Tuesday, July 30, 2013

That Touch of Ink

That Touch of Ink by Diane Vallere
Polyester Press, 7/30/2013
Trade Paperback, 290 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1939197054
Mad for Mod Series #2


When mid-century modern interior decorator Madison Night receives a five thousand dollar bill in the mail, she knows it’s a message from her past. Doris Day movies help with inspiration for her business, but her favorite actress can’t help when Madison’s lover comes back. After finding a corpse at a local numismatist, she follows a circuit of rare dollars and common sense to expose a kidnapping plot, a counterfeit operation, and the true price of her independence.

My Thoughts:

That Touch of Ink by Diane Vallere is the second book in a series featuring Madison Night, a Doris Day wannabee with a Shih Tzu named Rocky. Madison is a mid-century modern interior decorator who owns her own business, Mad for Mod. She's also owner/landlord of her own apartment building.  In this outing Madison has an old flame, Brad, send her a $5000 dollar bill, something she knows sends a  message specifically for her. Meanwhile Tex, her
police detective friend is watching her closely for a number of reasons.

The big hook on this series is the connection to old Doris Day movies. From Madison's job to every little thing she wears, aficionados and fans of Doris Day movies will recognize the many references and picture her various outfits, modeled after clothes Doris Day wore in her movies.  The question really becomes twofold: is the Doris Day connection a help or hindrance to propel the series forward; and is the plot strong enough to overcome the forced connections?

I love Doris Day movies. I am already a fan. I own almost every movie she was in, so I get this part of the hook.
I am also a fan of mysteries. There is something about a good mystery that leaves you breathless, trying to not bite your nails, as you read as fast as you can trying to follow the clues and wondering what will happen next.

So, seemingly this should have been a great fit, but, alas, it wasn't. The Doris Day connection rang false and kind of got a little weird for me. After all, she is a well-known woman beyond her acting career and is much more than a star of comedies. Her care and compassion for animals is well known, as is the fact that she would consider herself a tomboy. I grew very weary of reading about what outfit Madison was changing into or what set of period silk pajamas Madison would don next. Madison was starting to annoy me.

Well, did the mystery part of the novel pan out? It did. It was good. There was plenty of madcap action, a few twists and turns, and a satisfying conclusion.

In the end, this is a satisfying mystery novel. For some readers the Doris Day movie connection is going to be a fun addition and will add to their enjoyment of solving the mystery. Recommended


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

The Telling Room

The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese 
by Michael Paterniti
Random House, 7/30/2013
Hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385337007


In the picturesque village of Guzmán, Spain, in a cave dug into a hillside on the edge of town, an ancient door leads to a cramped limestone chamber known as “the telling room.” Containing nothing but a wooden table and two benches, this is where villagers have gathered for centuries to share their stories and secrets—usually accompanied by copious amounts of wine.
It was here, in the summer of 2000, that Michael Paterniti found himself listening to a larger-than-life Spanish cheese maker named Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras as he spun an odd and compelling tale about a piece of cheese. An unusual piece of cheese. Made from an old family recipe, Ambrosio’s cheese was reputed to be among the finest in the world, and was said to hold mystical qualities. Eating it, some claimed, conjured long-lost memories. But then, Ambrosio said, things had gone horribly wrong. . . .
By the time the two men exited the telling room that evening, Paterniti was hooked. Soon he was fully embroiled in village life, relocating his young family to Guzmán in order to chase the truth about this cheese and explore the fairy tale–like place where the villagers conversed with farm animals, lived by an ancient Castilian code of honor, and made their wine and food by hand, from the grapes growing on a nearby hill and the flocks of sheep floating over the Meseta.
What Paterniti ultimately discovers there in the highlands of Castile is nothing like the idyllic slow-food fable he first imagined. Instead, he’s sucked into the heart of an unfolding mystery, a blood feud that includes accusations of betrayal and theft, death threats, and a murder plot. As the village begins to spill its long-held secrets, Paterniti finds himself implicated in the very story he is writing.
Equal parts mystery and memoir, travelogue and history, The Telling Room is an astonishing work of literary nonfiction by one of our most accomplished storytellers. A moving exploration of happiness, friendship, and betrayal, The Telling Room introduces us to Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras, an unforgettable real-life literary hero, while also holding a mirror up to the world, fully alive to the power of stories that define and sustain us.

My Thoughts:

The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti isn't really about cheese, and yet it is. This nonfiction narrative certainly began with cheese as the inspiration in 1991, when Paterniti accepted a part time job as a proofreader for Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While proofing the articles, he came across a description of the cheese, Páramo de Guzmán, and thus began the fascination and perhaps a tad bit of obsession about this cheese. Páramo de Guzmán is made from the fresh milk of Churra sheep, and is named after the village in the Castile region of Spain where it was made.

