Monday, June 30, 2014

ExtraLife, Inc.

ExtraLife, Inc. by Kfir Luzzatto
Pine Ten LLC: 7/1/2013
ebook, 308 pages
ISBN-13: 9781938212215

David Wolfson, a Jerusalem scientist, claims to have found the cure for cancer. He and his wife, Tamara, seek the help of Richard Lunz, a Tel Aviv attorney, to fight the powerful bureaucrats who want to appropriate David's invention.
Richard can't resist the temptation to participate in what looks like the discovery of the century and it takes a first death to make him doubt that something in the project is not what it seems.
And then other people die.
Following clues that take him to Eastern Europe and to America, Richard finds more answers than he wished for. But he just can't stop looking.
My Thoughts:

ExtraLife, Inc. by Kfir Luzzatto is a recommended thriller.

In ExtraLife, Inc. Richard Lunz, a Tel Aviv patent attorney, is approached by a doctor's wife and told that her husband has discovered the cure for cancer and needs to patent it. David Wolfson is a scatterbrained, unorganized doctor who claims that he needs to patent his cure for cancer before the hospital takes credit for his discovery away from him. Aided by his shrewish know-it-all wife, Tamera, Richard was contacted to help them make his patent a reality. While Richard should have been suspicious right from the start when Tamara, a woman who claims to be an attorney, wants him to sign a poorly written contract, still he forges ahead, trying to get David to provide him with his research notes and data, all of which seems starngley lacking or not readily available. Then, when someone dies, Richard begins to wonder what exactly the Wolfson's are planning to do.

Although this is presented as more of a science fiction novel, the sci fi aspects are not in the forefront of the plot. It is more a legal thriller.

My big problem with ExtraLife, Inc. is the awkward wording of sentences, conversations, transitions, phrases. It was obvious enough to me that I wondered if this was a translation from another language. After looking into it, I discovered that English is not in the author's native tongue, which makes sense.  It would have behooved Luzzatto to get some professional editing help. A little editing would have helped enormously; the poor writing quality detracts from all of the pluses for me. Setting it aside, the story is decent. There are some great twists and the intrigue is solid. He captures the legal system like the expert he is and does a great job inserting little clues for the reader to follow.  If you are able to ignore the quality of the writing, it is a decent novel.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Pine Ten LLC via Netgalley for review purposes.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Don't Talk to Strangers

Don't Talk to Strangers by Amanda Kyle Williams
Random House 7/1/2014
ebook, 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780553808094

Keye Street is the brilliant, brash heart of a sizzling thriller full of fear and temptation, judgments and secrets, infidelity and murder.
He likes them smart.
In the woods of Whisper, Georgia, two bodies are found: one recently dead, the other decayed from a decade of exposure to the elements. The sheriff is going to need help to track down an experienced predator—one who abducts girls and holds them for months before ending their lives. Enter ex–FBI profiler and private investigator Keye Street.
He lives for the struggle.
After a few weeks, Keye is finally used to sharing her downtown Atlanta loft with her boyfriend, A.P.D. Lieutenant Aaron Rauser. Along with their pets (his dog, her cat) they seem almost like a family. But when Rauser plunks a few ice cubes in a tumbler and pours a whiskey, Keye tenses. Her addiction recovery is tenuous at best.
And loves the fear.
Though reluctant to head out into the country, Keye agrees to assist Sheriff Ken Meltzer. Once in Whisper, where the locals have no love for outsiders, Keye starts to piece together a psychological profile: The killer is someone who stalks and plans and waits. But why does the sociopath hold the victims for so long, and what horrible things must they endure? When a third girl goes missing, Keye races against time to connect the scant bits of evidence. All the while, she cannot shake the chilling feeling: Something dark and disturbing lives in these woods—and it is watching her every move.

My Thoughts: 

Don't Talk to Strangers by Amanda Kyle Williams is highly recommended third book in the Keye/stranger series.

Dr. Keye Street's drinking was out of control, which was the impetus for her job loss from the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. After a few years of recovery, she's now a private investigator for her own business: Corporate Intelligence & Investigations. Normally she handles your standard background checks and bail jumpers, but every once in a while she is called in to handle a case that requires her more professional services.

Keye is living with her boyfriend, Police Lt. Aaron Rauser, in Atlanta when she is hired to help catch a child predator. Sheriff Meltzer contacts her about coming down to help with the investigation into a child predator. In the woods outside the small town of Whisper, Georgia, the remains of two girls have been discovered. Both were 13 when they went missing, but one was abducted 10 years while the other only 8 months ago. Keye must act fast while trying to deal with hostile local law enforcement and prejudice locals to piece together the clues if she wants to find the guilty party before another girl is taken.

This is the third book in the series started with The Stranger You Seek and The Stranger in the Room. Keye, a Chinese-American who was adopted by a white Southern family, is an outsider who knows how the south works. She's a complex character - flawed, mouthy, gutsy, but clever, resourceful and smart too.

Williams does an excellent job allowing the tension to build in the investigation and provides several twists and turns to keep your attention. This is a well written thriller that won't require reading the first two in the series in order to follow the action, but it never hurts to read them.

While I truly enjoyed this book, Keye's sort of mouthy, tough demeanor, as well as her colleagues, weren't totally to my liking. As a character, though, she's a great edition to the genre and this is a series with legs. Certainly the ending lets you know there will be another book, hopefully soon. 

