Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Books

My top books of 2015!
The top books are in the order in which they were read rather than a best book of the year and down. I've kept the dates reviewed and added comments to fiction this year.

Fiction - Top ten

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, 2/4/15 - complex, multi-generational novel; Tyler remains a favorite author
My Life in a Nutshell by Tanya J. Peterson, 3/25/15 - this book had me sobbing like a baby several times
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, 5/21/15 - incredible writing, poignant story 
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, 5/28/15 - quality writing, real science, and the complete story in one massive novel
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman, 6/18/15 - a fairytale with great writing, incredible story telling
Those Girls by Chevy Stevens, 6/30/15 - great writing, fast paced, suspenseful
All This Life by Joshua Mohr, 304 pages, 7/16/15 - exceptionally thoughtful novel about our interconnected lives
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, 9/28/15 - Atwood's writing never disappoints me; a future banned book 
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter, 10/3/15 - tense, gritty nail-biter with plots twists 
The Bone Labyrinth by James Rollins, 12/6/15 - classic Rollins; complex, non-stop action

Nonfiction - top 8

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson, 3/3/15
What Stands in a Storm by Kim Cross, 3/5/15 
The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker, 5/4/15
The Wright Brothers
by David McCullough, 5/9/15 

The Mercy of the Sky by Holly Bailey, 5/10/15 
My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg, 9/19/15  
Pacific by Simon Winchester, 11/2/15
It Ended Badly by Jennifer Wright, 11/3/15

Short Stories - top 6 collections

The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns, 1/15/15
Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman, 1/30/15
Voices in the Night: Stories by Steven Millhauser, 4/11/15
The Brink: Stories by Austin Bunn, 4/24/15 
Mendocino Fire by Elizabeth Tallent, 10/29/15
Halibut, Herring and You: Short Stories by Carla Billinghurst,12/4/15

2015 Books
I tried an asterisk system this year as I read and reviewed books: ** denoted a very highly recommended exceptional book while * was a very highly recommended book.

January -13 books
*1. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton, 480 pages, 1/2/15, very highly recommended
2. The Deep by Nick Cutter, 400 pages, 1/5/15, highly recommended
*3. West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan, 304 pages, 1/7/15, very highly recommended
4. The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi, 320 pages, 1/9/15, highly recommended
*5. Whipping Boy by  Allen Kurzweil, 304 pages, 1/13/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
*6. The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns, 128 pages, 1/15/15, very highly recommended, short stories
7. Watch Me Go by Mark Wisniewski, 320 pages, 1/19/15, highly recommended
8. Five Fires by Laura Lippman, 28 pages, 1/20/15, highly recommended, short story
9. Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman, 304 pages, 1/21/15, highly recommended
10. Plucked: A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca M. Herzig, 280 pages, 1/22/15, highly recommended, nonfiction
*11. The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly, 416 pages, 1/26/15, very highly recommended
12. I Am Not a Slut by Leora Tanenbaum, 416 pages, 1/28/15, highly recommended, nonfiction
*13. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman, 352 pages, 1/30/15, very highly recommended, short stories

February - 15 books
14. Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting, 368 pages, 2/2/15, highly recommended
**15. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, 368 pages, 2/4/15, very highly recommended
16. The Forgetting Place by John Burley, 352 pages, 2/6/15, highly recommended
17. Blood Infernal by James Rollins, Rebecca Cantrell, 416 pages, 2/8/15, recommended
18. The Glittering World by Robert Levy, 352 pages, 2/9/15, recommended
19. Crazy Love You by Lisa Unger, 352 pages, 2/11/15, highly recommended
20. Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton, 448 pages,  2/14/15, recommended for YA readers
21. Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson, 384 pages, 2/16/15, highly recommended
22. World Gone By by Dennis Lehane, 320 pages, 2/20/15, highly recommended
23. Across the Deep Blue Sea by Odd S. Lovoll, 224 pages, 2/20/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction

24. The Doomsday Equation by Matt Richtel, 384 pages, 2/23/15, highly recommended
*25. Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon, 272 pages, 2/24/15, very highly recommended
26. Some Other Town by Elizabeth Collison, 304 pages, 2/25/15, highly recommended
*27. The Crops Look Good by Sara DeLuca, 240 pages, 2/26/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
28. Daughter by Jane Shemilt, 352 pages, 2/27/15, recommended

March – 15 books
*29. The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce, 384 pages, 3/1/15, very highly recommended
**30. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson, 448 pages, 3/3/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
**31. What Stands in a Storm by Kim Cross, 320 pages, 3/5/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
32. The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig, 384 pages, 3/10/15, recommended
33. Hush Hush by Laura Lippman, 320 pages, 3/12/15, highly recommended
34. The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford, 320 pages, 3/14/15, highly recommended
35. The Wilderness of Ruin by Roseanne Montillo. 320 pages, 3/16/15, highly recommended, nonfiction
*36. Cost of Life by Joshua Corin, 274 pages, 3/18/15, very highly recommended
37. Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun, 288 pages, 3/20/15, highly recommended
38. The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James, 240, 3/23/15, highly recommended
39. Vostok by Steve Alten, 416 pages, 3/24/15, recommended
**40. My Life in a Nutshell by Tanya J. Peterson, 386 pages, 3/25/15, very highly recommended 
*41. At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen, 368 pages, 3/27/15, very highly recommended
42. We Regret to Inform You by Tim Fredrick, 138 pages, 3/31/15, highly recommended, short stories
43. Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn, 128 pages, no written review, poetry

