Friday, January 30, 2015

Trigger Warning

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
HarperCollins: 2/3/2015
eBook review copy, 352 pages

ISBN-13: 9780062330260

From one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved storytellers of our time comes a major new collection of stories and verse
"We each have our little triggers . . . things that wait for us in the dark corridors of our lives." So says Neil Gaiman in his introduction to Trigger Warning, a remarkable compendium of twenty-five stories and poems that explore the transformative power of imagination.
In "Adventure Story" - a thematic companion to the #1 New York Times bestselling novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Gaiman ponders death and the ways in which people take their stories with them when they die. "A Calendar of Tales" is comprised of short pieces about the months of the year - stories of pirates and March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother's Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale "The Case of Death and Honey." Also included is "Nothing O'Clock," a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the beloved series in 2013, as well as the never-before-published "Black Dog," a haunting new tale that revisits the world of American Gods as Shadow Moon stops in at a village pub on his way back to America.
Gaiman, a sophisticated writer whose creative genius is unparalleled, entrances with his literary alchemy and transports us deep into an undiscovered country where the fantastical becomes real and the everyday is incandescent. Replete with wonder and terror, surprises and amusements, Trigger Warning is a treasury of literary delights that engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul.
My Thoughts:

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman is a diverse, very highly recommended collection of short stories.

Gaiman says, "We are all wearing masks. That is what makes us interesting. These are stories about those masks, and the people we are underneath them."

The diversity and wide range of genres represented in these extremely well written short stories is what compels me to give Trigger Warning my highest recommendation. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and have to say that I wanted more when it was done. Gaiman stories include such a wide variety of stories in various lengths that most readers should find several that appeal to them. I really thought this whole collection was extraordinary. The selections include stories about Sherlock Holmes, a Dr. Who story written for the 50th anniversary of the series in 2013, and an original tale that revisits the world of American Gods. In the introduction Gaiman includes a little back ground information on each story, if the reader is interested.

 He tells us about his stories:
"There are things that upset us. That's not quite what we're talking about here, though. I'm thinking about those images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming. Our hearts skip a ratatat drumbeat in our chests, and we fight for breath. Blood retreats from our faces and our fingers, leaving us pale and gasping and shocked. And what we learn about ourselves in those moments, where the trigger has been squeezed, is this: the past is not dead. There are things that wait for us, patiently, in the dark corridors of our lives. We think we have moved on, put them out of mind, left them to desiccate and shrivel and blow away; but we are wrong. They have been waiting there in the darkness, working out, practicing their most vicious blows, their sharp hard thoughtless punches into the gut, killing time until we came back that way. The monsters in our cupboards and our minds."

Making a Chair
A Lunar Labyrinth
The Thing About Cassandra
Down to a Sunless Sea
The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains...
My Last Landlady
Adventure Story
A Calendar of Tales
The Case of Death and Honey
The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury
Click-Clack the Rattlebag
An Invocation of Incuriosity
"And Weep, Like Alexander"
Nothing O'Clock
Pearls: A Fairy Tale
Kether to Malkuth
Feminine Endings
Observing the Formalities
The Sleeper and the Spindle
Witch Work
In Relig Odhrain
Black Dog

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I Am Not a Slut

I Am Not a Slut by Leora Tanenbaum
HarperCollins: 2/3/2015
eBook review copy, 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062282590
Young women today are encouraged to express themselves sexually. Yet when they do, they are derided as "sluts." Caught in a double bind of mixed sexual messages, they're confused. To fulfill the contradictory roles of being sexy but not slutty, they create an "experienced" identity on social media—even if they are not sexually active—while ironically referring to themselves and their friends as "sluts."
But this strategy can become a weapon used against young women in the hands of peers who circulate rumors and innuendo—elevating age-old slut-shaming to deadly levels, with suicide among bullied teenage girls becoming increasingly common. Now, Leora Tanenbaum—senior writer and editor for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, author of the groundbreaking work Slut!, and the writer who coined the term slut-bashing—revisits her influential work on sexual stereotyping to offer fresh insight into the digital and face-to-face worlds contemporary young women inhabit. She shares her new research, involving the experiences of a wide range of teenage girls and young women from a variety of backgrounds as well as parents, educators, and academics. Tanenbaum analyzes the coping mechanisms young women currently use and points them in a new direction to eradicate slut-shaming for good.
My Thoughts:

 I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet by Leora Tanenbaum is a highly recommended examination of the meaning of "slut" for young women today.

Young women today face a contradictory landscape. While they can be encourage to explore their sexuality they can also be humiliated and disgraced based on the same actions or no actions at all but simply at the discretion of others. Currently the word “slut” has a dual meaning and can either be used as a positive, creating a sense of esprit de corps between friends or it is a negative, harmful label that can cause pain well into adulthood. Tanenbaum explores the meaning of "slut" in adolescent and college-age women and why the usage of the word is increasing.

