Sunday, November 30, 2014

Her Brilliant Career

Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties 
by Rachel Cooke
HarperCollins: 12/2/2014
eBook, 368 pages

ISBN-13: 9780062333865

In Her Brilliant Career, acclaimed journalist Rachel Cooke goes back in time to offer an entertaining and iconoclastic look at ten women in the 1950s—pioneers whose professional careers and complicated private lives helped to create the opportunities available to today's women. These intrepid and ambitious individuals—among them a film director, a cook, an architect, an editor, an archaeologist, and a race car driver—left the house, discovered the bliss of work, and ushered in the era of the working woman.
Daring and independent, these remarkable, unsung heroines—whose obscurity makes their accomplishments all the more astonishing and relevant—loved passionately, challenged men's control, made their own mistakes, and took life on their own terms, breaking new ground and offering inspiration. Their individual portraits gradually form a landscape of 1950s culture, and of women's unique—and rapidly evolving—role.
Before there could be a Danica Patrick, there had to be a Sheila van Damm; before there was Barbara Walters, there was Nancy Spain; before Kathryn Bigelow came Muriel Box. The pioneers of Her Brilliant Career forever changed the fabric of culture, society, and the workforce. This is the Fifties retold: vivid, surprising, and, most of all, modern.
My Thoughts:

Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties by Rachel Cooke is a highly recommended collection of seven essays that cover the lives and accomplishments of ten widely diverse women and their careers in the 1950's in the UK. Many of these women were the first in their careers, to make a mark. Cooke observes that, “One of the great upsides of being the first was that guilt, as it pertained to working women, had not yet been invented.”

The women presented in Her Brilliant Career include a diverse group: Patience Gray, cookbook writer; Nancy Spain, writer and personality; Joan Werner Laurie, magazine editor; Sheila van Damm, rally-car driver and theatre manager; Alison Smithson, architect; Margery Fish, gardener; Muriel Box, director, and Betty Box, producer; Jacquetta Hawkes, archaeologist; and Rose Heilbron, QC., the first woman to sit at the Old Bailey. Her Brilliant Career also includes a Select Bibliography, Acknowledgements, and an Index.

In the introduction, Cooke points out "I prefer the idea of role models, inspirational figures who make you want to cheer. The extraordinary, mould-breaking women you will find in the pages that follow weren’t perfect. They were, like all human beings, flawed. They doubted themselves, they got in muddles, they made mistakes; feeling defensive, they sometimes seemed difficult and distant even to those who loved them. They certainly did not – dread phrase – ‘have it all’, or not all of the time, at any rate. Their children sometimes had a hard time of it. But they loved what they did and they got on with doing it as best they could in far less equal times than our own. If that isn’t encouraging – a kind of rallying call to the twenty-first-century battle-weary – I don’t know what is."
Isn't that the truth?

All the women lived in the post WWII UK, but readers not in the UK,  should still find inspiration from these ten women and what their accomplishments meant for the women of today. All the essays can be read as stand alone pieces, but as Cooke writes, "But if you read all seven of them there will, I hope, be a cumulative effect, the culture of the Fifties – its food, its architecture, its popular culture, its habits and its opinions – revealed through the lives of ten revolutionaries and taste makers who just happen to have been women. I hope these stories make people reconsider the ‘lost’ decade between the end of the war and feminism. I hope, too, that they speak to readers everywhere, whichever city or continent they happen to be reading in."

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

The Sweetness of Life

The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer
MacLehose Press: 12/2/2014
eBook, 320 pages

ISBN-13: 9781623658533

A German bestseller, winner of the European Union Prize for Literature, and longlisted for the German Book Prize in 2006, Paulus Hochgatterer has created a chilling psychological thriller a group of damaged people living in a pleasant and seemingly tranquil Austrian village. It's the Christmas holiday, the presents have been opened, and a six-year-old girl is drinking cocoa and playing with her grandfather. The doorbell rings, and the old man gets up. The next time the girl sees her grandfather, he is lying by the barn, his skull broken; his face a red pulp against the white snow. From that time on, she does not speak a single word.
Along with Detective Superintendent Ludwig Kovacs, Raffael Horn, the psychiatrist engaged to treat the silent child, reluctantly becomes involved in solving the murder. Their parallel researches sweep through the town: a young mother who believes her new-born child is the devil; a Benedictine monk who uses his iPod to drown the voices in his head; a high-spending teenager who tortures cats. With his background as a child psychiatrist, Hochgatterer draws back the veil of normality and presents a disconcerting portrait of a winter-held town filled with unsavory inhabitants.
My Thoughts:

The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer is a highly recommended, atmospheric and almost melancholy psychological thriller.

