Saturday, October 31, 2015

Reporting Always

Reporting Always: Writings from The New Yorker by Lillian Ross
Scribner: 10/27/15

eBook review copy, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501116001

Reporting Always: Writings from The New Yorker by Lillian Ross is a very highly recommended collection of 32 selected works from the author's seven decade career at the New Yorker.

The pieces are organized into five categories rather than chronologically and cover a wide range of Ross's career. These are all intelligent looks at the individuals or subjects Ross is covering, full of details and keen observations without any hyperbole. Ross's reporting is commendable and presents quintessential examples of excellence in journalism.

Ross is the journalist who originated the entertainment profile, but followed the credo to "write only about people who want to be written about," a practice that would avoid much of the sensationalism that is often present today. Most importantly, Ross is a writer and covers her subjects in such a way to bring the subjects of her articles to life. She adds details that allow the reader to visualize the setting. Her humor and wit is clearly present in these selected pieces. As it is mentioned in the foreword: "Her hallmarks are her keen eyes and ears and an austere, straightforward style... As a storyteller, she has an abiding faith in the magical properties of facts."

Contents include:
Section I Players
Young and Happy (Julie Andrews); Come In, Lassie! (during the time of the Committee on Un-American activities); Sgt. Pepper the Beatles); Workouts (Robin Williams); Mr. and Mrs. Williams (Marcia Garces Williams); Auteur! Auteur! (Al Pacino); Two Dames (Maggie Smith and Judi Dench)
Section II Writers
How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen? (Ernest Hemingway); Movement (the Beat writers); Life Line (writers and coffee houses); Theatre (Edward Albee); Oprah’s Understudy (Gayle King)
Section III Youngsters
Symbol of All We Possess (Miss America Pageant); The Yellow Bus (students from Indiana visiting NYC); Dancers in May (excerpt, maypoles dances); Mays at St. Bernard’s (Willie Mays); The Shit-Kickers of Madison Avenue (private school 10th grade students in NYC)
Section IV New Yorkers
El Único Matador Sidney Franklin, bullfighter); Terrific (1954 Junior League ball in NYC); The Big Stone (Harry Winston); The Sporting Scene (John McEnroe); Camaraderie (Ralph Kiner); Ellen Barkin at Home
Section V Big Cheeses
Feeling Lost (Charlie Chaplin); Picture, Part I: Throw the Little Old Lady down the Stairs! (John Huston); Coco Chanel; With Fellini; Rag Trade (Mario Testino); Wes Anderson in Hamilton Heights; Lunch with Agnes (Agnes Martin); Nothing Fancy (Clint Eastwood); Money Honeys (big Republican political donors)
Photo Credits

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

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Uncollected David Rakoff

The Uncollected David Rakoff by David Rakoff
Knopf Doubleday: 10/27/15
eBook review copy, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307946478

The Uncollected David Rakoff by David Rakoff is a highly recommended collection of his writing. 

This volume includes the entire text of "Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish," early fiction, memoir pieces, travel writing, essays, and reflections on life as a gay man, as well as transcripts of his memorable appearances on public radio's Fresh Air and This American Life. Rakoff was best known for his wit and humor, both of which are captured in this collection.

As in most collections not every piece will strike a chord with everyone, but most readers are going to find a genuine connection to more than one of the pieces. For example, in "The Love that Dare Not Squeak Its Name," Rakoff discussion about E.B. White's Stuart Little as a gay icon will likely be a hit for most readers, as will Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, Rakoff's novel written in verse. Themes of family and friendship are a common thread, along with life as a gay man.

Obviously not being a gay man limits some of my emotional connection to all of the stories, but Rakoff's wit is evident and all of the contents are well written and enjoyable. Those who recall interviews with Rakoff on public radio will likely appreciate the transcribed pieces immensely. This is a collection that fans will likely want.

