Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Dismantling

The Dismantling by Brian DeLeeuw
Penguin: 4/28/2015
eBook review copy, 288 pages
trade paperback ISBN-13: 9780142181744

The Dismantling by Brian DeLeeuw is a highly recommended suspense novel that explores the morality of several issues, including organ trafficking.

Simon Worth has dropped out of medical school and found himself an ethically questionable position with Health Solutions, an organ brokerage company run  by Peter DaSilva. Health Solutions basically buys kidneys and livers from cash-strapped "donors" for those in need of a transplant who can afford their services. It's Simon's job to discreetly match donor and recipient, or seller and buyer, while behind the scenes DaSilva alters medical records and launders the money. Even though he may have to explain away any ethical quibbles over what he's doing, it is a way for Simon to make a lot of money quickly.

When Simon arranges for Maria Campos, a young woman from L.A., to donate part of her liver to ex-athlete Lenny Pellegrini, all seems to be going smoothly. She's going to pretend to be a distant cousin and Lenny swears he is going to lay off the booze. Even after many successful brokered organs, this time there may be a problem. Additionally, both Simon and Maria have dark personal secrets they are trying to hide.

The plot moves along quickly in The Dismantling and DeLeeuw does an excellent job interweaving the backstory of his characters with the main story. At first it appears to be a medical thriller, but then, as the plot thickens and the tensions mount, it takes a turn toward suspense and drama. This is a well written page turner that should please fans of both genres. The characters of Simon and Maria are well developed. As they slowly divulge much of their personal stories, we learn more about their motives and reasons for participating in an arrangement with questionable legality.

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

TLC Dismantling Tour

Thursday, May 28, 2015


Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
HarperCollins: 5/19/2015
eBook review copy, 880 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062190376

My Thoughts:

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson is a thought provoking science fiction disaster scenario and space saga covering 5000 years that is very highly recommended. This complex, epic tale is the kind of end-of-the-known-world science fiction that many of us crave. As someone who has grown weary of reading various novels that are only part of a series, let me go on record right away saying that I appreciate and applaud the fact that Stephenson gave us the complete story all in one massive book containing three parts rather than spreading it out over three books.

Seveneves opens with "The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. It was waxing, only one day short of full. The time was 05:03:12 UTC. Later it would be designated A+0.0.0, or simply Zero." The moon fragments into seven large pieces that Scientist Doc “Doob” Dubois gives the school-children friendly names of Potatohead, Mr. Spinny, Acorn, Peach Pit, Scoop, Big Boy, and Kidney Bean. There are already smaller fragments of the moon falling to earth as meteorites, but, as these larger pieces begin breaking up into smaller pieces, Doob has figured out that eventually this fragmentation will lead to an event he calls the White Sky. "The system of discrete planetoids that we can see up there now is going to grind itself up into a vast number of much smaller fragments. They are going to turn into a white cloud in the sky, and that cloud is going to spread out."

A day or two after the White Sky event, the Hard Rain is going to occur. The Hard Rain is actually a meteorite bombardment that will set the earth on fire and sterilized the surface. The only way for humanity to survive is to go underground, or go into space. Humanity has approximately twenty-five months to prepare. They propose using swarming behavior observed on earth to create an ark in space called the Cloud Ark. They need to send up genetic samples of everything on earth, including humans, as well as chosen representatives from each country in a habitat to connect to the International Space Station, or Izzy, the place where the Cloud Ark will form. Roboticist Dinah MacQuarie (and many robots) and commander Ivy Xiao, along with others are on Izzy and now must anticipate new arrivals before the Hard Rain destroys life on the surface of the earth.

The quality of the writing is above reproach. Stephenson does an admirable job incorporating lots and lots of hard science, ballistics, sociology, genetics, politics, robotics, and more  into the novel and he makes all of the myriad of intricate details interesting. Along with the hard science there are also little snippets that provide a measure of comic relief at the beginning of the disaster, like the names of the seven fragments of the moon mentioned above or the website: or the roach motel for boys (which you will understand if you read it.) As I said, the novel is divided up into three books, with book three taking place 5000 years in the future. I really didn't have a clear clue what the title meant until over half way through the book, at which point it became clear just before the start of book three. At almost 900 pages, it takes a time commitment, but it is worth it.