“Who could do a thing like that?” and why it sounded so jolly when she said it.
“Someone who has a problem with the sweetness of life,” he said, astonishing himself with his own words, because it was unlike him to tolerate such fanciful turns of phrase.

Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch, this is author Hochgatterer's U.S. debut.  Set in the Austrian town of Furth am See, The Sweetness of Life opens with a grandfather, Sebastian Wilfert, playing Ludo with his granddaughter, Katharina during the Christmas season. A knock at the door sends her grandfather outside and Katharina later discovers his headless corpse outside, in the snow. Katharina goes mute, tightly holding onto two Ludo pieces. The crime is investigated by Detective Ludwig Kovacs,while child psychiatrist Raffael Horn sees Katharina in hopes of getting her to talk.

Both are Kovacs and Horn are morose, introspective, middle aged men who tend toward self -contemplation and disillusionment, which lends the whole novel a melancholy, mournful feeling. While we follow both men we see who the suspects in a town that seems to be full of damaged people. The actual setting and time of year amps up the bleak, atmospheric tension.

The strength of Hochgatterer's novel is found in the elegant descriptions juxtaposed to the sometimes depressing and brutal insight into the human condition, which makes perfect sense since Hochgatterer is a Vienna child psychiatrist. There is no nail biting suspense here, but rather a tale with an overwhelmingly feeling of depression, akin to seasonal affective disorder, mixed with the fragile hold on sanity experienced by several people. 

The pace is slow and thoughtful, but the mystery is solved in the end, while you hope even more for some relief for both Kovacs and Horn as they plod through their very challenging jobs where despair and gloom seem to be close companions.

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Sister's Grave

My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni
Amazon Publishing: 11/1/2014
eBook, 410 pages

ISBN-13: 9781477825570

Tracy Crosswhite has spent twenty years questioning the facts surrounding her sister Sarah’s disappearance and the murder trial that followed. She doesn’t believe that Edmund House—a convicted rapist and the man condemned for Sarah’s murder—is the guilty party. Motivated by the opportunity to obtain real justice, Tracy became a homicide detective with the Seattle PD and dedicated her life to tracking down killers.
When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered near their hometown in the northern Cascade mountains of Washington State, Tracy is determined to get the answers she’s been seeking. As she searches for the real killer, she unearths dark, long-kept secrets that will forever change her relationship to her past—and open the door to deadly danger.

My Thoughts:  

My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni is a highly recommended police procedural/legal thriller that will keep you thoroughly entertained.

Twenty years ago Tracy Crosswhite's younger sister Sarah disappeared without a trace in the mountain town of Cedar Grove, Washington. Now her body has been found and Tracy, a Seattle homicide detective, needs some answers. Although there was a man convicted for her murder, Tracy has never been entirely convinced that he was guilty as it appeared that the evidence presented at the trail may have been rigged. With the discovery of the skeleton/body after so many years, Tracy wants some questions answered but it seems that many of the officials involved want her to stop asking the questions.

The story is told through flashbacks twenty years ago set between today's current events. Most of the book focuses on Tracy trying to uncover the truth and get some real answers to her questions. Tracy is a compelling, strong female lead character who is persistent, determined, and intelligent. Certainly she will be welcomed back if Dugoni should start a series featuring her on the investigation.

There were a few times that the plot unnecessarily slowed down, as past events were ruminated over again, and the ending seemed rather predictable to me. That said, I read compulsively to the end to put all the pieces together and reach the conclusion. This is a very satisfying police procedural and should satisfy fans of that genre.

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Vineyard

The Vineyard by Michael Hurley
Ragbagger Press: 11/25/2014
eBook, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780976127567

Dory Delano, Charlotte Harris, and Turner Graham have been drifting through life since their days as roommates at Smith College, ten years ago. Dory is resisting taking the reins of her family's legacy and fortune even as she relishes the fabulous lifestyle it affords her in the fashionable seaside resort of Martha's Vineyard. She invites her old friends to join her for a summer on the Vineyard in hopes of rediscovering the innocence of old days and healing new wounds. But hidden in their midst and unknown to all but a few, a reclusive--some say dangerous--fisherman wanders alone, fueling wild speculation about his purpose and his past. None of these women can imagine the events their encounter with the fisherman will set in motion, the shadow he will cast over their destinies, or the transformation that awaits the world they know.