Tanenbaum's book includes interviews with many young women. Their stories and experiences are the examples used to document her points. She also examines and distinguishes between the negative acts of slut-bashing and slut-shaming. Slut-bashing is verbal harassment where "a girl is intentionally targeted because she does not adhere to feminine norms. Slut-shaming, on the other hand, is a casual and often indirect form of judgment." Adding to this already volatile mix is the wide variety of social media outlets that can be used to harass and  bully, often anonymously.

Women face the ongoing problem that "female body parts are regarded as offensive, female sexual activity is mocked as a competitive sport for guys or preyed upon as an opportunity for coercion, and even young girls are reduced to sexual playthings." It's easy to understand why young women might internalize their own objectification. Tanenbaum makes an argument that, "'Slut' is best regarded as a toxic four-letter word that should be quarantined if not buried." She makes it clear that "we can sharpen awareness that 'slut' is a violent label; when females are called sluts, sexual assault and self-assault all too often lurk nearby. But first there is an important distinction to make here: it’s not female sexuality that is dangerous, but the sexual double standard." I think most women have seen many examples over their lifetime where men  have become accustomed to treating women as sexual objects and worthless “sluts.”

This is an empowering examination of what the problem is behind the increased use of the word "slut" and how we can address the societal issues while helping and encouraging young women today. Clearly, anyone who currently has any contact with teenage or college-age women knows that the all-too-common use of the word "slut" needs to be addressed and some encouragement to reassess the use of the word would be beneficial. Since these young women use social media constantly Tanenbaum points out that it could be used as a tool for positive change in contrast to the negative we so often hear about.

Tanenbaum does an excellent job explaining the problem with many examples, and offers some suggested solutions. The book includes  in the appendices Do's and Don'ts for Parents of Teenagers and College-Age Children; The Slut-Shaming Self Defense Toolkit; and a list of Resources

Table of Contents:
What’s the Same, What’s Different
Are You a “Good Slut” or a “Bad Slut”?
Slut--Bashing: Face--to--Face and in Cyberspace
Reciprocal Slut--Shaming: Sexual Identity in an Online World
“Good Slut” Containment Strategies
“Bad Slut” Coping Mechanisms
The Rape of a “Slut” Is Rape
Can “Slut” Be Reclaimed?
Creative Solutions to Eliminate “Slut”
Appendix A: Do's and Don'ts for Parents of Teenagers and College-Age Children
Appendix B: The Slut-Shaming Self Defense Toolkit
Appendix C: Resources
Acknowledgments, notes

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Great Zoo of China

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly
Gallery Books: 1/27/2015
eBook, 416 pages
ASIN: B00J69Y52K

It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for forty years. They have found a species of animal no one believed even existed. It will amaze the world. Now the Chinese are ready to unveil their astonishing discovery within the greatest zoo ever constructed.
A small group of VIPs and journalists has been brought to the zoo deep within China to see its fabulous creatures for the first time. Among them is Dr. Cassandra Jane “CJ” Cameron, a writer for National Geographic and an expert on reptiles. The visitors are assured by their Chinese hosts that they will be struck with wonder at these beasts, that the dragons are perfectly safe, and that nothing can go wrong. Of course it can’t…
My Thoughts:

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly is a very highly recommended thriller for action/adventure junkies. In The Great Zoo of China Reilly opens with a scene that immediately lets you know that you are in for an action packed ride of the large scale creature variety.

Dr. Cassandra Jane “CJ” Cameron, a herpetologist and expert on crocodiles who is also a writer for National Geographic, along with her brother Hamish, a photographer, are invited to China to see The Great Zoo of China before it is opened to the public. Chinese officials have kept the existence of the zoo secret for years while building and planning it. Their goal was to create the greatest tourist attraction in the world. Along with a small group of VIPs, CJ and Hamish are flown to a secret valley without cages or enclosures. The Chinese have established electromagnetic domes to keep the zoo animals in while giving guests ultrasonic personal shields to keep the enclosed creatures at bay. We all learn quickly what animals are in the zoo.

CJ and the other guests learn that in November 1979, miners in a nickel mine broke through to a most unusual underground passageway and cavern. Inside was a large cache of eggs. In July 1981 one of the eggs hatched and a dragon emerged. The dragons are archosaurs, similar to pterodactyls. Suddenly mythical creatures from the collective historical past are real, alive, and thriving. We know from the opening that this visit will likely not end well and the guests will all be in danger.

Reilly fully  admits the fact that he loves Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park and wanted to write a novel in the same vein in homage to Crichton.  He goes on to inform the reader that making a novel "fast and easy to read is not easy at all. It takes time and lots and lots of constant revising. If anyone says The Great Zoo of China is easy to read and only takes a few days to get through, then I will take that as a big compliment, because I worked hard to make it that way!" Reilly certainly succeeded in keeping the action moving non-stop and there are maps and diagrams throughout the novel to help you follow the action. I found myself compulsively stealing time throughout the day trying to find out what on earth happened next.

