Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Spirals in Time

Spirals in Time by Helen Scales
Bloomsbury USA, 7/21/15
eBook Review Copy, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781472911360

My Thoughts: 

Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells by Helen Scales is a very highly recommended, fascinating nonfiction book about conchology, and, honestly, who doesn't appreciate seashells? (Just a quick glance through my home makes it clearly evident that I do.) "Members of the phylum Mollusca are among the most ancient animals on the planet. Their shells provide homes for other animals, and across the ages, people have used shells not only as trinkets but also as a form of money, and as powerful symbols of sex and death, prestige and war."

Spirals in Time is not only interesting and entertaining, it is also a thoroughly engaging look at the history, biology and the scientists (and mathematicians) who study seashells, primarily mollusks. The information is presented through stories and personal experience. As author Helen Scales writes in her introduction: "This book is made up of my choice of shell stories, ones that together paint a picture of a remarkable company of animals along with some of the more offbeat, forgotten and little-known tales of how those shells have made their way into the human world."

Scales is a wonderful story teller. Her sound science and knowledge of the subject matter combined with the ability to present the information in an entertaining and engaging manner made Spirals in Time an utterly delightful and accessible book. She has some great stories to tell that just happen to pass along a bountiful amount of information.

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Sunrise

The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop
HarperCollins: 7/7/15
Advanced Reading Copy,352 pages
Trade Paperback ISBN-13: 780062396099

The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop is a highly recommended novel about three families during the 1974 Cypriot coup d’état.

Opening in the Summer of 1972, The Sunrise is set in Famagusta, Cyprus’s most glamorous Mediterranean island vacation destination. Aphroditi and Savvas Papacostas currently own the Paradise Beach, a small hotel, but are building a new luxury highrise with a nightclub, The Sunrise. Markos Georgiou is hired as the manager of the night club and soon The Sunrise is the place to go to see and be seen by European's elite.

Underlying the tranquility of the city, though, ethnic tension is mounting between the Greeks and the Turks. Violence erupts in 1974 when Greece’s coup d’état provokes a Turkish attack on  Famagusta. Forty-thousand families ended up fleeing Famagusta, leaving it deserted. The Papacostas flee to a refugee camps, while two other families, the Özkans and the Georgious, remain in the decimated city. The tension between the two families is great as one is Turkish Cypriot, while the other is Greek Cypriot. The two families take refuge in the hotel, The Sunrise. The families battle illness, hunger, fear, and their own prejudices while struggling to stay alive and protect those they love.

Even today Varosha, the southern tourist section of the Cypriot city of Famagusta, is still empty, a ghost town, barricaded by barbwire, since the coup d’état. "Glitz! Glamour! Civil war! Abandonment! That sums up Varosha, a once-ritzy beachfront resort district popular with Elizabeth Taylor and international jet-setters in the Cypriot city of Famagusta. Following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, it was deserted by 15,000 residents, enclosed with barbed wire and left to rot."(Modern Day Ghost Towns)

With all of Greeks economic struggles in the news recently, this is a timely historical novel. While the story is fiction, it is based upon real events. Hislop is a good writer. You can tell that she has done her research to keep the story firmly placed in the specific time in history. Clearly, what is the most interesting to Hislop is the history. Her characters are presented so she can cover the history. While this isn't necessarily bad, if you are interested in history, the characters are really secondary to the bigger story, the complicated political atmosphere, the invasion, devastating aftermath and struggle for survival. To be honest, the story does start out a bit slow so you have to give it a chance. Once it's 1974 and the the Özkans and the Georgious are left trying to survive in the city, the story begins to become more engaging. 

TLC Tour Schedule

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

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Between the Tides

Between the Tides by Susannah Marren
St. Martin's Press: 7/21/15
eBook review copy, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250066732

Between the Tides by Susannah Marren is a very highly recommended debut novel about constricted lives, fragile dreams, and complacency.

Lainie Smith Morris is an artist who feels the need to be by water at all times. Water is her life's blood. She has told her four children (Tom, 14, Matilde, 12, Claire and Jack, 5 year old twins) the tale of a selkie, a woman who is really a seal, but when her seal skin is stolen by a fisherman she has to remain in human form. Her children are her only consolation. Lainie's children, especially  Matilde, think their mother may be a selkie.

Lainie gave up her burgeoning career as an artist for Charles, her surgeon husband. And while she still has time to do her art, her marriage has limited her ability to find time to work. She does love living in NYC by the Hudson River, especially knowing the ocean is so near and that they will spend their summers in Cape May.