Paterniti kept the information about the cheese in the back of his mind until 2000 when he actually travels to Spain and the village of Guzmán. He finds Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras, the man who originally made Páramo de Guzmán, and hears the story of love, devotion, deception and, ultimately, betrayal all surrounding the making of the cheese. This original meeting set the stage for the ten years Paterniti obsessed over the many faucets of Ambrosio's story.

A telling room is found in the bodega, a cave built into the hills on the northern boundary of Guzmán that served as cold storage in the past for the family who owned it. Now they are primarily places to go, eat, drink wine with family and friends, and tell stories. The Castilian way of storytelling is full of digressions, asides, and footnotes. Paterniti tells this story in the same manner. The footnotes are wonderful rabbit trails of other information or history or comments based on the narrative.

Therein lies the reason for the complete enchantment I felt and rapt attention I gave to reading The Telling Room. The layers upon layers of stories and history were shared and the book became about more than the cheese. It morphed into something more. It is a drama of mythical proportions that beautifully illustrates how we can subtly deceive ourselves when we tell and retell stories about our lives, how the telling can change the facts. How story telling can help you find a measure of acceptance over what has happened in your life and perhaps also some closure.

But it is also a humorous, delightful book as it follows Paterniti's life and recurring obsession with Ambrosio's story. I don't want to give away any of the conclusions. As I was reading, right at the start, the word "delightful" popped into my head and stayed firmly planted there for the whole book.

I had to laugh aloud over the line (found in the excerpt below) "We each had a futon and a stereo — and everything else (two couches, black-and-white TV, waffle iron) we'd foraged from piles in front of houses on Big Trash Day." You see, I live in a city with a very large university and now is the time for those "Big Trash Days" as most leases end the last day of July and begin the first day of August. The streets are currently filled with Uhauls. The areas with predominately student rentals have huge piles of trash in front of them and there are lines of cars and trucks, trolling the piles, looking to pick through the trash for good stuff.

This is an exceptionally well written nonfiction book. I am a big fan of footnotes, so the myriads of footnotes gave me great joy. I was reading The Telling Room as an ebook, however, which just doesn't do footnotes justice, in my opinion. I would have preferred a print copy so I could easily read the footnotes as they came up in the text. See the link below to a footnote, and nested footnotes, to get a better understanding of why I would have preferred a print copy.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best

A single footnote with nested footnotes about Pringles


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

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Notown by Tess Collins
BearCat Press; 5/7/2013

Trade Paperback, 428 pages
ISBN-13: 9781937356323


Randi Jo Gaylor's family is poorer than dirt. Yet the little girl survives with an optimistic attitude despite imagining a Fear Angel haunts her. Through four decades, she covers up murder and betrayal by others until a threat against her daughter forces her to take an action she never thought herself capable of... killing a man she'd once loved

My Thoughts:

In Notown by Tess Collins we meet Randi Jo Gaylor. Randi Jo, or RJ, grew up in Notown, a backwater poverty-stricken Appalachian neighborhood in Kentucky. This destitute area is known for it's indigent residents, pilfering ways, and coal miners. Everyone who lives in Notown knows they are at the bottom of society and everyone who lives in the areas surrounding Notown won't let them forget that they are white trash.  

Notown begins at the end, in 1987 when all we know is that Randi Jo has a former husband tied up and is about to torch him.  This startling tableaux stands in sharp contrast to the Randi Jo we then meet, at 9 years old.  She is a small girl from Notown who shoplifts what she wants, if the occasion arises, but she also loves her family.  We know she has a guiding angel, fear, who will surface throughout the novel. Even while she is protective of her family and determined to make her way out of Notown, she's a small female child in an impossible situation where abuse can take many forms. At 9 is when she first meets Connor Herne, who eventually becomes her husband. The novel follows RJ for forty years of her life.

Collins does an excellent job developing her characters and the setting for the novel. It was very easy to feel like you are there, in that time, going through everything with Randi Jo.  Even while you are following along in her life, you know she is going to end up having a man she loved tied to a chair. You know she is pouring out gasoline and is planning to burn him alive. As you follow her life you have the quandary of trying to reconcile the RJ you are seeing with the one you know is coming. You'll be trying to catch the clues, guess the pieces to the puzzle that will lead her to this ending.

While I really liked Notown, I also had a hard time readily accepting a few of the choices Randi Jo makes. They were simple incomprehensible choices to me. I understand that people make these kinds of rash, bad decisions every day, but that doesn't make them understandable. All actions have consequences. It did leave me thinking less of her as a character. On the other hand, Collins held my interest to the end, even while I was muttering.

