Thursday, October 30, 2014


Twinkle by S. J. Parkinson
CreateSpace: 7/29/2014
eBook, 572 pages

ISBN-13: 9781500536473

In the newest book from award winning author, SJ Parkinson, The richest man in the world wants to celebrate the July 4th holiday as never before. In a bid to get into the record books, a global fireworks show is staged from orbit. Satellites drop pyrotechnics into the atmosphere, thrilling everyone from the Arctic to the Antarctic with their rich colors and massive explosions in every time zone.
The next day, people around the globe begin to lose their sight. Governments crumble, society degenerates, and infrastructure falls into chaos. Humanity finds itself stumbling in the dark and losing all hope.
A few fortunate individuals retain their vision. Attempting to deal with the growing despair around them, they come together to discover the true purpose and origin of the affliction. They race to find a cure before the world is subjugated under an invading power.
My Thoughts:

Twinkle by S. J. Parkinson is a very highly recommended thriller which incorporates a military novel with science fiction.

Sir Marcus Brandon is a multi-billionaire and acknowledged as the richest man in the world, so when he decides to spend a large chunk of his fortune to promote his new Global News Network, GNI. "Global News International will speak the languages of more than half of the globe’s population of seven billion. GNI will also broadcast through the Internet with subtitles and text feeds in several other languages. This will truly be the first global news service, and broadcasts will premiere tomorrow, July fourth.”

The show Brandon promises to celebrate the launch of GNI is truly something spectacular and worthy of his hubris.  He announces to the world that starting over Shanghai at ten p.m. their time, "pre-positioned satellites will drop fireworks from orbit. As the Earth rotates, each time zone will see the same show, beginning at ten p.m. I’m assured that the light show will be unlike anything ever seen before. We’ll be setting three world records in the process. It’ll be the largest and most expensive pyrotechnic show ever staged—and the first firework display staged from orbit.”

As promised, every hour a different time zone experiences a fireworks display that fills the whole sky with a never-before seen display. People across the globe are out watching the display. At the same time a more nefarious plan is being put into action. See, Brandon took bids for his one-of-a-kind display and the Chinese won the bid to put the show into orbit. Unknown to Brandon it was also the perfect opportunity for them to put into action a planned invasion.

In a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist party, a member declares, “Sun Tzu once said, ‘To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence.’ As we execute this endeavor, we should keep this in mind. I find it amusing that this ignorant Englishman is not only providing us with a perfect cover for delivering our warheads, but also paying for the operation in its entirety.” But he goes on to make it clear that they, the Chinese, will be essentially launching an attack against the whole world, although they will publicly be complaining about North Korea.

So, while national defenses around the world become less attentive as they continually detect the heat signature of a missile taking off somewhere every hour the fireworks display goes on, forces in the USA notice "a twentyfold increase in chatter from several Chinese military units along the North Korean border. At the same time, we have activity at several large airports in the Hubei, Henan, and Jiangxi provinces." It seems easy to believe the aggression will be between China and North Korea - until the real problem becomes clear.

The next day, after the fireworks show (where the #twinkle crashes twitter) everyone who watched the show loses their sight. And the Chinese launch a massive invasion of the USA. It is now up to a few people to try and stop the Chinese and find a cure for the mysterious blindness.

At the beginning, with everyone who was watching the nighttime show being blinded, Twinkle really reminded me of The Day of the Triffids. This isn't a bad thing because I love all movie/tv versions of the novel. Don't allow yourself to stop there and stereotype Twinkle as a sci-fi novel based on a well-known previous work. From that point, Twinkle takes off on its own direction. There are a large number of characters and stories that eventually dwindle down and converge into telling what is happening with a few characters.

I found Twinkle to be a perfect thrill-ride of escapism that should especially appeal to those who like military fiction. On a personal note I appreciated the fact that S. J. Parkinson doesn't "incorporate overt sex, profanity, or extreme violence in any of my writing. I prefer the story to be the main focus..." Bravo and well done! The actions of the characters and the story certainly were the focus and it made for a gripping novel. This is a stay-up-all-night-at-the-airport book!

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

Virtual Author Book Tours 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Born into the Children of God

Born into the Children of God by Natacha Tormey
with Nadene Ghouri
HarperCollins: 10/28/2014
eBook, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780007560325
Natacha Tormey was born into the infamous religious cult known as The Children of God. Abused, exploited, and brainwashed by ‘The Family’, Natacha’s childhood was stolen.
Born to French hippy parents attracted to the religious movement by the unusual mix of evangelical Christianity, free love and rejection of the mainstream, from an early age Natacha was brainwashed to believe she had a special destiny – that she was part of an elite children’s army bestowed with superpowers that would one day save the world from the Anti-Christ.
Torn away from their parents, Natacha and her siblings were beaten on a daily basis and forced to sing and dance for entertainment in prisons and malls. Natacha never expected to live to adulthood.
At the age of 18 Natacha escaped, but quickly found herself hurtling through a world she had no understanding of. Alone, and grappling to come to terms with an unbelievable sense of betrayal, she was stuck in a kind of limbo – confused and unable to feel part of either way of life.
Natacha is one of the lucky ones; not all of her family survived the battle to shed the shame and pain of their past. To date over 40 ex-Children of God members of Natacha’s generation have committed suicide.
All Natacha ever wanted was to feel normal, but escaping the cult was only the beginning. Shocking, moving, but ultimately inspiring, this is Natacha’s full story; it is both a personal tale of trauma and recovery, and an exposé of the secret world of abuse hidden behind commune walls.

My Thoughts: 

Born into the Children of God by Natacha Tormey is a highly recommended account of growing up in a cult and, even more importantly, surviving her childhood. 

While her parents were young hippies when they joined the cult in France, Natacha Tormey misfortune was that she had no choice or say. She was born into the Children of God cult, also known as The Family. During her childhood, she lived in a variety of communes across South East Asia, East Africa and Europe. All of the situations  she found herself in and the abuse she experienced were inflicted upon her in the name of the cult. Her childhood was stolen from her. The beliefs espoused by The Family and their leader known as King David or Grandpa are nonsensical and downright horrific.

The women in the cult were told they had to go out and practice "‘flirty fishing’ (or FF’ing), where female followers were told to go to bars and pick men up for sex with the intent of either converting them to the cause or bringing in a financial donation. FF’ers were told they were ‘God’s whores’. Posters with instructions on how to be a ‘good flirty little fishy’ were distributed." If that isn't misogynistic enough, Tormey continues later, "Grandpa also decreed that more Jesus babies should be born, and this is why he invented flirty fishing – so that God could bless us all with lots of babies. She said that within our family there were at least 300 other Jesus babies who had come to us through FF’ing."