When Charles comes home one day and announces that he has accepted the position of head of orthopedic surgery in Elliot, NJ, Lainie does not want to move away from NYC and her proximity to water and her art world connections in the city. Charles promises Lainie art studio space to buy her acceptance, while he insists that it is best for the family to move to the suburbs. After they move in, Lainie is literally a fish out of water among the aptly described Stepford wives found there.

Lainie does end up knowing the queen bee among the social hierarchy imposed on the women living in Elliot. Lainie knew Jess as a friend years ago, growing up in Cape May. But, while Jess seems outwardly to be a friend, she is really more of a frenemy with her own motives for her actions. Her husband is the head of the hospital where Charles works.

The narrative is told by Lainie and Jess in alternating passages. Marren's writing is quite good and the dual points of view work well in this novel. It is also compulsively readable and kept me hooked from start to finish. I was also annoyed and bothered and worked up over these characters. I wanted to shake all of them and tell them to snap-out-of-it. I found it stretched my credulity to see Lainie's indecisive drifting along and easy acceptance that Jess was still her friend, even when there is clear evidence that this should be suspect. Charles is a jerk, no matter how sexy. Jess's interference and involvement was over-the-top. I guess I also wanted Lainie to tell Charles right at the start, "No, I will not move." (But part of that could be due to the personal experience of constantly having to move for a husband's job while sacrificing any career of my own.)

By the time I reached the end of Between the Tides, I decided that Marren had pulled me so completely into the story and held my unwavering attention to the end that this debut novel could only be deemed very highly recommended, even though I could quibble over a few minor plot points.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of St. Martin's Press for review purposes.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Festival of Insignificance

The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera
Harper: 6/23/15
advanced reading copy, 128 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0062356895

The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera is a recommended, short novel about five friends and the inconsequentiality of life.

Alain, Ramon, D'Ardelo, Charles, and Caliban are friends living in Paris. While Alain obsesses over the exposed navels of young women as the new erotic/seductive zone, Ramon is strolling through the park and meets D'Ardelo who lies about having cancer and then says he wants to plan a party, using Charles to plan it and Caliban to help. There is also much discussion of Stalin.

The tile of the novel really describes it and will tell you if it is a good selection for you. It really is a novel about nothing. The book is very short, more of a novella, has no story, and very little character development. After I first read it, I had to pause before writing a review. Honestly, I didn't like the characters, and didn't see a point to the novel. The Washington Post review noted that to the unsympathetic, "The Festival of Insignificance will come across as simply inconsequential and pretentious." But then I went back to the title and pondered Kundera's thoughts some more.

Ramon tells us that, "Insignificance is the essence of existence." Moreover, Ramon insists that insignificance will set a person free, require no presence of mind, no vigilance. So we have it established that Kundera is giving us permission to just experience his novel for what it is without looking for an overriding theme or great point. It must also be noted that The Festival of Insignificance is also humorous and celebrates the absurd at times. There are keen bits of startling insight embedded within the musing and antics of these men, such as the theory about "observation posts standing each on a different point in history, from which people talk together unable to understand one another." The discussion becomes in reality two monologues. It is a novel about irrelevance, detachment, insignificance, and, yes, it is a memorial, a festival, to insignificance.

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

TLC Tour Schedule

Thursday, July 16, 2015

All This Life

All This Life by Joshua Mohr
Soft Skull Press: 7/14/15
eBook review copy, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781593766030

All This Life by Joshua Mohr is exceptionally thoughtful, and a very highly recommended novel about our current information super highway. In All This Life Mohr takes our over exposed, interconnected lives, a tragic event, and ties together seven very different people.

The novel opens with an unnamed man pondering: "There’s one gigantic cause that no one talks about and it’s the foundation of my equation, my E = mc despaired: Human sadness is what’s heating up the earth. We are so somber, Albert, our lives are squared by despair and thus we all emit such a sad heat that our planet will torch unless we get it under control."

Then we are introduced to Paul and Jake, his son. They are driving over the Golden Gate Bridge when Jake sees a marching band. Jake likes "capturing real human life, snatching seconds away from those who don’t suspect an audience." As he films them with his phone, he captures a horrific event that leaves most of the band dead. After Jake posts his video of the event on youtube, the only video that captured the whole event from start to finish, it goes viral.