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

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Knopf Doubleday: 5/26/2015
eBook review copy, 192 pages

hardcover ISBN-13: 9781101875896
My Thoughts:

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf is a beautifully written, very highly recommended novel about two seniors finding companionship and friendship with each other. 

Set in Haruf’s fictional Holt, Colorado, it opens with:
"And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters. It was an evening in May just before full dark. They lived a block apart on Cedar Street in the oldest part of town with elm trees and hackberry and a single maple grown up along the curb and green lawns running back from the sidewalk to the two-story houses." 

Addie and Louis have known each other for decades. They are both in their 70's and lost their spouses years ago. Addie is calling Louis to ask if he would consider coming to her house sometimes to sleep with her. Not for sex. She is "talking about getting through the night. And lying warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst." She thinks she "could sleep again if there were someone else in bed with me. Someone nice. The closeness of that. Talking in the night, in the dark." They both understand her offer, and what it means, as they both take pills to help them sleep now and then end up staying up too late reading anyway and wake up groggy. The companionship is the key to helping them both get through the long, lonely nights. 

Though he is nervous, Louis takes her up on the offer and their friendship - and the small town gossip - begins. While they try to ignore the talk about their affair, it really means friendship for them both and having someone to talk about their life with, mull over the past with an amicable listener. Addie has a surviving son in Grand Junction and Louis a daughter in Colorado Springs, but neither is there, available to talk. As the gossip flies around town, the word of their "affair" gets back to their son and daughter, neither is pleased about their arrangement.

This is an impressive novel that, despite its diminutive size, is poignant, engaging, and heartbreaking. The writing is simply incredible.  In Our Souls at Night writer Kent Haruf has left the world a wonderful final contribution to his body of work.

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

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North
Penguin Publishing Group: 5/19/2015
eBook review copy, 288 pages

ISBN-13: 9780399173394
My Thoughts:

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North is a highly recommended novel that exposes the truth behind the artist.

Acclaimed filmmaker Sophie Stark is an enigma, even to those who know her best. This haunting novel tells us about the life of Sophie through the voices of six different individuals who knew her best. Each chapter is the voice of one of these six individuals, while not a word is heard directly from Sophie. What we gather and learn about her character is all filtered through the experiences of others. 

The six voices include: Allison, Robbie (Sophie's brother), Jacob, Daniel, George, and Benjamin Martin. Allison was romantically involved with Sophie and the story of her family became Sophie's movie Marianne. Robbie is ever protective of Sophie and in college helps her with her first movie, Daniel, a documentary of her obsession with college basketball player. Sophie makes a video for musician Jacob and they get married briefly. She betrays him when the story of his mother becomes her next movie, Woods. Daniel was the college basketball star in her first movie. George is a successful screenwriter who Sophie uses for his contacts and makes the movie Isabella. Benjamin Martin is the film critic whose reviews of Sophie's films are included between each chapter.

It is clear that Sophie is an enigma even to those who know her best. We know that Sophie has always been a loner and found it difficult to connect with other people. She was born as Emily Buckley, but changed her name. She unapologetically uses people and their lives to further her art. Does she really feel love or care for anyone besides herself and her vision? She is driven and focused. Her vision for a film and her creative process supersedes all personal relationships. Clearly she is talented, but what cost does she extract from those around her while working on her films? Is the final creation of art enough to excuse personal  betrayal? Must a great artist always be tortured?

North's writing is excellent which helps make The Life and Death of Sophie Stark an engrossing literary story puzzle. The individual stories each add some essential pieces to the puzzle and work together to make a more complete picture of who is Sophie Stark. They don't explain everything. This is a puzzle with missing pieces. What North leaves us with, after these stories from those who knew her, is that the legacy Sophie Stark has left behind is her films that, presumably, might fill in some of the missing holes and help explain her life.

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

Saturday, May 16, 2015

On the Burning Edge

On the Burning Edge by Kyle Dickman
Random House: 5/12/2015
eBook review copy, 304 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780553392128

My Thoughts:

On the Burning Edge by Kyle Dickman is a highly recommended, in depth look at the 20 Granite Mountain Hotshots of Prescott, AZ., and the Yarnell, AZ., wildfire that claimed 19 of their lives.