We learn that "Grandpa David tells us there is no such thing as rape if we follow the true laws of nature. A woman of the Bible should submit willingly to a man and satisfy him. God created sex and he created a man’s need for sex. He created woman to serve a man’s need. Heaven’s Girl [a comic book showing a gang rape scene] is using this God-given opportunity to share the love of Jesus with these soldiers. She is going to love them so much that she will turn them back to the path of Jesus. She shares her love with a big smile and a song in her heart like all good girls should. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?"

So in an environment where women are slaves and sexual objects to be used, naturally it follows suit that not only were the children hit or beaten daily, with fists, fly-swats, poles and planks, they were also sexually abused. If this abuse was ever mentioned it would all fall back on the child who would be blamed for lying about the adults in question. It is sickening that many of the adults seemed to actually enjoy beating the children, let alone abusing them.

She escapes from the cult, but like many survivors of childhood abuse, that is the first of many small steps that must be taken toward recovery. She may have left the cult, but she finds herself trying to survive in a world that she knows little about and has no experience navigating.

Tormey's story is presented in a chronological manner, taking us through her childhood into adulthood. This is one of those books that is hard to read. You will find yourself getting angry that this abuse was allowed to take place and her parents, who should have been protecting her, were seemingly incapable of doing so. Ultimately it is worthwhile to know that The Family still exists and they are still abusing children. It certainly took bravery and fortitude for her to stand up and say publicly what happened to her and others at the hands of adults.

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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Killer Next Door

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood
Penguin: 10/28/2014
eBook, 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780143126690

. . . a brilliant, tightly paced thriller that will keep you up at night and make you ask yourself: just how well do you know your neighbors?
Everyone who lives at 23 Beulah Grove has a secret. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be renting rooms in a dodgy old building for cash—no credit check, no lease. It’s the kind of place you end up when you you’ve run out of other options. The six residents mostly keep to themselves, but one unbearably hot summer night, a terrible accident pushes them into an uneasy alliance. What they don’t know is that one of them is a killer. He’s already chosen his next victim, and he’ll do anything to protect his secret.

My Thoughts:

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood is a highly recommended macabre, psychological thriller that is not for the faint of heart. 

All the six residents at No. 23 Beulah Grove in London are hiding or escaping from something. It is that kind of boardinghouse with the kind of landlord that people who are hiding prefer. Even as we learn about the secret lives of the residents, we know for certain that one of them is a killer who calls himself the Lover. The Lover is trying to perfect mummifying women.

Collette is the latest tenant. She's on the run and trying to hide, but needed to return to London to see her dying mum - not that she was much of a mother, but she's all Collette has. Residents already occupying rooms include: Vesta, a 70 year old woman who has lived in the basement apartment her whole life; Hossein, a man who's seeking political asylum in England; Cher, a street-wise, underage runaway from a social services children's home; Thomas the tedious boarding house bore; and Gerard, a recently divorced man who plays classical music 24/7. Roy Preece is the morbidly obese landlord who knows he is taking advantage of most of his tenants. He allows those who prefer it to pay cash and he, in turn, does nothing to improve the property.

We slowly learn more about each tenant, and view their lives from their perspective, including some very gory details about the consummately creepy one only known as the Lover. While this is a tense, taunt thriller, with several surprising revelations and more than one suspect, it also contains some concern and bounding between characters, which is surprising in people who stay alive by being suspicious of everyone, as well as dark humor.

This is certainly a page turner with a plot that moves along at a nice quick pace. The characters are all well developed and you will care about what happens to some of them while hoping others get what they really deserve. The Lover's identity was no great surprise for me, but the path to the reveal was definitely entertaining.

Thanks to Penguin's First to Read Program for providing my digital review copy. 

Read an excerpt

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fish Tails

Fish Tails by Sheri S. Tepper
HarperCollins: 10/21/2014
eBook, 720 pages

ISBN-13: 9780062304582

In Fish Tails, two of Tepper's beloved characters—Abasio the Dyer and his royal wife, Xulai (A Plague of Angels and The Waters Rising)—are traveling through the scattered villages of the sparsely populated land of Tingawa. Accompanied by their young children, they seek to warn everyone of the dire ecological changes that will alter their lives and those of their children for generations to come.
The waters are rising, and will eventually inundate their world, transforming it utterly and irrevocably. Many of those born in the coming century will resemble their son and daughter—sea children who can live without land. Abasio and Xulai also hope to find others interested in adopting their sea-dwelling lifestyle.
Along their journey they encounter strange visitors from the far-off world of Lom, characters from Tepper's nine-book True Game series of novels—Mavin Manyshaped, Jinian Star-Eye, and Silkhands the healer—all of whom have been compelled by an interfering, time-traveling, rule-breaking do-gooder to perform one last virtuous act on Earth before its metamorphosis is complete.

My Thoughts:

Fish Tails by Sheri S. Tepper is a highly recommended fantasy novel with a message - alongside notable world building and character development.

Fish Tails, the official third book in The Plague of Angels series, continues several storylines and brings back numerous characters found in many of Tepper's previous novels. Specifically this time the main focus is on Abasio and Xulai and their aquatic enabled children (think merbabies). The earth will be flooded soon and become a water planet.  Abasio and Xulai's twins, a boy and girl, Bailai and Gailai, have gills, fins, and a tail for legs. They can breathe air and water - in otherwords they are the hope for the future of the human race after the aquatic apocalypse. There is a way for others to have their future children resemble the twins, thus ensuring the continuation of their bloodlines.

The problem is that Abasio and Xulai need to be careful and cautious when approaching others about the future water-world because there are sects that oppose any alteration of the body (and we are talking alterations as minor as pierced ears, let alone having children resemble merbabies.) Adding to their complications, they end up having two other children traveling with them. And then there is the griffen problem...

Most of this novel seems to be a road novel and consists of the main characters traveling and encountering problems as well as supportive people along the way. Tepper does a good job in her world building and descriptions of various despicable and misogynistic groups they encounter. There are talking animals, creatures that were made by surviving, misguided humans after the Big Kill, and a host of ignorant, unworthy bad guys. Her characters are well developed and stay true to their nature as the plot progresses and their knowledge advances.