While I will concede that there  isn't a lot of character development, I wasn't really looking for that in The Great Zoo of China. Reilly delivered exactly what I wanted. I was hoping for a totally engrossing thrill-ride of escapism and non-stop action. This is a fantastic "stuck overnight at the airport book." That makes it very highly recommended for an action/adventure thriller. There is a lot of violence and bloodshed, but, ahem, here there be dragons...

In the past I have enjoyed Reilly's novels, but always noted that he went too over board in the use of exclamation points. I'm actually pleased to note that he was much stingier with them in The Great Zoo of China. Yes, of course they are there (real, live dragons are running amok!), but certainly their usage was much more restrained.

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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Plucked: A History of Hair Removal

Plucked: A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca M. Herzig
New York University Press: 1/16/2015
eBook Review copy, 280 pages

ISBN-13: 9781479840823

From the clamshell razors and homemade lye depilatories used in colonial America to the diode lasers and prescription pharmaceuticals available today, Americans have used a staggering array of tools to remove hair deemed unsightly, unnatural, or excessive. This is true especially for women and girls; conservative estimates indicate that 99% of American women have tried hair removal, and at least 85% regularly remove hair from their faces, armpits, legs, and bikini lines. How and when does hair become a problem—what makes some growth “excessive”? Who or what separates the necessary from the superfluous?
In Plucked, historian Rebecca Herzig addresses these questions about hair removal. She shows how, over time, dominant American beliefs about visible hair changed: where once elective hair removal was considered a “mutilation” practiced primarily by “savage” men, by the turn of the twentieth century, hair-free faces and limbs were expected for women. Visible hair growth—particularly on young, white women—came to be perceived as a sign of political extremism, sexual deviance, or mental illness. By the turn of the twenty-first century, more and more Americans were waxing, threading, shaving, or lasering themselves smooth. Herzig’s extraordinary account also reveals some of the collateral damages of the intensifying pursuit of hair-free skin. Moving beyond the experiences of particular patients or clients, Herzig describes the surprising histories of race, science, industry, and medicine behind today's hair-removing tools. Plucked is an unsettling, gripping, and original tale of the lengths to which Americans will go to remove hair.
My Thoughts:

Plucked: A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca M. Herzig is a highly recommended, fascinating look at the history of hair removal in the United States.

I am so glad a Rebecca Herzig didn't listen to her detractors and that she pursued writing this compelling history of hair removal. Plucked covers the various ways people have removed unwanted body hair, with the main focus on the U. S. In the U. S. today the deliberate removal of body hair is a widespread practice that is taken for granted, but the now seemingly conventional and commonplace act of removing body hair to obtain smooth skin is not even a century old. At the same time forced hair removal has been called torture and abuse (like for the detainees at Guantánamo) throughout history. Plucked also covers the changing social and cultural aspects of hair removal.

Plucked is well researched and well written. While it is not a complete, thorough examination of every aspect of the history of hair removal, it is short, concise and entertaining enough to appeal to a wide audience as well as those who enjoy history texts.  

Introduction: Necessary Suffering
The Hairless Indian: Savagery and Civility before the Civil War
“Chemicals of the Toilette”: From Homemade Remedies to a New Industrial Order
Bearded Women and Dog-Faced Men: Darwin’s Great Denudation
“Smooth, White, Velvety Skin”: X-Ray Salons and Social Mobility
Glandular Trouble: Sex Hormones and Deviant Hair Growth
Unshaven: “Arm-Pit Feminists” and Women’s Liberation
“Cleaning the Basement”: Labor, Pornography, and Brazilian Waxing
Magic Bullets: Laser Regulation and Elective Medicine
“The Next Frontier”: Genetic Enhancement and the End of Hair
Conclusion: We Are All Plucked
Acknowledgments, Notes, Index

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of New York University Press for review purposes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Baltimore Blues

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman
HarperCollins: 11/29/2011 (reissue)
eBook, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0062384065
Tess Monaghan Series #1

In a city where someone is murdered almost every day, attorney Michael Abramowitz’s death should be just another statistic. But the slain lawyer’s notoriety—and his taste for illicit midday trysts—make the case front-page news in every local paper except the Star, which crashed and burned before Abramowitz did. A former Star reporter who knows every inch of this town—from historic Fort McHenry to the crumbling projects of Cherry Hill—now unemployed journalist Tess Monaghan also knows the guy the cops like for the killing: cuckolded fiancé Darryl “Rock” Paxton. The time is ripe for a career move, so when rowing buddy Rock wants to hire her to do some unorthodox snooping to help clear his name, Tess agrees. But there are lethal secrets hiding in the Charm City shadows. And Tess’ own name could end up on that ever-expanding list of Baltimore dead.

My Thoughts:

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman is the highly recommended first book in the mystery series featuring Tess Monaghan. This is a great time to acquaint or reacquaint yourself with Tess in anticipation of the release of the twelfth book in the series, Hush Hush, on February 24th.