This is the first installment in a planned Midnight Valley Quartet of novels. Including a list of resources for victims of domestic abuse and violence at the end of the novel was an extremely good addition.

Highly Recommended  - and I am likely to consider reading book two in the quartet, The Hunter of Hertha.


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

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mayor of Hollywood

Mayor of Hollywood by M.B. Brophy
Mary-Beth Brophy; April 17, 2013
ebook for Kindle, 337 pages

A Hollywood murder with eerie ties to a 75-year-old case forces Lucy Cassidy to confront her child star past as old friends and colleagues top the suspect list…that is, until they start dying.

Ten years ago, Lucy Cassidy turned away from a lucrative acting career for a life in academia. Now a tenure-track professor of history and still shooting the occasional film during semester breaks, Lucy is asked by her lover, Detective Mark Adamson, to consult on the murder of a former A-list agent who was campaigning for the honorary position of Mayor of Hollywood. Intrigued by the case’s uncanny resemblance to the infamous 1931 “Handsome Dave” murders, Lucy is quickly drawn into the investigation, even as she struggles to conceal her own personal connection with the victim. But when an old friend joins the body count, Lucy begins to suspect that her past may hold the key to solving the case.
My Thoughts:

In Mayor of Hollywood by M.B. Brophy former childhood star and current history professor Lucy Cassidy helps her boyfriend Detective Mark Adamson solve a murder in Hollywood that has disturbing parallels to another murder that happened in Hollywood 75 years ago. At the same time it seems that some sick fan of Lucy's is terrorizing her and her safety is at risk.

This is a mystery that isn't a police procedural even though the police are involved in solving the murder mystery, let alone the harassment of Lucy by her stalker. Written in the first person this is Lucy's narrative of what is happening in the investigation, as well as in her personal life. While she assists Mark as a consultant to the case, it soon becomes clear that Lucy apparently has more connections to the case than simply the academic historical information that is her specialty. While the case unfolds, Lucy repeatedly is forced to confront uncomfortable memories from her past that seemingly have some bearing on the current murder investigation.

This is an easy summer read with a moderate buildup of tension/anticipation. Admittedly, I didn't particularly love the character of Lucy, but then I didn't actively dislike her either. The problems Lucy had with Marks Catholicism could have been left out - along with his explanation about why a devoted Catholic would be living with someone. It added nothing substantial to the story and was distracting (and I'm not Catholic). Also the number of times Lucy withheld information or felt faint/nauseous seemed a bit overwrought.   
In the end, while I did have a couple issues with it, all in all it's a good murder mystery. If you enjoy mysteries set in Hollywood, than this could a great choice for you. Recommended

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sweet Little Lies

Sweet Little Lies by Bianca Sloane
Bianca Sloane/ Amazon digital services, 6/19/13
278 pages/ 434 KB


What would you do if you found out your husband had been unfaithful?
Divorce him? Take him back?
Kill him?
Mark Monroe becomes the victim of option “C” after his wife, Kelly, discovers evidence of an illicit affair and stabs him to death. In a panic, she flees, deciding she will turn herself in the next day.
But before she can, Kelly learns devastating secrets about her husband, and starts a frantic mission to unravel the mystery of the man she married and murdered – all while trying to stay one step ahead of a dogged police detective determined to bring her to justice.

My Thoughts:

In Bianca Sloane's latest novel, Sweet Little Lies, Kelly Ross Monroe seemingly has it all. She's a former super model with her own cosmetic's company, Runway. She's been married to Mark Monroe, the highly successful and incredibly handsome sport's lawyer, for three years. Their life in Chicago is one that most people can only just dream about - until Kelly finds evidence that Mark has been cheating on her... and the act occurred in her own bed. Kelly throws the scumbag's clothes into suitcases and garbage bags, leaving the evidence she found on top of the pile of Mark's things.

Throwing Mark out didn't go exactly as planned. Mark is now dead and Kelly is on the run, trying to figure out what to do next and maybe find out who was the woman Mark was having the affair with. Much to her surprise, Mark had some awfully big secrets he was keeping hidden from her and Kelly feels that she must discover the truth about the man she married. But while Kelly is trying to unravel the truth, there is breaking news on the case that surprises both Kelly and the detectives searching for her.

Once again, Bianca Sloane has written a fast-paced mystery that is the perfect choice for some exciting reading escapism. Kelly is a likeable character (even though she is a super-model, which almost could inspire an opposite emotion - just sayin'). She's practical, thoughtful, and resourceful. Each chapter tells the story or reveals more information through the point of view of several different characters, and some of the information revealed will surprise you.