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

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cop Town

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter
Random House: 6/24/2014
Hardcover, 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345547491

Now she delivers her first stand-alone novel: an epic story of a city in the midst of seismic upheaval, a serial killer targeting cops, and a divided police force tasked with bringing a madman to justice.
Atlanta, 1974: As a brutal murder and a furious manhunt rock the city's police department, Kate Murphy wonders if her first day on the job will also be her last. She's determined to defy her privileged background by making her own way—wearing a badge and carrying a gun. But for a beautiful young woman, life will be anything but easy in the macho world of the Atlanta PD, where even the female cops have little mercy for rookies. It's also the worst day possible to start given that a beloved cop has been gunned down, his brothers in blue are out for blood, and the city is on the edge of war.
Kate isn't the only woman on the force who's feeling the heat. Maggie Lawson followed her uncle and brother into the ranks to prove her worth in their cynical eyes. When she and Kate, her new partner, are sidelined in the citywide search for a cop killer, their fury, pain, and pride finally reach the boiling point. With a killer poised to strike again, they will pursue their own line of investigation, risking everything as they venture into the city's darkest heart.
Relentlessly paced, acutely observed, wickedly funny, and often heartbreaking, Cop Town is Karin Slaughter's most powerful novel yet—a tour de force of storytelling from our foremost master of character, atmosphere, and suspense.

My Thoughts: 

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter is a very highly recommended, gritty, realistic crime drama that will have you at the edge of your seat, biting your nails, for the entire novel.

Set in Atlanta in 1974, Cop Town follows two women cops over eight days during a heated emotional time in the Atlanta Police Department. Someone is killing police officers, setting into motion the good-old-boy-tough-and-ready police force on a mission to find justice. A cop killer is on the loose and it looks like he's hit again. The novel opens with cop Jimmy Lawson carrying his partner, who has been shot, to a hospital. Jimmy has survived the execution only because the killer's gun jammed.

Maggie Lawson is Jimmy's sister and niece of Terry, a long time detective on the force. None of her relatives want her on the force and try to beat her down every chance they get, but Maggie is still on the force after enduring their verbal and physical abuse. Kate Murphy is a brand new recruit. She lost her husband two years ago in Vietnam and has been searching for purpose and meaning in her life, as well as a steady job, since then. Even though she comes from a privileged background, she wants to try and support herself. She is hiding her background and going to tough it out and make this job work.

The white-male dominated Atlanta police department is full of racial and political tension and misogynists. It's tough enough for a woman to receive respect from her own family, let alone the white-male dominated police force. With the tension and harassment riding so high, just getting to roll call at work is a test of endurance and nerves. Adding the existence of the Shooter, the name for the killer who is targeting cops, and the raw emotions are ramped up even higher.

Maggie can't knowingly work on the case with help from any of the good-old-boys, but she and Kate can work the case and figure out what is really going on behind the scenes, with help from her former partner, a tough female cop working vice now. The women are able to piece together clues and follow leads that the men are missing, while at the same time they need to watch out for the guys and what they might do to the women next.

This is a stand alone novel that is not part of an ongoing series, so for those who have never tried a novel by Karin Slaughter Cop Town would be a great place to start.  Slaughter excels at setting and describing the time and place in this novel. The setting can be extremely ugly, and brutal. Both the city and the time in history are captured in detail. The 70's were a time of social upheaval and unrest. While integration was supposed to be taking place, the reality was there were still racial and sexist divides and the existing status quo was in no hurry to allow change to happen.

The characters are extremely well drawn, with all the conflicting emotions and nastiness you might see in people around you every day. These are flawed characters, all of them, and they are depicted realistically but with empathy for the struggles and prejudice that they had to endure at this time.

The exceptional writing sets Cop Town above many other police procedurals and thrillers. This is a must read for the summer.

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Sanctuary by G. Michael Hopf
Penguin Group: 5/27/2014
ebook, 368 pages 
ISBN-13: 9780142181515
The New World Series #3

Surviving the attack proved to be more than they could have imagined…

Months after a super-EMP attack devastated the United States, the country is now unrecognizable. Major cities are run by gangs, survivors are dying of starvation and the government is falling victim to lawlessness. Those who were prepared for the end find that they weren’t really prepared at all.

While some seek vengeance for their losses, others are determined to restore the nation. Gordon, Samantha, Sebastian, Barone, Connor and Pablo are all on different paths, but they are all in search of a home away from chaos. They are all in search of a sanctuary.

My Thoughts:

Sanctuary by G. Michael Hopf is a recommended third book in the survivalist New World Series.

Continuing the story found in the previous two books in the series, The End and The Long Road, Sanctuary is actually a bit of a surprise. I still agree with my original assessment that it is sheer mindless escapism with a shoot-em-all-up plot but, overall, this third book was a little better than the first two for me. But, let's be honest,  if you are reading this series you know you'll be moving on to the third book anyway. Oh, and this is definitely a  third book in a series that is open-ended, so consider yourself forewarned: do not expect any plot resolution. It is still post-apocalypic fiction, sans zombies, with tough men and women,  ongoing gun battles and lots of violence and action. 

Recurring characters are back and stories are continued. I don't want to give away too much information since you will likely want to start with The End and The Long Road, before moving on to Sanctuary.
The writing was actually a smidgen better this time around, or perhaps I wasn't paying as much attention to those details because I was not expecting great literature. (I know I was trying hard to ignore the mention of any binos, so if they pulled them out, I'm in denial.) All of these books are an easy read. You'll be racing through the plot without a lot of circumspect thought or self-analysis, following the action.