Set in Baltimore in the 90's, Tess is a 29 year old young woman at loose ends. She is an ex-newspaper reporter who has been downsized due to the closing of the Star, the paper she wrote for. Now she has to make due with two part time jobs that she has based more on the benevolence of her extended family than anything else. She is working at and living above her Aunt Kitty's bookstore while she keeps busy following a physically demanding schedule of her own design. "This was Tess’s routine, her only routine since the Star had been shuttered. Six days a week she rowed in the morning and ran in the evening. Three times a week she lifted weights in an old-fashioned boxing gym in East Baltimore. On the seventh day, she rested..."(page 4)

When her friend and rowing buddy, Darryl "Rock" Paxton, asked her to follow his girlfriend, Ava, for a price, she acquiesces and begins watching the disagreeable young lawyer. She discovers that Ava is likely involved in several questionable activities and brings her discoveries to Rock. Right after this, Michael Abramowitz, a high profile lawyer at Ava's firm, is found dead and Rock is the suspect. Tess knows he is innocent, because Rock says so, but are Ava's constantly changing stories indicative of her role in the murder or is there some clue everyone is missing?

Tess is hired as a part of the defense team as a glorified gopher but she starts to look into the life of Abramowitz in order to discover who really murdered the lawyer. Soon things become more heated as more questions are raised and leads followed.

Originally published in 1997, Baltimore Blues is not only the first Tess Monaghan novel, is also Lippman's impressive debut novel. While I thought it got off to a slow, but pleasant start, it really takes about half way through and the pages just flew by. I liked the twisty revelations and the surprises the plot contained. Tess is a mouthy, feisty, likeable protagonist, one you will cheer on, even when you know she is making poor choices. The city of Baltimore is also a major character in Baltimore Blues.

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

Since her debut in 1997, Laura Lippman has been heralded for her thoughtful, timely crime novels set in her beloved hometown of Baltimore. She is the author of twenty works of fiction, including eleven Tess Monaghan mysteries. She lives in Baltimore, New Orleans, and New York City with her family.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Five Fires

Five Fires by Laura Lippman
Byliner: 10/21/2014
eBook, 28 pages

Laura Lippman, New York Times bestselling author of What the Dead Know, The Most Dangerous Thing, and most recently, After I'm Gone, delivers a suspenseful short story with an unexpected twist in her Byliner Original, Five Fires.
Everyone in small-town Bellville is talking about a series of mysterious fires disrupting the typically tranquil summer. The authorities attribute them to heat lightning, but some Belleville residents are not so sure…
High-school student Beth, like everyone else in Belleville, has been following the fires – she has plenty of time between her monotonous day job at the deli and solitary nights at home while her mom works late. The fires aren’t the only unusual occurrence – Beth’s old friend Tara, who left town the year before after a mysterious incident, returns with no real explanation. Circumstances only get stranger when Beth unwittingly discovers clues as to what – or who – is the cause of the fires.

My Thoughts:

Five Fires by Laura Lippman is a highly recommended short story of suspense being offered as a single.

It's summer and high school student Beth is working at the deli during the day and spending nights alone as her mom works a late shift. The town of Belleville has been experiencing a series of fires that Beth, who is interested in a career in criminal justice, is following.  As Beth narrates the story, we quickly deduce that she suspects that Tara, who recently came back to town, is setting the fires. Tara isn't really her friend, so why is she always bothering Beth?

Obviously, there is a lot more to the story than meets the eye in
Five Fires. This is a very satisfying short story full of character development and slowly building suspense. Lippman manages to get you right inside her character's thoughts and includes a nice twist at the end.

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

Monday, January 19, 2015

Watch Me Go

Watch Me Go by Mark Wisniewski
Penguin Group: 1/22/2015
eBook, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399172120
Douglas “Deesh” Sharp has managed to stay out of trouble living in the Bronx, paying his rent by hauling junk for cash. But on the morning Deesh and two pals head upstate to dispose of a sealed oil drum whose contents smell and weigh enough to contain a human corpse, he becomes mixed up in a serious crime. When his plans for escape spiral terribly out of control, Deesh quickly finds himself a victim of betrayal—and the prime suspect in the murders of three white men. 
When Jan, a young jockey from the gritty underworld of the Finger Lakes racetrack breaks her silence about gambling and organized crime, Deesh learns how the story of her past might, against all odds, free him from a life behind bars.
Interweaving Deesh’s and Jan’s gripping narratives, Watch Me Go is a wonderfully insightful work that examines how we love, leave, lose, redeem, and strive for justice. At once compulsively readable, thought-provoking, and complex, it is a suspenseful, compassionate meditation on the power of love and the injustices of hate. 

My Thoughts:

Watch Me Go by Mark Wisniewski is a highly recommended novel that intertwines the hard facts of a crime novel with literary character studies.

Jan Price, comes to visit Douglas "Deesh" Sharp in prison. Deesh is an African-American who has been charged with the murders of three men. Jan says she can provide proof that will exonerate him of the murder of jockey Tom Corcoran, but first she needs to know that he didn't kill the other two men. At this point Wisniewski alternates chapters between the perspective of the two main characters as they look at their past and the choices they have made that resulted in their meeting.