There were a few flaws. I'm surprised Kelly was driving her car as much as she was, with her original license plates. I kept anticipating that she'd switch plates somewhere along the way. And while her many narrow escapes were surprising, I guess they were also understandable. Who would expect to see a fugitive from justice stopping by a Walgreen's? You'd be very likely to not realize that the customer really was HER until after she left. Or you'd vaguely recognize the name but not put the facts together (says the person who actually paged Brooke Shields while working at a restaurant many, many years ago.)

Currently you can pick up Sweet Little Lies by Bianca Sloane for .99 at Amazon, as well as her first novel Live and Let Die. I highly recommend giving her a try.
Her novel Every Breath You Take should be coming out soon.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Bianca Sloane.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

True North

True North: The Shocking Truth about Yours, Mine & Ours by Tom North
True North Productions LLC, 7/15/2013
Trade Paperback,
356 pages


Tom North is one of the eight North children, who together with the ten Beardsley children, became the family that was featured in the 1968 film, Yours, Mine and Ours, starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, and again in the 2005 version starring Rene Russo and Dennis Quaid. The book begins in the 1950s on Whidbey Island, Washington, where Tom’s mother, Helen North, became a widow when she was just thirty years old and pregnant with her eighth child. Not long after, Helen North met and married Frank Beardsley, a man with ten children and the North children were adopted and their names changed to Beardsley. But it wasn’t one big happy family, as the movie depicted. When Tom finally left home, he traveled on a journey of survival, self-discovery, and healing. Years later, miraculously led his family in counseling sessions where shocking truths were revealed, he came full circle as he reclaimed his father’s name and was finally, True North.

My Thoughts:

True North: The Shocking Truth about Yours, Mine & Ours  is a memoir by Tom North, one of the children in the Beardsley/North marriage that the 1968 movie, Yours, Mine and Ours was based on. The problem is that the movie version was fiction. The real life blended family that the Beardsley/North union created was fraught with abuse, mostly at the hands of Frank Beardsley, but Helen was a distant mother and did little to stop it.

Tom's father, Richard, tragically died when he was six, leaving Helen widowed with seven children and pregnant with her eighth child. You should all know the story - not long after, she met and married Frank Beardsley, a widower with 10 children.  Right from the start Frank was verbally and physically abusive to the children. Tom divulges several incidents that happened to him and other members of the family, but he doesn't give a laundry list of details or necessarily dwell on the abusive past. Instead he just talks about his life growing up and what he did. There were things that saved him from what could have turned into a self-destructive path.

Living in Carmel helped Tom escape from his home. He spent a lot of time fishing at the beach. He became a certified scuba diver. He tried drugs, but once he learned about Transcendental Meditation, he stopped the drug usage and turned to TM instead. He left home right after high school at 17, and although he was still forced (or felt obligated) to work in the family's businesses (for which none of the children were paid), he also got another job. The hours he was working were so long and hard that his health was jeopardized. Tom found a way to pursue his dream of going to the college he wanted to attend.  It was a relief to go work for his uncle in Alaska on a boat fishing for salmon in order to earn money to go to college.

The inspirational message is that although Tom was emotionally traumatized by events from his childhood, he found a way to make his life worthwhile, content, and peaceful.

There are a couple places where Tom went on a bit too long for me (salmon fishing, TM, college experiences) and lost my complete interest, but the main point of his book is that he survived and this should give hope to others that may be in similar circumstances.  The last couple of chapters definitely provide closure.

The memoir helpfully includes a list of resources and an index. Recommended

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

Monday, July 22, 2013

After The Ending

After The Ending by Lindsey Fairleigh and Lindsey Pogue
L2 Books, 2/14/2013
Trade Paperback, 478 pages

ISBN-13: 9780988715417


The Virus spread. Billions died. The Ending began. We may have survived the apocalypse, but the Virus changed us.
When people started getting sick, "they" thought it was just the flu. My roommate, my boyfriend, my family...they're all gone now. I got sick too. I should have died with them-with the rest of the world-but I didn't. I thought witnessing the human population almost disappear off the face of the earth was the craziest thing I'd ever experience. I was so wrong. My name is Dani O'Connor, I'm twenty-six-years-old, and I survived The Ending.
The Virus changed everything. The world I knew is gone, and life is backwards. We've all had to start over. I've been stripped of my home, my dreams...all that is me. I'm someone else now-broken and changed. Other survivors' memories and emotions haunt me. They invade my mind until I can no longer separate them from my own. I won't let them consume me. I can't. My name is Zoe Cartwright, I'm twenty-six-years-old, and I survived The Ending.
We've been inseparable for most of our lives, and now our friendship is all we have left. The aftermath of the Virus has stranded us on opposite sides of the United States. Trusting strangers, making sacrifices, killing-we'll do anything to reach one another. Fear and pain may be unavoidable, but we're strong...we're survivors. But to continue surviving in this unfamiliar world plagued by Crazies and strange new abilities, we have to adapt. We have to evolve.
And more than anything, we have to find each other.
My Thoughts:

After The Ending by Lindsey Fairleigh and Lindsey Pogue is a post apocalyptic novel that focuses on two 26 year-old friends, Dani O'Connor and Zoe Cartwright, and their journey from opposite coasts to join up with each other. A pandemic flu virus has either killed or changed everyone. Some survivors develop special talents and abilities, some just go insane. Dani and Zoe discover their new abilities while traveling with others and trying to meet up in Colorado.