Dickman, a former hotshot, spent five years fighting wildfires in California. His insider's knowledge and viewpoint give us information about the group and how they train and interact. While providing the information on a brief history of wildfire firefighting teams,  and how a hotshot team trains and works fighting wildfires, he focuses mainly on the Granite Mountain Hotshots. He then gives us a well-researched inside glimpse at each of the members of the team. Dickman carefully covers each member of the crew and even includes their last text messages sent to loved ones.

The wildfire in Yarnell was sparked by a lightning bolt and quickly turned into an inferno that eventually devoured more than eight thousand acres in northern Arizona. Anyone who has ever seen a wildfire take off will understand the terror and unpredictability of a wildfire. Those of us who have done so, have also watched and applauded the dedicated crews coming in to fight those fires. While the actual firefighting portion of the book may seem scant, On the Burning Edge is a memorable and heartbreaking account of the men who fought the fire.

I remember vividly when living in the west seeing a lightning strike hit a nearby mountain and then almost immediately seeing smoke arise from the mountain. It is a horrifying feeling to watch a fire take off and know your family could be in the path of a wildfire. Furthermore, these fires seemed to be a yearly occurrence. So many people across the USA depend on the hotshots and crews of dedicated firefighters from across the West to come in and fight the fires. (A shout out to those flying helicopters and dumping flame retardant on the fires too.)

Dickman does a good job presenting the information and telling the story of the tragic event. It is also a story of warning and caution. With the increased population and well publicized  decrease in the water supply in the West, there are certainly going to be an increase of fires that threaten populated areas and more young men will be in harm’s way fighting the fires.

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

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Forgotten Room

The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child
Knopf Doubleday: 5/12/2015
eBook review copy, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385531405

My Thoughts:

The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child is a highly recommended thriller.
Yale professor Jeremy Logan is an enigmalogist or an investigator who specializes in analyzing phenomena that have no obvious explanation. He has been asked by Gregory Olafson, the director, to come to the Lux to discreetly investigate what could have led to the erratic behavior and horrific suicide by one of their distinguished doctors, Willard Strachey. The Lux is a think tank located in Dark Gables, a seaside mansion in Newport, R.I. Ten years earlier Jeremy was asked to leave the Lux based on questions about his research.

Once he arrives, Jeremy discovers that the doctor wasn't the only one behaving erratically. He thinks that Strachey's behavior may be related to his oversight of the renovation of an unused wing of the mansion. While investigating, Jeremy discovers a secret room in that wing. The secret room contains equipment from a project that doesn't seem to have any documentation on it. It seems to be from something that may have been called Project Sin that was conducted in the 1930's.

Jeremy has keen insight into people and as he interviews the residents you will wonder if the cause of the problem is related to the paranormal or if it can be explained by science. It is clear that whatever has caused the problem is still ongoing and Jeremy may be in danger himself if he can't figure it out soon.

The writing is excellent, as usual, and Child will grab your attention and hold it to the end. The chapters are short and quick, which made this an excellent book to read in quick bursts here and there as time permitted during the day. I found myself reading it pretty quickly as the mystery and plot were compelling and Jeremy is a likeable character.

Jeremy also appeared in The Third Gate and Deep Storm, but this is a stand-alone novel that can be enjoyed without reading about any of his previous investigations.

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


Housebreaking by Dan Pope
Simon & Schuster: 5/12/2015
eBook review copy, 288 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781476745909

My Thoughts:

Benjamin Mandelbaum, a man in his mid-forties, has just been kicked out of his house by his wife Judy after she suspects he has had another affair. After two previous affairs, this suspected third marks the end of their marriage. Ben takes his dog and moves back home to live with his father, Leonard, in Wintonbury, a suburb of Hartford, Connecticut. Leonard, 84, has started dating again, much to Ben's surprise.

Ben claims to miss his family, but once he discovers that an old high school crush, Audrey, has moved back to town and is now living just up the street with her busy lawyer husband, Andrew, and troubled teenage daughter, Emily, that point seems to escape him. Ben and Audrey start having an affair almost immediately after meeting. But there is a whole lot more trouble brewing behind the scenes and everyone seems to have secrets they are keeping and information they are withholding.