April - 13 books
*44. Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo, 224 pages, 4/6/15, very highly recommended
*45. The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer, 448 pages, 4/7/15, very highly recommended
46. The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg, 368 pages, 4/9/15, highly recommended
47. The Edge of the World by Michael Pye, 360 pages, 4/10/15, highly recommended
*48. Voices in the Night: Stories by Steven Millhauser, 304 pages, 4/11/15, very highly recommended, short stories
49. What You Left Behind by Samantha Hayes, 320 pages, 4/13/15, recommended
*50. Unoffendable by Brant Hansen, 224 pages, 4/14/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
*51. House of Echoes by Brendan Duffy, 400 pages, 4/16/15, very highly recommended
52. When the Shoe Fits by Mary T. Wagner, 245 pages, 4/19/15, highly recommended
*53. Bridges of Paris by Michael Saint James, 280 pages, 4/22/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
*54. The Brink: Stories by Austin Bunn, 240 pages, 4/24/15, very highly recommended, short stories
55. Depth by Lev AC Rosen, 304 pages, 4/27/15, recommended
56. Kingdom of Darkness by Andy McDermott, 512 pages, 4/29/15, highly recommended

May – 15 books
*57. The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft, 368 pages, 5/1/15, very highly recommended
58. Early Warning by Jane Smiley, 496 pages, 5/3/15, highly recommended
*59. The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker, 272, 5/4/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
60. Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani, 378 pages,5/7/15,  recommended
*61. Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates, 208 pages, 5/9/15, very highly recommended
**62. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough, 336 pages, 5/9/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
**63. The Mercy of the Sky by Holly Bailey, 320 pages, 5/10/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
64. Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel, 304 pages, 5/11/15, highly recommended
65. Housebreaking by Dan Pope, 288 pages, 5/14/15, recommended
66. The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child, 304 pages, 5/14/15, highly recommended
67. On the Burning Edge by Kyle Dickman, 304 pages, 5/16/15, highly recommended, nonfiction
68. The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North, 288 pages, 5/17/15, highly recommended
**69. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, 192 pages, 5/21/15, very highly recommended
**70. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, 880 pages, 5/28/15, very highly recommended
71. The Dismantling by Brian DeLeeuw, 288 pages, 5/30/15, highly recommended

June -12 books
72. I'm Happy for You by Kay Wills Wyma, 240 pages, 6/1/15, highly recommended, nonfiction
73. Ruthless by John Rector, 270 pages, 6/2/15, highly recommended
*74. The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows, 512 pages, 6/6/15, very highly recommended
75. Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds, 192 pages, 6/8/15, highly recommended
*76. I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers, 272 pages, 6/9/15, very highly recommended
*77. Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson, 304 pages, 6/15/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
**78. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman, 384 pages, 6/18/15, very highly recommended
*79. Fixed in Blood by T. E. Woods, 310 pages, 6/19/15, very highly recommended
80. The Bones of You by Debbie Howells, 320 pages, 6/23/15, highly recommended
81. Little Beasts by Matthew McGevna, 288 pages, 6/25/15, highly recommended
*82. Love May Fail by Matthew Quick, 416 pages, 6/29/15, very highly recommended
**83. Those Girls by Chevy Stevens, 384 pages, 6/30/15, very highly recommended

July – 13 books
84. The Captive Condition by Kevin P. Keating, 288 pages, 7/2/15, recommended
85. Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont, 336 pages, 7/2/15, highly recommended
86. The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich. 288 pages, 7/5/15, recommended
*87. A Necessary End by Holly Brown, 400 pages, 7/8/15, very highly recommended
88. The Flying Circus by Susan Crandall, 368 pages, 7/9/15, highly recommended
*89. Alive by Scott Sigler, 368 pages, 7/10/15, very highly recommended, YA
90. One Boy Missing by Stephen Orr, 7/11/15,  288 pages, highly recommended
*91. Swedes in Canada by Elinor Barr, 576 pages, 7/12/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
**92. All This Life by Joshua Mohr, 304 pages, 7/16/15, very highly recommended
93. The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera, 128 pages, 7/17/15, recommended
*94. Between the Tides by Susannah Marren, 304 pages, 7/18/15, very highly recommended
95. The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop, 352 pages, 7/22/15, very highly recommended
*96. Spirals in Time by Helen Scales, 304 pages, 7/29/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction

August – 16 books
*97. The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon, 336 pages, 8/1/15, very highly recommended
98. The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman, 384 pages, 8/4/15, highly recommended
99. We Believe the Children by Richard Beck, 352 pages, 8/6/15, highly recommended, nonfiction
100. Man-Eater by Harold Schechter, 374 pages, 8/8/15, highly recommended, nonfiction
*101. The Casualties by Nick Holdstock, 288 pages, 8/10/15, very highly recommended
102. Woman with a Secret by Sophie Hannah, 384 pages, 8/12/15, highly recommended
*103. Days of Awe by Lauren Fox, 272 pages, 8/13/15, very highly recommended
104. The New Sorrows of Young W. by Ulrich Plenzdorf, 160 pages, 8/14/15, recommeded
*105. Browsings by Michael Dirda, 336 pages, 8/15/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
*106. The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck, 464 pages, 8/19/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
107. The Murderer's Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman, 384 pages, 8/22/15, recommended
108. Thug Notes by Sparky Sweets, PhD, 304 pages, 8/23/15, recommended, nonfiction
109. The Drowned Boy by Karin Fossum, 240 pages, 8/23/15, highly recommended
*110. X by Sue Grafton, 416 pages, 8/30/15, very highly recommended
111. Waiting on God by Wayne Stiles, 256 pages, 8/30/15, highly recommended, nonfiction
112. A Beginner's Guide to Paradise by Alex Sheshunoff, 464 pages, 8/30/15, highly recommended, nonfiction