The first chapter is Deesh's story about riding along with two old basketball buddies, Bark and James, hoping to earn a little cash. When the three are paid a grand to dispose of a sealed barrel that, though it is never said, everyone knew contained a body. The three dumped the barrel in a wooded area and then hit the race track taking a gamble that they can win even more betting on the horses and then they can make a break for it. Things quickly begin to spiral out of control for Deesh.

Jan's chapters recount her dealings with the Corcoran family. Jan and her mother moved from Arkansas to stay with friends Tom and Colleen Corcoran, on their son Tug's horse farm, As Jan  hopes to become a jockey like her father, she also starts to realize she has feelings for Tug. There is a lot of information about horse racing and gambling included in Watch Me Go.

Wisniewski skillfully handles the nuances in developing the personalities of each of his characters. Although both characters make bad choices, I think you will come to understand why they made the choices they did and how they were both reacting to the actions of others around them. They were both desperate and afraid. Good people can have bad things happen to them, and tragically it can leave them lost and searching.

I thought the writing was brilliant, especially in how the characters were developed and in the clarity of their separate, distinct voices. I care very little for gambling or horse racing, which are very prevalent, but the information you need can easily be assimilated enough to allow you to appreciate the larger story without trying to bog yourself down in remembering detailed racing facts. Wisniewski also does an admirable job describing the setting.

There were a few minor glitches in Watch Me Go, but, as a whole this is a fine literary suspense novel in contrast to a boiler plate crime novel

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

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Settling Earth

The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns
Odyssey Books: 12/16/2014
eBook, 128 pages

ISBN-13: 9781922200167

Marriage transplants Sarah thousands of miles from home; a failed love affair forces Phoebe to make drastic choices in a new environment; a sudden, shocking discovery brings Mrs Ellis to reconsider her life as an emigrant-The Settling Earth is a collection of ten, interlinked stories, focusing on the British settler experience in colonial New Zealand, and the settlers' attempts to make sense of life in a strange new land.
Sacrifices, conflict, a growing love for the landscape, a recognition of the succour offered by New Zealand to Maori and settler communities-these are themes explored in the book.The final story in the collection, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori perspective to the experience of British settlement in their land.
My Thoughts:

The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns is a very highly recommended collection of interconnected short stories set during the colonial settlement of  New Zealand.

This is an exceptionally well written collection of stories that, when read together, capture a time and place through the eyes of many different characters all living during the 1800's in colonial New Zealand. Burns deftly captures the time, place, and characters so completely that I felt I had been transported back in time. In keeping the stories short, there was as much implied or left unsaid as was clearly explained.  At the end of the collection I felt like I had just finished a short novel where each chapter was written through the eyes of a different character.

Many of the stories feature women and the difficulties they faced in the settling of a new land. Motherhood is a theme, as well as the difficulties women faced when married or unmarried during this time and place. Many of the choices the women had to make were difficult and that is clearly presented even if as a fact rather than expounded upon. There is a sadness permeating the stories. There is some colonial superiority present but it is tempered with the smart addition of the last story, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, which features the reflections of a Maori native.

In the end I found this to be an excellent collection that should be well received by fans of the short story or those who appreciate historical fiction. The quality of the writing alone should merit some attention from many readers. I really appreciated the whole picture created by the interconnection of the stories told by each new character.

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

YouTube Video

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Whipping Boy

Whipping Boy by  Allen Kurzweil
HarperCollins: 1/20/2015
eBook, 304 pages

ISBN-13: 9780062269485

The true account of one man's lifelong search for his boarding-school bully
Equal parts childhood memoir and literary thriller, Whipping Boy chronicles Allen Kurzweil's search for his twelve-year-old nemesis, a bully named Cesar Augustus. The obsessive inquiry, which spans some forty years, takes Kurzweil all over the world, from a Swiss boarding school (where he endures horrifying cruelty) to the slums of Manila, from the Park Avenue boardroom of the world's largest law firm to a federal prison camp in Southern California. While tracking down his tormentor, the author encounters an improbable cast of characters that includes an elocution teacher with ill-fitting dentures, a gang of faux-royal swindlers, a crime investigator with "paper in his blood," and a monocled grand master of the Knights of Malta. Yet for all its global exoticism and comic exuberance, Kurzweil's riveting account is, at its core, a heartfelt and suspenseful narrative about the "parallel lives" of a victim and his abuser.
A scrupulously researched and richly illustrated work of nonfiction that renders a childhood menace into an unlikely muse, Whipping Boy is much more than a tale of karmic retribution; it is a poignant meditation on loss, memory, and mourning, a surreal odyssey born out of suffering, nourished by rancor, tempered by wit, and resolved, unexpectedly, in a breathtaking act of personal courage.
My Thoughts:

Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully by  Allen Kurzweil is a very highly recommended account of a man ostensibly searching for a bully. What he finds in his search  is much more interesting and satisfying.