My Thoughts:

The Vineyard by Michael Hurley is a highly recommended novel about friendship and overcoming difficult circumstances.

Three friends in their early 30's gather at Martha's Vineyard for a summer of reconnections but it ultimately becomes a time of healing and reawakening - with some added mysticism and allegorical tie-ins. Dory, Charlotte, and Turner all reunite on Dory's family residents on Martha's Vineyard. For Dory it is a time to keep trying to escape the expectations placed upon her based on her heritage and wealth. Charlotte has accepted her invitation because she is planning to commit suicide as soon as she arrives. Turner is simply at loose ends in her life and has no direction, beyond continuing her blog.

All three women have encounters with the fisherman. "His name was Enoch, which didn’t much matter, because almost no one knew his name or referred to him as anything other than “the fisherman.”  In the turn of events, he changes the lives of all three women.

The Vineyard opens with Charlotte planning to wade out into the ocean with her daughter Meredith's ashes immediately after she arrives. "Only the sea was far and wide enough to cover the grief of losing a daughter, a marriage, and a life that once had seemed to rise continually skyward, like a zephyr." She is still mourning the loss of her daughter and lamenting the refusal of the church to bury Meredith because she died unbaptized. Charlotte has the numbers 1183-2 tattooed on her left forearm as a self-imposed badge of shame. "They comprised the paragraph and section number of a single line of the Code of Canon Laws of the Catholic Church: The local ordinary can permit children whom the parents intended to baptize but who died before baptism to be given ecclesiastical funerals." She buys shrimp from the fisherman, and he later touches her life in an unexpected way.

Dory is a larger than life character who does nothing in half measures. It was all or nothing at all—with everything. The expectations her family's name seem to require of her has placed a restraint on her life from which that she wants to rebel. Her encounter with the fisherman is miraculous and alters her life.

Turner is a skeptic and negative about any help from a fisherman. She does know a good story hook when she sees one, however, so she blogs about the miraculous doings of the fisherman, freely making her posts allegorical as well as exaggerated. Her blog posts go viral and her hit numbers are unprecedented. Suddenly people all over want to know more. "The world was eager and the market was ripe for a new theology of redemption, and Turner’s stories about a strange fisherman on the Vineyard conveniently filled that void." People are all clamoring for a copy of what they think is Turner's soon to be published The Book of Enoch.

After enjoying Hurley's The Prodigal last year, I was pleased to read The Vineyard. The writing is still excellent and the narrative encompasses many of the same features: personal challenges, Catholicism, allegorical tie-ins, and sailing. This time there is a whole lot of sex, however, and not of the romantic variety or even with any care (emotional or practical). It's either a sexual predator, someone using their sexuality for their own purposes, or raw lust.  So, although the quality of the writing is just as good and descriptive, the actual story lost some of the momentum for me because the female characters just seemed off and rather mindless during those scenes. I enjoyed the novel enough to keep reading, though the ending, while it ties up all the storylines, was a bit too pat and sort of fizzled out for me.

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Prism by Roland Allnach
All Things That Matter Press: 7/3/2014
eBook, 284 pages
ISBN-13: 9780996041348

Prism presents the best of Roland Allnach's newest stories together with his most acclaimed published short fiction. These selected stories fracture the reader's perceptions among a dazzling array of genres and styles to illuminate the mysterious aspects of the human experience.
Roland Allnach has been described as a "star on the rise" (ForeWord Clarion), "a master storyteller with a powerful pen" (Cynthia Brian, NY Times Bestselling author), with writing that is "smart, elegant, and addicting" (San Francisco Review).

My Thoughts:

Prism by Roland Allnach is a highly recommended collection of 17 short stories that display the author's incredible talent and ability to write in a wide variety of styles. Most of the stories were previously published and several were highly acclaimed.  Allnach displays the wide range of his ability and talent in this very diverse collection. Anyone who enjoys short stories should find several that appeal to them.