The novel is told in first person and features Dani and Zoe exchanging emails while they survive the flu and then try to get to Colorado. Zoe is on the east coast while Dani is on the West. Both women grew up in Bodega Bay (of The Birds). After Zoe's brother, Jason finds her, Dani heads south with his group to check up on their relatives. Zoe heads out with friends who survived on the east coast.

Here in lies my dilemma with this novel: I love post apocalyptic fiction, so I was predisposed to love this novel and overlook all sorts of flaws in order to follow the action. And I tried to do just that to the bitter end of After The Ending. But there are simply too many flaws and inconsistencies and "why" and "what"questions that kept popping up.

The biggest what" had to be the emails exchanged between the two on still operating Wi Fi access. And, okay, gas is scarce, but the internet is up and running and emails can still be exchanged. Really? This is totally improbable, and, well, annoying. Honestly then why weren't they using cell phones or tweeting since technology is available. Wouldn't there be some sort of official information on this miracle internet? Why would Zoe have to see the headlines of a paper to be shocked that so many were dead. Uh, the young adults in their mid-twenties that I know would have already been following the news - online - rather than have to read newspaper headlines.

As After The Ending is the first book in proposed series of novels. 

So, I read to the end of the novel, ignoring everything that was bothering me - and the list grew pretty long. I also grew to dislike both characters.  And the men they want. And most of the other characters. But, most importantly, why, in a novel with a superflu that kills so many and changes others, would you have people heading to Colorado where a group, The Colony, is broadcasting, when they can get a signal through? (They should have used the internet.) This all just screams comparison to Stephen King's The Stand. This novel isn't as fully realized as The Stand.

Okay - so After The Ending had the potential to be very interesting, but, alas, it wasn't the novel I thought it would be.  If you like romance novels with a post-apocalyptic-lite setting, this may be a recommended choice for you, but it was so-so for me.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
L2 Books via Netgalley for review purposes.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


14 by Peter Clines
Permuted Press, 6/28/2012
Trade Paperback, 352 pages

ISBN-13: 9781618680525


Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches.
There are some odd things about Nate's new apartment.

Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn't perfect, it's livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don't nag at him too much.

At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela's apartment. And Tim's. And Veek's.

Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends.

Or the end of everything...
My Thoughts:

14 by Peter Clines opens with Nate Tucker moving into a new apartment in the historic Kavach Building. Right from the start we know that things may not be quite normal in the building, but the rent is unbelievably affordable. Soon Nate and some of his neighbors begin to question some of the oddities surrounding their building, like mutant green cockroaches, how every floor plan is different, and the mysterious rooms/areas with padlocked doors. This comparison of oddities leads to even more clandestine exploration, all while they try to keep their activities hidden from the apartment manager.  What they discovered will challenge their grasp of reality.

14 isn't a difficult novel to read and there is enough humor written into the dialogue/plot to help move along the pace while not becoming too overwhelming dark. If you've watched Scooby Doo, you'll appreciate Nate's attempt to cast himself and his neighbors as characters in the cartoon as they investigate the mysteries. Clines does an outstanding job keeping the reader interested in what is around the corner and what is going to happen next. As a bonus there are many pop culture references sprinkled along the way.

This genre bending novel begins feeling like a standard horror novel, but quickly turns into a mystery that takes a sharp turn toward thriller to science fiction/horror.  I don't want to give away too much of the plot because following the turns it took was part of the pleasure in reading it. I wanted to review this novel based on the comparison made to Lost in early reviews (yup - I am a huge fan of that show).  While I would not have made that comparison after reading 14,  I'll admit that I sort of see where that may be valid for some readers.

I really enjoyed 14. It was a novel that I simply had to keep reading as fast as possible just to see what was going to happen next. And the pleasure I had in following the characters as the plot unfolded makes 14 Very Highly Recommended. A perfect summer vacation read!