Contents include:
My Sister of Perpetual Mercy; Sagrada Família; My First New York: Arrived: 1982; An Open Letter to My Sisters; Goodbye to All of You; A Former Smoker Cheers; Diary, 1998; What’s Up, Dike?; The Wizards of Id; [Laura Bush]: The New York Times, Op-Ed; The Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name; David Rakoff: Essayist, Mountaineer, “Comic Saint,” Fresh Air Interview; Fu Fighters; Evergreen Safari; Northern Composure; A Basket Case in North Carolina; Traveler’s Tale: A New Yorker Is Born; Walk This Way; I Like My Dog. Yours? Not So Much.; King of the Forest; Tweenage Wasteland; Unaccustomed as I Am … How to Give a Wedding Toast; David Rakoff’s Half Empty Worldview Is Full of Wit: Fresh Air Interview; The Craft That Consumed Me; The Waiting; When Bad Things Happen to Do-Good People; Author David Rakoff Calms Himself by Keeping a Full Pantry; Oh! The Places You Will Not Go!: (Co-written with Jonathan Goldstein); Stiff as a Board, Light as a Feather: This American Life; Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish.

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

After Alice

After Alice by Gregory Maguire
Harper Collins: 10/27/15
eBook review copy, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780060548957 

After Alice by Gregory Maguire is a recommended rewrite of Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland from a different point of view.

This adventure in Wonderland features Ada, a friend of Alice, and Lydia, Alice's sister. Ada is trying to find Alice when she falls down the rabbit hole herself and, following in Alice's footsteps, she encounters the same inhabitants of Wonderland and a few new ones. While Ada is meeting and conversing with all manner of strange  creatures, Lydia is dealing with her own issues, including Miss Armstrong, the governess looking for Ada, and Siam, a boy visiting her father with Charles Darwin. 

This tale is decidedly written for adults who remember the classic tale and who can appreciate the word play involved in Wonderland and in the formal 19th century language. The action alternates between the two main characters, Ada and Lydia, and the two settings. Normally I don't need to look up the meaning of any words as I read, but Maguire threw in more than a few surprises for me here with the vocabulary. This might put some readers off when it is combined with the formal language in which After Alice is written.

The quality of the writing is quite good, but the actual story is slow to unfold, and, for me, flipping back and forth between the two characters and settings wasn't quite as successful as it could have been. I ended up not really caring very much about what was going on with either character and kept reading simply to see how it would compare to the original and to see when Alice would show up.

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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mendocino Fire

Mendocino Fire by Elizabeth Tallent
Harper Collins: 10/20/15
advanced reading copy, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062410344

Mendocino Fire by Elizabeth Tallent is a very highly recommended collection of ten short stories.

The stories capture relationships and lives during times of transformation with clarity and insight into the complicated emotional landscape of all relationships. Tallent explores relationships between genders, with an emphasis on female relationships, as well as broken marriages. Many of the stories deal with creative people, writers, artists, or ecological/environmental activists. Several are set on university campuses or have a tie in to academia. Almost all of the stories involve exes, severed relationships, struggling relationships. The emotions run high as we hear the inner thoughts of the characters struggling to make sense of their lives, actions, obsessions, and circumstances. Tallent describes lives that are messy, with emotional fallout and struggles.

All of these stories are extremely well written with exceptionally descriptive prose and phrasing. There are several passages I marked to take note of in my advanced reading copy. Tallent manages to capture the inner thoughts of her characters and their feelings with a clarity of emotion that is complete and realistic, but with a poetic grace and beauty of wording that often belies the raw emotions being expressed.

I don't know if the page numbers will be similar, but the acuity and mental pictures drawn from some of her descriptions is astonishing. For example: "Tamped down love means not only sublimated energy but also a ranting, pointless impatience: before long, she's sick of obsession's two-lane Nebraska highway." (pg 79)
Or: "It can't be true that she can't see in. That she can't know the story. This is her life she's been shut out of!"(pg. 97) And on the next page "Divorce is not linear. One morning there is peace of mind, the next there is wrath."

Contents include:
The Wrong Son - a young man in a working-class California fishing community has a complicated, combative relationship with his father
Tabriza - a man wonders if a valuable rug he dug out of the trash is evil and wreaking havoc on his third marriage
Mystery Caller - a woman places calls to her first husband but doesn't actually talk to him
Eros 101 - an female professor is obsessed/in love with her female student
Nobody You Know - recently divorced woman travels halfway across the country and meets her ex's new, young wife
The Wilderness - musings of an English professor
Never Come Back - parents have their son's pregnant girlfriend and subsequent grandchild continue to live with them after the girlfriend takes off 
Mendocino Fire - a young eco-activist grows up in an unconventional manner
Narrator -  a young female writer falls for an older famous male writer
Briar Switch - a woman's father is dying from lung cancer and she's has to drive through a blizzard to get to him

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

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Slade House

Slade House by David Mitchell
Random House: 10/27/15
eBook review copy, 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812998689

Slade House by David Mitchell is a perfectly unnerving collection of interconnected haunted stories featuring a brother/sister duo. I highly recommend it.