The contents include:
“After the Empire”: a soldier visits the ruins of his home town; previously published in the Summer 2008 issue of The Armchair Aesthete.
“11”: A man lives in fear of his stalker; previously published in the Fall 2008 (Vol. 7/34) issue of Allegory.
“Icon”: A critic scouts the artistic fringe and writes obsessively about a self-destructive singer; previously published in the January 2009 issue of Midnight Times.
“Creep”: A young boy is afraid of the dark; previously published in the Spring 2009 issue of The Storyteller; a 2010 Pushcart Prize nominee.
“Return”: A man is recovering from injuries after a car accident: previously published in the Fall 2009 issue of Lullwater Review.
“Flowers for Colleen”: Two amoral predators find each other; previously published in the April 2010 issue of Absent Willow Review.
“Memento”: A Body reclamation driver reflects on his actions; previously a web publication, 2010 issue of Reed Magazine.
“The Great Hunter”: A boy's imagination runs wild; previously in the September 2010 issue of Foliate Oak.
“Apogee”: An astrophysics grad student visits his professor with a great discovery: previously published in the Fall 2010 issue of Rose & Thorn Journal.
“The City of Never”: A futuristic constructor builds environments/cities in a day; previously in the October 2011 issue of Aphelion and recipient of the Aphelion Editors’ ‘Best of 2011’.
“Conquest’s End”: A war of wars culminates in a Lord laying siege to the Ladies bastion: previously in issues 477-481 of Bewildering Stories and recipient, ‘Editor’s Choice’, and ‘Mariner Award’, Bewildering Stories, 2012.
“Turn the Wheel”: A man recalls an event earlier in his life that put him to the test: previously in the ‘Garden Nettles’ issue of Midwest Literary Magazine, 2012.
“Beheld”: "In the Beginning, the Deity pondered." ; previously published in the Summer 2012, Raphael’s Village.
 "Titalis": A long tale of the city of Eurimedon and the quest/challenge for the hand of She of the Plains, told in 5 Acts.
"Of Typhon and Aerina": a long epic poem
"Tumbleweed: or An Ode to a Well Endowed Gunslinger”: A humorous poem in rhyming couplets about the wild west.
"Dissociated": "She says what she said before in that story, which is really this story."

With such diversity, the only real drawback to the collection is that every story/poem might not appeal to the reader as much as a collection with a similar theme or with stories written in the same genre. I basically liked most of the selections but had a few I enjoyed a bit less. Many of the stories are dark or tragic. There is some real and implied horror.  I would imagine that those who enjoy short story collections will likely notice Allnach's talent and ability while appreciating this divergent collection.

TLC Tour

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of All Things That Matter Press for review purposes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Blue Labyrinth

Blue Labyrinth by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Grand Central Publishing: 11/11/2014
eBook, 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9781455525898
Special Agent Pendergast Series #14

A long-buried family secret has come back to haunt Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast.
It begins with murder. One of Pendergast's most implacable, most feared enemies is found on his doorstep, dead. Pendergast has no idea who is responsible for the killing, or why the body was brought to his home. The mystery has all the hallmarks of the perfect crime, save for an enigmatic clue: a piece of turquoise lodged in the stomach of the deceased.
The gem leads Pendergast to an abandoned mine on the shore of California's Salton Sea, which in turn propels him on a journey of discovery deep into his own family's sinister past. But Pendergast learns there is more at work than a ghastly episode of family history: he is being stalked by a subtle killer bent on vengeance over an ancient transgression. And he soon becomes caught in a wickedly clever plot, which leaves him stricken in mind and body, and propels him toward a reckoning beyond anything he could ever have imagined....

My Thoughts:

Blue Labyrinth by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child is the very highly recommended 14th book to feature Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. Fans of the series are going to love this latest adventure that brings Pendergast back as a main character and this time he actually shows a fallible, mortal side.

Blue Labyrinth opens with the body of Pendergast's estranged son, Alban, left dead on the doorstep of his Manhattan mansion. As detached as Pendergast acts, he closely follows the investigation and jumps into action when the autopsy reveals a gemstone, a rare type of turquoise, in Alban's stomach. Pendergast traces the gemstone to the mine of origin and looks for clues and traps while trying to decipher Alban's movements to find his murderer.

In the meantime Lt. Vincent D'Agosta has been called in to investigate a murder at the New York Museum of Natural history. Fans of the series will be thrilled to see Margot back and those new to the series will appreciate her just as much in this outing. Constance Greene is also back and plays an intricate part in this novel. We also learn more about the Pendergast family history - this time a black sheep of sorts whose actions are affecting current events.

Blue Labyrinth is an utterly engrossing thriller that held my rapt attention to the end. Admittedly it is not my absolute favorite of the Pendergast books, but that would be based on all 14 books. Alone, this latest Preston and Child novel is thoroughly enjoyable and a wonderful addition to the series. Usually Pendergast is always a step ahead of everyone; this time he may have actually met a foe who can actually challenge even his mental acuity.