When Kurzweil was 10, he attended Aiglon College, a British-style boarding school located in the Swiss Alps, above Geneva.  When there one of his roommates, Cesar Augustus, took delight in tormenting him. Kurzweil shares several incidents that traumatized him during this one year of his childhood and how the specter of Cesar loomed large in his adult life. He still remembered the verbal and physical  torment Cesar put him through and his emotional pain was still present.

As an adult, Kurzweil decided to do some research to try and discover what happened to Cesar and what he did with his life. There was, also, always present the idea of payback, or confrontation of Cesar for what he did to Kurzweil.

What Kurzweil discovers is far more interesting than even he could have imagined. Cesar was part of a huge global banking scam that swindled millions of dollars from unsuspecting clients. It was run by the Badische Trust Consortium and Cesar was part of the group of scam artists, many posing as European aristocrats, who ran the con. Several members, including Cesar, had been imprisoned for their felonious deceit. "The consolidated rap sheet of the Badische gang included embezzlement, racketeering, arson, forgery, fraud, extortion, perjury, check kiting, probation violation, grand larceny, assault and battery, and domestic abuse."

In the end this is less a book about searching for Cesar, the bully, and more the story of researching Cesar and the members of the Badische Trust Consortium. There is a satisfying meeting/discussion with Cesar. Kurzweil ends with an enlightening revelation/discovery about freeing himself from the memories of his bully.

This well written, detailed account, while partially a memoir, is most certainly an engaging true crime thriller as Kurzweil researches the Badische scam artists and their crimes through the court records, etc. he is given access to use in his search. Even though his research began as a search for his bully, he found a much more interesting story in which Cesar is a bit player. Yes, he is a scam artist, but he is not the most interesting character in the search. I found myself hoping he would be able to find and confront his bully, but what Kurzweil discovers is so much more and made for a fascinating, intriguing nonfiction account of his search.
Whipping Boy includes 16 pages of black-and-white photos and  83 images.

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

New Yorker Article


Friday, January 9, 2015

The Devil You Know

The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi
Touchstone: 1/13/2015
eBook, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476779089
The Devil You Know is a thrilling debut about a rookie reporter, whose memories of the murder of her childhood best friend bring danger—and a stalker—right to her doorstep.
The year is 1993. Rookie crime beat reporter Evie Jones is haunted by the unsolved murder of her best friend Lianne Gagnon who was killed in 1982, back when both girls were eleven. The suspected killer, a repeat offender named Robert Cameron, was never arrested, leaving Lianne’s case cold.
Now twenty-one and living alone for the first time, Evie is obsessively drawn to finding out what really happened to Lianne. She leans on another childhood friend, David Patton, for help—but every clue they uncover seems to lead to an unimaginable conclusion. As she gets closer and closer to the truth, Evie becomes convinced that the killer is still at large—and that he’s coming back for her.
From critically acclaimed author Elisabeth de Mariaffi comes a spine-tingling debut about secrets long buried and obsession that cannot be controlled.

My Thoughts:

The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi is a highly recommended, compulsively additive novel on the nature of paranoia - and a serial killer.

It's 1993 and  Evie Jones is a rookie reporter who at the Toronto Free Press. She's working on researching a series on women's safety that she irreverently nicknames the "dead-girls weekend section" While Evie spends hours researching dead girls, or girls who were kidnapped, raped, and murdered, she also recalls the kidnapping, rape, and murder of her best friend Lianne, when the girls were 11 in 1982. The suspected killer, Robert Cameron, was never caught. Evie investigation into old cases sends her off doing some private investigating of her own.

Set during the time that real-life Canadian serial killer Paul Bernando was arrested for his crimes in Toronto, Evie research can make for a strong case that women and girls are never safe. But as Evie's reseach continues, she also is constantly paranoid that someone is following her, or watching her. While most women have been taught to have a healthy sense of paranoia and awareness of their surroundings, Evie's actions may have you questioning if she has gone too far. Are her action's out of control or reasonable? And is someone really looking into her apartment windows at night or is it Evie's imagination going into overdrive?

Evie is a strong, tough protagonist with a sense of humor, curiosity, intelligence and courage. You will find yourself cheering her on, hoping for the best;  most female readers will also likely have an intimate understanding of Evie's paranoia and caution. In this novel that is part psychological terror and part crime reporter's research, the suspense is gradually built until the nail-biting climax.

De Mariaffi did an excellent job establishing Evie's character as tough and street-smart but also very paranoid, especially after the events of her childhood. Most women know and have to teach their daughters that the world is not a safe place for them. They need to be vigilant and cautious and, yes, even a bit paranoid.

I found the writing to be excellent and enjoyed this novel immensely. It is a nice blend of literary fiction with a crime novel. She has managed to make it all flow together beautifully and build to a tension-filled climax. It should be noted that de Mariaffi  does not use quotation marks, which might bother some readers.