The novel contains 5 chapters each of which are told from a different characters point of view. The events in each chapter all occur nine years apart and the action involves Slade House and the inhabitants, the Grayers. Those who are invited to Slade House, and you must be invited in order to find it, have to find and go down Slade Alley, a short, narrow alley, and look for a small black iron door. Once you duck down and go through that door you will be entering the impressive gardens of a large house and you will meet the charming inhabitants.

Each chapter is a first person narrative set nine years in the future from the last character. The first chapter is set in 1979 and the fifth in 2015. The first chapter did an excellent job of capturing my attention. The characters were finely drawn and believable. Even when I began to suspect that all was not as it seemed, the reality of what Slade House was and the proclivities of the inhabitants surprised me. This first chapter sets the tone for the whole novel.

Even though I was pretty sure something was going to happen after the first chapter, the way it happens surprised me every time.  The characters are diverse and carefully developed. The writing is excellent and helps create a visual image and emotional connection to each character.  I need to mention, again, that I was surprised each time when something happened that I thought I knew might happen after reading the first chapter. 

It's probably best to read Slade House without too much information on the actual plot. It held my rapt attention from beginning to end, but it did seem like it could have used a few more stories. Perhaps that feeling will be remedied by reading The Bone Clock. Apparently Slade House is a companion novel to The Bone Clock which, alas, is on my to-be-read list.

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

Friday, October 23, 2015

Kraken Rising

Kraken Rising by Greig Beck
Pan Macmillian: 10/22/15
eBook review copy, 449 pages
ISBN-13: 9781760301293
Series: Alex Hunter #6

Kraken Rising by Greig Beck is a very highly recommended action-packed military-adventure-terror-thriller, and it kept my total attention from the beginning to the end.

We know several things from the opening chapters: a sub has been attacked by some huge, mysterious creature; Alex Hunter, the Arcadian, is still alive and working for the US military; an emergency beacon signal is being picked up by bases on Antarctica; and Chinese operatives have tried to capture Joshua, Alex's son and Aimee, his mother. This should tell all you action/adventure junkies that Kraken Rising will be an adrenaline-packed-thrill-ride of a novel.

In 2008 a top secret US prototype submarine goes missing off the coast of Antarctica in the Southern Sandwich trench. The area is also known as the Southern Sea's Devil's Triangle. Thinking it was lost in a deep trench, the USA is surprised when the emergency locator beacon is discovered to now be sending a signal - a signal located deep underneath Antarctica. But the race is on because the Chinese, who have been illegally mining for precious minerals nearby have also heard the emergency beacon and are determined to claim the missing sub. Several different groups of soldiers with some scientists mixed in, are on the hunt and the situation is quickly turning political and the potential for an exchange of military fire is increasing exponentially.  

Alex Hunter, the Arcadian, is a super soldier. An experimental treatment after he was mortally wounded in a previous assignment has left him with super-human powers/skills, but he also has a dark side. Alex is sent in to find the sub on his own, but at the same time a team of HAWCs is also on the mission. Adding to the tension is the fact that Joshua's mother, petrobiologist Aimee Weir, is also on the mission since she has had previous experience dealing with the terrifying creature they must all now face.

You really don't have to read any of the previous books to enjoy this one. I could swear I've read the first book in this series, the book which presents the first assignment in Antarctica, but although I kept remembering facts as I read this book, I couldn't find a review of it. Now it does resemble some other books set in the same geographical area with similar scenarios, so perhaps I was thinking of one of those books. Setting all that aside, I was totally engrossed in the story from beginning to end. Even though I think I read the first book, I know I haven't read any of the adventures in-between the first and this, the sixth, but still I had no trouble following the story.

If you like skirmishes between super-human combatants and military novels with an element of sheer terror as both sides face the unknown as well as each other, Kraken Rising should make you happy. It's all about the action. I mean, come on, there's a kraken. This is a perfect stuck-over-night-at-the-airport book.