The quality of the writing is excellent. Pope manages to give each character tells their own story in their unique voice, explaining their unhappiness and revealing shocking secrets. Adultery looms so large in the plot of this dark drama featuring a plethora of dysfunctional lives in two families that it was overwhelming for me. I wanted the adults to snap out of it and start looking at the consequences of their actions. Pope does manage to infuse a little humor while presenting us with this collection of very flawed people. Housebreaking by Dan Pope is recommended.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Simon & Schuster for review purposes.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Hyacinth Girls

Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel
Crown Publishing: 5/12/2015
eBook review copy, 304 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780553418057

My Thoughts:

Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel is a highly recommended, powerful novel about bullying.

"Do you know your children?"

That is the question Rebecca, the guardian of 13 year old Callie,  wants the parents of other teens to ask themselves. She has a billboard made that features Callie's face and the pointed question erected in hopes that someone will take notice. But to tell us the story of what has happened, Rebecca goes back six months to an incident where Callie was accused of bullying another student, Robyn. Callie denies the accusations and Rebecca rallies to her side, defending her.

As she relates the story behind the billboard, Rebecca also reminisces about the past. She has been a part of Callie's life since her birth. She was best friends with Callie's mother, Joyce, and took over as her guardian when Joyce died. Rebecca and Joyce called themselves the "hyacinth girls" and were inseparable for a time. Rebecca does her best to understand what Callie is experiencing while at the same time she is recalling past betrayals in her friendship with Joyce. But Rebecca doesn't really understand at all what Callie is going through or what role she has played in the drama unfolding.

The narrative is separated into separate sections where the story is told first from Rebecca's point of view and then Callie's point of view. The story gets much better and acquires some depth once we can read Callie's thoughts. It's not that Rebecca's character is awful, but she seems rather simple and naive. Once Callie's voice is given, at over half way through, the narrative takes on more depth. Included throughout all sections are short numbered installments detailing the history of Callie's interaction through messages and texts with Robyn, the girl she was accused of bullying.

While the writing is quite good and the story timely, I've lowered my rating one star simply because of the length of the first section told in Rebecca's voice. The true reality of what is going on doesn't come to life until you start to read Callie's story. As most people know, teens keep secrets and you will likely suspect that there are secrets, but won't quite understand the whole story until later, even the story of Callie's childhood and her parents. This is a novel that deserves some attention. Mean girls have always existed and nothing seems to change that equation. (Look at Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye.)

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

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Mercy of the Sky

The Mercy of the Sky: The Story of a Tornado by Holly Bailey
Penguin: 5/12/2015
eBook review copy, 320 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780525427490

My Thoughts:
The Mercy of the Sky: The Story of a Tornado by Holly Bailey is a very highly recommended account of the two tornadoes that hit Moore and El Reno, Oklahoma in May of 2013. Most of the book focuses on the May 20, 2013 tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb south of Oklahoma City. Bailey's narrative reads like a nail-biting thriller; even though you know the outcome, the tension is palatable as the storm approaches. This tornado was a massive mile-wide twister with winds in excess of 200 miles per hour that hit during the day, and destroyed two schools. Twenty-five people were killed, seven of which were third graders at the Plaza Towers Elementary School who had their school collapse on top of them. This tornado was one known as "a 'grinder' as it took its time chewing neighborhoods into tiny bits."

The El Reno tornado hit just eleven days after this, on May 31. This tornado was at least 2.6 miles wide and is the largest tornado on record. Both of these monsters were EF5 tornadoes on the Enhanced Fujita scale.

Bailey, a reporter, does an excellent job chronicling the story, and the history of storm forecasting in Oklahoma, through several key individuals, including: Gary England, the renowned and trusted weatherman at CBS affiliate KWTV, Mike Morgan and Damon Lane his rivals; Amy Simpson, the head principal at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore; Steve Eddy, city manager of Moore; Rick Smith, of the National Weather Service in Norman; Howard Bluestein, a well-known meteorology professor at OU; and several others.