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


Friday, July 19, 2013

There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes

There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes by Robert Jacoby
Cloud Books, 10/1/2012
Trade Paperback, 342 pages


You need your eyes, don't you?
So does Richard Issych. Two weeks ago he overdosed. Now he's fighting for his life, finding threatening notes like that one on his nightstand.
"There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes"is the story of 19-year-old Richard Issych, who wakes to a harsh new reality inside an inpatient unit. Now Richard's journey turns into one of revelations and struggling through his own reasons for being as he discovers new meanings for redemption, sacrifice, hope, love-and the will to live.
In the end, what are the reasons Noah packed no clothes? Richard can only imagine. But it has something to do with a size 3XL bowling shirt with the name "Noah" stitched over the pocket.
There are reasons . . . everyone uses his own dictionary.
There are reasons . . . some new heavens come from some new hells.
There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes

My Thoughts:

There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes by Robert Jacoby introduces us to 19 year old Richard Issych, a young man whose failed attempt at suicide has left him committed to the psychiatric unit of a hospital. We are privy to Richard's internal dialogue as well as what he actually is saying to those around him. Richard feels disconnected and alienated from everyone, including his family.  Richard, however, knows in his mind at least, that he is not crazy and doesn't belong in with the other "nuts".

In presenting Richard's thoughts, Jacoby uses a stream-of-consciousness style of writing that mimics what is going on in Richard's mind, so the writing left me feeling discombobulated, anxious and weary.  it is not an easy story to follow along because Richard's thoughts are so scattered and his grasp on reality can be tenuous at times. His whole experience is viewed through his eyes and his perceptions of the other patients and the situations. We actually never really know how skewed Richard perception of reality is from the truth of his situation since he is an unreliable narrator.

There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes begs comparison to other novels that feature characters locked up in a psychiatric unit. For me One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest immediately came to mind, although there are other novels that may come readily to mind for others.

While I found There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes well written, I must admit that it was hard to read and extremely hard to become engage with Richard at first because his thoughts are so scattered and confusing. At first I wasn't even sure what had happened to him and what was currently happening to him. The story, such as it is, moves along rather slowly and what was reality always seemed to be in question for me. Recommended, with caution.

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

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Illusion of Separateness

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy
ISBN-13: 9780062112248 HarperCollins, 6/11/2013
Hardcover, 211 pages

The characters in Simon Van Booy's The Illusion of Separateness discover at their darkest moments of fear and isolation that they are not alone, that they were never alone, that every human being is a link in a chain we cannot see. This gripping novel—inspired by true events—tells the interwoven stories of a deformed German infantryman; a lonely British film director; a young, blind museum curator; two Jewish American newlyweds separated by war; and a caretaker at a retirement home for actors in Santa Monica. They move through the same world but fail to perceive their connections until, through seemingly random acts of selflessness, a veil is lifted to reveal the vital parts they have played in one another's lives, and the illusion of their separateness.

My Thoughts:

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy features of series of vignettes that show how a dissimilar group of people are actually connected. Each chapter focuses on one of the characters in the book during some point in their life. Time periods range from 1939, and WWII, to the present, 2010. As we follow the characters, or learn more about them, their interconnectedness is suspected, then slowly revealed.

Each separate narrative is beautifully written and finely crafted. The characters and stories are based on the actual actions or recollections of six very diverse people. In some ways The Illusion of Separateness confirms the butterfly effect - that even a small action in one place will have consequences. Although the character's actions Van Booy describes are not as simple as a butterfly flapping its wings, the consequences of those actions are felt in the future.

It is hard to say too much about this novel without giving away too much. The descriptions and development of the characters are sparse and esoteric, but ultimately brilliant. While there is not a lot of action, this quiet, gentle book uncovers the aftermath the trials and horrors of war can inflict upon the survivors - and how those involved do survive.

As I was reading I had a sense that Van Booy  very carefully planned each word, each sentence, to eventually build the circuitous path showing our shared humanity. What we do does influence us in the present, but ultimately it will effect the future too. This is a thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent novel. And, while short, it is not an easy book to read. It is a book that requires an attentive reader to savor every word, take note of every connection.

very highly recommended


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

The Romanov Cross

The Romanov Cross by Robert Masello
Random House, 3/5/2013
Hardcover, 512 pages
ISBN-13: 9780553807806


Nearly one hundred years ago, a desperate young woman crawled ashore on a desolate arctic island, carrying a terrible secret and a mysterious, emerald-encrusted cross. A century later, acts of man, nature, and history converge on that same forbidding shore with a power sufficient to shatter civilization as we know it.
Army epidemiologist Frank Slater is facing a court-martial, but after his punishment is mysteriously lifted, Slater is offered a job no one else wants—to travel to a small island off the coast of Alaska and investigate a potentially lethal phenomenon: The permafrost has begun to melt, exposing bodies from a colony that was wiped out by the dreaded Spanish flu of 1918. Frank must determine if the thawed remains still carry the deadly virus in their frozen flesh and, if so, ensure that it doesn’t come back to life.
Frank and his handpicked team arrive by helicopter, loaded down with high-tech tools, prepared to exhume history. The colony, it transpires, was once settled by a sect devoted to the mad Russian monk Rasputin, but there is even more hiding in the past than Frank’s team is aware of. Any hope of success hinges on their willingness to accept the fact that even their cutting-edge science has its limits—and that the ancient wisdom of the Inuit people who once inhabited this eerie land is as essential as any serum. By the time Frank discovers that his mission has been compromised—crashed by a gang of reckless treasure hunters—he will be in a brutal race against time. With a young, strong-willed Inuit woman by his side, Frank must put a deadly genie back in the bottle before all of humanity pays the price.