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

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Reef Libre

Reef Libre: Cuba-The Last, Best Reefs in the World 
by Robert Wintner
Taylor Trade Publishing: 2/1/15
Hardcover review copy, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781630760731

Reef Libre: Cuba-The Last, Best Reefs in the World by Robert Wintner highlights the pristine and ecologically healthy and stable coral reefs of Cuba and begs the question "What will happen to them when tourism returns to Cuba?" The beautiful hardcover coffee table book includes a DVD. It is highly recommended.

The 400 still photos in the book are varied and cover the amazing aquatic life around the reef, as well as photos of life in the cities and villages on Cuba. Winter, known as Snorkel Bob, has written Reef Libre as a tribute to Cuba's pristine coral reefs and the incredible diversity they contain. Cuba's coral reefs have benefited from Cuba's isolation from tourism and the aquarium trade. They are an ecological wonder and the biodiversity is evident. Wintner makes his case in the text that we need to help Cuba keep their coral reef as a national treasure and protect it from being ruined simply for economic gain. That is a tough battle for a poverty stricken country.

Reef Libre
was not written as a travelogue, although it does serve that purpose with the wide variety of photos not of the reef and the marine life. It is organized in the following chapters:
Reef Libre; Cayo Largo; Cuba Hoy; Jardines De La Reina; Tengo Dos; Night in Havana!; Political Reefs; Are You Now or Have You Ever Been...; The Older Man and The Sea; Finito, For Now; About the Cover; About the Author; Index. (As is my wont, I'm always thrilled to see an index.)

The text in the book and the dialogue in the DVD are written/spoken in a conversational style, although the continuity is a bit disjointed at times. While the goal is to showcase what Cuba has done right, it is also a dire warning about what can happen if this ecological wonder is allowed to be destroyed for economic gain. Right now the aquarium trade is nonexistant there. It could devastate the ecology if it is allowed.

While the book is very nice, you will want to watch the DVD, trust me on that fact. The YouTube video of Reef Libre will give you a small taste of the DVD. I watched the DVD with a young friend and he was entranced by the underwater scenes. He kept asking "Is that real!" The scenes are mesmerizing. All the marine life is labeled so you can see the name of the species of fish, etc. And did I mention the video is extraordinary? I will also admit right now that we were talking and oohing and awing over the photography so we missed much of the dialogue the first time through. And, I probably need to admit that we fast forwarded over the island scenes to get back to the underwater shots - except for the sea turtle beach on land - during the first viewing. (After viewing the DVD later, the dialogue is very similar to the text in the book and contains the same message and warning.)

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes.

YouTube video:

Saturday, October 17, 2015


Homefront by Scott James Magner
Resurrection House: 10/20/15
eBook review copy, 392 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9781630230272

Homefront by Scott James Magner is a recommended science fiction novel set in the 27th century.

The novel will hook you right at the start with the discussion of the Transgenic virus as learned about in a Congressional inquiry.  Then the action jumps to the future after the Transgenic virus has already mutated individuals and we meet Commander Jantine and her infiltration force of soldiers, scientists, and engineers on a suicide mission. They are all exiles from Earth's outer colonies.  Although they know they may not survive their mission, they are  part of a plan to establish a new, secret colony on Earth. The mods or gennies (modified or genetically altered humans) have divided themselves up into a cast system based on how altered they are from an unmutated human, with Alphas being the highest. Jantine is a Beta.

At the same time, in alternating passages, we meet Lieutenant Mira Harlan of the System Defense Force. She is on a dreadnought outside of Earth's orbit and part of a clandestine fleet with a secret mission. When Jantine's ship inadvertently crashes into the dreadnought, it sets into motion another secret plan based on cargo the ship is carrying. This secret mission is a result of a conflict on Earth. Circumstances result in Harlan joining forces with Jantine's group.

The quality of the writing in Homefront is great, but sometimes the presentation of the narrative could have been better. After being pulled in with a compelling opening scene, I was left struggling a bit with following all the characters and their different points of view at the beginning. I couldn't help but wonder if it could have been alleviated with some more background information on them right at the start rather than leaving it all for the reader to piece together. Sometimes it's cool to just give us clues and hints with a big reveal later, but sometimes it helps to have a bit more information to sort characters out from the start.