I have enjoyed several other Tepper novels in the past, but am unfamiliar with the storylines continuing from A Plague of Angels and The Waters Rising. This may actually be to my benefit because much of the information and backstory presented in Fish Tails was new to me. Other reviewers have found way too much repetition in this novel. I enjoyed the world building and the character development. 

Admittedly, Fish Tails did go on and on and on a bit too long for me. Note that at 720 pages it requires a commitment - I was good with most of it through the first half but began to grow a bit weary toward the end and wanted things to pick up, the writing to tighten up, and the action to advance forward.  I should also mention that some readers may find Tepper's underlying message in the novel objectionable.

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Lost Tribe of Coney Island

The Lost Tribe of Coney Island by Claire Prentice
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 10/14/2014
eBook, 416 pages

ISBN-13: 9780544262287

Readers of Erik Larson will love this tale of sex, greed, and the American dream: A huckster imports a tribe of Filipinos to Coney Island’s Luna Park, and two cultures collide.
The Lost Tribe of Coney Island unearths the forgotten story of the Igorrotes, a group of “headhunting, dog-eating savages” from the Philippines, who were transported to New York in 1905 to appear as “human exhibits” alongside the freaks and curiosities at Coney Island’s Luna Park. Millions of fair-goers delighted in their tribal dances and rituals, near-nudity, tattoos, and stories of headhunting.
Journalist Claire Prentice, who has spent years researching the topic, brings the story to life with her fluid prose and vivid descriptions. The book boasts a colorful cast of characters, including the disgraced lieutenant turned huckster Truman K. Hunt; his Filipino interpreter, Julio Balinag; the theme park impresarios behind Luna Park, Fred Thompson and Elmer “Skip” Dundy; and Dogmena, a beautiful girl who became a favorite with New York’s social elite. The Lost Tribe of Coney Island  is a fascinating social history and a tale of adventure, culture-clash, and the American dream.
My Thoughts:

The Lost Tribe of Coney Island by Claire Prentice is a very highly recommended nonfiction account of Truman K. Hunt's use and abuse of a tribe of Filipinos, specifically Igorrotes, who were brought to America in 1905 and put on display at Coney Island’s Luna Park. As Prentice points out, "Ultimately, this is a story of a hero turned villain that makes us question who is civilized and who is savage." 

Although in the end only Hunt and the fifty-one Filipinos who traveled with him to America knew the precise details of everything that transpired between them, it is safe to say after reading Prentice's remarkable account that the Igorrotes were degraded and essentially became slaves to Hunt's greed. The fact that Hunt brought human beings from another culture to America and then was allowed to put them on display was in and of itself nauseating. Adding insult to injury was the fact that he stole and cheated them out of the compensation he said he would be providing to them.

"Savage or innocent, noble or childlike. The Igorrotes were like one of the distorting mirrors at the Coney funfair. How they were portrayed reflected the views of those looking at them more often than it gave a true picture of the Igorrotes themselves." ( Location 1653) Hunt insisted that they kill and eat a dog daily for the "show" even though dog was not a main staple of their diets.

"The sacrifice of a dog was an important Igorrote custom and, though they were reluctant to say anything at first, some of the tribe felt the daily dog feasts at Coney were undermining their cultural significance. Not only that, but their bodies couldn’t digest all of the meat that they were being given. On behalf of them all, the tribal chief approached Julio [the interpreter] with a request that they be allowed to return to a more varied and authentic diet of chicken, pork, fish, rice, beans, and vegetables, with occasional servings of dog." (Location 1257) This authentic portrayal of their diet, of course, would ruin the show Hunt wanted to put on and profited greatly from. 

It was really an embarrassment that the Human Society kept turning up to investigate complaints about the treatment of animals in the context of the Igorrotes. Here was a group of people who were brought to America, being taken advantage of, being treated like animals, and "living in squalor and being forced to put on a degrading show for the public and the only complaint this party had was about the treatment of the dog." It was disgusting that no one stopped Hunt and ended the abuse of human beings, let alone animals.

Prentice does an excellent job presenting the results of years of research and telling the story of this disgraceful side show spectacle. It is much to her credit that in The Lost Tribe of Coney Island all the information she uncovers is disclosed in a sympathetic and informative narrative that is nicely paced. It certainly held my attention right to the end, although it did have me shaking my head over what people will do to others. While this is a difficult book to read in terms of subject matter, it is a well-researched account that is presented in a very accessible format and should appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Prentice includes any additional information she has uncovered about the people involved in an Afterword. The book also includes: Acknowledgments, Notes, a Bibliography, Illustration Credits, and an Index.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for review purposes.
TLC Tour

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Unforgivable Fix

The Unforgivable Fix by T. E. Woods
Random House: 10/14/2014
eBook, 300 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345549280
Justice Series #3

Detective Mort Grant of the Seattle PD has finally decided to sell. The home where he and his late wife raised two kids feels too large and too full of old memories. His son is married and raising a family of his own, and despite desperate efforts to find her, Mort has lost touch with his wayward daughter. That is, until the day she walks back into her childhood home and begs for his help.
For the last four years, Allie Grant has been the lover—and confidante, confessor, and counselor—of one of the world’s most powerful and deadly men. But a sudden, rash move has put Allie in the crosshairs of a ruthless Russian crime lord. Mort knows of only one place where Allie will be safe: with The Fixer. 
As a hired desperado, The Fixer has killed twenty-three people—and Mort was complicit in her escape from the law. She has built an impregnable house, stocked it with state-of-the-art gear, armed it to the teeth, and locked herself away from the world. But even The Fixer may not be able to get justice for Allie when real evil comes knocking.

My Thoughts:

The Unforgivable Fix by T. E. Woods is a not-to-be-missed, very highly recommended third installment of the Justice series, which features The Fixer.

Wowza! I unabashedly love the Fixer. The series by T. E. Woods begins with The Fixer followed by The Red Hot Fix, and now the latest, The Unforgivable Fix. The synopsis tells followers a modicum about what's happening with this third book of the series (Mort trying to move on and his wayward daughter, Allie, returning), but let me just clue you in that there is a bit more happening that will throw you for a loop, twist things up, and send every nerve in your body longing for The Fixer to get to work again.

It is good to see Lydia Corriger, a clinical psychologist, returning to work. While opening her practice again, she is asked by a friend to take on the task of providing a Ph.D. student some clinical experience. While her relationship/friendship with Mort is shaky, at least it's still there. Mort surprises her by introducing her to his long-lost and up-to-no-good daughter, Allie. 