As a native Oklahoman, Bailey was compelled to tell what happened in Moore. She understands that most of us who live in tornado alley follow the weather very closely and those in Oklahoma, perhaps, the most. She "knew I wanted to tell the longer story of what had happened here. As a native, I knew how people felt about the weather, how they loved it and feared it all at the same time. I wanted to know what it was like being in the path of a tornado that seemed bigger than life itself as it bore down on the city from the west. I knew I had to chronicle the story of those who survived one of the worst tornadoes in history  - and those who didn’t make it."

I vividly recall both of these tornadoes. As a resident in several different communities all located in tornado alley over the years, I, too, have my first memory of a night of storms, flooding, and tornadoes that hooked me on meteorology for life. This interest often has me watching weather radar for different areas of the country, including this massive storm system. More importantly the Moore tornado of 2013 has changed the way the local elementary school where I work conducts our tornado drills, including where we go and the position of the students. I'm certain that this tornado must have changed the way tornado drills are conducted and the locations where students must go for other school districts too.

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

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
Simon & Schuster: 5/5/2015
eBook review copy, 336 pages

hardcover ISBN-13: 9781476728742

My Thoughts:
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough is a masterful, brilliantly written, extensively researched biography of Wilbur and Orville Wright. It is very highly recommended and will be the definitive biography on the Wright Brothers. Through use of the Wright Papers, McCullough does an excellent job chronicling their story and bringing the brothers to life through their diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks and personal correspondence in this biography.

Together, the Wright brothers from Dayton, Ohio had the determination and the focus to begin the age of flight. Wilbur was the introvert, a genius, and the abstract thinker while Orville was the extrovert and the mechanical genius. While the brothers did not have extensive formal education, their home was filled with books and they both had curious, inquisitive minds. They also had the persistence and grit needed to decode what they were seeing in the flight if birds and how that would help them create their first flyer. Their father, Bishop Milton Wright and sister Katharine also helped as they could and provided support when needed.

All of the trials at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina over several years that eventually resulted in the first successful sustained flight on December 17, 1903 are faithfully recounted. It was quite frustrating to see the American government dismiss the Wright brothers and their invention; while the Smithsonian wasted 70,000 thousand dollars trying to achieve what the brothers had already figured out. It really wasn't until the French embraced them that Americans started to take note.

McCullough includes numerous photos and excerpts from newspapers and letters throughout the book that are credited. As is my wont, I was thrilled to see the extensive Source notes, Bibliography, and index.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Simon & Schuster for review purposes.

Jack of Spades

Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.: 5/5/2015
eBook review copy, 208 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13: 9780802123947

My Thoughts:

Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates is a very highly recommended psychological thriller that also pays homage to Stephen King.

Andrew J. Rush is a mainstream mystery writer who has published 28 books and was even dubbed "the gentleman's Stephen King" in one review. Andrew is successful, pompous, and egotistical, but likes to think of himself (and he likes to think of himself a lot) as a humble, mild mannered family man. He has been happily married for years and has three grown children. However, unknown to everyone, he is also writing decidedly different novels under the pseudonym Jack of Spades. His Jack of Spades novels are violent, dark, and disturbing. He has a secret room in his house where he keeps these novels. He even writes them on a different desk in his study.

When Andrew is accused of plagiarism by a local woman his carefully separated, murderous Jack of Spades alter ego begins to push to the forefront. C. W. Haider is a local woman who claims he physically stole his novels from her. She is very litigious. He's not the first author she has sued for the same thing, including Stephen King and John Updike. At the same time Andrew's adult daughter finds one of his Jack of Spades novels in his study and decides to read it. She thinks this "friend" of her father who writes the horrible books is stealing ideas/events from their family's lives. And his wife may be having an affair. 

As these events collide and suspicions begin to plague Andrew, his carefully ordered and compartmentalized mind begins to crack. His alter ego, the vicious Jack of Spades, begins to push to the forefront and he wants revenge. What we get is a mind disassociating with itself and see an author's slow slide into madness. 

The writing is brilliant in this novel. Narrated in the first person, Andrew Rush is really the only character in the novel, and we get to know him very, very well. Oates has also made this novel a tribute to Stephen King, who becomes a minor character in the novel through Andrew's thoughts. This is a short novel so it moves quite quickly. There are a few surprises too, so be prepared.