Those who appreciate military conflicts or engagements in their science fiction are going to enjoy the action and combat scenes. There is some philosophical pondering on what makes us human, as well as questions on how family should be defined. There is telepathy between characters that reads like dream sequences, which can be a plus or minus depending upon the reader's feelings. This is likely the first book in a new series, The Transgenic Wars, because the ending suggests a continuation of the story.

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

Friday, October 16, 2015

Golden Age

Golden Age by Jane Smiley
Knopf Doubleday: 10/20/15
eBook review copy, 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307700346

Spanning five generations of the Langdon family and 100 years, Golden Age by Jane Smiley is the final book in the trilogy that began with Some Luck and Early Warning.

Golden Age
opens in 1987 and goes into the future, 2019 for the 100 years. The previous two books in the trilogy covered 1920-1952 and 1953-1986. It must be made clear to anyone wanting to read this final book in the series that you really have to read the previous two novels first. What that means, in all honesty, is that you must be willing to invest a large chunk of reading time to meeting and following Smiley's Iowa family from start to (rather bleak) ending. You cannot just jump into this series at the end.

There is a family tree at the beginning of each book that you will want to bookmark and refer to in this final volume until you get all the characters firmly set in your mind. Smiley does an excellent job with character development, so you will know who is who, but there are many characters so until you know them (or have reacquainted yourself with them) the family tree can be quite helpful.

All of the books follow the Langdons year by year. Each chapter is a new year. Smiley pulls in historical figures and events from the year. The Langdons must now wrestle with new economic, social, and political experiences, as well as personal struggles. The extended Langdon family is now spread across the country, from the family homestead in Iowa to California. They are in Washington D.C., New York City, and Chicago. The pursuits, interests, and occupations of the Langdon clan are far-reaching and cover a wide variety. Not all of the Langdons are portrayed in a positive light as protagonists. She has her antagonists.

This isn't necessarily bad because her families feel real. They have struggles and rivalries. The relationships are full of disagreements and repressed emotions. As with any group of people, related or not, they all have their own beliefs and opinions and differing views and values can always instigate conflict.

Smiley's political views are clearly a part of this final installment, so if you have strong conservative opinions or no firm convictions concerning Monsanto's genetically altered seeds, then this novel might feel too political for you. You will know what family members espouse beliefs and causes that with which she agrees. The characters whose beliefs she disagrees with are villains or portrayed as incompetent.

I'm going to highly recommend the series as a whole. The biggest drawback to the trilogy is the sheer length of it and the necessity to start at the beginning in order to follow all three novels.

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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Distance from the Belsen Heap

Distance from the Belsen Heap by Mark Celinscak
University of Toronto Press: 10/30/15
eBook review copy, 352 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9781442615700

Distance from the Belsen Heap by Mark Celinscak is a very highly recommended definitive record of the Canadian involvement with the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen in April 1945. He makes a clear case that this should be considered part of both British and Canadian history. This is a well researched and documented scholarly work, but it is also heart breaking to be reminded of man's inhumanity to man.
"[A]cts of extreme evil can be defined as those that assault the very foundations of morality. Consequently, these assaults on morality should not be forgotten and ought to be documented. In other words, crimes against humanity should be remembered by humanity."(pg 20)

Contents include
A list of illustrations
1. Experience, Narrative, and Meaning: Encountering Bergen-Belsen
Celinscak covers the theoretical and methodological foundations of the book.
2. The Rhine, the Heath, the Wire
This chapter provides an overview of British and Canadian military movement from Operation Plunder through the takeover of Bergen-Belsen. When they arrived at the camps there were 60,000 prisoners and an estimated 50,000 corpses. Of the 60,000, and estimated 14,000 died after the camp was liberated.
3. The Distance of Presence: Inside Seventy-Two hours
This chapter covers what transpired during the first 72 hours after the formal surrender. Most of the men involved were uninformed that there were thousands of corpses and tens of thousands of extremely ill, starving people.
4. A Camp on Exhibit: Workers, witnesses, Visitors Descend
The response of British and Canadian military personal in the weeks and months following the handover of Bergen-Belsen is documented, with an emphasis on the meaning mined by the Allies.
5. The Impossible Real: Bergen-Belsen in Art and Photography
Examples of how British and Canadian artists and photographers visually documented the scene.
6. Padres, Patients, and Pathologies: Medical and Spiritual Relief
The response of the chaplains and medical personal in the military is covered.
Conclusion: A Past Intensity
Notes; Bibliography/List of Works Consulted; Index