Allie will likely annoy every fiber of your being, but just go with it because Lydia is experienced enough to read her like a book. In the end, though, even Lydia can't anticipate every move Allie is planning to make, especially when Lydia's distracted by the outcome of the therapy sessions her grad student is holding.

Now that I've declared my love of the series, I have to add the disclaimer that my feelings are based on reading all three novels in order. I'm not sure if I'd just jump into this third novel without having at least read the first novel for background information. My advanced reading copy didn't have a synopsis of the first two books, so I don't know if the final version will include that, but it will be worth your time to read the previous books. Woods is an excellent writer who propels her storylines forward by keeping the pace swift and the action moving. And, yes, there are some nice plot twists added into the mix.

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

TLC Tour

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Death in Vegas

A Death in Vegas by Christopher Meeks
White Whisker Books: 8/15/2014
Trade Paperback, 180 pages
ISBN-13: 9780983632993

In A Death in Vegas, the president of BenBugs, a company that specializes in beneficial bugs for organic gardening, discovers a young woman dead in his Las Vegas hotel suite. She had worked as a sexy lady bug at his convention booth—and he had nothing to do with her death. While that’s being investigated, the FBI raids his booth on a money-laundering scam that he knows nothing about, either. Soon, the coroner doesn’t have good news. The police and FBI are against him—and his wife cannot be found. Is someone setting him up? He flees to find the answers.

My Thoughts:

A Death in Vegas by Christopher Meeks is a highly recommended crime novel in which a murder suspect becomes the investigator.

Patton Burch is attending the lawn and garden show in Vegas representing BenBugs, a company he owns that specializes in beneficial bugs for organic gardeners. He has hired a model, who calls herself Chatterly Langstrump, as a sexy lady-bug girl for his booth, hoping to attract business. It seems to be working, so when Patton sort of bumbles into Chatterly at a restuarant after that first day, they end up having dinner together... and end up back in his room when Chatterly is having an asthma attack and needs to lay down. The next morning, after nothing untoward happened the night before, Patton wakes up and discovers Chatterly is dead. Naturally, even when it looks like she died from an asthma attack, Patton is the main suspect.

Patton is sure that the police aren't really working on investigating who Chatterly really is, why she is using an alias, and who wants to kill her, so he goes rogue, after contacting his lawyer, and tries to run his own investigation to discover the answers. At the same time, when Patton tries to explain the situation to his wife, she doesn't believe nothing happened with the bug girl, so she takes off. The trouble multiplies when Patton discovers that the new financier for BenBugs that his wife has made an arrangement with has actually involved them in a money laundering scheme being investigated by the FBI. Hopefully he can find his wife and figure out the financing scheme too, while he's trying to discover Chatterly's identity and who killed her.

You can always count on Christopher Meeks for a well written novel; this time Meeks excells at bringing almost a farcical edge to the humor in A Death in Vegas. The comicality makes this crime novel feel more like a madcap adventure in an old comedy movie with Cary Grant, like  Bringing up Baby, or The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. Patton is managing to investigate the murder and he is getting answers, but even when the action is getting tense, there is an element of humor right beneath the surface. Yes, this is a murder mystery, but you will find yourself laughing or smiling your way through this novel. (Actually, once you discover the bug girl is going by the alias of Chatterly Langstrump, you should realize that humor will have a large role in this novel.)

While I did enjoy this latest by Meeks, I must admit that Blood Drama is still my favorite book by Christopher Meeks - to date.

Thanks to Christopher Meeks for providing my review copy. As always I'm pleased to participate in a Virtual Author Book Tour too.

VABT Schedule and excerpt

Monday, October 13, 2014

The River Is Dark

The River Is Dark by Joe Hart
Thomas & Mercer: 10/14/2014
eBook, 234 pages
ISBN-13: 9781477825778 
In a small town along the Mississippi River, separate but nearly identical attacks have left two married couples brutally murdered in their homes. A young boy—the lone survivor of the killings—now lies comatose in the hospital. And the police’s only lead is the boy’s terrified description of the assailant: a “monster.”
Enter former homicide detective Liam Dempsey, whose estranged brother fell victim to the killer. Dragged into the investigation as a suspect, Dempsey vows to solve the case and clear his name. But two things stand between him and the truth: a web of local politics, and the grim secrets the victims held close. All the while, a murderer with boundless hatred continues to raise the body count.
As the troubled ex-cop tries to pull justice from the town’s emotional wreckage, he realizes that his could be the next life lost to the killer’s ruthless, twisted plan for revenge.
My Thoughts:  

The River Is Dark by Joe Hart is a highly recommended, fast paced thriller that will hold your attention right to the end.

The opening scene is of a frightened young boy trying to escape from a murderer. Then the action focuses on Liam Dempsey. Liam has just learned that his brother, Allen, and sister-in-law, Suzie, have been brutally murdered in the small town of Tollston, Minnesota where his physician brother had his medical practice. What he doesn't know until he arrives in Tollston is that another couple, who just happened to be best friends of his brother, was murdered that same week. A young boy has survived, but is in a coma.

The homeless man called Nut told Liam, “Wasn’t two weeks ago Jerry and Karen Shevlin were found the same way as the ones last night. Their boy was luckier, but not by much. Lost an arm from the elbow down and hasn’t woke up yet. Poor little bugger, he can’t be more’n ten or eleven.”
Liam set his cup down and turned to fully face the man. “You’re telling me there was a double murder here last week?”

While law enforcement won't specifically say that the two murders are related, clearly they are - but there doesn't seem to be a sinister connection between the two couples that would give anyone a reason to murder them. Liam was previously a homicide detective for the Minneapolis police department, so he inserts himself into the investigation after he is questioned as a suspect. Liam also renews his acquaintance with Dani, a friend of his sister-in-law. Dani and Liam begin to work together, with some assistance from the local sheriff.  From their investigation, Liam has good reasons to believe that more people might be in danger.

The River Is Dark sets a furious pace and leaps along to the end. It is well written and a perfect choice for anyone looking for that fast-paced thriller with gory details and a plot that moves at break-neck speed to the end. While there aren't many rabbit trails and false leads to spread the action out, the conclusion is nicely done. Most readers will connect with Liam as a character and want him to succeed.

This is a re-release of a previously published edition.