September -14 books
*113. Dirt: A Love Story by Barbara Richardson, 200 pages, 9/2/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
114. The Telling by Jo Baker, 368 pages, 9/2/15, recommended
*115. Escape Points by Michele Weldon, 272 pages, 9/6/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction, memoir
*116. The Lost Landscape by Joyce Carol Oates, 368 pages, 9/6/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction, memoir
*117. Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash, 272 pages, 9/7/15, very highly recommended
118. The Blue Guitar by John Banville, 272 pages, 9/13/15, recommended
*119. Her Final Breath by Robert Dugoni, 424 pages, 9/13/15, very highly recommended
*120. A Short History of Disease by Sean Martin, 320 pages, 9/14/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
121. The Dover Anthology of Cat Stories, 256 pages, 9/16/15, highly recommended
**122. My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg, 256 pages, 9/19/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
123. Leaving Montana by Thomas Whaley, 226 pages, 9/22/15, highly recommended
124. Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek, 272 pages, 9/23/15, highly recommended
**125. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, 320 pages, 9/28/15, very highly recommended
*126. The Complete Works of Primo Levi, 3002 pages, 9/29/15, very highly recommended

October 18 books
**127. Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter, 416 pages, 10/3/15, very highly recommended
128. Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell, 272 pages, 10/4/15, highly recommended, short stories
*129. Atlas of Cursed Places by Olivier Le Carrer, 144 pages, 10/5/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
130. Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne, 432 pages, 10/10/15. Highly recommended
131. Saturn Run by John Sandford, Ctein, 496 pages, 10/11/15, recommended
132. Children of the Comet by Donald Moffit, 332 pages, 10/11/15, highly recommended
*133. Here Comes the Dreamer by Carole Giangrande, 130 pages, 10/12/15, very highly recommended
134. Sexploitation by Cindy Pierce, 240 pages, 10/14/15, highly recommended, nonfiction
*135. Distance from the Belsen Heap by Mark Celinscak, 352 pages, 10/15/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
136. Golden Age by Jane Smiley, 464 pages, 10/16/15, highly recommended
137. Homefront by Scott James Magner, 392 pages, 10/17/15, recommended
138. Reef Libre by Robert Wintner, 272 pages, 10/22/15, highly recommended, nonfiction
*139. Kraken Rising by Greig Beck, 449 pages, 10/23/15, very highly recommended
140. Slade House by David Mitchell, 256 pages, 10/24/15, highly recommended
*141. Mendocino Fire by Elizabeth Tallent, 272 pages, 10/29/15 very highly recommended, short stories
142. After Alice by Gregory Maguire, 288 pages, 10/30/15, recommended
143. The Uncollected David Rakoff by David Rakoff, 352 pages, 10/30/15, highly recommended, short pieces
*144. Reporting Always: Writings from The New Yorker by Lillian Ross, 368 pages, very highly recommended, articles

November – 15 books
**145. Pacific by Simon Winchester, 512 pages, 11/2/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
146. The Pestilence by Faisal Ansari, 269 pages, 11/3/15, highly recommended
**147. It Ended Badly by Jennifer Wright, 256 pages, 11/3/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
148. The Lost Codex by Alan Jacobson, 428 pages, 11/4/15, highly recommended
149. The Five Times I Met Myself by James L. Rubart, 400 pages, 11/6/15, recommended
150. The Night Clock by Paul Meloy, 384 pages, 11/6/15, so-so
151. Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving, 480 pages, 11/15/15, highly recommended
152. Ball: Stories by Tara Ison, 232 pages, 11/15/15, so-so
*153. Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, 352 pages, 11/15/15, very highly recommended
154. Gold! by Fred Rosen, 352 pages, 11/20/15, recommended, nonfiction
155. Yesterday's Gone: Season One by Sean Platt, David Wright, 500 pages, 11/20/15, recommended
156. Yesterday's Gone: Season Two by Sean Platt & David W. Wright, 495 pages, 11/22/15, so-so
157. All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher, 352 pages, 11/22/15, recommended
158. Findings: An Illustrated Collection by Rafil Kroll-Zaid, 11/23/15, recommended, nonfiction
159. Twister by Genanne Walsh, 400 pages, 11/26/15, highly recommended

December – 10 books
160. Entropy by Robert Raker, 232 pages, 12/4/15, highly recommended
*161. Halibut, Herring and You: Short Stories by Carla Billinghurst, 149 pages,12/4/15,  very highly recommended, short stories
*162. A Nerd Girl's Guide to Cinema by Kelly Cozy, 516 pages, 12/4/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
**163. The Bone Labyrinth by James Rollins, 496 pages, 12/6/15, very highly recommended
164. The Past by Tessa Hadley, 320 pages, 12/8/15, recommended
*165. Earthquake Time Bombs by Robert Yeats, 361 pages, 12/10/15, very highly recommended, nonfiction
166. Heart Land by D.B. Allen, 234 pages, 12/13/15, recommended, short stories
167. Lights Out in the Reptile House by Jim Shepard, 285 pages, 12/15/15, highly recommended
168. After She's Gone by Lisa Jackson, 416 pages, 12/20/15, highly recommended
*169. 3 Truths and a Lie by Lisa Gardner, 52 pages, 12/27/15, very highly recommended, short story

Sunday, December 27, 2015

3 Truths and a Lie

3 Truths and a Lie by Lisa Gardner
Penguin Publishing Group: 1/5/16
eBook review copy; 52 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101984888
A Detective D. D. Warren Short Story

3 Truths and a Lie by Lisa Gardner is a very highly recommended short story featuring Detective D.D. Warren. There are also two chapters from Gardner's upcoming book, Find Her, being published on February 9, 2016.