Disclosure: My digital edition was courtesy of the University of Toronto Press for review purposes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Sexploitation by Cindy Pierce
Bibliomotion Inc.: 10/13/15
eBook review copy, 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781629560892

Sexploitation by Cindy Pierce is a highly recommended look at how the current generation of young people is influenced by the porn culture surrounding them.  Teens, as well as much younger children, today have a vast amount of junk/porn grabbing for their attention via the internet and social media. The overriding problem is that in this hyper-connected age in which we live our children are often failing to establish a healthy, well-grounded view of sex and relationships.

The book has the following chapters: 1. Inner Compass; 2. Umplugging; 3. Porn Culture: 4. Sexuality Education for Young Kids; 5. Sexuality Education for Older Kids and teens; 6. Worthy Girls; 7. Empowering Girls; 8. Worthy Boys; 9. Setting Boys Free; 10. A Hookup Culture Fueled by Alcohol; 11. Moving Beyond Hookups. This is followed by a conclusion, and much to my delight, references, and an index.

Pierce points out that "Unfortunately, the number and type of influences young people are managing in the digital age make it more challenging for them to listen to their inner compass. Many young people have a hard time making the distinction between what they value and what they think they should value, based on what they see online and in social media." All of us are complicated, multidimensional beings with flaws. One of the problems is that the prevalence of social media as a way for kids to communicate with each other presents them with a bad venue for an accurate portrayal. Parents make a horrible mistake when they surrender to their kids obsession with screen time. It was pointed out that teens should think of what they "put out online as a tattoo. It is that permanent." Wise advice for everyone.

Just look at how everyone, but especially teens, looks at their phone all the time now. If one person pulls out their phone, everyone does. It has become how kids (and increasingly adults) interact with each other instead of face to face. This is a mistake of vast proportions. Social media cannot capture subtle body language, irony, joking. Small things can be blown out of proportion. Inappropriate pictures or conversations can be started and shared. Pierce points out that she and her husband have a rule that computers and phones stay downstairs and out of the kids’ rooms. It is a practice that has been recommendation by their school and many other parents also employ it.

Pierce notes that "These days, kids are constantly being reminded to avoid bystander apathy. Parents, educators, and coaches talk to them about how they should stand up to bullying, hazing, homophobia, racism, and cruelty. But it’s unrealistic to expect most kids to immediately muster the strength and risk social rejection by calling peers out. They need practice speaking up on small issues (litter, disrespectful language, meanness, intimidation) in material; order to develop the courage to stand up when the stakes are higher (sexual assault, hazing, DUI)." Isn't that the truth!

While porn is often found, and easily accessible, online, it is also in advertisements, music videos, and video games. the prevalence of pornographic images has desensitized us as a society. "Porn can be an obstacle that prevents kids from developing healthy ideas about sex for a number of reasons: while porn objectifies both men and women, most of what is viewed degrades women, reinforces role expectations, desensitizes the viewer to violent sexual behavior, creates expectations about how bodies appear and respond, and skews overall sexual expectations. Rather than trying to stop the porn industry, my aim is to material; inspire parents to have open conversations with their kids about porn."

Pierce covers information vital for parents to open up the discussion about sexuality with girls and boys. She does a nice job of discussing ways to keep communication open and how to approach the first "talk," which should be followed by many more as children grow and mature. She shares lots of research findings as well as personal stories and anecdotes while getting a vital message across.

While, as the parent of adult children, I didn't quite agree with every single thing Pierce shared, she did present some startling facts and plenty of good, practical information. This book is easy to read and well organized so the chapters flow nicely and logically from one topic to the next. It does not present any morale-based ideas or religious views that some families would also consider a vital part of any life-training talks. I'd highly recommend it.

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

Monday, October 12, 2015

Here Comes the Dreamer

Here Comes the Dreamer by Carole Giangrande
Inanna Publications: 9/15/15
Trade Paperback, 130 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1771332507

Here Comes the Dreamer by Carole Giangrande is a very highly recommended, poignant, heartbreaking novella.