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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Stolen from the Garden

Stolen from the Garden by William Swanson
Minnesota Historical Society: 10/15/2014
eBook, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780873519472

On a July afternoon in 1972, two masked men waving guns abducted forty-nine-year-old Virginia Piper from the garden of her lakeside home in Orono, Minnesota. After her husband, a prominent investment banker, paid a $1 million ransom, an anonymous caller directed the FBI to a thickly wooded section of a northern Minnesota state park. There, two days after her nightmare began, Ginny Piper––chained to a tree, filthy and exhausted, but physically unharmed––awaited her rescuers. 
The intensely private couple lived through a media firestorm. Both Bobby and Ginny Piper herself—naturally reserved and surprisingly composed in the aftermath of her ordeal—were subject to FBI scrutiny in the largest kidnap-for-ransom case in bureau annals. When two career criminals were finally indicted five years after the abduction, the Pipers again took center stage in two long trials before a jury’s verdict made headlines across the nation. 
Drawing on closely held government documents and exclusive interviews with family members, investigators, suspects, lawyers, and others intimately connected to the case, William Swanson provides the first comprehensive account of the sensational Piper kidnapping and its long, eventful aftermath––and makes a case for the most plausible explanation for what really happened on that July afternoon.

My Thoughts:

Stolen from the Garden by William Swanson is a very highly recommended account of the 1972 kidnapping of Virginia Piper and the subsequent investigation and trials.

In 1972 when 49 year old Virginia (Ginny) Piper was kidnapped by two masked men from her home by lake Minnetonka in the Minneapolis suburb of Orono, Minnesota, her husband, Harry (Billy) Piper Jr., paid a $1 million ransom for her safe return.  After receiving the ransom, the kidnappers left information that Ginny could be found blindfolded, handcuffed and chained to a tree in a forested state park area outside of Duluth. Swanson recounts all of the details of the kidnapping, the search for suspects and the resulting two trials that failed to result in a conviction.

This is a fascinating book. Swanson explores and presents the information in a straightforward, concise format.  Between the FBI files and information from the surviving sons, and with a clear eye for details, he presents the final, but inconclusive results of the investigations. Stolen from the Garden is a riveting account of a real life cold case and is very highly recommended.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the
Minnesota Historical Society Press for review purposes.

Slow Road to Brownsville

Slow Road to Brownsville by David Reynolds
Greystone Books: 10/14/2014
eBook, 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9781771640497

In Slow Road to Brownsville, David Reynolds embarks on a road trip along Highway 83, a little-known two-lane highway built in 1926 that runs from Swan River, Manitoba, to the Mexican border at Brownsville, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico. Growing up in a small town in England, Reynolds was enthralled by both the myth of the Wild West and the myth of the open road. This road trip is his exploration of the reality behind these myths as he makes his way from small town to small town, gas station to gas station, and motel to motel, hanging out in bars, drinking with the locals, and observing their sometimes-peculiar customs. Reynolds also wanted to see the country where the Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Comanches, the Apaches, and other native groups lived and died and to look at how their descendants live now. He describes the forced location of the Cheyenne people, discovers the true story of the Alamo, and finds similarities between Sitting Bull’s tours and those of the Black Panthers. In the end, Reynolds sees hope, potential, and tolerance in this forgotten middle of North America.
My Thoughts:

Slow Road to Brownsville: A Journey Through the Heart of the Old West by David Reynolds is a recommended nonfiction account of an Englishman's travels and personal reflections as he journeys down Highway 83.

While visiting Swan River, Manitoba, where his grandfather lived from 1905-1910, Reynold's learns that Highway 83 goes all the way across the middle of the USA to Brownsville, Texas. This planted the idea of traveling the route. He is curious what lies along Highway 83. What are the Great Plains and Middle American towns and cities like today? He wants to examine the history and current conditions of the Native Americans as he explores what he comes across on the highway. He also examines the history of the various cities, attractions, and areas he travels through. Reynolds grew up watching Westerns and road movies so this trip seemed like the perfect way to see the country he fantasized about as a child and compare the reality today to various other road trips that have been written about over the years.

"Whether 83 is the longest is contentious. One source says it is the fifth longest, but takes into account only the 1,894 miles within the United States. Only two other U.S. Highways still continue up into Canada (Highways 1 and 59). Neither reaches as far north as 83. Going south, once it leaves Manitoba and enters the United States, 83 travels through six states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, a narrow strip of Oklahoma known as the Panhandle, and Texas. From Swan River to Brownsville on 83 is 2,271 miles. "

The start of Reynold's book gave all indications that Slow Road to Brownsville was going to be a rather charming account of an Englishman exploring the sights along Highway 83, which it is to some extent, but it lost some of that charm for me when numerous people he encountered were seemingly always described by their enormous girth and as he repeatedly managed to tune into a talk radio program that espouses beliefs contrary to his own. I'm fine with accurately describing people and certainly weight is a factor, but it did grow rather tiring to consistently have weight alone as a main description. As for the rather strident talk radio host he intensely dislikes...  One mention, fine, two is enough. Beyond that it became annoying for me and I just wanted to say, "It is in your power to turn to another radio station."

Setting those annoyances aside, I really appreciated the inclusion of quotes from and pertinent descriptions mentioned in the numerous road trip books written over the years whose authors explored the same areas. As is my wont, I also always appreciate the inclusion of a bibliography and maps showing his route. The discography of music is a nice touch.

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


Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood 
by William J. Mann
HarperCollins: 10/14/2014
eBook, 480 pages

ISBN-13: 9780062242167
Who killed Billy Taylor, one of Hollywood's most beloved men?
For nearly a century, no one has known.
Until now.
In the early 1920s, millions of Americans flocked to movie palaces every year to see their favorite stars on the silver screen. Never before had a popular art so captured the public's imagination, nor had a medium ever possessed such power to influence. But Hollywood's glittering ascendancy was threatened by a string of lurid, headline-grabbing tragedies, including the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the handsome and popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association—a legendary crime that has remained unsolved since 1922.
Now, in this fiendishly involving narrative, bestselling Hollywood chronicler William Mann draws on a rich host of sources, many untapped for decades, to reopen the case of the upstanding yet enigmatic Taylor and the diverse cast that surrounded him—including three loyal ingenues, a grasping stage mother, a devoted valet, a gang of two-bit thugs, the industry's reluctant new morals czar, and the moguls Adolph Zukor and Marcus Loew, locked in a struggle for control of the exploding industry. Along the way, Mann brings to life Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties: a sparkling yet schizophrenic town filled with party girls and drug dealers, newly minted legends and starlets already past their prime, a dangerous place where the powerful could still run afoul of the desperate.
A true story re-created with the thrilling suspense of a novel, Tinseltown is the work of a master craftsman at the peak of his powers.
My Thoughts:  

Tinseltown by William J. Mann is a very highly recommended true crime novel and offers a solution to a 1922 Hollywood murder.