In this short story Detective D.D. Warren is facing a room full of mystery writers. She agreed to teach a fifty minute class at a Police Academy Writer's Conference on the realities of police work. Her husband, Alex, advises her that the group will like things bloody and gory. She decides that the class will be playing a game of three truths and a lie. The case she decides to share is one that features a seedy motel room, drugs, prostitution, and a severed leg. As Warren discloses the police procedures used to follow the clues to find out what really happened, she also asks the class of writers questions about the case and what steps they think the police should take next.

This is a great short story and a good introduction to Gardner and her character, Detective D.D. Warren. While it is a short story, it will hold your attention, beginning to end, and the case is fascinating. It's also nice to have the preview of Gardner's upcoming novel.

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

reviews are coming soon...

Rest assured that I am here, still reading and writing reviews, but everything I'm reading are advanced reader's copies to be published in January. Normally that might not stop me from sharing a few reviews in December, however, at this point, everything I've read is very good and could hit the top books for 2016. If January is any indication, 2016 may be an outstanding year for books!
Watch for my best books of 2015 coming soon!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

After She's Gone

After She's Gone by Lisa Jackson
Kensington: 12/29/15
eBook review copy, 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9781617734687

After She's Gone by Lisa Jackson is a highly recommended mystery/thriller.

After Cassie Kramer's younger sister Allie followed her to Hollywood, Allie proved to be more talented and driven than Cassie and her fame quickly took hold. Now Allie has disappeared right after her body double is nearly killed on the set of her latest film, Deep Heat, and Cassie, unable to handle the stress, has committed herself to a psychiatric hospital. Cassie was the last known person to talk to Allie and their sibling rivalry is well known. Cassie is a suspect in her sister's disappearance. Both sisters were in the movie; Cassie had a bit part while Allie was the star. Cassie checks herself out of the hospital after a couple days and makes it her mission to find Allie.

The family is no stranger to the problems that can arise with fame and the media coverage that can follow. Their mother is Jenna Hughes, a well-known, beloved former Hollywood actress. Ten years earlier a crazed fan nearly killed Jenna and Cassie. The event scarred Cassie. (Deep Freeze; 2005) Cassie does suffer from periods where she blacks out and loses track of time but is she capable of killing her own sister? Even though Allie can exasperate her and was seemingly after Cassie's husband, Trent, Cassie doesn't believe she could harm her.

It appears that this is going to be a fast paced mystery at the beginning, but even with the frantic maneuverings of the characters, the hectic speed is not coupled with a lot of progress. The plot is complex and the unraveling of the mystery is satisfying, but sometimes the pacing seemed a bit too slow. The character of Cassie is well developed and while you may sympathize with Cassie, you aren't necessarily going to like her for most of the book. (It does get better in the last half.) Allie is totally unsympathetic.

is one of those books that I enjoyed for the most part. It certainly would qualify for an airplane book. You should stay engaged in the story and hold your attention to the end. If I were giving stars it would be a 3.5.

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Lights Out in the Reptile House

Lights Out in the Reptile House by Jim Shepard
Open Road Media edition: 12/22/15
eBook review copy; 285 pages
ISBN13: 9781504026697

Lights Out in the Reptile House by Jim Shepard is a highly recommended coming-of-age novel set in an unnamed totalitarian state.

Karel Roeder is a fifteen year old who works part time at the reptile house in the local zoo and has an unspoken love for his neighbor, Leda. Karel main interest is in reptiles and the herpetologist-in-training is learning what he can from Albert, the older man who is in charge of the reptile house at the zoo. Karel has no interest in politics, but circumstances are forcing him to take note of what is going on in his country.

The unnamed country is a totalitarian regime that combines elements of
Chile under its military regime, South Africa under apartheid, and Italy under fascism.  Karel notes that people are being watched, turned in by others, taken in for questioning and disappearing. He knows that a specific ethnic group is being targeted and fighting back. Nevertheless, he tries to remain apolitical; however, Leda is becoming more and more political, as is Albert.

When Karel's father disappears, the zoo is taken over by political forces, and Leda becomes more and more agitated, Karel is slowly being pulled into taking a firm stand. When Albert rejects his student and Kehr, a special assistant of the civil guard, moves into Karel's house, the real tension and fight for Karel's mind begins. Originally published in 1990, this is the Open Road Media digital re-release and is as pertinent today as it was then.

Setting this novel in an unnamed country works both for and against the narrative. It does allow Shepard to take elements from many regimes and combine them to make a picture of what growing up in a totalitarian police state might look like to a teen. He truly captures man's inhumanity to man. As I was reading, though, I kept trying to place the story in a country, or a part of the world. It is sad that the narrative can fit so many different regimes, but, for me, I kept wanting to know the place, rather than a general unnamed country.

The novel does contain scenes of torture and destruction that might bother some readers.