The story unfolds through three different narrators. First, house painter and artist Alastair Luce, who is married to the mercurial and abusive Nora, worries about his beloved daughter, Grace, and Nora's treatment of her. We know from the opening that Nora will leave him, in fact that she already had in every way but officially even before the incident. The incident is a tragic accident, that taints Alastair's life and makes it one full of sorrow, depression, disappointments, and regret, but also, after a season, one of quiet acceptance and forgiveness.

Claire is a teenage neighbor and friend to Grace who accepts a ride from Alastair and is present when the accident takes place. She has a crush on him as a teen, but is also friends with Grace, and recognizes the artistic talent Grace inherited from her father. Claire keeps in touch with Alastair and, later Grace. Claire is the witness to the disintegrating family and the one voice that gives the tragedy clarity and shape. She also has blame unfairly cast in her direction simply because she was present at the accident. We are witnesses to the dysfunctional dynamics in Claire's family too, but it is clear that she was better able to endure it and her parents were never abusive or dismissive.

The final narrator is Grace, who has inherited her father's love of color and knows he loves her. At the same time she knows her abusive mother never loved or tried to understand her. Grace is an adult in her section, successful in her societal fringe environment and role. However, she has never come to terms with her mother's rejection and abuse of her and still blames Claire, the one consistent friend she's had, for her father's accident.. She has become adept at wounding people who care with her words to keep them at a distance.

The writing is incredible - Giangrande's ability to capture emotions in a descriptive way is phenomenal. She also does an excellent job developing her characters through their own words as well as the viewpoints of others. Alastair's voice is melancholy, resigned to his place, forgiving. Claire's voice is a clarion call to pay attention and not judge too harshly, but look at the circumstances, the facts, the truth. She is asking for some empathy and understanding. Grace's voice is full of pain, blame, and self-preservation, with a tint of mental illness just under the surface - or is it artistic genius? An excellent book that will make you think.

Here are three quotes I noted as an example of the writing:

"Trouble came to Alastair Luce like a nasty slap of a wave at high tide, one wave after another. He'd been happy at times, but happiness was a breaker and it crashed and broke on the hard rock of the unexpected. Sorrow was no different." opening 

"Times were good and one neighbour bought a Chrysler with vast, gull-like fins. Soon there were more in the neighbourhood, as if the first one had laid eggs and hatched a flock." (pg. 7)

"For some reasons unknown to me, Betty-Ann [Claire's sister] was frantic to build a home of human timber, to disassemble her family limb from limb as if we were there to warm her, nothing more." (pg. 51)

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


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Children of the Comet

Children of the Comet by Donald Moffit
Open Road Intergrated Media: 10/13/15
eBook review copy, 332 pages
ISBN-13: 9781497682948

Children of the Comet by Donald Moffit is a highly recommended science fiction story set six billion years in the future.

This novel covers two different sets of human until they meet. The first group has been colonizing a tree growing on a comet in the The Oort Cloud and is now a primitive society who have adapted to life on their tree/comet. Torris is a young man who must climb the Great Tree on his dream/vision quest.

The second set of humans is on a space ship colonizing the solar system after beings known as the First Ones forced the human race to leave the Milky Way. Humans have developed the Higgs boso drive, though, so they are able to travel near light speed. The ship Time's Beginning was launched from the USA and after seeding several colonies there are two factions that want to control the ship. One wants to go back to Earth's solar system and settle near it while the other wants to head for the end of the universe.

The opening quote explains growing trees on comets:
"How high can a tree on a comet grow? The answer is surprising. On any celestial body whose diameter is of the order of ten miles or less, the force of gravity is so weak that a tree can grow infinitely high. Ordinary wood is strong enough to lift its own weight to an arbitrary distance from the center of gravity. This means that from a comet of ten-mile diameter, trees can grow out for hundreds of miles, collecting the energy of sunlight from an area thousands of times as large as the area of the comet itself. Countless millions of comets are out there, amply supplied with water, carbon, and nitrogen - the basic constituents of living cells. They lack only two essential requirements for human settlement, namely warmth and air. And now biological engineering will come to our rescue. We shall learn how to grow trees on comets. - Freeman Dyson"

I enjoyed Children of the Comet. Donald Moffit (1931- 2014) wrote two of my favorite science fiction novels and so I am predisposed to enjoy this, his final novel. While I can see that Children of the Comet needed some more work (and kept reminding me of Niven's The Integral Trees), I did find it an interesting premise and a satisfying story. The comet/tree civilization is far more intriguing than the spaceship crew and their politics so I did wish that more time was spent with them. There are also a few characters that are added in the middle of the book that should have been present right at the start, which is another clue that the novel was a work in progress.