Opening with the discovery of William Desmond Taylor body, this nonfiction novel explores the decadence of 1920's Hollywood and offers a solution to the unsolved murder.
Billy Taylor was a prominent director at the time of his murder and was found shot in his apartment by his valet. Mann then explores the life of Taylor and the studio executives and the three women involved with him in some capacity.

This is a very thorough examination of all the suspects as well as the cover-ups and concerns over bad publicity by the studios. After the murder, Mann goes back in time sixteen months to set the history of those involved during that particular time in history. Mann carefully follows the leads and information his research uncovers. Between the inept police investigation and the involvement (and interference) of the studio in the evidence in an attempt to negate even a hint of scandal, any true investigation into the murder was doomed almost from the start. There were already too many scandals in the film industry at that time and they wanted to hide any evidence of yet another.

Mann is a proven researcher and he includes the details he uncovers into a seamless exploration of early Hollywood. This is an abundantly interesting and well researched exploration of a true crime that will appeal to those who like that genre.  Tinseltown will also definitely appeal to anyone who enjoys colorful and factual historical information about early Hollywood and this time of decadence, big scandals, and bigger cover-ups.

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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Crooked River

Crooked River by Valerie Geary
William Morrow: 10/14/2014
eBook, 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062326591

Full of emotion and suspense, Crooked River is an inventive and atmospheric story about family and friendship, good and evil, secrets and lies, grief and forgiveness
Still grieving over the sudden death of their mother, fifteen-year-old Sam McAlister and her ten-year-old sister, Ollie, move from the comforts of Eugene to rural Oregon to live in a meadow in a teepee under the stars with Bear, their reclusive beekeeper father. But soon after they arrive in Terrebone, a young woman is found dead floating in Crooked River and the police arrest their eccentric father for the murder.
Sam knows that Bear is not a killer, even though the evidence points to his guilt—including information that she and Ollie have uncovered. Filled with remorse and refusing to accept that her father could have hurt anyone, Sam embarks on a desperate hunt to save him and keep her damaged family together. They had mysteriously lost Bear once before and Sam is terrified they will lose him again. Only this time they won't ever get him back. She needs Ollie to help her, but Ollie has not spoken a word since their mother's death.
Ollie, too, knows that Bear is innocent. The Shimmering have told her so. One followed her home from her mom's funeral and continues to hover, a spectrum of colors—pink and rose red, sky blue and honey gold. Now another, coiled and hissing, is following Sam. Both spirits warn Ollie: the real killer is out there, waiting. Somehow, she must warn her sister. But Ollie worries that if she tries to speak—even to write—the Shimmering will slip inside her, take control, and never leave.
Sam and Ollie must find the truth quickly—a search that will lead them to unexpected secrets and terrible lies—because the danger is closer to them than either girl knows.
Told in Sam's and Ollie's vibrant voices, Crooked River is a family story, a coming-of-age story, a ghost story, and a psychological mystery as haunting as the best Southern gothic fiction that will touch your heart and grip you until the final page.

My Thoughts:  

Crooked River by Valerie Geary is an incredible debut novel. I absolutely loved this mystery/ghost story/sister tale and very highly recommend it.

It is the summer of 1988 and two sisters, Sam, 15, and Ollie, 10, are now living in teepees with their reclusive father, "Bear," in a meadow surrounded by bee hives outside of the small town of Terrebone, Oregon. Sam loves the meadow and knows the area because has spent every summer for the last three years with Bear in his meadow and helped with the bees, but this is Ollie's first summer there. Now the girls are going to live with their father full time after their mother died of a heart attack on July 4th. Ollie has not spoken since their mother died.

Trying to help Ollie accept the new living arrangements and maybe start talking, Sam takes her down to Crooked River to swim. At the river they find a dead woman's body. When Sam tries to pull it ashore, she sends it on down the river instead. Ollie doesn't say a word as Sam puzzles out what to do, if she should tell someone or not. When they get back to their camp, Sam finds a jacket that looks like it has blood on it. Could Bear be responsible for the murder? Or, as Sam believes in her heart, is he really simply a victim of circumstances?

Ollie may not be talking, but she's thinking and watching what is going on around her, including Shimmerings, the spirits of dead people who she can see and hear around her. Since her mother's funeral, the Shimmering that looks like her mom has been following Ollie. Since they found the body, an angry Shimmering with bared teeth has been following Sam. Ollie knows that Bear is innocent. She tries unsuccessfully to communicate her thoughts to Sam through various means, but she simply can't talk and tell Sam why and what to do or the Shimmerings might take over her voice completely. 

I was completely immersed in this well-written tale and felt the suspense ratchet up with each chapter. The chapters in the novel alternate between the voice of Sam and Ollie as the girls try to find clues and piece out what to do and how to prove to local law enforcement that their father is innocent. Even though it will be easy for readers to predict who the real killer is, the enjoyment was in the two sisters trying to work out the mystery and discover how to prove their father's innocence. I understood the reaction of the girls. I was emotionally invested in following Sam and Ollie's story to the end.

The writing in Crooked River is sublime. Sam and Ollie have different voices in the narrative and you will find yourself wanting the girls to succeed, to make it.  The writing is also wonderfully descriptive in establishing the setting. I felt like I was in the meadow, hearing the bees, feeling the heat during the end of the summer. I was in that small town. I understood the time and place. I will be anxiously awaiting another novel by Valerie Geary.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of William Morrow for review purposes


Thursday, October 9, 2014


Sharkman by Steve Alten
Taylor Trade Publishing: 10/7/2014
eBook, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781630760199

Kwan Wilson was a high school basketball star living in San Diego when a tragic accident changed his life in ways no one could predict. He only looked at his phone for a few seconds, but that was all the time it took to crash his car into a telephone pole, killing his mother and paralyzing him from the waist down.
After the accident his father, Admiral Douglas Wilson, sent him off to live with his maternal grandmother in South Florida. Kwan’s new principal, anticipating his depression and isolation, tells him about an internship at a genetics lab in Miami that’s testing shark stem cells on rats in an effort to cure cancer and repair spinal injuries. Kwan declines—until he learns the beautiful Anya Patel is an intern at the lab. The good news is that the stem cells are curing their rat subjects; the bad news is it alters their DNA so much it kills them. When a promising breakthrough is made, Kwan risks his life and injects himself with the experimental stem cells—altering his destiny and the lives of millions in the process.
My Thoughts:

Sharkman by Steve Alten is a recommended book about a paralyzed teen who risks his life to walk again.