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

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Heart Land

Heart Land by D.B. Allen
Silky Oak Press: 7/22/15
eBook review copy; 234 pages
trade paperback ISBN-13: 9780992392840

Heart Land by D.B. Allen is a recommended collection of interconnected stories set in the Midwest.
Contents include eight stories: Last Storm… First; The Swing; Dan 4 Danica; A Single Word; Kaitlin’s on the Corner; Bookstore Confessional; Archie’s Reach; First Snow… Last.

The first story, "Last Storm," is incredible and seemingly promises a stunning collection. This isn't quite the case. I was very much impressed by the first story, and  found "Dan for Danica" and "First Snow" heart breaking. There is a surprising twist in "Kaitlin's on the Corner." "The Swing" and "Archie's Reach" are just depressing. "The Swing" features a wife reading diary entries made by her deceased husband years after they were written. 

While there are brilliant bits of writing interspersed throughout the collection, I thought the character development was lacking.  In the end I found Heart Land to be an uneven collection. I was left feeling like the stories all depicted a bleak, rural, redneck heartland that I didn't recognize. That said, I can take sad and depressing and hopelessness, but I think, while the stories are somewhat interconnected, D.B. Allen could have done a better job developing the characters and their connections to each other in Heart Land.

To be fair the print edition has eight drawings included for each story and my review copy only included one. Perhaps the drawings would have added to my experience. If I gave stars I would go 3.5 due to the moments of brilliance.

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

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Earthquake Time Bombs

Earthquake Time Bombs by Robert Yeats
Cambridge University Press: 11/30/2015
eBook review copy; 361 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781107085244

Earthquake Time Bombs by Robert Yeats is a very highly recommended look at the disaster potential of earthquakes impacting major urban areas today. It certainly should be a must-read for anyone involved with making policy or charged with providing emergency services for urban areas that are at risk for a major earthquake.

Yeats does a superb job in the presentation of the information to help make it accessible to everyone. Not only is it written in a easy to read style, including many diagrams and pictures to help illustrate the concepts, he has organized Earthquake Time Bombs into two parts and a conclusion. Part of this organization is so, if you aren't a novice to the basic science, you can skip the first part. "The first part provides a background in earthquakes and plate tectonics, including the concept of geologic time and an explanation of why we, as scientists, cannot tell you when the next huge earthquake will strike, or where. You can use this first part as a reference."

Then the second part "describes several earthquake time bombs around the world, most of which you have heard of for reasons other than earthquakes, such as Caracas, Tehran, Jerusalem, or Kabul. Some of these time bombs are in unexpected places: Seattle, Los Angeles, Tokyo. Each of the time bomb chapters may be read on their own without going back to the explanatory Part I, although you may want to read the explanations as well as the descriptions of individual time bombs."

It's a helpful way to organize the information. Although I read it straight through as written, I could have easily skipped the first section, as I already have a good, basic foundation in the science. After the information on the various cities which have been determined to be earthquake time bombs, Yeats provides references, in case you want to do more research on a specific city/region. He also has an index. As is my wont, I'm always pleased to see references and an index in my nonfiction.

With the large populations in megacities today, preparedness is essential and should be taken seriously before the big one happens. Additionally, since earthquakes are not only locally devastating, but can instigate tsunamis which can cause even more destruction, the information is of global significance if a population center is near a coast.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Cambridge University Press, via Netgalley, for review purposes.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Past

The Past by Tessa Hadley
HarperCollins: 1/5/16
ebook review copy; 320 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780062270412

The Past by Tessa Hadley is a recommended domestic drama featuring four adult siblings.

The decision facing the family is whether or not their grandparent's cottage should be sold. After their mother died young and their father abandoned them, the four siblings grew up in the cottage in the Somerset countryside and have vacationed there for years. The cottage needs upkeep but the question is can the siblings afford to do it or do they even want to keep it. To help make that decision they are all staying at the cottage for three weeks.

The family consists of three sisters and a brother. Harriet the oldest sister is an introspective loner. Alice is a vain, sentimental free-spirit. Fran, the youngest, is a teacher, and most practical of the women. Roland, their brother, is a distant and stuffy professor of philosophy and a writer. Also in the group is Roland's third wife, Pilar, an Argentinian Lawyer; Kasim, a 20 year old son of Alice's ex-boyfriend; Molly, Roland's 16 year-old daughter, and Fran's two young children, Ivy and Arthur. 

Don't expect an action-packed plot or really much of a plot at all. The Past is really more of a character study of the family, as individuals and their interpersonal dynamics. When Pilar and Kasim are interjected into the mix, it does change the dynamics. Adding to the mix is a budding infatuation between Kasim and Molly. At play are all the small irritations, resentments, and assumptions family members already hold and assume about other members of the family. Individuals are reduced to their familial roles, which are based on years of experiences and stories. While calm of the surface, the sisters seem to be always on the cusp of some drama or feeling some disappointment.

Hadley breaks the novel up into three sections. The first and third are the present day and concern the vacationing siblings. The second goes back in time when their mother briefly left her husband and returned home to see her parents. The first part of the novel captured my attention and I wanted to read more. Then, for me, The Past lost some of its allure when it jumped back in time. The third section actually contains all the drama that was promised in the description, but at this point, when it happens, it's rather anti-climactic.

I would rate The Past as a recommended novel based on the quality of the writing and the character development. If you enjoy novels that are heavy on character development, then this will be a good choice. If you want more action and drama, look elsewhere.

