”
The Economist
“[Shriver] has a knack for conveying subtle shifts in family dynamics..... Ms Shriver offers some sage observations... Yet her main gift as a novelist is a talent for coolly nailing down uncomfortable realities.”
Kirkus Reviews
"The book is largely about weight and America's obesity epidemic; Shriver writes thoughtfully about our diets and how our struggle to find an identity tends to lead us toward the fridge, and she describes our fleshy flaws with a candor that marks much of her fiction. But the book truly shines as a study of family relationships....The story's arc flirts with a cheeriness that's unusual for her, but a twist ending reassures us this is indeed a Shriver novel and that our certitude is just another human foible. A masterful, page-turning study of complex relationships among our bodies, our minds and our families."
Library Journal
"Brilliantly imagined, beautifully written, and superbly entertaining, Shriver's novel confronts readers with the decisive question: can we save our loved ones from themselves? A must-read for Shriver fans, this novel will win over new readers as well. Highly recommended." Lisa Block, Atlanta
I'm truly looking forward to reading Big Brother. Shriver is one of those gifted writers who has the ability to always use the exact word needed in every sentence. She always manages to capture the complexity of relationships. All families are dysfunctional. Shriver can delve into all that is wrong while also covering what is good.
Disclosure: I will be receiving an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes. 







Lionel’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, June 4th: The Blog of Lit Wits
Thursday, June 6th: she treads softly
Monday, June 10th: Bibliophilia
Tuesday, June 11th: The Well-Read Redhead
Wednesday, June 12th: Man of La Book
Thursday, June 13th: Book Hooked Blog
Monday, June 17th: BookNAround
Wednesday, June 19th: nomadreader
Thursday, June 20th:  Books in the City
Monday, June 24th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Tuesday, June 25th: A Dream Within A Dream
Wednesday, June 26th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Thursday, June 27th: 5 Minutes For Books
Friday, June 28th: The Book Chick
Monday, July 1st: A Reader of Fictions
Tuesday, July 2nd: Olduvai Reads

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Worm by Tim Curran
DarkFuse, May 2013
Novella, 524 KB
ISBN 13: 9781937771799
On Pine Street, the houses begin to shake. The earth begins to move. The streets crack open and yards split asunder…and rising from subterranean depths far below, a viscid black muck bubbles up and floods the neighborhood.
In it are a ravenous army of gigantic worms seeking human flesh. They wash into houses, they come up through the sewers, through plumbing, filling toilets and tubs, seeking human prey.
Cut off from the rest of the town, the people of Pine Street must wage a war of survival or they’ll never see morning. As bad as the worms are, there’s something worse—and far larger—waiting to emerge.
My Thoughts:
In Worm by Tim Curran the Midwest town of Camberly has been invaded from below. A rancid, horrible black muck of sewage is oozing and spewing forth from the ground and taking over the neighborhood. It's even coming through the plumbing in homes. Unknown to the locals, at first, the slimy sulfurous, rotting muck is occupied by more than what you'd expect to find in a colossal sewage plant back-up.
This is like Tremors but with smaller sewer guys doing the invasion - and little is all relative when you are confronting carnivorous, hideous, malodorous worms coming through your pipes or up the front steps.
Don't expect a lot of character development or nuanced writing. This is all about the carnage and action. Wonderful, disgusting, horrific B-grade movie material - sometimes it's what you need. And who could turn down a cover like that?
highly recommended  
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of DarkFuse via Netgalley for review purposes.

Monday, June 3, 2013


Mistrial by Mark Geragos and Pat Harris
Penguin Group; 4/11/2013
Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781592407729


A searing and entertaining manifesto on the ills of the criminal justice system from two of America's most prominent defense attorneys.

From the rise of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle to the television ratings bonanza of the O.J. Simpson trial, a perfect storm of media coverage has given the public an unprecedented look inside the courtroom, kicking off popular courtroom shows and TV legal commentary that further illuminate how the criminal justice system operates. Or has it?

In Mistrial, Mark Geragos and Pat Harris debunk the myths of judges as Solomon-like figures, jurors as impartial arbiters of the truth, and
prosecutors as super-ethical heroes.Mistrial draws the curtain on the court's ugly realities-from stealth jurors who secretly swing for a conviction, to cops who regularly lie on the witness stand, to defense attorneys terrified of going to trial. Ultimately, the authors question whether a justice system model drawn up two centuries ago before blogs and television is still viable today.
In the aftermath of recent high-profile cases, the flaws in America's justice system are more glaring than ever. Geragos and Harris are legal experts and prominent criminal defense attorneys who have worked on everything from celebrity media-circuses-having represented clients like Michael Jackson, Winona Ryder, Scott Peterson, Chris Brown, Susan MacDougal, and Gary Condit-to equally compelling cases defending individuals desperate to avoid the spotlight.

Shining unprecedented light on what really goes on in the courtroom, Mistrial is an enjoyable, fun look at a system that rarely lets you see
behind the scenes.

My Thoughts:
Mistrial: An Inside Look at How the Criminal Justice System Works... and Sometimes Doesn't is written by two leading defense attorneys, Mark Geragos and Pat Harris. Geragos and Harris have a long list of well known people they have represented: Susan McDougal, Scott Peterson, Michael Jackson, Gary Condit, Mike Tyson, Winona Ryder and Chris Brown, to name a few. Mistrial is an inside look at how the system works, how Geragos and Harris feel about it's flaws and failures based on their years of trial experience, and many anecdotes from their years of experience.
In Mistrial Geragos and Harris have organized their book so chapter cover all the major areas of criminal-justice system: defense attorneys, clients, prosecutors, judges, police officers, jurors and journalists. At the end of the book, Geragos and Harris do offer a list of suggestions for reform, based on their years of experience, that could make the system work more smoothly and fairly.
What Mistrial offers to a lay person (me) is a glimpse into some well known cases and how the criminal justice system works - or doesn't - based on many factors, including pre-trial publicity and the media hype surrounding a case.They feel the current criminal justice system is biased toward the prosecution - and tactics used by the prosecutors magnify this advantage. Adding to this built in advantage are other problems, such as judges ruling based on their upcoming re-election, problems with media coverage influencing the jury selection, and police lying to improve their case. 
Some of the observations Geragos and Harris make and conclusions they draw are obvious. Media hype and personalities devoted to just creating that frenzied coverage have been around for a long time. While it's true that they are more prevalent now, they have always been there. For me, since Geragos and Harris are based in Los Angeles, they are privy to much inside information and represent clients that are obviously out of my circle of experience.
By their own admission, Mistrial is not a scholarly look at criminal justice reform and Geragos and Harris never claim that it will be. What they wanted to do was give the layman an entertaining look inside the system at the players and some of the problems from the point of view of the defense. Aside from a few extreme rants, Mistrial is interesting, sometimes funny, and very entertaining while making some serious points.
Highly recommended - for the inside look
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the Penguin Group via Netgalley for review purposes.