The plot of Sharkman is promising as it first introduces us to Kwan Wilson, a teen paralyzed from the waist down. The accident that inured Kwan, took his mother's life, which has left him bitter and angry. His father, The Admiral, has written him off, disowning him, and Kwan has had to move from San Diego to Florida to live with his grandmother. Kwan's grandmother spouts a lot of folk-wisdom and sayings that include sharks in them. Hmmmm... 

After a horrible bad first day at the local high school, Kwan manages to make some connections that eventually result in his experimenting on himself with shark stem cells. Kwan not only regains the use of his legs, he becomes Sharkman - bigger, badder, and stronger than before. (I kept thinking of a sort of take-off on the incredible hulk.) The actual plot, concerns of the characters, etc. all point to this being a solid YA thriller and it might greatly appeal to YA readers interested in a different kind of superhero. For me this was a solid airplane book: interesting enough to pass the time but I'm not going to care if I misplace it.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Taylor Trade Publishing for review purposes.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Reunion by Hannah Pittard
Grand Central Publishing: 10/7/2014
hardcover, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781455553617

... A novel about a far-flung family reunited for one weekend by their father's death.
Five minutes before her flight is set to take off, Kate Pulaski, failed screenwriter and newly failed wife with scarcely a hundred dollars to her name, learns that her estranged father has killed himself. More shocked than saddened by the news, she gives in to her siblings' request that she join them, along with her many half-siblings and most of her father's five former wives, in Atlanta, their birthplace, for a final farewell.
My Thoughts:

Reunion by Hannah Pittard is a highly recommended novel that explores the dynamics of sibling relationships when they gather for the funeral after the suicide of their philandering father.

Kate is just flying home to Chicago when she learns of her father's death. Her two older siblings, Nell and Elliot, expect her to immediately board another plane and fly out to Atlanta. Kate's husband Peter, meets her at the airport and puts her on a flight out while Kate tries to dissuade him from his actions. Things are a whole lot more complicated than one would normally guess. See, Kate and Peter are going to get divorced because Kate has had an affair, but she hasn't told Nell or Elliot this yet because the one thing they all agreed on was that they do not condone adultery or cheating.

This means that the idea of attending her father's funeral is just as fraught with tension. Their mother died when Kate was 5 and the older two were 9 and 10. Since then their father has had numerous affairs, 4 ex-wives, and the original three siblings have numerous half-siblings as well. His most recent wife, now widow, Sasha, is around their age and mother of 6 year old Mindy, the youngest half-sibling. Now Nell and Elliot are expecting Kate to go to Atlanta for their father's funeral when, as far as she knows, none of them have been close to the man. Once there the service will likely be tense with all the ex-wives and half-siblings attending. It's a family gathering for a group that doesn't even consider themselves related.

Kate has become astute at hiding her feelings, burying them under "turds and manure." She says, "I was raised. I was raised to smile. I was raised to sit through suffering. I was raised to think that if the yelling got too loud or the humiliation got too painful, you just ignored it. You just ignored it because there was nothing you could do." Now she's about to face all sorts of unpleasantness and doesn't really have a plan in place to deal with it. As is usual in a novel of this ilk, Kate and the others all have secrets they are hiding that will be revealed.

Clearly, dysfunctional families gathering together for a funeral are nothing new. I kept thinking that Reunion reminded me of another book or movie, but the title escapes me. Perhaps it's sort of a combination of The Big Chill with The Family Stone with... something else. Kate is a rather dis-likeable character, but you will find yourself hoping all of her self-evaluation will result in some kind of redemption. For me, clearly, what saved this novel was the writing. It's well written with the characters fleshed out and complete, so even when I wanted to roll my eyes and say "I have had enough of all of you," I cared enough to keep reading to see what would happen next.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Grand Central Publishing for review purposes.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Nora Webster

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín
Scribner: 10/7/2014
Hardcover, 384 pages

ISBN-13: 9781439138335

From one of contemporary literature’s bestselling, critically acclaimed and beloved authors, a magnificent new novel set in Ireland, about a fiercely compelling young widow and mother of four, navigating grief and fear, struggling for hope.
Set in Wexford, Ireland, Colm ’s superb seventh novel introduces the formidable, memorable and deeply moving Nora Webster. Widowed at forty, with four children and not enough money, Nora has lost the love of her life, Maurice, the man who rescued her from the stifling world to which she was born. And now she fears she may be drawn back into it. Wounded, strong-willed, clinging to secrecy in a tiny community where everyone knows your business, Nora is drowning in her own sorrow and blind to the suffering of her young sons, who have lost their father. Yet she has moments of stunning empathy and kindness, and when she begins to sing again, after decades, she finds solace, engagement, a haven—herself.
My Thoughts:

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín is a highly recommended character study of a widow in Ireland.

Nora Webster's beloved husband, Maurice, has died after an extended illness before the novel Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín opens. Nora, 40, must deal with her grief, and she deems the best way to do this is to hide it and put on a stoic face to the world and for her four children. She has been left without enough money to support her family and must find employment again after years of being a homemaker.  While Nora is sure her two almost adult daughters, Fiona and Aine, are going to be alright, she is less sure of her two young sons, Donal and Conor. After an extended stay with her Aunt while Nora attended to a dying Maurice, Donal now has a stammer and it seems both boys are suffering and have nightmares.

But Nora is suffering too, although she is trying to hide it and, really, would like to hide, although the small village she lives in makes that impossible.
Nora needs to mourn but feels she can't.
"She wondered if she would ever again be able to have a normal conversation and what topics she might be able to discuss with ease and interest. At the moment the only topic she could discuss was herself. And everyone, she felt, had heard enough about her. They believed it was time that she stop brooding and think of other things. But there were no other things. There was only what had happened. It was as though she lived underwater and had given up on the struggle to swim towards air. It would be too much. Being released into the world of others seemed impossible; it was something she did not even want. How could she explain this to anyone who sought to know how she was or asked if she was getting over what happened?"