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

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Bone Labyrinth

The Bone Labyrinth by James Rollins
HarperCollins: 12/15/15
eBook review copy, 496 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780062381644
Sigma Force Series #10

The Bone Labyrinth by James Rollins is a very highly recommended action/adventure thriller. This latest novel represents Rollins at his best; the plot is complex and the action non-stop, but I flew through the almost 500 pages at a breakneck pace trying to find out what happened next in all the various plot threads. In some ways I don't want to give away too much of the story, except to encourage fans and anyone who enjoys a great techno-thriller to pick this novel up for a great holiday novel.

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and the Sigma force is back on the trail of a historical mystery that could give us answers to several questions about the evolution of human intelligence which geneticists and other scientists are seeking the answers to today. An archaeologist discovers in Croatia a subterranean cave that contains amazing paintings and treasures, but it also contains a Catholic chapel that holds the bones of a Neanderthal woman. Sigma members assist scientists as they try to uncover the mystery. Who were the people who created these works of art and why did a Catholic priest hide his discovery?

The problem is that the Chinese military wants the discoveries/treasures for an entirely different reason: to continue with a series of unethical experiments they are conducting in genetic engineering. They also want a few scientists taken as hostages, but the Sigma force dead. Additionally they want a young gorilla, which is being raised and studied in the USA for the rate of growth of his of intelligence, captured and brought in for their cruel experiments. And that is just a small part of this globe-trotting thriller.

The writing is impressive. Rollins keeps the various plots moving along quickly while proving information-packed storylines that are ripped-from-the-headlines fresh and topical. The key is the great job he does researching the ideas behind his plot. It all results in a great balance of action, science, and history. Rollins always includes a list of other books you can read if you want more information. He also makes it clear what is fact and fiction in his stories.

I think The Bone Labyrinth could be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good thriller. Now I'm pretty sure I have read all the Sigma Force novels so I know the characters, but I don't think that any exhaustive background knowledge matters that much in this outing. Rollins gives you enough information on the characters for you to enjoy the novel. The real treat is the science/history/non-stop action he presents with his complex plots. I've said it before, and I'm going to repeat myself here, but I appreciate the fact that Rollins treats his readers with respect and a nod to their intelligence and ability to comprehend a complex plot.

This is a stuck-over-night-at-the-airport book. Really. Get it if you are planning to fly anywhere for the holidays. It will keep you awake and entertained. Time will fly by even if you are delayed somewhere.

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

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Nerd Girl's Guide to Cinema

A Nerd Girl's Guide to Cinema by Kelly Cozy
Smite Publications: 2/18/15
eBook review copy; 516 pages
ISBN-13: 9780991044542

A Nerd Girl's Guide to Cinema by Kelly Cozy is a very highly recommended collection of reviews for 200 movies that are either overlooked, failures, or cult classics. Her selection of movies included is off the beaten path of the usual review books. 

Rather than include the list of 200 movies she reviews, let me send you to her website,, where the complete list can be found.

This book would be a great gift for the movie buff in your family!

I have several movie review books, but Kelly's is decidedly different from those. This is not just a guide for bad movies. Kelly includes several that are overlooked gems which deserve a cult following or at least another viewing. She notes that: "My goal is to steer you toward some films that are a bit off the beaten path, and while there are plenty of horror, action, and sci-fi films covered here, you’ll also find reviews for many other genres: film noir, Western, art-house favorites, romantic comedies, chick flicks, musicals, anime, and even a porn film. The hardest part of this book was limiting myself to 200 movies." And, wonders upon wonders, Kelly includes a list of 200 more films she considers worth viewing. "Some are good, some are bad, some are in the middle, and some are just plain nuts."

Now, let me just say straight up that once I saw Kelly included a review of The Beast of Yucca Flats I knew we could be BFFs. Sure, we won't agree on every movie choice. I really do like old 50's and 60's sci fi, like Teenagers from Outer Space and The Giant Gila Monster, and Kelly might not be quite on board with that, but she will watch old Godzilla movies. I know she would give great commentary during whatever movie we decide to watch. I'll provide snacks.

As for the writing... her comments run from serious to snarky; I simply have to include quotes from some of Kelly's reviews:

"The Arena isn't a good movie, but there’s something weirdly endearing about its badness, like poetry written by a teenager."

"I try not to throw around the words 'masterpiece' or 'perfection' too often, but I really have to use them when I talk about Jaws. Everything about it just works so well."
"...but what really makes Jaws work is how real it feels. If the movie was made today, the beaches of Amity would be packed with pretty hardbodies. But the beaches of Jaws are full of ordinary people. Families, people of every age and variety, from the partiers in the opening scene to the wannabe landscape painter who sees the shark in the estuary. They’re people just like us and we identify with them."

"So I’m happy to report that Animal House holds up, and does so very well. Not only is it still funny, but time has been very kind to it."

"Remember those times in college when everyone in the room was drunk or stoned except for you? And they’d be prattling on about stuff they thought was so profound and sh*t, while you sat there and thought, 'Man, these people are boring.' Well, that’s pretty much what Performance is like. Ta da! End of review. Boy, that one was easy! Wait, my work ethic just kicked in..."

"In a better world, Phantom of the Paradise would have the cult that the far less deserving Rocky Horror Picture Show has."

"It can be difficult to find a genuinely sweet movie. Not sappy, not saccharine. Just sweet. Fortunately there’s Roxanne, a romantic comedy that should leave you smiling."