Noah, a man who lost his sister that day on the bridge has seen Jake's film online and can't believe someone would post that. He is in a world of pain and grief over his loss.

In Traurig, a small town in Nevada about an hour from Reno, Sara has just learned that her boyfriend has posted a sex tape of them online. Her cell phone is vibrating and text messages are flying. She's lost her job and it seems everyone knows about her indiscreet as the video goes viral. She turns to Rodney, an old friend who struggles to speak after an accident, and they leave together to find Rodney's mom, Kathleen (Kat), a caricaturist who lives in San Francisco. Kat left after his accident and hasn't contacted him since. She's sober now, though, and wants to reach out.

Sara ponders, "If there was a customer service center that regulated the whole information super highway she would have dialed it immediately. But it’s the wild west. Utter anarchy. No one’s really in charge, so long as you’re not trying to coerce a kid into bed or buying weapons." This is, of course, why these two videos exist online. Social media amplifies the interconnectedness of these lives. Sara watches Jake's video and he watches the one with her in it.

All these flawed and wounded characters will end up converging in a startling and dramatic conclusion. If all this makes it seem that Mohr's novel is very somber and gloomy, it isn't. There are moments of humor and there is a sense of hope at the end. 

The focus on social media and how it is used and defines people today is clearly demonstrated by Paul and Jake.

Paul, who has to "basically police his co workers, or they’ll fiddle around on Facebook all day" is concerned for his son and for the whole generation because of the way they publicize everything - "these technologies that make it seem like a good idea to share shrapnel from your life, meaningless slivers of each day." He "examines the dangerous intersection of reality and the imaginary, where coding and technology seek to highlight and augment our already flawed human connections."

Jake, though, espouses the view of his generation. He didn’t do anything wrong when posting the video of the band. "This is what people do. This is how the world works. This is why we’re smarter now: We share everything with everyone, have access to each sight and sound. We are informed and connected! If they stop living in the past, they’d plug into this broadcasting consciousness, synapses firing all over the globe." "Content is Jake’s purpose. It is everybody’s purpose. And each single frame uploaded is a public service."

After finishing All This Life, I put everything Joshua Mohr has written on my wish list. The writing was exceptional. The development of the characters, even when working with so many, is incredible. The underlying message is timely. With all our connections, have we lost sight of the value of the personal, face to face, connections? Do we propose that our social media connections are truly personal connections? Is social media truly reflecting our reality, our lives? Do we need to share everything? Is content really our purpose?

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

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Swedes in Canada

Swedes in Canada: Invisible Immigrants by Elinor Barr
University of Toronto Press: 7/2/15
eBook review copy, 576 pages
Trade Paperback ISBN-13: 978-1442613744

Swedes in Canada: Invisible Immigrants by Elinor Barr is a very highly recommended definitive history of Swedish immigrants to Canada.

Barr has done exhaustive research into this very complete history of Swedes in Canada. "Since 1776, more than 100,000 Swedish-speaking immigrants have arrived in Canada from Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Ukraine, and the United States." Barr covers a wide range of topics, activities, and areas of interest, both historical and much more recent. "Active in almost every aspect of Canadian life, Swedish individuals and companies are responsible for the CN Tower, ships on the Great Lakes, and log buildings in Riding Mountain National Park. They have built railways and grain elevators all across the country, as well as churches and old folks homes in their communities. At the national level, the introduction of cross-country skiing and the success of ParticipACTION [promotes physical activity and the health and wellness of children and their families in Canada] can be attributed to Swedes." Just as in the USA, Canadian Swedes can be rather reticent to share their legacy as immigrants.

Being of Swedish descent myself, I was fascinated by this in-depth look at Swedes in Canada. Barr's research and presentation is impeccable and impressive (even with the few digs at American Swedes). I was especially impressed with how thoroughly she covered the roles of women, traditionally and historically. Honestly,  much of the societal and familial aspects of the Swedes in Canada that she presented can be seen in my own history and heritage. I found this book utterly fascinating; however, I will also readily admit that the appeal will be generally limited simple due to the topic. Swedes in Canada is a remarkable accomplishment. There is a website too:

As is my wont, I was thrilled to see the presence of a wide variety of appendices and notes, an extensive bibliography, and an index. Swedes in Canada also contains several pictures, charts, diagrams and maps in the text.
Contents include:
1. Under an Invisibility Cloak
2. Emigration from Sweden, Immigration to Canada
3. Immigrants
4. Settlement Patterns
5. Religion
6. World Wars
7. The Swedish Press
8. The Depression, Strikes and Unions
9. Earning a Living
10. A Woman’s Place
11. Swedishness in Canada
12. Links with Sweden
13. Language, Discrimination and Assimilation
14. Literature
15. Emerging Visibility
Appendices: Place Names, Firsts for Swedes in Canada; Vasa Order of America; Ambassadors; Consuls General; Consuls; Vice-Consuls; Honour the Pioneers
Bibliography (extensive)

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

Saturday, July 11, 2015

One Boy Missing

One Boy Missing by Stephen Orr
Text Publishing Company: 7/14/15
eBook review copy, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1922147271

One Boy Missing by Stephen Orr is a highly recommended police procedural set in Australia. 

Detective Inspector Bart Moy is tired and close to being washed out as a detective. He has returned to the small agricultural town of Guilderton, New South Wales, to help care for his aging father and also to try and recover from the loss of his son, Charlie. When a butcher reports that he saw a man stash a young boy into the trunk (boot) of his car, Bart is looking at the case as a possible abduction, but the case becomes difficult since no one seems to be missing a child.

When a 9 year old boy is found and identified as the child thrown into the trunk, Bart tries to make a connection with him and get him to speak, but winning the trust of this boy is hard to do and it takes a long time to just get him to admit his first name. While trying to solve this case, and another, Bart is experiencing flashbacks and dreams about his own son. Bart's father, George, is a real curmudgeon and seems to be becoming much more difficult to handle.

While this is 
a well-paced literary police procedural, it is also a character study of the men and their personal relationships while dealing with life's changes - especially between fathers and sons. The dialogue between characters is very well done. Bart along with almost every character in this book is suffering or keeping a secret and struggling with trying to find a way to heal or a direction to take. While solving the case is an impetus for action, the bigger resolution the characters need is an emotional healing.

Orr does an exceptional job keeping the interest high in his characters while the case is slowly being investigated. The pacing is good, but it is slow until a point toward the end of the book where an event happens that set
my heart pounding. It also marks an important change in the relationship between the characters.

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

Friday, July 10, 2015


Alive by Scott Sigler
Del Rey: 7/14/15
eBook review copy, 368 pages
hardcover ISBN13: 9780553393101
Generations Trilogy, book 1

Alive by Scott Sigler is a very highly recommended first book in a new YA trilogy.

When she wakes up because something is biting her on the back of her neck all she knows is that it's her 12th birthday and it isn't right. Slowly it becomes clear that she is not in her bed at home, trying to catch a few more minutes of sleep. She is in some kind of box, or coffin, and it is pitch black. Her arms and legs are restrained. She has to struggle to stop whatever is biting her, escape and get out. When she does get out, she sees she is in a room with other coffins and she's wearing too tight clothes. Her coffin is marked M. Savage, which she guesses is her name, Em. When Em hears shouts coming from inside one of the other coffins, she manages to get another girl out, Springate. Together they get more children out, boys and girls.

Today is the 12th birthday for all of them - but they don't look 12. They look older, stronger, maybe 18 or older. How did they suddenly get these adult bodies? Together these children must find food and water while trying to figure out where they are and what has happened to the adults. With bones, skeletons, and the gruesome evidence that some kind of battle took place in the past that resulted in a great loss of life, what could possibly have happened to the adults? And where are they? And why can't they easily remember things they should know?

Em is chosen as the leader of their small group and they set off to try and find food, water and help. Her small group encounters another group of children/adults and the two groups join together to seek their common goals: sustenance, information, and answers.

I've enjoyed Sigler's books in the past and was anxious to see what he did with a YA book. Sigler has already proven he's an excellent writer, and that is the case in Alive too. The horror/terror found in his other novels is certainly present. This time there is no strong language, but there are plenty of horrific sights and certainly terror. Sigler writes Alive using short sentences and in a first person narrative, which made sense to me on several levels. These are children waking up in adult bodies and they have found themselves in uncertain circumstances. It makes sense that thoughts and sentences are abbreviated as they puzzle their way through this unknown habitat. I also appreciate the immediacy of the first person tense because it helps create tension.

The best recommendation, though, is that I'm anxious to read book two and find out what happens to this group next. I've avoided reading and reviewing a lot of the YA fiction out there because I know there are plenty of reviewers who enjoy YA. Anything Scott Sigler writes is worth making an exception for because I know several things are true: he will present a well-paced and carefully plotted novel with some twists and surprises, and the characters in his novels will also be well-development and show growth. Win/win.