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

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

West of Sunset

West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan
Viking: 1/13/2015
eBook, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780670785957
In 1937, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a troubled, uncertain man whose literary success was long over. In poor health, with his wife consigned to a mental asylum and his finances in ruins, he struggled to make a new start as a screenwriter in Hollywood. By December 1940, he would be dead of a heart  attack.
Those last three years of Fitzgerald’s life, often obscured by the legend of his earlier Jazz Age glamour, are the focus of Stewart O’Nan’s gorgeously and gracefully written novel. With flashbacks to key moments from Fitzgerald’s past, the story follows him as he arrives on the MGM lot, falls in love with brassy gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, begins work on The Last Tycoon, and tries to maintain a semblance of family life with the absent Zelda and daughter, Scottie.
Fitzgerald’s orbit of literary fame and the Golden Age of Hollywood is brought vividly to life through the novel’s romantic cast of characters, from Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway to Humphrey Bogart. A sympathetic and deeply personal portrait of a flawed man who never gave up in the end, even as his every wish and hope seemed thwarted, West of Sunset confirms O’Nan as “possibly our best working novelist” (Salon).
My Thoughts:

West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan is a very highly recommended fictionalized account of the last years of the life of author F. Scott Fitzgerald. O'Nan brings Fritzgerald's struggles to life amid the Golden Age of Hollywood.

F. Scott Fitzgerald went to Hollywood to work as a screen writer in 1937 because he desperately needed a job. At this time Zelda, his wife, was institutionalized at Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. It is well known that she struggled with mental illness for years. Their only child, daughter Scottie, was at boarding school and would be in college soon. Fitzgerald needed a way to make money and writing for Hollywood seemed like a natural way for him to earn the money he needed. His fame as a writer had waned at this point and his struggles with drinking and addictions were well known. He was determined to stop drinking, if possible, and make a living writing again. While in Hollywood he meets and starts an affair with Sheilah Graham, a much younger Hollywood gossip columnist. 

O'Nan has included many of the Hollywood writers and stars of the day when the studio system reigned supreme. Some of the notable figures include, naming a few: Humphrey Bogart, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Benchley, Joan Crawford, Vivien Leigh, Alan Campbell, and Dorothy Parker.  Fitzgerald is often at the mercy of thoughtless studio lackeys as he is asked to fix scripts or is bumped off of one project and put on another at a moment's notice. The whole time he struggles with his alcoholism, guilt over Zelda's condition, and concern for Scottie. This is a fully realized and researched glimpse into a sad, troubled time of Fitzgerald's life. His earlier fame has ended and he is left struggling, drunk, powerless, and often anonymous. 

The writing brilliantly and skillfully captures the life and struggles of Fitzgerald in this well researched fictionalized account. I am a fan of all of O'Nan's writing, but the first book I read by him was nonfiction, The Circus Fire, so I was eagerly anticipating what he would do with the final years of Fitzgerald's life.

O'Nan writes about why he chose to write about this time in Fitzgerald's life:
"Despite our view of him as a literary giant and dashing Gatsby, Fitzgerald was an outsider–a poor boy from a rich neighborhood, a scholarship kid at private school, a Midwesterner in the East, an Easterner in the West. I’d thought of him in Hollywood as a legendary figure in a legendary place, yet the more I read, the more he struck me as someone with limited resources trying to hold together a world that’s flying apart, if not gone already. Someone who keeps working and hoping, knowing it might not be enough. And I thought: that’s who you write about.
How does it feel to be you? Unknowable, of course, but fiction, better than any other medium, comes closest to satisfying our curiosity."

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Deep

The Deep by Nick Cutter
Gallery Books: 1/13/2015
eBook; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476717739
A strange plague called the ’Gets is decimating humanity on a global scale. It causes people to forget—small things at first, like where they left their keys…then the not-so-small things like how to drive, or the letters of the alphabet. Then their bodies forget how to function involuntarily…and there is no cure. But now, far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, deep in the Marianas Trench, an heretofore unknown substance hailed as “ambrosia” has been discovered—a universal healer, from initial reports. It may just be the key to a universal cure. In order to study this phenomenon, a special research lab, the Trieste, has been built eight miles under the sea’s surface. But now the station is incommunicado, and it’s up to a brave few to descend through the lightless fathoms in hopes of unraveling the mysteries lurking at those crushing depths…and perhaps to encounter an evil blacker than anything one could possibly imagine.
Part horror, part psychological nightmare, The Deep is a novel that fans of Stephen King and Clive Barker won’t want to miss—especially if you’re afraid of the dark.
My Thoughts: 

The Deep by Nick Cutter is a highly recommended psychological horror story.  Comparisons to an amalgamation of The Abyss, Sphere, and The Shining are all chillingly accurate.

Although the setup of this frightening novel mentions the new plague called the 'Gets, it's not about that. The real action in The Deep takes place in the Trieste, a deep sea research station in the Pacific Ocean - more specifically, a lab eight miles down in the bottom of the Marianas Trench. There a group of three scientists are studying a new substance called "Ambrosia." According to the support team on the surface of the ocean, they believe it will lead to a cure for 'Gets, as well as other diseases.