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

G. Michael Hopf’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:
Monday, June 23rd:  The Prepared Ninja
Wednesday, June 25th:  She Treads Softly
Friday, June 27th:  Sara’s Organized Chaos
Monday, June 30th:  Florida Hillbilly
Wednesday, July 2nd:  Prepared Housewives
Thursday, July 3rd:  Ladybug Literature
Wednesday, July 9th:  Bound by Words
Monday, July 14th:  Prepography
Thurday, July 17th:  Preparedness Advice
Monday, July 21st:  Cheryl’s Book Nook
Wednesday, July 23rd:  Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday,  July 24th:  Great Northern Prepper
Monday, July 28th:  Bacon and Eggs
Tuesday, July 29th:  The Survival Mom
Thursday, July 31st:  Must Read Faster

Monday, June 23, 2014

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Penguin Group: 6/26/2014
ebook, 304 pages

ISBN-13: 9781594205712

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.
When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened.
A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.
My Thoughts:

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is a very highly recommended book about families, expectations, dreams, disappointments, favoritism, secrets, and cultural expectations.

It is the spring of 1977 in a small Ohio town when Everything I Never Told You opens with the information that Lydia is dead, although no one knows it yet. From this point on we meet all the members of the Lee family now and before; from when parents James and Marilyn meet, to the family dynamics between parents and children Nath (Nathan), Lydia, and Hannah, before and after Lydia is found dead.
The parents act out their frustration based on their high expectations for Lydia. After giving up her own dream to become a doctor, Marilyn has spent years grooming and doting on Lydia as the one who can fulfill Marilyn's expectations. Marilyn also wants to find someone to blame for her daughter's death. James wanted Lydia to be popular and fit in with her classmates, as he never was in school. But, during this time period as a lone family with their particular mixed interracial background (Chinese/American) all the children, as well as the family itself, stand out and are separate from their peers.

Nathan knows more about some of what Lydia was hiding than their parents, but he also has a lot of resentment he is working through based on how Lydia was favored and placed above her siblings. Hannah is very observant and in many ways wise above her years. She may be the one who could help the family overcome their overwhelming expectations - if she was ever given a chance or her thoughts considered. 

One should never lose a child, and, as can be the case, the loss may be the impetus for the unraveling of the whole family. All of the Lees are hiding something - feelings, secrets, resentments, disappointments - and all of it is buried deep. Normally, the secrets would never see the light of day, but with Lydia's death the many issues become clear and the truth exposed. 

It's hard to comment on such an exquisitely written, sensitive portrayal of a family coming apart after a terrible tragedy.  Ng's writing is simply incredible. She deftly handles and develops each of the characters slowly until the complete picture of Life in the Lee household and each individual's role in the family becomes clear. This is a novel that will exact an emotional toll but is well worth the price.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the Penguin Group for review purposes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

North of Normal

North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person
HarperCollins: 6/24/2014
eBook, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062289865

In the late 1960s, Cea Sunrise Person's subversive family fled to the Canadian wilderness to grow pot, embrace free love, and live off the land. A riveting memoir of growing up off the grid amid multiple generations of dysfunction, North of Normal chronicles one woman's journey to reclaim her life on her own terms.
Determined to abandon civilization for a hand-to-mouth existence in the wild, Cea Sunrise Person's charismatic grandfather Papa Dick uproots the Person clan from suburban California to the forests of Canada when she is just a baby. Together with her teenage mother, Michelle—her father long gone—Cea will spend the next decade of her life living in and out of canvas tipis with neither electricity nor running water, at the mercy of fierce storms, food shortages, and an array of grown-ups more interested in having a groovy time than in parenting a child.
As a young girl who knows no other world, Cea is happy enough playing in the meadows and snowshoeing behind the grandfather she idolizes. But for Michelle, one crucial element is missing: a man. When Michelle strikes out to look for love, spinning from one boyfriend to the next, Cea is forced along for the ride—and into a harsh awakening. Consumed by a desire for a more normal life, she begins to question both her highly unusual world and the hedonistic woman at its center. But the escape she finds, a career as an internationally successful model, brings its own challenges.
Shocking, heartbreaking, yet often funny, and infused with warmth toward her damaged family, North of Normal is Person's singular story of her desire to live life on her own terms—no matter what it takes. Her journey of self-discovery and acceptance, which comes full circle after she has children of her own, is profoundly moving. Eloquently navigating the minefields of regret, longing, and family, North of Normal celebrates the strength we all carry within us to shape our own destiny.
My Thoughts:

North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person is a highly recommended memoir of growing up in the 70's in an unusual family.

The full title of North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both really tells you what Cea Person's life was like growing up off the grid and in a family where free love, free thinking, and drugs are the norm and common place - even when the norm isn't necessarily what is best for everyone, especially children. The poor parenting goes back to her grandparents, FYI, although her mother, Michelle, should have been shaken and told to snap out of it and grow up.

This memoir is one of those that convinces me that not everyone should have children or have the "right" to raise a child simple because they procreated. While you will read this and applaud Cea's ability to overcome her background and survive, even thrive, many will, like me, ask what toll did her childhood also cost her.  And also many will, like me, realize that this story of one person's success doesn't mean all the other neglected children out there will have the same fortitude to overcome an awful childhood.