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

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Trail of Broken Wings

Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani
Lake Union Publishing: 5/1/2015
eBook review copy, 378 pages
Trade Paperback ISBN-13: 9781477822081

When her father falls into a coma, Indian American photographer Sonya reluctantly returns to the family she'd fled years before. Since she left home, Sonya has lived on the run, free of any ties, while her soft-spoken sister, Trisha, has created a perfect suburban life, and her ambitious sister, Marin, has built her own successful career. But as these women come together, their various methods of coping with a terrifying history can no longer hold their memories at bay.

Buried secrets rise to the surface as their father - €”the victim of humiliating racism and perpetrator of horrible violence - remains unconscious. As his condition worsens, the daughters and their mother wrestle with private hopes for his survival or death, as well as their own demons and buried secrets.

Told with forceful honesty, Trail of Broken Wings reveals the burden of shame and secrets, the toxicity of cruelty and aggression, and the exquisite, liberating power of speaking and owning truth.
My thoughts:

Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani is, if you can bear with it, a recommended tale of abuse in a dysfunctional Indian family. The individual story of their lives and abuse is told by each character in their own voice in separate chapters.

Ranee has tried to be a good Indian wife, submitting to every wish her husband Brent voices, as well as his beatings. She knows that "the men, the father and the husband, were two sides of the same coin. Both owned you and could do with you what they wished." She and Brent have three girls, Marin, Trisha, and Sonya.

Marin is the oldest daughter and a driven woman. Her marriage to Raj was an arranged marriage. They have a 15 year old daughter Gia. Brent beat her as a child and controlled her life.
Trisha is the second daughter and was Brent's favorite. He never beat her and allowed her to marry the man of her choice.

Sonya, the youngest, left her family years ago, after college. She was beaten the most and told all through her childhood that she should have been aborted. Working as a photographer, she has traveled the world and never came back to see her family.

When their father, Brent, falls into a coma their mother, Ranee, wants her three daughters with her. Much to everyone's surprise, Sonya comes home. As each character faces the demons from their past and faces the hurts and challenges of the present day, the complete story of their lives is told and hidden motives and memories are revealed. The secret shame they all carried from their beatings is revealed along with the legacy it has left behind.

The writing is this novel is excellent and almost lyrical at time. I can't fault the writing for my negative feelings toward Trail of Broken Wings. Nor can I fault the presentation. Having the characters speak their truth and tell their story through their own voices in their chapters is very effective. It is the subject matter and all the violence toward women that is hard to stomach. I almost stopped half way through, telling myself that it was enough. I didn't need to read any more about this dysfunctional family full of misogynistic violence. I was struggling to relate to these broken women and some of their choices.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from Lake Union Publishing and TLC for review purposes.  

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Dorito Effect

The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker
Simon & Schuster: 5/5/2015
eBook review copy, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476724218

A lively and important argument from an award-winning journalist proving that the key to reversing America'€™s health crisis lies in the overlooked link between nutrition and flavor.
In The Dorito Effect, Mark Schatzker shows us how our approach to the nation's number one public health crisis has gotten it wrong. The epidemics of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are not tied to the overabundance of fat or carbs or any other specific nutrient. Instead, we have been led astray by the growing divide between flavor -the tastes we crave- and the underlying nutrition.
Since the late 1940s, we have been slowly leeching flavor out of the food we grow. Those perfectly round, red tomatoes that grace our supermarket aisles today are mostly water, and the big breasted chickens on our dinner plates grow three times faster than they used to, leaving them dry and tasteless. Simultaneously, we have taken great leaps forward in technology, allowing us to produce in the lab the very flavors that are being lost on the farm. Thanks to this largely invisible epidemic, seemingly healthy food is becoming more like junk food: highly craveable but nutritionally empty. We have unknowingly interfered with an ancient chemical language - flavor - that evolved to guide our nutrition, not destroy it.
With in-depth historical and scientific research, The Dorito Effect casts the food crisis in a fascinating new light, weaving an enthralling tale of how we got to this point and where we are headed. We've been telling ourselves that our addiction to flavor is the problem, but it is actually the solution. We are on the cusp of a new revolution in agriculture that will allow us to eat healthier and live longer by enjoying flavor the way nature intended.
My Thoughts:

The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker is a very highly recommended, well researched account that addresses the cause of the health crisis today as being a direct result of what we have done to our food.