"Subtle as an icepick in the forehead, Snakes on a Plane should serve for generations as an example of truth in advertising. There are snakes. A lot of them. On a plane."

And now, for one of our all time favorite movies to laugh at: The Beast of Yucca Flats: 

"There are few examples of cinematic ineptitude as mind-boggling as this movie - it does nothing right, and its only saving grace is a direct result of its ineptitude."
"The movie’s loss is our gain, because the narration (provided by Francis himself) is a joy. It’s flat and pretentious and weirdly poetical - Francis comes off as Ed Wood’s older, grumpier brother. Some choice samples of this narration include: 'A man runs, someone shoots at him.' 'Nothing bothers some people, not even flying saucers.' 'Boys from the city. Not yet caught by the whirlwind of Progress. Feed soda pop to the thirsty pigs.' 'Always on the prowl. Looking for something or somebody to kill. Quench the killer’s thirst.' And my all-time favorite: 'Flag on the moon. How did it get there?' You’ve got to love narration like that. Watch if you dare."
Oh we dared... and more than once.

I used to feature blog posts about our fun family movie nights with my nephew. They were entitled "Movie Dude Weekend." A Nerd Girl's Guide to Cinema makes me want to plan another Movie Dude Weekend asap.

"I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book so I could give an honest review."
(Regular followers can rest assured that all of my many reviews over the years have always been my honest opinion, however this direct quote is required for this eBook review copy.)

Halibut, Herring and You

Halibut, Herring and You: Short Stories by Carla Billinghurst
CreateSpace Publishing: 7/10/15
eBook review copy; 149 pages
ISBN-13: 9781511797634

Halibut, Herring and You: Short Stories by Carla Billinghurst is a very highly recommended (and very short) collection of short stories.

I enjoyed this collection of short stories, several of which are interconnected, immensley. Billinghurst's writing is entertaining, humorous, thought provoking and sometimes irreverent. There is a taste of fables, fantasy and science fiction in the selections.  My favorite stories were probably the titular story, all The Usual Precautions variations, Fire, both Counting stories, and Shopping. But, who am I kidding; I liked the whole collection and count this as a plus because I've found another new author I enjoy.

Contents include:
Halibut, Herring and You: a hilarious fairy tale about living an impossible life set in our modern politically correct world.
The Usual Precautions I – The Australian Zombie Apocalypse: the first of a series of "micro-fiction about the zombie apocalypse, originally published on The first story (a guest post for Perilous Adventures) was inspired by discussions around the dinner table about what an Australian Zombie Apocalypse would look like and the rest followed on irresistibly." Mostly, these stories are about our unease with nature. "What the flies don’t eat, the Kookaburras and Butcher Birds and Kurrawongs deal with. Meat-eaters carroll and cackle and fluff their feathers; Insect-eaters chirrup and swoop."
Rachel: a warning to adults that kids do know what's good for them.
Fire: A fire is burning and who knows what it will uncover.
The Usual Precautions II – Le Zombie Apocalypse Francaise
Counting:  The story is told in a simple structure of counting. "Counting and Counting Back grew out of the structure of the rocket launch countdown."
Seven Hundred: This was the result of "yet another re-reading of Robert Graves’ White Goddess."
Counting Back: This is a companion piece to Counting. Put together these are heartbreaking and poignant.
The Usual Precautions III – Cinderella’s Zombie Apocalypse
Shopping: It's time for a shopping trip in the future - after aliens have taken over retail. (This is an extract from The Rock 
The Usual Precautions IV – A Transylvanian Zombie Apocalypse
Lilies: this began as a murder mystery and turned into something else.
The Usual Precautions V – Hero of the Apocalypse
Nanny: Set in a future where an advanced alien civilization must replace their nanny. What do we humans have that could possibly fill that role?
The Emergency Cat: Both this and the next story are told like fairy tales and are spinoffs from writing a story based on Sleeping Beauty
The Youngest Serf
The Usual Precautions VI – They Came From Earth
The End of the Line: This was originally a competition entry. "The competition was simply to write a story including a glass of water and 7.45."

"I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book so I could give an honest review."

(Regular followers can rest assured that all of my many reviews over the years have always been my honest opinion, however this direct quote is required for this eBook review copy.)


Entropy by Robert Raker
Wattle Publishing: 11/27/13
eBook review copy; 232 pages
ISBN-13: 2940149303700

Entropy by Robert Raker is a highly recommended murder mystery told from four different viewpoints.
A serial killer is on the loose and the brutal child abductions and murders are taking a toll on law enforcement, the community, and individuals. In Entropy Robert Raker focuses on four different individuals who have a connection to the crimes.

The four people who share their story and connection to the murders starts with a scuba diver who is recovering the bodies which are all found in water. The second voice is of a disfigured musician who thinks he knows who is responsible. The third narrator is a federal agent who has been assigned to go undercover and get into the mind of a pedophile. The final narrator is the mother of one of the victims.

Each narrator shares their life, their struggles, their losses, their inner thoughts and torments while we learn about their tie-in to the horrific murders. They are all isolated individuals, living lives of quiet desperation and are remote and distant even from their partners. They don't openly share their thoughts and feelings with anyone so their inner pain and turmoil is intensified.

Raker does a brilliant job developing his characters and showcasing their pain and isolation as they deal with their connections to the murders. The language he uses is expressive, even poetic at times. The quality of the writing overcomes several of the flaws I found with the novel, with the major flaw being the lack of a solid conclusion. I understand the artistic choice to present the plot via the four individual narratives, but I was left wanting some semblance of closure, even if it was a fifth character brought in to provide the denouement.