So, while this was an engrossing memoir, it is also a nerve wracking. Michelle was so poorly equipped to be a parent and, quite frankly, clueless and stupid, that young Cea is lucky she escaped being sexually abused. Many of the ideals embraced by her mother and grandparents ultimately proved less than noble or endearing as they were lived out in reality. I really wondered if there was something more going on, perhaps some mental health issues with the grandparents that were also present in Michelle, Cea's mother (and certainly proven in her uncle Dane).

Much like Jeanette Walls The Glass Castle, North of Norma is a compelling memoir - even while it infuriates you.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Better World

A Better World by Marcus Sakey
Thomas & Mercer: 6/17/2014

ebook 390 pages
ISBN-13: 9781477823941
Brilliance Saga #2

The brilliants changed everything.
Since 1980, 1% of the world has been born with gifts we’d only dreamed of. The ability to sense a person’s most intimate secrets, or predict the stock market, or move virtually unseen. For thirty years the world has struggled with a growing divide between the exceptional...and the rest of us.
Now a terrorist network led by brilliants has crippled three cities. Supermarket shelves stand empty. 911 calls go unanswered. Fanatics are burning people alive.
Nick Cooper has always fought to make the world better for his children. As both a brilliant and an advisor to the president of the United States, he’s against everything the terrorists represent. But as America slides toward a devastating civil war, Cooper is forced to play a game he dares not lose—because his opponents have their own vision of a better world.
And to reach it, they’re willing to burn this one down.
From Marcus Sakey, “the master of the mindful page turner” (Gillian Flynn) and “one of our best storytellers” (Michael Connelly), Book Two of the Brilliance Saga is a relentless thrill ride that will change the way you look at your world—and the people around you.
My Thoughts:

A Better World by Marcus Sakey is the very highly recommended and highly anticipated second book in the planned trilogy of the Brilliance Saga series.

In A Better World the tension between Norms and Brilliants has escalated to a breaking point. The government is planning to implant a tracking device in every "abnorm"or Brilliant in America.  "They talked about the tagging that was slated to begin next summer, the government’s plan to implant a tracking device against the carotid artery of every abnorm in America. Starting with tier ones like Shannon. Like himself. Near as anyone could figure, the abnorm phenomenon started in early 1980, though it wasn’t detected until 1986, when scientific study revealed that for unknown reasons, one percent of all children were born 'brilliant,' possessed of savant abilities. These gifts manifested in different ways; most were impressive but unthreatening, like the ability to multiply large numbers or perfectly play a song heard only once. Others were world-shifting." Location 138

The reaction to the prejudice breaking out in the political realm is reflected clearly in a subversive group who calls themselves The Children of Darwin. The Children of Darwin are coming close to declaring an all-out civil war and they are making their point by burning truckers alive in an effort to stop all supplies from entering three cities. They are essentially cutting the cities off and starving the citizens.

Nick Cooper is a Brilliant who is an adviser working for President Lionel Clay. Nick is trying to fight the subversive group from within the government. He just wants to secure a better, safer world for his family, but as in any effort of this magnitude political intrigue and subterfuge abound. Clearly the efforts of several of the characters place a target on them. Promises to protect brilliants have resulted in enslavement and gross abuse.

Sakey also introduces several other characters in this complicated in-depth plot. This truly is an action-packed plot that also contains several twists and turns. The timely, poignant focus on the pitting of groups against each other seems appropriate in today's political climate. The characters are all wonderfully developed and complex. The writing is superb.

For those who haven't read Brilliant, you probably will want to before reading this second book in the planned triliogy, but, truth be told, you don't need to read Brilliant in order to enjoy A Better World.  I have Brilliant and hadn't read it yet (shhhhh...). I was planning to wait and read all three installments of the story after the third book was out. Once I received an advance reader's copy of A Better World, time constraints had me forging ahead and reading it before the first book. I enjoyed it immensely. Sakey provided the entire back story I needed to quickly get up to speed. Do yourself a favor, though, and get both books right away.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Thomas & Mercer via Netgalley for review purposes.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Total Loss Farm

Total Loss Farm: A Year in the Life by Raymond Mungo
Pharos Editions reissue: 6/1/2014 (1970)
ebook, 176 pages
ISBN-13: 9781940436036

Total Loss Farm attracted widespread attention, critical and commercial success in 1970, when the "back to the land" hippie commune movement first emerged.  The book's first section, "Another Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers," appeared in its entirety as the cover article of the May, 1970 Atlantic Monthly
The hardcover first edition from Dutton was quickly followed by paperback editions from Bantam, Avon, and Madrona Publishers, keeping the book in print for several decades.  Very recently, Dwight Garner in the New York Times Book Review cited Total Loss Farm as "the best and also the loopiest of the commune books." 
Author Mungo was a founder of this Vermont commune after co-founding the Liberation News Service in Washington, DC in the late 1960's Of his many books, the first two, Famous Long Ago (currently is used as a college textbook in History of the Sixties classes at NYU, Harvard, Georgia State, and other schools)   and Total Loss Farm, have often been described as iconic for their generation.