In an effort to increase size, and production, we have taken the natural flavor out of food. Our bodies naturally crave flavors that the current food isn't providing so we eat more trying to fill the flavor void we're missing. Focusing on mainly chicken and tomatoes, Schatsker does an excellent job tracing how the change in our food happened and the results. There is a complex relationship between flavor and nutrition in food and we have diluted the flavor to increase size and production. Chicken today doesn't taste anything like the chicken of the past. Tomatoes today are mostly water. "The rise in obesity is the predictable result of the rise in manufactured deliciousness. Everything we add to food just makes us want it more." Schatzker points out that the big food companies have "created the snack equivalent of crystal meth and gotten us all hooked." Not only is more and more manufactured flavor being added to things, the availability of the food with enhanced flavors is more available.

"The Dorito Effect, very simply, is what happens when food gets blander and flavor technology gets better. This book is about how and why that took place. It's also about the consequences, which include obesity and metabolic disturbance along with a cultural love-hate obsession with food. This book argues that we need to begin understanding food through the same lens by which it is experienced: how it tastes. The food crisis we're spending so much time and money on might be better thought of as a large-scale flavor disorder. Our problem isn't calories and what our bodies do with them. Our problem is that we want to eat the wrong food. The longer we ignore flavor, the longer we are bound to be victims of it. This book is also about the solution. The Dorito Effect can be reversed. That's already happening on small farms and in pioneering science labs."

Schatzker notes the words to look for on your food that indicate the presence of chemicals that fool your nose and chemicals that fool your tongue. "The following words indicate the presence of chemicals that fool your nose: natural flavor(s) natural flavoring(s) artificial flavor(s) flavoring, flavor. The following words indicate the presence of chemicals that fool your tongue: monosodium glutamate MSG disodium guanlyate disodium inosinate torula yeast yeast extract hydrolyzed protein autolyzed yeast saccharin (Sweet Twin, Sweet N Low, Necta Sweet) aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin) acesulfame potassium (Ace-K, Sunett, Sweet One) sucralose (Splenda) neotame (Newtame) advantame stevia."

I have been talking about this book the whole time to anyone who will listen. Schatzker does and exceptional job presenting the information and scientific research in an entertaining, accessible, and informative manner.  In The Dorito Effect he divides the book into three parts: He tells us what the Dorito effect is, the importance of flavor, and the cure for the Dorito effect. As is my wont, I was thrilled to see a bibliography, notes and index.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Simon & Schuster for review purposes.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Early Warning

Early Warning by Jane Smiley
Knopf Doubleday: 4/28/2015
eBook review copy, 496 pages

hardcover ISBN-13: 9780307700322
From the Pulitzer Prize-winner: the second installment, following Some Luck, of her widely acclaimed, best-selling American trilogy, which brings the journey of a remarkable family with roots in the Iowa heartland into mid-century America
Early Warning opens in 1953 with the Langdon family at a crossroads. Their stalwart patriarch, Walter, who with his wife, Rosanna, sustained their farm for three decades, has suddenly died, leaving their five children, now adults, looking to the future. Only one will remain in Iowa to work the land, while the others scatter to Washington, D.C., California, and everywhere in between.
As the country moves out of post–World War II optimism through the darker landscape of the Cold War and the social and sexual revolutions of the 1960s and ’70s, and then into the unprecedented wealth—for some—of the early 1980s, the Langdon children each follow a different path in a rapidly changing world. And they now have children of their own: twin boys who are best friends and vicious rivals; a girl whose rebellious spirit takes her to the notorious Peoples Temple in San Francisco; and a golden boy who drops out of college to fight in Vietnam—leaving behind a secret legacy that will send shock waves through the Langdon family into the next generation. 
Capturing a transformative period through richly drawn characters we come to know and care deeply for, Early Warning continues Smiley’s extraordinary epic trilogy, a gorgeously told saga that began with Some Luck and will span a century in America. But it also stands entirely on its own as an engrossing story of the challenges—and rewards—of family and home, even in the most turbulent of times, all while showcasing a beloved writer at the height of her considerable powers.
My Thoughts:

Early Warning by Jane Smiley is a highly recommended second book in her planned Last Hundred Years in America trilogy. This continues the story began with Some Luck and follows the years of 1953-1986. Smiley covers one year per chapter and there is a family tree included at the beginning of the book.