A nail-biting-stay-up-all-night at the airport book, Blue Labyrinth is definitely a must read for fans but those unfamiliar with the series should get enough background information with the story to appreciate it just as much. I've said it more than once and Blue Labyrinth confirms it: it is seemingly impossible for Preston and Child (or Preston OR Child) to write a novel I won't enjoy.

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Demon who Peddled Longing

The Demon who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha
Underground Voices: 11/21/2014
eBook, 298 pages
ISBN-13: 9780990433118

Set in post-war Vietnam, The Demon Who Peddled Longing tells the terrible journey of a nineteen-year-old boy in search of the two brothers who are drifters and who raped and killed his cousin also his girl. It brings together the damned, the unfit, the brave, who succumb by their own doing to the call of fate. Yet their desire to survive and to face life again never dies, so that when someone like the boy who is psychologically damaged by his family tragedy, who no sooner gets his life together after being rescued by a fisherwoman than falls in love with an untouchable girl and finds his life in peril, takes his leave in the end, there is nothing left but a longing in the heart that goes with him.

My Thoughts:

The Demon who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha is a very highly recommended, atmospheric novel that follows the journey of Nam, a nineteen year old young man who is is out looking to avenge his cousin's brutal rape and murder.

"It all starts with the eyes that see, and what’s seen then feeds the thought with longing." Location 1132

Throughout the The Demon who Peddled Longing Nam is usually just referred to as the boy. Set in post-war Vietnam, the narrative opens with a badly wounded boy being pulled from the river by a mysterious woman, who tends his wounds and puts him to work. Soon he realizes that she is wounded too, although not physically.  As his journey continues, Nam meets a series of people, all trying to overcome complicated circumstances, all wounded and longing for something. 

He tells people that he is from up north, heading south to find work on a fishing boat, but his quest takes several unexpected turns along the way.  A small handful of people learn the real story of what Nam is searching for in his journey. He learns of another girl who was raped by two young men, brothers, and their description. He is certain that these two men are the ones who raped and murdered his cousin, Ni, and his suspicions are confirmed when he meets one of them, by chance, and sees the boy wearing tiger’s-claw-shaped jade pendant that his cousin always wore - until she was killed. The heirloom was supposed to keep demons away.

This is another exquisitely written novel with poetic prose and descriptions. Just as in Flesh, Khanh Ha will overload your senses with his sensually rich descriptions. Yet again he manages to capture beauty and longing as well as an ominous sense of foreboding. There is an almost dream-like quality to Nam's search and in his relationships to the people he encounters along the way. The Demon who Peddled Longing is such a beautifully written, descriptive novel that it's difficult to reconcile the elegance of the writing with the equally present determination Nam has to find and kill the men who murdered his cousin. Bravo, Khanh Ha; it's this juxtaposition and the dexterity in which it is presented that elevates The Demon who Peddled Longing to my highest recommendation.

(It must be noted that even though there is "Demon" in the title, this is not a supernatural novel about malignant spirits beyond the human kind.)

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

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Family Furnishings

Family Furnishings  by Alice Munro
Knopf Doubleday: 11/11/2014
eBook, 640 pages

ISBN-13: 9781101874103
From the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature—and one of our most beloved writers—a new selection of her peerless short fiction, gathered from the collections of the last two decades, a companion volume to Selected Stories (1968-1994).
Family Furnishings brings us twenty-four of Alice Munro’s most accomplished, most powerfully affecting stories, many of them set in the territory she has so brilliantly made her own: the small towns and flatlands of southwestern Ontario. Subtly honed with her hallmark precision, grace, and compassion, these stories illuminate the quotidian yet extraordinary particularity in the lives of men and women, parents and children, friends and lovers as they discover sex, fall in love, part, quarrel, suffer defeat, set off into the unknown, or find a way to be in the world.

My Thoughts:

Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014  by Alice Munro is a very highly recommended collection of 24 short stories with an introduction by Jane Smiley.

All these short stories have been previously published and are now brought together for this collection. The title stories, which are all novella length, from all six of her most recent collections have been included. As one of the great short story writers of our time, Monro has a clear insight into her characters and setting. She can capture a slice of an ordinary person's life and present it so it is reflecting the universal human condition. This is a great way to follow ongoing themes in her work and see them develop over time.