My Thoughts:

Total Loss Farm: A Year in the Life by Raymond Mungo has an appeal (as far as the reissue of a piece of stream of consciousness writing from 1970) based on capturing a specific time and place and movement rather actually representing a selection of great literature. It is, as mentioned in the forward by Dana Spiotta  "essentially a diary of a very bad year: bad for Mungo and bad for America. The book begins in the fall of 1969..." and is the "first-hand account of a decisive moment when the intense idealism of the anti-war movement scattered. At its best the book achieves a genuine poignancy. The young bruised idealists have a brutal comedown ('a colossal bummer') while Nixon and the establishment rule the land. The desire to change the world gets downgraded to just trying to change yourself, and even that was difficult."

While there isn't going to be wide audience appeal for Total Loss Farm, any student of human nature and history who also has an interest in studying the 60's and early 70's (and hippies) would likely appreciate reading Mungo's observations and reflections from a sociological/historical perspective. It has, in truth, very little in totality, to do with a farm or farming. There is much talk of hitchhiking and traveling and some experiences with living on a commune. What is does do is expose those who are interested in the ideological roots behind many current movements and causes you see continuing on today.

"But I woke up in the spring of 1968 and said, “This is not what I had in mind,” because the movement had become my enemy; the movement was not flowers and doves and spontaneity, but another vicious system, the seed of a heartless bureaucracy, a minority Party vying for power rather than peace. It was then that we put away the schedule for the revolution, gathered together our dear ones and all our resources, and set off to Vermont in search of the New Age."

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Pharos Editions for review purposes

Saturday, June 14, 2014

That Night

That Night by Chevy Stevens
St. Martin's Press: 6/17/2014
Hardcover, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250034601

As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn’t relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren’t easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night.
Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.
Now thirty-four, Toni, is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni's innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni's life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.
But in That Night by Chevy Stevens, the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all.

My Thoughts:

That Night by Chevy Stevens is a highly recommended mystery/thriller.

Toni Murphy and her high school boyfriend, Ryan Walker, have been in prison since 1998 after being convicted of the murder of her younger sister, Nicole, a murder they did not commit. Toni's anger and bitterness have kept her going - and alive. "My sister was never coming home, and I was in prison. And then I found something I could grab on to, something I could feel with all my heart. I could feel anger. It rushed through my blood, hot and heavy and thick." Now she's going to be out on parole and trying to get on with her life.

As Toni says, "I was thirty-four now and had been in custody since I was eighteen, when Ryan and I were arrested for my sister’s murder. We’d been alone with her that night, but we hadn’t heard Nicole scream. We hadn’t heard anything. I wrapped my hand around my arm, squeezed hard. I’d spent almost half of my life behind bars for a crime I didn’t commit. The anger never really leaves you."

The narrative follows two different time periods, 1996 (to 1998) and today.

In the 90's Toni was a teen with a bit of a rebellious streak who had to be constantly vigilant in trying to avoid a pack of bullying mean girls lead by Shauna McKinney and followed by Rachel, Kim and Cathy. While her boyfriend Ryan often helped her avoid confrontations, she was still constantly tormented or physically assaulted by Shauna and the girls. When her younger sister is murdered it is these same girls that give the damning testimony which helps convict Toni and Ryan.

It's clear to Toni that something is going on with Nicole, something she is keeping secret from her parents.  But Toni's parents are part of the problem too. Her mother clearly plays favorites, and Toni is not the favorite daughter. Her father doesn't want to incur his wife's ire or stand up to her. It all seems easier to simply blame Toni for everything.

Today Toni just wants to live a quiet life with her adopted shelter dog, but Ryan is also out and he wants to find a way to prove who really did murder Nicole. If she's going help Ryan it must be in secret, or they will both violate their parole and get sent back to prison.

Shauna and the mean girls in That Night are very, very conniving and aggressive bullies that rival the Tough women bullies Toni encounters in prison. I've always had a thing for stopping any bullying anywhere, anytime. It started when I was in grade school and that, my friends, was many years ago. I simply won't tolerate bullies. This could be why I feel so much support for Toni even when she is an annoying, angsty teen lacking in common sense. And, honestly, let's face it, most teens are lacking in common sense and make poor choices somewhere along the way.

The reviews for That Night are all over the place, which surprises me. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the character of Toni, who is not an endearing teen. I think even more it could be because, even though there is a great twist to the final reveal, you really can make an educated guess almost immediately who is most likely guilty and the only question is how can Toni prove what happened that night.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
St. Martin's Press for review purposes.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson
Knopf Doubleday: 6/10/2014
Hardcover, 384 pages

ISBN-13: 9780385537094

"The machine is still out there. Still alive."

Humankind had triumphed over the machines. At the end of Robopocalypse, the modern world was largely devastated, humankind was pressed to the point of annihilation, and the earth was left in tatters . . . but the master artificial intelligence presence known as Archos had been killed.

In Robogenesis, we see that Archos has survived. Spread across the far reaches of the world, the machine code has fragmented into millions of pieces, hiding and regrouping. In a series of riveting narratives, Robogenesis explores the fates of characters new and old, robotic and human, as they fight to build a new world in the wake of a devastating war. Readers will bear witness as survivors find one another, form into groups, and react to a drastically different (and deadly) technological landscape. All the while, the remnants of Archos's shattered intelligence are seeping deeper into new breeds of machines, mounting a war that will not allow for humans to win again.

Daniel H. Wilson makes a triumphant return to the apocalyptic world he created, for an action-filled, raucous, very smart thrill ride about humanity and technology pushed to the tipping point.
My Thoughts:

Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson is a highly recommended sequel to Robopocalypse - and there are robot/human zombies, which may be a plus for some readers.