Opening at the funeral of Walter in Iowa, the Langdons are now scattered across the country. Their families are growing and we are meeting the second and third generations in this multi-generational saga. You will want to start with Some Luck for a sense of continuity and in order to follow the characters in Early Warning. The series is as much a social history of the USA as it is of the Langdon family. There are a lot of characters and changes to keep track of along with all the social changes of the times.

Smiley's continues to carefully craft her story  while placing her characters firmly in the time period. She covers the decades and the historical events that happened during that time. Her writing continues to be excellent as is her ability to tell the story of various family members while keeping to her organization of by-the-year chapters. 

Early Warning does suffer a little from the second-book-in-a-trilogy syndrome. It is good, but you want the stories to continue immediately rather than waiting for the next installment.

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

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Far End of Happy

The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft
Sourcebooks: 5/5/2015
eBook review copy, 368 pages
Trade Paperback ISBN-13: 9781492604952

Ronnie's husband is supposed to move out today. But when Jeff pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned.
The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage-and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie's fault, not much else matters now but these moments. Her family's lives depend on the choices she will make-but is what's best for her best for everyone?
Based on a real event from the author's life, The Far End of Happy is a chilling story of one troubled man, the family that loves him, and the suicide standoff that will change all of them forever.
My Thoughts:

The Far End of Happy
by Kathryn Craft is a very highly recommended novel about a suicide standoff and a woman trying to come up with the inner strength to make it through the horrific day.

As she is mentally preparing herself for the day,
Ronnie (Veronica) Farnham contemplates, "How many months had it been since she’d been able to relax in her own home?"  Today her husband, Jeff, is supposed to move out of their farmhouse in Bartlesville, located in rural eastern Pennsylvania. Their marriage has been struggling for years, but with Jeff's increased drinking and out -of-control spending, which has led to huge credit card debt, Ronnie knows it is time to leave and try to make a future for her and her two boys.

A day that is already guaranteed to be stressful turns into a nightmare when a drunken Jeff pulls his car up to the front of the house. He has had way-to-much to drink, has a hose hanging from his exhaust pipe, a shotgun in the front seat, and is threatening to commit suicide. Ronnie and the boys manage to get the car keys and call 911, but when a crazed Jeff chases them into the house they are afraid. The police arrive but Jeff has taken off, holing up in the office of their farm store, New Hope Farms, with his gun.

The police manage to get Ronnie and the boys out of the house and off the farm. Ronnie's mother, Beverly, and Jeff's mother, Janet, meet them at the local firefighter's hall while the police have the road to the farm and the area locked down and under surveillance. The 12 hour standoff has begun. Ronnie manages to get the boys to a friend's house for the day, but she is stuck waiting, with her mother and mother-in-law. The story is told through Ronnie, Beverly, and Janet.
Ronnie discovers that there are more family secrets than she thought, as the truth is slowly revealed during the tension packed standoff. We also learn more about the families and the history of each character as each woman reflects on her life.

Even as I felt the tension ratchet up during the twelve hour standoff, I also could see the personal reflection from each character as they wondered if they had a role in the day's tragic events. Could the marriage have been saved? Did any one action push Jeff over the edge? At the same time secrets are revealed that might have been helpful if they were made known, if risk factors were discussed. There are a wide range of emotions and questions that would plague anyone in this situation. Craft also realistically includes the ever-present media and their following of the "story."

I was totally engrossed in this well written, engaging story from start to finish and only learned afterwards that it was based on a personal experience by
Kathryn Craft. That would explain her uncanny ability to capture the genuine, raw emotions  of each character and honestly confront the
effects depression, alcoholism, and suicide can have on a family.

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