I would imagine that most readers will likely find one of the narratives more powerful than the others, but together the stories of these four individuals create an impressive crime novel.

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

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Twister by Genanne Walsh
Black Lawrence Press: 12/1/15
eBook review copy; 400 pages
trade paperback ISBN-13: 9781625579379

Twister by Genanne Walsh is a highly recommended story of turbulence in a small town. There is an actual tornado in the story, but the real storm is in the interpersonal relationships.

It feels like a storm is coming to a small Midwestern town that has fallen on hard times economically. All the residents can feel the change in the air and comment on it, even as the weather announcer on the radio forecasts the warnings. Walsh slowly introduces the residents of this town, revealing their inner thoughts, secrets, and longings. The town is a cyclone of unresolved issues and ongoing grievances.

A mother, Rose, is beside herself with grief as she mourns the death of her soldier son, Lance. Stella is Rose's estranged stepsister. What caused the rife between the two when they once were so close is not revealed until later in the novel. Walsh continues to introduce us to Rose's neighbors (the old man, Perry, Nina, Sill), Ward (Stella's husband), Louise (a local bank teller), and Scottie (the current owner of the shoe store), all while allowing the foreboding tension to slowly rise and build. You know things have happened in the past. You know something is going to happen - between individuals and with the approaching the storm.

Walsh does an excellent job capturing the complex emotions and interpersonal connections between the residents while allowing the reader insight into their thoughts. The beauty of allowing us to get an insider's view into each character makes them more human and complex individuals. My one qualm was with the pacing. It seemed to move too slowly and the big insights into the characters really don't come until later in the novel. Additionally, once the twister hit, we heard nothing more about it for pages while Walsh shares additional backstory. At times this slow, steady pace seemed detrimental to the plot. On the other hand it, did evoke the slower, measured routine of life in a small town, where daily routines and secrets are known about almost everyone.

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

Monday, November 23, 2015


Findings: An Illustrated Collection by Rafil Kroll-Zaidi
Grand Central Publishing: 11/24/15
eBook review copy; 144 pages
ISBN-13: 9781455530496

Findings: An Illustrated Collection by Rafil Kroll-Zaidi is a recommended, irreverent collection of the bizarre and beloved back-page column of Harper's Magazine. What the column does is present a tidbit from a scientific study somewhere and illustrates the often hilarious and absurd fact.

Facts presented and illustrated include little tidbits like:
"Scientists made graduate students provoke spitting cobras into attacking them."
"The faces of Lego people have been growing angrier."
"Vanilla yogurt gives mice glossier coats and larger testicles."
"Pond snails on crystal meth are better at remembering pokes from a sharp stick."
"Croatian boy previously thought to be magnetic was more recently thought simply to be very sticky."

The very short book has a long  A Conversation with the Author section and includes citations for each scientific fact presented and illustrated.
As noted in the Conversation with the Author section: "I think the people who read this column and understand and appreciate it are over the idea that science takes place for science’s sake, to the extent that this idea both is and isn’t true. Findings celebrates the idea that modern science is a tremendously powerful and productive and beneficial and motivating and clarifying force, but the idea that everything that goes on is part of this heroic, conclusive, triumphalist narrative is also silly. You know, the universe defies and denies and startles and confounds us just as our own bodies defy and deny and startle and confound us. Findings’ being funny is partly a corrective to that particular form of triumphalist narrative."

The greatest drawback and reason for many of the low ratings is that this is a very, very, extremely short book. You also may need to take note that some of the facts contain more earthy humor.

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

Sunday, November 22, 2015

All of Us and Everything

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher
Random House: 11/24/15
eBook review copy, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385343930

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher is a recommended book about an eccentric, dysfunctional family of women.

Augusta Rockwell was an eccentric mother as far as her three daughters are concerned. Esme, Liv, and Ru all grew up hearing that their absent father was a spy and couldn't have any contact with them for their safety. Their mother devoted her life to starting movements, unsuccessfully. Now all of their lives are in flux and weathering storms that will bring them home and, once there, they are going to learn some truths about themselves and their absent father.

Augusta survives a literal storm, Hurricane Sandy. The hurricane leads to the discovery of some letters that are given to Augusta. At the same time Esme and her teenage daughter, Atty, are reeling from their husband/father running off with his dentist in France. Atty is hyper-connected to social media and tweets incessantly. Liv is done with yet another marriage and needs to go to rehab. Ru, after one best-selling book, has left the country to do research for another book, but may just be trying to escape her engagement. All the daughters head home, ostensibly to help Augusta recover from the storm.

Really, most of the storm recovery consists of airing the emotional baggage they have all been carrying for years. None of the sisters really like each other or their mother. Augusta is an eccentric, but not as crazy as the girls imply. Augusta was a wealthy single mother, so the girls grew up in a safe, secure environment. I couldn't help but think that all of the damage they claim as a direct result of their childhood was not necessarily as awful as they claim.  Okay, some things were explained as unknown outside interference, but still... Stuff happens. You move on. While I basically liked this book, I had a hard time feeling a lot of empathy for any of the characters - with the exception of Atty.

This is an entertaining, light novel. You are going to be able to read it quickly and follow the action and the quirky emotional angst of all the characters. Even though I didn't connect with any of the characters, I was interested in what happened to them and what they learned about their father, and in the process their mother. The writing is decent, though some of the dialogue felt forced.

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