Veterinarian Luke Nelson's brother, Clayton, is one of the scientists. When the surface team loses all contact with the scientists and then receives a message from Clayton asking for Luke, they find Luke and transport him out to the support ship. There has also been a disturbing occurrence since Luke was contacted which is a major indication that something awful is happening on the Trieste. Luke has some personal demons he has been facing and there is no love lost between Luke and Clayton. Clayton is brilliant, but has always been a sociopath. They did both manage to survive a dysfunctional childhood.

Even as Luke descends in a submersible with Alice (Al) the pilot, it begins to become clear that they are entering a hostile, alien world. Once at the Trieste, the creepiness factor explodes. The darkness down there is total. The lab is full of strange noises, attributed to the tremendous pressure the structure is under - but can that account for strange laughter, or a pattering/scrabbling sound of footsteps? As the horror unfolds, Cutter uses a lot of flashbacks, dream sequences, and journal entries to propel the story forward. Nightmares seem to become real and the line blurs between awake and asleep. 

Cutter, author of The Troop, does an excellent job slowly revealing more and more background on his characters while incrementally ratcheting up the mounting tension and terror. To be honest, there were times when it was almost too horrific for me, so keep this in mind. It is very frightening and depressing. This is certainly a "stuck overnight at the airport book." You will be awake and possibly biting your nails. You also might want to make sure the territory you stake out with your stuff is well lit and you aren't in a dark corner, alone.

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

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton
Grand Central Publishing: 1/6/2015
eBook, 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9781455551927

After witnessing the death of his younger brother in a terrible home accident, 14-year-old Kevin and his grieving mother are sent for the summer to live with Kevin's grandfather. In this peeled-paint coal town deep in Appalachia, Kevin quickly falls in with a half-wild hollow kid named Buzzy Fink who schools him in the mysteries and magnificence of the woods. The events of this fateful summer will affect the entire town of Medgar, Kentucky.
Medgar is beset by a massive Mountaintop Removal operation that is blowing up the hills and back filling the hollows. Kevin's grandfather and others in town attempt to rally the citizens against the 'company' and its powerful owner to stop the plunder of their mountain heritage. When Buzzy witnesses the brutal murder of the opposition leader, a sequence is set in play which tests Buzzy and Kevin to their absolute limits in an epic struggle for survival in the Kentucky mountains.
Redemptive and emotionally resonant, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is narrated by an adult Kevin looking back on the summer when he sloughed the coverings of a boy and took his first faltering steps as a man among a rich cast of characters and an ambitious effort to reclaim a once great community.
My Thoughts:

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton is a very highly recommended multilayered coming-of-age tale that incorporates many other themes.

It is 1985 and 14 year old Kevin Gillooly has moved with his mother to her hometown of Medgar, Kentucky to stay with her father after the death of her other son, Kevin’s three-year-old brother. Kevin's mother is still in mourning and in a deep depression. Kevin's father cruelly blames Kevin for the accidental death.

"It had been two months since my brother, Joshua, was killed, and the invulnerability I had felt as a teenager was only a curl of memory. Mom had folded into herself on the way back from the hospital and had barely spoken since. My father emerged from silent disbelief and was diligently weaving his anger into a smothering blanket for everyone he touched, especially me. My life then was an inventory of eggshells and expectations unmet.
Pops, my maternal grandfather, suggested Mom and I spend the summer with him in the hope that memories of her own invulnerable childhood would help her heal. It was one of the few decisions on which my father and grandfather had ever agreed."

Pops, Kevin’s grandfather, is a veterinarian, concentrating on large animals now. Kevin is introduced to good books and hired as an assistant by his astute, perceptive grandfather. Kevin also meets Buzzy Fink, a friend who helps Kevin explore the woods and mountains and tells him some of the local legends and introduces him to folk medicine.

If The Secret Wisdom of the Earth simply covered Kevin's healing it would still be an insightful coming-of-age story, but Kevin's recovery is a small part of the story. Much like life, the novel is much more complex than that.  Medgar, Kentucky is also a long time coal mining area. Currently the rich coal veins in the mines are played out, but Bubba Boyd's Monongahela Mining Company now retrieves coal by mountaintop removal, a practice that requires blowing up the mountain and leaving a destroyed and poisoned landscape behind. Boyd is trying to buy up land from the locals. Paul Pierce, a local hairdresser and environmental activist, is aggressively trying to stop Boyd when Boyd uses Pierce's homosexuality to attack him personally. The fight becomes personal, lethal, and much more complicated. Adding to these storylines are the descriptions of the local small town and hillbilly culture.

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is an exceptional debut novel. The coming-of-age story is seamlessly blended into the narrative that also shows how people can be manipulated and public opinion swayed when they don't have the meddle to stick to their convictions. Scotton weaves a story that encompasses loss, love, tradition, greed, empathy, and redemption, while showing the importance of nature and the path of a confused boy turning toward becoming a wise man.

The writing is excellent, descriptive and powerful. The writing will capture your attention and the story will hold it until the narrative reaches a point that you will be utterly compelled to keep reading in order to find out what happens next. Scotton manages a few surprises along the way, but he also concludes the novel nicely, setting the characters in the present, looking back at that summer of monumental changes.

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