 "In its last days, the thinking machine known as Archos R-14 was trying to know humanity. It mastered the art of capturing a human mind. When it died, it left behind the tools. I found stories trapped in patterns of neurons. Using scavenged hardware, I took three accounts straight from three minds and I lined them up from beginning to end and back again. Three times to tell it. Three times to understand. They say history is written by the victors, but this right here is told by its victims. My name is Arayt Shah, and this is the story of how I won the True War."

In Robogenesis we learn that artificial intelligence Archos-14 has survived the war. What was unknown after the war was that Archos had many copies of his code hidden in caches around the world. Now that code is awakening, but there is also an earlier version of Archos which calls itself Arayt Shah. Arayt Shah believes that the True War is between artificial intelligences. "I decimated the human race, regrettably. But I did so with one purpose: to forge a hybrid fighting force capable of surviving the True War—a war that has been initiated and is being fought by superintelligent machines. Instead of simply discarding your species, as the others would, I have transformed your kind into a powerful ally."

While you thought the Robot War was just between humans and robots, it is robots vs. new robots vs. freeborn robots. Add to the mix humans against the not-quite human modifieds and parasitic dead (think robot/human zombies) as well as the robots. The idea of sentient machines fighting humans, with or without the machine/human zombies, is a grim enough prospect.

Robogenesis is organized into three parts, based on three characters that were also in Robopocalypse: Lark Iron Cloud, Mathilda Perez, and Cormac Wallace. There are also other characters from the first book that come back for this sequel along with some new characters. Although Wilson provides some back story, if you haven't read the first book you may want to before this one.

I felt like Robogenesis was actually a stronger novel than the first because the stories and the plot seemed more focused and polished, however this could be from reading the two novels back to back. The pace is again fast and furious. There is still a Terminator feel to these novels for me (and World War Z for others). For science fiction fans this may be a good choice. Wilson has a PhD in Robotics so he knows his AI. I liked this one but have to admit I'm tired of the whole zombie craze.  A solid airplane book.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
Simon & Schuster; 2011
Trade Paperback, 350 pages
ISBN-13: 9780857204134

In this terrifying tale of humanity’s desperate stand against a robot uprising, Daniel H. Wilson has written the most entertaining sci-fi thriller in years.
Not far into our future, the dazzling technology that runs our world turns against us. Controlled by a childlike—yet massively powerful—artificial intelligence known as Archos, the global network of machines on which our world has grown dependent suddenly becomes an implacable, deadly foe. At Zero Hour—the moment the robots attack—the human race is almost annihilated, but as its scattered remnants regroup, humanity for the first time unites in a determined effort to fight back. This is the oral history of that conflict, told by an international cast of survivors who experienced this long and bloody confrontation with the machines. Brilliantly conceived and amazingly detailed, Robopocalypse is an action-packed epic with chilling implications about the real technology that surrounds us.

My Thoughts:

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson is  recommended - highly if you are looking forward to the future movie by Steven Spielberg and to his latest book, Robogenesis.

In Robopocalypse Cormac Wallace, a survivor and soldier from the robot wars, shares the intel he has gathered on the history of the robot uprising in hopes of telling anyone who cares what happened. "I didn't ask for it and I don't want to do it, but I know in my heart that somebody ought to tell their stories. To tell the robot uprising from beginning to end. To explain how and why it started and how it went down. How the robots came at us and how we evolved to fight."(pg. 4)

What follows is a series of short chapter presented in vignettes, like collected news stories, about how the uprising first began. Wallace shares his own thoughts before and after each section. We learn that an evil computer program, Archos, is sentient and has escaped from his controlled environment. Archos runs rampant and is able to control machines around the world. His goal is to either murder or enslave all humans. Predictably, humans resist. What a computer can't recognize is human ingenuity and the will to survive. And there might even be a secret weapon Archos couldn't predict.

Since the story is all told in short chapters that tell brief exciting parts of the uprising, the action never lags and the pace is quick. Using the stories to tell what happened gives the novel the feel of a documentary. This format makes character development simply a by-product of the accounts and not a major concern.

I had two issues with Robopocalypse. First, while I admittedly enjoyed it, it did feel like another sequel to The Terminator. My other issue was that the individual accounts didn't quite have a unique voice to give them distinction. A solid 3.5 (which rounds up) entertaining airplane book. It'll keep you occupied.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Fever

The Fever by Megan Abbott
Little, Brown and Company: 6/17/2014
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316231053

The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.
The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hocky star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie's best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.
As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security.
A chilling story about guilt, family secrets and the lethal power of desire, THE FEVER affirms Megan Abbott's reputation as "one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation."

My Thoughts:

The Fever by Megan Abbott is a highly recommended novel that looks at the dark side of teenage girls and panicked small towns.

Deenie Nash, Lise Daniels, and Gabby Bishop are all sixteen, best friends, and close confidantes who have known each other for years. Deenie lives with her father, Tom, who is a teacher, and her older brother Eli, a handsome, popular hockey player. Deenie and her friends are typical teenage girls trying to navigate their way through the social hierarchy at Dryden High School and make their way to adulthood. Then the unthinkable happens. Lise has a seizure at school and is rushed to the hospital. There seems to be no explanation for what happened and no answers for a concerned community.