This is an exquisite character study of a woman trying to do the best she can while facing what appears to be an insurmountable task: normalcy in a world that has been upended and dashed to pieces. She needs someone who can give her good, common sense advice on how to proceed from Maurice's death into her dramatically changed new role, but there is no one to ease the way, no one who can talk sensibly about raising her children, earning money, and how to live now. Nora needs to find a way back into the world sans her husband, and a way to help her family.

Tóibín does a remarkable job depicting Nora as a real flesh and blood person. We are privy to her inner thoughts. She can be prickly and obstinate, but she is also determined and intelligent. When she rediscovers her love of music it helps lead her on a path to self-acceptance and self-discovery. This is a novel that deals with mourning, but also healing.

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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Forgotten Girl

The Forgotten Girl by David Bell
Penguin Group: 10/7/2014
hardcover, 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9780451417527

The past has arrived uninvited at Jason Danvers’s door….... and it’s his younger sister, Hayden, a former addict who severed all contact with her family as her life spiraled out of control. Now she’s clean and sober but in need of a desperate favor—she asks Jason and his wife to take care of her teenage daughter for forty-eight hours while she handles some business in town.But Hayden never returns.
And her disappearance brings up more unresolved problems from Jason’s past, including the abrupt departure of his best friend on their high school graduation night twenty-seven years earlier. When a body is discovered in the woods, the mysteries of his sister’s life—and possible death—deepen. And one by one these events will shatter every expectation Jason has ever had about families, about the awful truths that bind them and the secrets that should be taken to the grave.
My Thoughts: 

The Forgotten Girl by David Bell is a highly recommended novel that explores past secrets and the bonds between family and friends.

In The Forgotten Girl, Jason Danvers and his wife, Nora, have relocated to his home town of Ednaville, Ohio, after he lost his job in NYC. Jason left Ednaville after he graduated from high school 27 years earlier when he and his best friend Logan, had a fist fight over a mutual friend, Regan. Logan disappeared that night, everyone presumed he left town since he had been threatening to do that for years. Jason was grilled by the police as a suspect in his disappearance, but nothing came of that.

Much to Jason and Nora's surprise Hayden, Jason's sister, appears unexpectedly at their front door, profusely apologizing for her past behavior. They haven't seen Hayden for five years, but with her history of alcoholism and creating drama and problems over the years, Jason has every right to be leery of her contacting him.  Hayden claims she's clean and sober now, and asks them to watch her daughter, 17 yr. old Sierra, for just a couple days while Hayden takes care of some unfinished business.

Soon it becomes clear that the unfinished business Hayden is dealing with may be much more dangerous than she let on, and her daughter Sierra is very concerned after Hayden sent her what appears to be a good-bye text. Adding to the mystery is the sighting of Hayden with a local ne'er-do-well-very-bad-boy. Circumstances eventually lead to the police being called in and it becomes clear that whatever Hayden is trying to do may be connected to events that happened years earlier.\

The Forgotten Girl is more of a slowly revealed explanation of what happened years ago. Although it isn't necessarily a thriller, it does uncover a mystery while examining old friendships and family ties as well as parenting, alcoholism, and living in a small town. The big reveal is fairly predictable, but Bell is a skilled writer and will keep you glued to the pages to the final conclusion. A great airplane book choice.

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

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Some Luck

Some Luck by Jane Smiley
Knopf Doubleday: 10/7/2014
hardcover, 416 pages

ISBN-13: 9780307700315
From the winner of the Pulitzer Prize: a powerful, engrossing new novel—the life and times of a remarkable family over three transformative decades in America. 
On their farm in Denby, Iowa, Rosanna and Walter Langdon abide by time-honored values that they pass on to their five wildly different children: from Frank, the handsome, willful first born, and Joe, whose love of animals and the land sustains him, to Claire, who earns a special place in her father’s heart.
Each chapter in Some Luck covers a single year, beginning in 1920, as American soldiers like Walter return home from World War I, and going up through the early 1950s, with the country on the cusp of enormous social and economic change. As the Langdons branch out from Iowa to both coasts of America, the personal and the historical merge seamlessly: one moment electricity is just beginning to power the farm, and the next a son is volunteering to fight the Nazis; later still, a girl you’d seen growing up now has a little girl of her own, and you discover that your laughter and your admiration for all these lives are mixing with tears.   
Some Luck delivers on everything we look for in a work of fiction. Taking us through cycles of births and deaths, passions and betrayals, among characters we come to know inside and out, it is a tour de force that stands wholly on its own. But it is also the first part of a dazzling epic trilogy—a literary adventure that will span a century in America: an astonishing feat of storytelling by a beloved writer at the height of her powers.

My Thoughts:

Some Luck by Jane Smiley is a very highly recommended novel that follows three decades, from 1920 to 1953, of the Langdon family of Denby Iowa. This is the first book in a planned family saga trilogy that will span 100 years. Some Luck is currently longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction, and it is clear why after you read this incredible novel. 

Opening in 1920 with Walter Langdon surveying his new farm fields, we meet his wife Rosanna and follow along the years as their family grows. Each chapter encompasses a single year, so we  are following the Langdon family through the historical events that happened during each of those years - depression, death, drought, wars, innovations, the red scare. The Langdons always know that disaster is always one bad crop or step away, and they can never rely on luck. For many people there just might be a farm family somewhere in your background, with subsequent generations perhaps far removed from it, but, nevertheless, the roots are still there.

Walter and Rosanna have five surviving children. As each child grows up and goes their own way we follow them through childhood into adulthood, and to places beyond Iowa. Smiley is a phenomenally gifted writer and she captures the essence of her characters, making them each credible individuals, especially all the children. Right from birth, we can see how each child is different and then follow them as they mature and carry those traits with them.

This is the kind of historical novel that spans decades and the plot encompasses the changes that occurred during that time. Smiley carefully crafts her story, placing her characters in the time period, as they actively are living through it, rather than informing us about events happening during that time. It's a clever way to immerse us in the lives of these characters while placing them firmly into the time period in which they are living. I really enjoy novels that showcase a family and place them accurately in a historical context. After all, we all live through changes and disasters and rarely reflect on what we went through until later, after the fact, or we discuss various ideologies and our opinions with others, rather than lecture them on what is happening.

Since this is a part of a trilogy, with the other two parts to be published in the spring and fall of 2015, the book ends rather abruptly, but at as good a stopping point as any.  I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the Langdon's story.

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