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

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Flying Circus

The Flying Circus by Susan Crandall
Gallery Books: 7/7/15
eBook review copy, 368 pages
hardcover ISBN-13:9781476772141

My Thoughts: 

The Flying Circus by Susan Crandall is a highly recommended novel set in the roaring twenties about three people and a dog trying to escape their past while making their way in the present.

Henry (Schuler) Jefferson is trying to escape from the law for murder. The son of German immigrants in the Midwest, he has endured taunts, false accusations, and prejudice because of his German heritage. After his whole family died, a neighboring farmer took him in. The only problem was the farmer's wife and daughters weren't as accepting. Now something horrible has happened (we won't know the story until the end) and he is on the run, heading to Chicago.
Henry literally runs into Cora Rose Haviland and Gil (Charles) Gilchrist. Cora is on a motorcycle racing Gil, a former Army reconnaissance pilot who is flying a Jenny biplane. When Cora crashes and Gil lands, the three meet and eventually team up together. Currently Gil, a moody loner, has been barnstorming, landing near towns and then offering rides for $5. Henry, a mechanic by nature, sees that he can help Gil, and maybe get a ride placing him closer to Chicago. Cora, in stark contrast, is from a wealthy family who has lost their fortune. Her mother is trying to marry her off to a wealthy man so she can return to her place in society. Cora wants nothing to do with this plan. 

The three, along with a little stray dog Cora names Mercury and teaches to do tricks, team up and form Mercury's Daredevils. While Gil does death defying stunts in the biplane, Cora and Mercury perform stunts on the motorcycle. Henry acts as the mechanic, the announcer, and the money collector. While their choice to team up together is working, it is constantly threatened by their conflicting goals and closely kept secrets. All three are trying to escape from something and none of them have told the others their full story. It doesn't help their alliance when Henry, who is attracted to Cora, sees Cora flirting with Gil. 

The writing is excellent and the subject matter unique. Crandall keeps you reading by hinting at and not revealing the secrets each character is trying to hide until very near the end. I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying, although I felt better about it once I read the epilogue.  Cora's blind enthusiasm for new stunts (and getting her way) in stark contrast to Gil's morose, moody drinking  may jangle a few nerves, but all in all this is a very engaging story with memorable characters and  a compelling plot. It was really a perfect summer novel for sheer escapism.

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Necessary End

A Necessary End by Holly Brown
HarperCollins: 7/7/15
eBook review copy, 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062356376

My Thoughts:

A Necessary End by Holly Brown is a very highly recommended, dark, sometimes funny, sometimes perversely skewed novel of psychological suspense about an adoption among disagreeable people.

Adrienne, a 39 year old 2nd grade teacher, is desperate to be a mom. She is a member of a web site dedicated to connecting potential parents with a birth mother. She and Gabe, her husband, work on a profile that she is sure will attract a birth mom and they will get the baby she wants more than anything. She thought she had arranged an adoption before with a birth mother, but that didn't work out. She is sure this time will work. They have written the perfect profile page.

Gabe, a car salesman, isn't quite sure he wants to be a father, but he does know that he wants to keep Adrienne happy. If looking for a baby will do that, then hopefully it won't interfere too much with his recreational poker playing. But he was used to Adrienne always putting him first...

When 19 year old Leah responds to their profile and has Adrienne fly her out to California, she has an agenda of her own. Leah looks like a prettier, younger Adrienne and she claims the birth father looks like Gabe.  Leah has some unconventional demands. If the baby gets to live in California, she wants to live there too and she expects Adrienne and Gabe to make it happen - if they want the baby. She wants to live with them for a year, be paid $400 a month, and they have to pay for health insurance costs for her and the baby. Then, after a year, Leah will sign the adoption papers for the baby Adrienne is sure the baby is a boy and that it is meant to be her son.

Even though their lawyer advised them against it, Adrienne, Gabe, and Leah sign a contract containing all of Leah's stipulations. What could possibly go wrong?

Admittedly all these characters are unlikeable, self-centered, and calculating, so why did I enjoy this novel so much? I wanted to shake every last character here and tell them, "Snap out of it!" and then ask,"Why would you agree to that?" and "What's wrong with you?" Oh, but then things started to get darker and diabolical and twisty and nothing is quite as it seems. I'll admit I raced through this novel and stayed up way-to-late finishing it. It is that good. This is a perfect stuck-overnight-at-the-airport book!