My Thoughts:

In The Romanov Cross, author Robert Masello combines a historical mystery with the heart pounding action of a thriller. After facing military ramifications for his maverick behavior, Dr. Frank Slater is sent to the graveyard on St. Peter's Island in Alaska to see if he can isolate the 1918 flu virus from any remains and hopefully head off a flu pandemic. Unknown to him, however, is the existence of a treasure, an emerald encrusted cross, that is going to put treasure hunters on the same island and set into motion a devastating chain of events. The cross points to the survival of Anastasia Romanov, the youngest daughter of the last czar of Russia.

There is a lot going on in this novel, but the story lines are easy to follow and the action moves along at a brisk pace. While I could introduce more of the various characters and their plans, rest assured that this is a perfect summer read. The events may move along quickly, but the characters and their stories are all well developed. Masello brilliantly divulges just enough information as the novel unfolds to keep you engrossed in what will happen next.

While I enjoyed The Romanov Cross immensely, I kept thinking I had read it before, or certainly a novel that had some of the same components in its plot: Anastasia, Alaska (or Canada) and the 1918 flu and a present day doctor searching for victims buried in the permafrost. But a name or author didn't present themselves to my memory so perhaps I'm cobbling several other books that did come to mind together and thinking they were one book like The Romanov Cross. Does it matter? Probably not since these are all plot elements that have certainly been in more than one novel.

Very highly recommended - this one is for all the action/adventure junkies out there looking for a well written summer fix/thrill.


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

Monday, July 15, 2013

Marathon Man

Marathon Man by William Goldman
Open Road Media,  January 8, 2013 edition
ebook, approximately 336 pages


The thriller that inspired the classic movie: Caught in an international conspiracy, a man’s only choice is to run.
Rosenbaum is stuck in traffic on the Upper East Side when the heat gets the better of him. A Volkswagen has stalled out in the middle of 87th Street, and even when its elderly German driver gets it going, Rosenbaum cannot contain his rage. With one shocking act, he initiates a chain of events that spell doom for Babe Levy.   
A PhD candidate and aspiring marathon runner, Babe is driven by shame over his father’s suicide. Smart, fit, but incredibly awkward, he can’t get a date and he’s got a nagging toothache. But his troubles are about to get a whole lot worse. Though he doesn’t know it, Levy is on a collision course with one of the most fearsome villains of the Second World War, running a race that only one of them will survive.  
This ebook features a biography of William Goldman.

My Thoughts:

Most people have likely at least heard of the movie (1976) if not the 1974 book Marathon Man by William Goldman and know something about the plot. I was curious to read the book and see if it held the same intensity as the movie. I was not disappointed. Goldman, perhaps best known as a screen writer, is first and foremost a writer. He does an excellent job carefully crafting his plot and setting up the tension. That nail-biting tension builds and builds until you feel like you are running a marathon to finish the novel.

With it's well defined characters and escalating tension, Marathon Man by William Goldman is a classic thriller that packs a punch even years after it was written. Because it was written 40 years ago, the book is, quite naturally, dated, but still highly entertaining. 

Or you could get your hands on a copy of the movie starring Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, and Roy Scheider.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Open Road Media via Netgalley for review purposes.

P.S. I should not have read this just before having some dental work done...

Friday, July 12, 2013

Between You and Me

Between You and Me by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
Washington Square Press, 6/4/2013
Trade Paperback, 288 pages


Growing up in small-town Oklahoma, cousins Logan and Kelsey Wade were raised like sisters. Rarely separated, they became each other’s lifelines, escaping into the small joys of childhood to survive the increasing chaos in their family.
Then one day Logan woke up and Kelsey and her parents were gone.
Years later, Kelsey has been propelled by her relentless parents to mega-stardom, her voice a radio fixture and her face on billboards worldwide. Meanwhile, Logan is trying to carve out her own life in New York City despite the constant reminders of her cousin’s absence. Though she has long since stopped trying to solve the mystery of their last hours together, the inexplicably fractured memories haunt her.
Then on Logan’s twenty-seventh birthday, she gets the call that she’s been longing for—and dreading. Before she can second-guess herself, she’s on a plane to L.A. to reunite with Kelsey and the parents who ripped them apart, but Logan will soon learn that some family secrets are kept hidden for a reason.
My Thoughts:

Between You and Me by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus follows the career of Kelsey Wade through the narration of her cousin, Logan. Logan hasn't had contact with Kelsey for years and suddenly is flown out to be with Kelsey and instantly becomes her assistant. Kelsey is loosely modeled after Britney Spears - the meteoric rise to fame, dysfunctional family, controlling parents, and spectacular meltdown and fall from grace. 