The rumors start flying fast and quick when more girls develop symptoms and are hospitalized. Is the CDC being called in because it is a mutant virus? Could the algae growth on the lake be responsible for the strange sickness? Or is the HPV vaccination the true cause? Once the speculation starts, the hysteria ensues. Parents and girls panic even more when the hospital and school tries to keep any cause for the mysterious illnesses quiet. Soon the media is descending, asking questions, but no answers are forthcoming.

The Fever manages to capture perfectly the mind of a teenage adolescent while simultaneously allowing the mystery to deepen. The teens alternate between being young, immature, vulnerable, and self-absorbed to exhibiting shrewd and calculating behavior. These are also young women who are feeling a longing for sexual contact that they are not emotionally prepared for yet.

At the same time, Eli is baffled by much of the attention girls give him and is struggling to try and understand what these girls who are so blatantly throwing themselves at him really want. He is struggling with his own hormones and emotional issues as it relates to all girls, including his sister and her friends.

As a single father, Tom always feels he is one step behind and that he is failing his kids in some way.

It's to Abbott's credit that she depicts these teens just as teens are today. They are texting constantly, always communicating, always in touch. They take pictures of the girls having the seizures. They post videos online. Just as it happens, day in and out, every day, this constant stream of social media helps the misinformation spread and allows the rumors to fly. The abundance of information and misinformation makes it even more difficult and perplexing for Deenie to navigate the social and emotional landscape she must face in order to find some answers.

Excellent writing and a taunt tension add to the already dark mystery that kept me engrossed and turning pages quickly to see what happened next. (I did wish Abbott moved on to what happened next a wee bit quicker in certain spots.)

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Little, Brown and Company for review purposes.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Memory of Water

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
HarperCollins: 6/10/2014
ebook, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062326157

The award-winning speculative debut novel, now in English for the first time!
In the far north of the Scandinavian Union, now occupied by the power state of New Qian, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio studies to become a tea master like her father. It is a position that holds great responsibility and a dangerous secret. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that once provided water for her whole village. When Noria's father dies, the secret of the spring reaches the new military commander . . . and the power of the army is vast indeed. But the precious water reserve is not the only forbidden knowledge Noria possesses, and resistance is a fine line.
Threatened with imprisonment, and with her life at stake, Noria must make an excruciating, dangerous choice between knowledge and freedom.
My Thoughts:

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta is a highly recommended,  sensitive dystopian novel set in a future where water is scarce and controlled by the military.

Noria Kaitio, 17, is studying with her father to continue the family tradition of tea master. Set in future Finland, now part of the New Qian empire of Asia and Europe, global warming has made many areas of the world uninhabitable. Water shortages are common and what water there is is strictly controlled by the military and rationed out. When Noria learns the secrets of being a tea master, a role traditionally only held by males, and all the teahouse ceremony involves, she also learns a bigger secret: the location of a hidden spring unknown to anyone but her father. 

Major Bolin has been protecting her father but when Commander Taro comes on the scene it becomes clear that he is suspicious and plans to discover their secret and destroy her family. 

Noria also explores the plastic filled landfills of garbage with her friend Sanja, who is able to repair many broken things. They find a disk that mentions yet another secret, a secret Noria also wants to learn. 
This dystopian novel by Finnish author Itäranta is set in one small area of a very change future world. Although some of the large global scale catastrophes are hinted at or mentioned, the setting remains in this one small part of Finland and the story stays focused on the effects the new world has on one person in that small part of the new world.

The writing in Memory of Water can be described as poetic, delicate, atmospheric, and expressive. The juxtaposition of a hard, harsh world being described in beautiful prose can be startling, but the contrast helps set the tone of despair even as the carefully crafted writing flows along so seductively. While there is tension in this novel, it is not overwhelming. It flows along at an even pace, picking up speed slowly.

Although not stated, I'd place this among other YA dystopian fiction selections based on the age of the character and the uncomplicated linear plot. The writing is a step up from most YA selections, however.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
HarperCollins for review purposes.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
Random House: 6/10/2014
Hardcover, 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780679643654

New York Times bestselling author Tom Rachman returns with a brilliant, intricately woven novel about a young woman who travels the world to make sense of her puzzling past.
Tooly Zylberberg, the American owner of an isolated bookshop in the Welsh countryside, conducts a life full of reading, but with few human beings. Books are safer than people, who might ask awkward questions about her life. She prefers never to mention the strange events of her youth, which mystify and worry her still.
Taken from home as a girl, Tooly found herself spirited away by a group of seductive outsiders, implicated in capers from Asia to Europe to the United States. But who were her abductors? Why did they take her? What did they really want? There was Humphrey, the curmudgeonly Russian with a passion for reading; there was the charming but tempestuous Sarah, who sowed chaos in her wake; and there was Venn, the charismatic leader whose worldview transformed Tooly forever. Until, quite suddenly, he disappeared.
Years later, Tooly believes she will never understand the true story of her own life. Then startling news arrives from a long-lost boyfriend in New York, raising old mysteries and propelling her on a quest around the world in search of answers.
Tom Rachman—an author celebrated for humanity, humor, and wonderful characters—has produced a stunning novel that reveals the tale not just of one woman but of the past quarter-century as well, from the end of the Cold War to the dominance of American empire to the digital revolution of today. Leaping between decades, and from Bangkok to Brooklyn, this is a breathtaking novel about long-buried secrets and how we must choose to make our own place in the world. It will confirm Rachman’s reputation as one of the most exciting young writers we have.

My Thoughts:

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman is a highly recommended novel of suspense that follows Tooly Zylberberg through three decades and around the world. 