The presentation and the writing is perfect. The chapter alternate between Adrienne and Gabe narrating the story. Also included are past conversations of Adrienne with the failed first birth mother and their relationship. While this is ostensibly a book about birth mothers and a couple looking for a baby, it becomes a much different novel as more facts are revealed. Just when I started to get comfortable, a new little fact would be revealed that made me sit up and think, "What...?" Assume nothing while reading A Necessary End, but make sure you read it.

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

TLC Book Tour Schedule

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Hand That Feeds You

The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich
Scribner: 7/7/15
eBook review copy, 288 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781476774589

My Thoughts:

The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich (Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment) is a recommended psychological thriller.

The last thing 30 year old Morgan Prager, a student completing her thesis on victim psychology, expected to find when she came home from class was her fiance Bennett mauled to death in her apartment. She sees her dogs, Cloud, a Great Pyrenees she has raised from a puppy, and two pit bulls she has rescued, covered in blood and it seems obvious that they are to blame. Morgan, fearful her dogs may decide to attack her, locks herself in the bathroom and calls 911. Then she completely falls apart. When the police arrive they shoot one pit bull and take Cloud and the other dog into custody. Morgan is sent to Bellevue.

After a few days at Bellevue, Morgan is able to talk to a psychiatrist and answer some questions from the police. Apparently Morgan met Bennett while working on her thesis. He responded to a profile she set up on a dating site to test a theory about victims of sexual predators. As Morgan slowly recovers, it becomes clear that Bennett was not the man she thought he was. First, his parents do not live where he claimed they did and what he shared about his life and occupation to Morgan were lies. What is even more disturbing is that Bennett was engaged to two other women and one of them was recently murdered. While Morgan works with Mackenzie, an animal advocacy lawyer, to try to save her remaining two dogs, she also tries to figure out Bennett's real identity.

The Hand That Feeds You starts out at a gallop with the gruesome murder and Morgan's breakdown. Then the action slows and there is a lot of information downloads presented in the story. The extra information on sociopaths, psychopaths and their victims is interesting. All the dog talk was interesting too (mainly because I have a soft spot for Great Pyrenees and adopting shelter dogs). Sometimes, oddly enough, the slower pace results in a laundry list of what Morgan decides to eat and drink. I know we all need to eat and drink, but there is such a thing as too much information. I can understand her picking up a bottle of water from a vendor and contemplating her next move, I don't really care if she was hungry, decided not to eat a hot dog, grabbed a bottle of water and gave the street vendor $2 for it and then he demanded $3.

This is a great airplane book. The opening is going to hook you and keep you reading. Even with all the extra information, I did want to keep reading to see who Bennett really was and if the dogs would be okay. Morgan isn't really an especially compelling protagonist and I didn't connect with her at all. The surprising twist at the end will likely not be a really big surprise to most readers, but it does provide a satisfying conclusion.

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

How I review

Read this first if you are interested in offering me a review copy of a book.

As more and more writers and publicists contact me about reviewing their books I thought it might be prudent to put the steps of my reviewing process in writing.

1. When I accept or request review books it is based on two things: the book's description and my availability. There are a few authors and publicists I will make an exception for, but basically the description has to intrigue me and I have to have open dates near the publication date. I have turned down review copies of books even though I wanted to read them based on the description but I knew I already had, for example, 7 books to review being published on that same date. I am human, have an active, busy life, a demanding  job, and I really do read everything I review. It takes time for even a fluent reader to read a book and write a review.

2. Yes, I do keep a calendar on which I schedule every review. I can have some weeks/months booked months in advance. Since often several books are all being released on the same day the reviews are often spread out for a week before and after the publication date, but I always try to publish the review near the publication date. If a book really interests me, but I'm too busy to read it right away, I have been known to work with authors on scheduling a review date when I am available. Since I make so few exceptions for last minute reviews, it is better to contact me and ask about a review well before the publication date. 

3. I keep track of the date when I accepted the review copy. If I accepted it 4 months before publication and subsequently added 3 other books after that, the first book in is normally the first I'll review. Again, I will make very few exceptions for authors I know I enjoy.