Family Furnishings is a wonderful edition to have, especially as a companion to her Selected Stories, which covers work from 1968-1994. Monro is a Nobel Prize winner and one of the most accomplished short story writers of our time. This would be an excellent way to acquaint yourself with Monro's writing, perhaps savoring it slowly, one story at a time, especially since the collection is 640 pages. Let's face it: she is an exceptional writer and this is an tremendous addition to any collection of short stories.

The Love of a Good Woman; Jakarta; The Children Stay; My Mother’s Dream; Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage; Family Furnishings; Post and Beam; The Bear Came Over the Mountain; The View from Castle Rock; Working for a Living; Hired Girl; Home; Runaway; Soon; Passion; Dimensions; Wood; Child’s Play; Too Much Happiness; To Reach Japan; Amundsen; Train; The Eye; Dear Life.

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

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hello From the Gillespies

Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney
Penguin Group: 11/4/2014
eBook, 624 pages

ISBN-13: 9780451466723

For the past thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has sent to friends and family around the world an end-of-the-year letter titled “Hello from the Gillespies.” It’s always been cheery and full of good news. This year, Angela surprises herself—she tells the truth....
The Gillespies are far from the perfect family that Angela has made them out to be. Her husband is coping badly with retirement. Her thirty-two-year-old twins are having career meltdowns. Her third daughter, badly in debt, can’t stop crying. And her ten-year-old son spends more time talking to his imaginary friend than to real ones.
Without Angela, the family would fall apart. But when Angela is taken away from them in a most unexpected manner, the Gillespies pull together—and pull themselves together—in wonderfully surprising ways….

My Thoughts:

Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney is a highly recommended novel about a family that isn't perfect. After the annual Christmas letter reveals their secrets and then a greater tragedy happens they are forced to deal with reality and each other.

We've probaby all received those Christmas letters from some families that are full of unnatural cheer and bragging. Wouldn't it be nice to for once receive a letter that tells it like it is, all the unvarnished truth as well as some speculation about what may really be going on. Angela Gillespie, frustrated while trying to write her annual cheerful Christmas letter, decided to take it as a cathartic writing challenge to write down exactly what she thinks about what her children are really doing, how her husband is acting and how their marriage may be in trouble, and her fantasy about how her life should have been.  After Angela unloads all her angst in the letter, which she has no intention of sending, an emergency has her leaving it as is, not deleted, and her husband, thinking he is doing her a favor, sends it off to the 100 people on their Christmas email list.

Now, along with her distant husband, her grown daughters are upset (and all moving home) and her 10 year-old son is discussing it all with his imaginary friend. They all have to decide how they are going to handle the fact that everyone knows the unvarnished truth. Later, when a real emergency happens, they all need to pull together. The first half of the novel deals with the infamous Christmas letter and the aftermath, while the second half of the novel really focuses on the family and their unity. It must be said that even though the older daughters are supposedly 32, they come across as much younger and it can be a struggle to deal with their immaturity, along with their sister's whining.

Even with a predictable ending, Hello From the Gillespies is the kind of thick novel that you want to curl up with on a cold evening. The pages fly by quickly in this family saga and McInerney does a great job alternating between each character's story. The writing is excellent, with lots of wonderful descriptions along with insights into the Gillespie family.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of The Penguin Group via Netgalley for review purposes.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Mr. Bones

Mr. Bones by Paul Theroux
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 9/30/2014
eBook, 368 pages

ISBN-13: 9780544324022
A family watches in horror as their patriarch transforms into the singing, wise-cracking lead of an old-timey minstrel show. A renowned art collector relishes publicly destroying his most valuable pieces. Two boys stand by helplessly as their father stages an all-consuming war on the raccoons living in the woods around their house. A young artist devotes himself to a wealthy, malicious gossip, knowing that it’s just a matter of time before she turns on him.
In this new collection of short stories, acclaimed author Paul Theroux explores the tenuous leadership of the elite and the surprising revenge of the overlooked. He shows us humanity possessed, consumed by its own desire and compulsion, always with his carefully honed eye for detail and the subtle idiosyncrasies that bring his characters to life. Searing, dark, and sure to unsettle, Mr. Bones is a stunning new display of Paul Theroux’s “fluent, faintly sinister powers of vision and imagination” (John Updike, The New Yorker).
My Thoughts:

 Mr. Bones by Paul Theroux is a very highly recommended, wonderfully descriptive collection of twenty short stories. There should be a story that will appeal to almost everyone in these masterfully well written stories, many of which take common-place occurrences and put a twist on them.