Between you and me, Between You and Me was all over the place and not much was good. The writing is good.  McLaughlin and Kraus are good writers technically. The story itself jumped over facts and transitions that would have made the plot more credible. Why, after being estranged from her cousin and her aunt and uncle for years, would Logan, who supposedly has a MBA, drop everything to become her assistant. Why would she tolerate the treatment Michelle and Andy, her aunt and uncle, dished out to her. They are both domineering control freaks.

The bottom line is that I didn't like or connect with any of the characters and Logan's behavior, in most ways, actively annoyed me. It also reminded me why I need to stay away from chick lit. Setting the lack of morals and inability to set healthy boundaries aside, Logan's promiscuous behavior is dangerous today. I guess I'm just not going to accept that it is ever a great idea to get drunk, sleep around,  and believe that you are establishing a relationship with that person. 

But I did keep reading to discover what the big secret was that caused the original estrangement between Logan and Kelsey's family. Once I had that answer, truthfully I no longer cared, beyond wondering, which I had been doing long before the big reveal, why Andy was even allowed in her life. And why the media hadn't released that story years before. 

Between You and Me has too many holes in the plot development and too many implausible actions by characters for me to recommend it unless you are a Britney Spears fan and want to look for the similarities between her career and Kelsey's.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Washington Square Press via Netgalley for review purposes.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Loteria by Mario Alberto Zambrano
HarperCollins, 7/2/2013
Hardcover, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062268549


With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, the young girl retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal and shuffling through a deck of Lotería cards—a Mexican version of bingo featuring bright, colorful images.
Neither the social worker assigned to her case nor her Aunt Tencha, who desperately pleads for her niece’s release, can cajole Luz to speak. The young girl’s only confidant is her journal. Within its pages, Luz addresses an invisible higher power, sharing her secrets.
Using the Lotería cards as her muse, Luz picks one card from the deck with each shuffle. Each of the cards’ colorful images— mermaids, bottles, spiders, death, and stars—sparks a random memory. Pieced together, these snapshots bring into focus the joy and pain of the young girl’s life, and the events that led to her present situation. But just as the story becomes clear, a breathtaking twist changes everything.

My Thoughts:

It is slowly revealed what has happened to eleven-year-old Luz María Castillo and her family through diary entries she makes based on Loteria cards she draws from a deck in Mario Alberto Zambrano's debut novel Loteria. This is a tragic story told through the memories and in the voice of a young girl. The 53 chapters all open with the picture of a different Lotaria card. Luz is talking to God in her diary entries, as she contemplates her memories of her family. She is in state custody and not talking to anyone about her family. Very slowly the dynamics of her violent, dysfunctional family are reveal and we learn what was happening.

The chapters are short and the memories Luz shares are not all synchronous, but instead are recollected fragments of various family events and occasions from her lifetme. We learn about her father's drinking, the violence in her family, but the full extent of these occurrences isn’t revealed all at once. At the beginning we know something bad has happened, after all Luz is in state custody and not talking to anyone, but the total picture isn't revealed until much later.  

Luz says of a counselor "Then she looks at me like I'm one of those stories you hear about on the ten o’çlock news."(pg. 3)
Later, when Luz writes, "She wouldn't know what it was like. We all fought. We all hit each other."(pg. 16) we begin to understand that this isn't going to be an easy story. 

At the beginning of the novel you may feel a bit of disconnect with the story simply because you don't have even a partial picture of what is going on, but stay with it. Luz lets us know that she's cautious and not speaking to anyone when she says,"I keep my mouth shut because I don't know the rules of the game."(pg. 17) As she deals out the Lotaria cards for her own private game and writes about her life in her diary/journal, we understand the environment of violence and alcoholism that gave birth to her cautious nature.

The narrative, in English, also contains many Spanish phrases and sentences that are smoothly incorporated into the text. Since the Loteria cards are pictured in the book, it really is a much shorter novel than the page numbers would indicate. Zambrano has done an excellent job capturing the voice of this eleven year old girl in epistolary form while exploring the dark side of a very dysfunctional family.

Highly recommended 

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