Opening in 2011, Tooly currently owns a used bookstore in the Welsh town of Caergenog. Tooly may be leading a quiet, hard drinking, book-filled life now, but her past was anything but ordinary. Normally she avoids talking about her childhood, but when an ex-boyfriend contacts her about a dying man he believes is her father, Tooly is given the impetus to examine her life and travel the world, again, in order to decipher what really happened to her in her childhood and maybe help her find some closure.  

In this coming-of-age story, the chapters jump from 1988, to 1999/2000, to 2011, following Tooly's life at ages 9, 20/21, and 32. Tooly's  globe trotting childhood that had her in Sydney, Bangkok, New York, and Wales. As she seeks to clarify the mystery of her childhood, you will need to pay close attention to the year you are in and keep a clear head about what has happened before in that year to follow the cast of characters and how they are influencing Tooly's life. 

It becomes clear that Tooly's childhood was less than ideal as she was traveling around Asia. What a child thinks is true can usually be quite different from the truth an adult construes based on the facts. Secrets that a child may not comprehend an adult can often interpret after the fact. Following the three different time periods in Tooly's life and the adults she was with show immediately why Tooly was scarred and who was trying to be nurturing to her, but greater revelations about motives come at the end of the novel. 

This is definitely a book that you need to keep your wits about you when reading to follow along the different time periods and characters. I'm going to have to admit that I never felt totally engrossed in Tooly's story in all the time periods, but still appreciated the structure Rachman chose to use to her story. 

It is a deliciously written book, however, which helps encourage reading and following the storylines. The prose often made up for other little parts I was not enjoying as much. There are some diverse, thought-provoking topics covered in The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, and he also covers the history and advances of the time periods neatly. And it can be sad.

“We’re like a lost tribe, people like us,” he mused. “No traditions, no birthright, to be brutally honest. All of us have an acorn of sadness,” he continued, pressing the magnifying glass to his eye. “You notice our tristesse only in passing, like a door to a small room in a house where outsiders may not enter.” (Location 601)

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


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Elizabeth is Missing

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
HarperCollins: 6/10/2014
Hardcover, 320 pages

ISBN-13: 9780062309662

In this darkly riveting debut novel, a sophisticated psychological mystery, one woman will stop at nothing to find her best friend, who seems to have gone missing. . . . 
Despite Maud's growing anxiety about Elizabeth's welfare, no one takes her concerns seriously—not her frustrated daughter, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth's mercurial son—because Maud suffers from dementia. But even as her memory disintegrates and she becomes increasingly dependent on the trail of handwritten notes she leaves for herself in her pockets and around her house, Maud cannot forget her best friend. Armed with only an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth—no matter what it takes.
As this singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud's rapidly dissolving present, the clues she uncovers lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: that of her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II. As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more than fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud's search for Elizabeth develops a frantic momentum. Whom can she trust? Can she trust herself?
A page-turning novel of suspense, Elizabeth Is Missing also hauntingly reminds us that we are all at the mercy of our memory. Always compelling, often poignant, and at times even blackly witty, this is an absolutely unforgettable novel.

My Thoughts:

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey is a very highly recommended novel of psychological suspense from a unique main character's point of view.

Maud Horsham, the elderly main character in Emma Healey's Elizabeth is Missing is suffering from dementia - and she is suffering. Maud is losing her memory and leaves notes she has written all over her house and in her pockets to remind her of what she knows and what she needs to remember. One fact that is abundantly clear to Maud is that her best friend, Elizabeth, is missing. While Maud tries to discover Elizabeth's whereabouts she must struggle to do so just using notes she's written to herself and what little memory she has left - or can muster together from her notes.

What she does remember, or is ruminating about when she's not worried about Elizabeth, is that her older sister Sukey disappeared seventy years ago. Whether or not Maud remembers who she is, her long suffering daughter, Helen, tries to care for her. Helen must overcome her many frustrations with her mother's befuddled inability to recall the simplest fact or follow the simplest written instructions, for example to not buy any more canned peaches.

The story ingeniously alternates between present day Maud and Maud as a girl. Currently her life is a continuous daily struggle with every little thing, as her memory is unreliable and she has no recollection of things she has already done and is doing again. The present day chapters stand in sharp contrast to the rich, detailed memories Maud has a young girl years ago, when her sister disappeared. 

Because present day Maud is such an unreliable narrator, you must puzzle out what is true, what is real now - and some of that is tied into what Maud remembers from years ago. There are many clues there, but most of them are hidden in Maud's deteriorating, capricious memory. Some of Maud's memories are richly detailed in her mind but once she is called upon to explain, she loses all recollection or ability to explain what she was thinking.

Elizabeth is Missing truly is a riveting, compelling story that will have you completely under its spell as you race to the end, trying to untangle the bewildering clues presented in Maud's memory and her notes. 

Healey does an outstanding job creating a palatable tension as facts are revealed and the past and present seem much darker than anyone realizes. Healey manages to capture what Maud is currently experiencing with her dementia in such a way that it is a totally creditable exploration of what someone with dementia might be struggling with. At the same time she gives us a   notable novel of suspense that gains intrigue because of the narrator's limitations. It's hard to believe that this is Healey's debut novel.

This is a "stuck overnight at the airport book" that will keep you engrossed and focused to the end.

Bravo, Emma Healey: This is a brilliant novel.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.