The collection includes:

Minor Watt: A wealthy man destroys his priceless treasure simply because he can. 
Mr. Bones:
A mild mannered father has a drastic and startling personality change.
Our Raccoon Year
: A plague of raccoons changes a family's already fluid dynamics.
Mrs. Everest: A painter meets a gallery owner who courts his company even though she doesn't like his work.   
Another Necklace
: An author has a secret.   
Incident in the Oriente
: An overseas contractor wields his influence over those he employs.   Rip It UpAnxious, pimply fourteen-year-olds devise a plan to extract retribution on their bullies. 
Siamese Nights
: A man is assigned to work in Bangkok where he keeps a pictorial diary of drawings and meets someone special.   
Nowadays the Dead Don’t Die
: A man in the bush is asked to take a man with no family to the hospital. When the ill man dies on the way, he is unceremoniously buried - but then things begin to go wrong. 
Autostop Summer
: A writer visits Italy and recalls a trip there many years ago.   
Voices of Love
: This is a collection of short vignettes, first-person flash fiction, of unfaithful people.
The Furies
: A man marries a much younger woman and his past begins to catch up with him. 
: Scam artists hook-up and hit the road.   
: A young man runs an errand for his father, who is very protective of him.   
Long Story Short
Another collection of short first-person flash fiction stories that feature young men coming-of age.
Neighbor Islands
: A Hawaiian police officer catches his wife in a compromising position and then the incident is looked at from several viewpoints.   
The Traveler’s Wife
: A travel writer's wife starts expressing her opinions.   
The First World
: A wealthy man retires to Nantucket where he wishes to build his dream house.  
: An elderly writer dies in the deep South.   
I’m the Meat, You’re the Knife
: A man who is back in his home town for his father's funeral visits his old English teacher who is dying.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via Netgalley for review purposes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Winter Boy

The Winter Boy by Sally Wiener Grotta
Pixel Hall Press: 11/6/2014
eBook, 496 pages
ISBN-13: 9780988387133

A cloistered society of widows, the Alleshi, has forged a centuries-long peace by mentoring young men who will one day become the leaders of the land. Each boy is paired with a single Allesha for a season of intimacy and learning, using time-honored methods that include dialog, reason and sex. However, unknown to all but a hidden few, the peace is fracturing from pressures within and beyond.
Amidst this gathering political maelstrom, Rishana, a young new idealistic Allesha, takes her First Boy, Ryl, for a winter of training. But Ryl is a "problem boy," who fights Rishana every step of the way. At the same time, Rishana uncovers a web of conspiracies that could not only destroy Ryl, but threatens to tear their entire society apart. And a winter that should have been a gentle, quiet season becomes one of conflict, anger and danger.
My Thoughts:

The Winter Boy by Sally Wiener Grotta is a highly recommended dystopian science fiction coming-of-age novel.

Over the years peace has been established in the land by the Alleshi, a group of widows who train young men to become their Alemen, Blessed Boys. A strong bond will naturally develop between Alleshi and Alemen. Rishana, a young Allesha, is about to take her first Boy, Ryl. Rishana has been asked to do this even though she still has four months of training left. Ryl is categorized by all as a difficult young man.

As an Alleshi, Rishana must teach Ryl sensitivity, communication, and empathy - all things a good leader of men will need in order to maintain the peace, but she also must tutor him in sensual and sexual performance. Ryl must learn diplomacy and tact to help keep the peace someday. As Rishana and Ryl struggle to adjust under the Alleshi system to the many changes and each other, other facts are revealed that may shake the foundations of their orderly world.

The changes and growth that both characters experience during their time together help propel the story forward, as do the myths and legends that are shared as part of the learning process. What does it take to promote peace?

Although this is a page turner and a compelling plot, it also requires the reader to buy into the Alleshi system (and all the name changes that apparently accompany it), as well as accept the whole idea of Alleshi using sex to train young men. In the end it was a very good book and well written. I'm sure there will be many 5 star reviews for it.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Pixel Hall Pres via Netgalley for review purposes.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Crazy is Normal

Crazy is Normal: a classroom exposé by Lloyd Lofthouse
Three Clover Press; 6/13/14
eBook, 386 pages

"Readers who envision eager students lapping up learning led by a Tiger Teacher will be disappointed. Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult. Throughout this journal, though, Lofthouse seems able to keep the hope alive that there’s a future for each student that doesn’t include jail—thanks in large part to his sixth period journalism class and its incredible editor, Amanda." – Bruce Reeves

My Thoughts:

Crazy is Normal: a classroom exposé by Lloyd Lofthouse is a highly recommended memoir from an experienced teacher recounting in detail the year 1994-95. 