4. Since I only try to spend time reading books I am sure I will enjoy, many of my reviews are quite favorable. What you don't see, behind the scenes, are the books I've started and have decided I do not want to spend my limited time reading. For those few books my current policy is to send a polite note explaining why I am now declining to review the book. This decision is usually made fairly early, certainly well before I could write any meaningful review based on my limited exposure to the book. This very rarely happens because I am careful to accept review books I am sure I will enjoy.

5. I really do try to review each book on what the author wished to do and how I feel the target audience will view the book. Of course, personal experiences can always come into play, but, as much as possible, I do try to be more objective rather than subjective.

6. If you do contact me about reviewing your client's novel or your novel, please know the genres I review. Just because I am a woman does not mean I will review your latest steamy romance novel. While I do read a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction there are some genres I never read. The chances of me accepting a review copy of any book are much higher if you are offering a book I might be interested in reading.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Among the Ten Thousand Things

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont
Random House: 7/7/15
eBook review copy, 336 pages

My Thoughts:

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont is a highly recommended debut novel about a family in crisis.

Jack Shanley is a well-known artist. He and his wife Deb, a former ballet dancer, and their two children, Simon, 15, and Kay, 11, live in NYC. When Kay  looks inside a package addressed to Deb that she is mistakenly given, she finds hundreds of printed emails and a letter from her father Jack's mistress. Kay understands some of it, but not quite all of it, so she shares the information with her brother, Simon, who does understand the contents.

When the contents of the box is brought to Deb's attention by her children, she realizes that she can no longer pretend that she doesn't know about Jack's (repeated) infidelity. While Jack's actions have hurt her, the fact that their children know hurts even more and Deb knows that she must take action. This wasn't Jack's first affair and won't be his last. Deb decides it would be best for her and the kids to leave NYC for a few weeks.

Among the Ten Thousand Things brought to my mind the quote: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation." Henry David Thoreau (Walden). Everyone can be said to live a life of desperation of some kind or at some point. What Pierpont does is take this family at such a time, during the dissolution of a marriage, and show how each member of the family is affected. 

Pierpont takes a radical approach in the organization of her novel that challenges the usual story-telling sequence. The first part of the novel is set in NYC at the end of May and presents the discovery of the affair and the domestic drama that follows. Then Pierpont tells us in "Part Two, That Year and Those That Followed", what happens in the future to the characters. Part Three resumes the in depth story at the start of June and continues character development right where part one left off. The fourth part is again a concluding "That Year and Those That Followed" that ties up all the loose ends with additional information.

I thought the writing was excellent. The unconventional presentation of the story didn't bother me, but I can see where other readers may have qualms about knowing the end of the story, so to speak, before knowing the characters better. Personally, knowing the outcome so soon was a surprise, but intriguing enough to encourage me to continue reading to see the details and immerse myself in the emotional lives of the family.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Penguin First to Read and Random House for review purposes.


The Captive Condition

The Captive Condition by Kevin P. Keating
Knopf Doubleday: 7/7/2015

eBook review copy, 288 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780804169288

My Thoughts:

The Captive Condition by Kevin P. Keating is a modern Gothic horror novel set in Normandy Falls a small Midwestern college town. Edmund Campion is pursuing a master's degree at the college while also working for the college growns-crew and physical plant. He notices that his professor, Martin Kingsley, is having an affair with his neighbor, Emily Ryan. One drunken night Edmund discovers Emily has drowned in her pool and he begins to obsess on the dead woman. Adding to the creepy mix is his boss called the Gonk; Emily's malicious twin girls (picture the hallway scene in the movie The Shining); Edmund's ex-girlfriend Morgan Fey who works for a chef/drug dealer Xavier D’Avignon (who supplies hallucinogenic carrot juice to the town), and an exotic dancer called Lorelei who has fish tattoos. The whole town is haunted by a strange history and many would say evil spirits who mean to harm the living.

This is a very dark, mysterious novel with an overabundance of drinking or intoxication of some variety. Although, at the beginning, there are glimmers of humor in descriptions, The Captive Condition quickly turns horrific and frightening. Keating writes in a very stylistic manner that is reminiscent of old Gothic horror novels, which adds to the bleak mood he creates. While I can't fault the writing or the plot for any drawbacks, as the novel progressed I wasn't quite as engaged with it as I expected to be and felt disconnected. There were parts where I admired the writing a great deal, but, as the novel descended into horror it left me behind. I would recommend it based on the quality of the writing alone and would highly recommended for anyone who enjoys complex, frightening Gothic horror novels.

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