After 30 years of teaching Lloyd Lofthouse decided to write a brutally honest, detailed memoir of his year of classroom teaching in 1994. At that time Lofthouse had already had 20 years of experience teaching English and Journalism. He recorded in a journal his experiences from the year 1994 while teaching at the Nogales High School in La Puente, California (L.A. suburb) and brought the year to life in rich detail in Crazy is Normal. Nogales High School is in a poverty stricken urban barrio ruled mainly by gangs. Drop outs and drive-by shootings are both common. He taught a variety of English classes, but his star class was the journalism class which had motivated students and an outstanding editor, Amanda.  

The narrative is set up following his year of teaching, week by week, for the entire year. Lofthouse has also included excerpts from studies and articles concerning teaching. There is a youtube video interview with Lofthouse that will show you the passion and concern he has for students. He also explains why an exposé detailing a year of teaching from 1994-95 is still pertinent today: the students and the parents haven't changed. He goes on to make several very passionate points about the state of education today. Since I work in an elementary school I clearly see the need to have students coming in to school with the desire to learn to read - after being read to by parents. But, as most of us know, that is not always the case and impoverished parents mean impoverished children.

While the memoir is certainly worth reading, I'd have to agree with others that a strength and weakness is the way it is presented in weekly segments. At times the daily repetition can be tedious, much as a school year can be, with the same problems with the same students, but it also clearly shows the commitment a teacher must have toward a profession to continue teaching and facing many of the same struggles year after year. The year ends because it's done, not with any great climatic moment. Lofthouse does clearly and successfully capture his frustration, but also his commitment. I enjoyed this memoir and found myself sympathizing with Lofthouse for most of it.

I will admit I was a bit put off and perhaps it was too honest when he admitted he was attracted to one of his students (no action on his part.) I can't quite envision that, although I do know students get crushes on teachers. Currently, I'm in the position where I'm in an elementary school by day and some evenings I work with a group of high school and college kids.  I find them funny, lively, cute, sometimes foul-mouthed and annoying, and any number of other things, but never feel any attraction for them. They all are like my "kids." Several years ago when I was the adult supervisor for publishing a newsletter and yearbook with a group of teens I felt the same way. Perhaps it's a male/female thing, but I just can't quite swallow that one. It is just a small part of the whole narrative, however, and doesn't overshadow the totality of the memoir.

Crazy is Normal will be on sale for $0.99 from October 1-November 15, 2014, for your Kindle!

You Tube Video - interview

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the author for review purposes..       
Virtual Author Book Tour Schedule

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Metrophage by Richard Kadrey
HarperCollins: 11/4/2014 (re-release)
eBook, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062334480
The cult-classic dystopian cyberpunk tale from New York Times bestselling author Richard Kadrey, after twenty years, now back in print in a special signed, collectible edition
Welcome to our future: L.A. in the late twenty-first century—a segregated city of haves and have-nots, where morality is dead and technology rules. Here, a small wealthy group secludes themselves in gilded cages. Beyond their high-security compounds, far from their pretty comforts, lies a lawless wasteland where the angry masses battle hunger, rampant disease, and their own despair in order to survive.
Jonny was born into this Hobbesian paradise. A streetwise hustler who deals drugs on the black market—narcotics that heal the body and cool the mind—he looks out for nobody but himself. Until a terrifying plague sweeps through L.A., wreaking death and panic, and no one, not even a clever operator like Jonny, is safe.

My Thoughts:

Metrophage by Richard Kadrey is a recommended cyber-punk classic that is being re-released.

Metrophage is set in a future LA that is harshly divided into those who have wealth and those who don't. LA itself has been partially destroyed. Now the city is populated by hustlers of various ilk and specialties.  Jonny Qabbala is a street hustler who sells drugs, but right now he's out looking for Easy Money, another dealer who killed one of his friends. Circumstances send Jonny on the run. While he's trying to survive, a plague is breaking out and beginning to spread.

This is a dark story with lots of violence and a kinetic, frantic feeling to all of it. The strengths of the novel are the characterizations and the imagery Kadrey manages to capture.  The downside is the violence. The jury is still out on cyberpunk for me, but for those who want to read one of the early ground breaking cyberpunk works, Metrophage is a novel you would want to include.

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