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

Saturn Run

Saturn Run by John Sandford, Ctein
Penguin: 10/6/15
eBook review copy, 496 pages
ISBN-13: 9780698411678

Saturn Run by John Sandford, and Ctein is a recommended political thriller in a sci-fi setting.

It is 2066 and a spaceship is detected by Saturn. Obviously, there are many government meetings and President Amanda Santeros wants to send a mission there to investigate, and, hopefully, capture the technology. In a plan to keep the Chinese from knowing, only a few members of the mission are really told where they are going and why - in the ship named the Richard M. Nixon. The Chinese discover the real reason for the US launch and they plan their own, competing mission to Saturn.

Despite an exciting premise and the fact that I enjoy science fiction, I really found it a challenge to get into this novel. There is plenty of technical science for those of us who like some science with our science fiction, but in this case it felt more like information dumps rather than science included in the fictional story. That combined with the abundance of international intrigue and espionage and characters I didn't really care for.  I'm not disappointed that I read it, but it did seem to be bogged down in details with little plot advancement. The three stars are because it is well written, but it suffered in comparison to the next sci-fi book I read which had a much more satisfying plot and better characters.

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

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Everything She Forgot

Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne
HarperCollins: 10/6/15
eBook review copy, 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062391483
Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne is a highly recommended character study of love and redemption set in two time periods.

In 2013 Margaret Holloway is driving home on icy, snowy roads when she finds herself in a huge multi-car pile-up. Margaret is stuck in her car and unable to get out. When she smells gas and realizes her car is on fire, Margaret is sure she is going to die. Then, out of nowhere, a man comes and tries to help her escape. He hurts his hand when breaking her window, but manages to get her out of the car. Then he seemingly disappears in the melee surrounding the huge accident.

After the accident, Margaret finds herself unable to concentrate. She is having flashbacks to the crash and strangely remembering things from her childhood that she thought she had forgotten, or repressed. She also finds herself drawn to find and sit in the hospital at the bedside of the man who saved her. She learns his name is Maxwell Brown and that he's had no other visitors.

Alternating chapters are set in 1982. Big George McLaughlin was born into a family of gangsters but he just wants to get back together with his first girlfriend and help raise his daughter, Molly, away from his family. When he meets Molly, now age 7, on her way to school, he ends up unwittingly abducting her. We also learn of George's childhood. While the two are on the run and bonding, a strange reporter named Angus Campbell is trying to figure out who abducted Molly and make a name for himself.

The present day story is told through Margaret's point of view, while the story set in 1985 is told through multiple points of view, although mainly through George and Angus.

I was looking forward to reading Everything She Forgot after reading The Guilty One and I wasn't disappointed. Although it is being described as a mystery, it is really more of a character study. While there is a mystery, much of it will be easily discerned early on by most readers. There are several surprises, though, that you won't figure out beforehand. What will compel you to keep reading is the quality of the writing, the answers to a few nagging questions, and the emotional connection you will feel for Margaret and George.

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

Monday, October 5, 2015

Atlas of Cursed Places

Atlas of Cursed Places by Olivier Le Carrer
Black Dog & Leventhal: 10/6/15
eBook review copy, 144 pages
ISBN-13: 9781631910005

Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations by Olivier Le Carrer is a compelling, engaging volume that shares the history and insight into 40 different cursed locations across the world.

Le Carrer points out in the introduction that not all places are cursed in the same way. Obviously, the first meaning is close to the original meaning of the word and based on the mystical, paranormal, or supernatural. The second group of cursed places is based on natural reasons that make the area blighted and present a danger. The third category consists of places that have been rendered inhabitable by human activity. All of the 40 cursed places discussed are organized into 8 different regions. This attractive and entertaining atlas includes vintage maps and illustrations.

Much to my surprise and chagrin, one of the cursed places is relatively near where I currently live and is reputed to be the gateway to hell.

The contents include:

At The Heart of Old Europe
Chateau De Montsegur - Satan's Synagogue
Rocca-Sparviera - The Phantom Village
Nuremberg - The Sinister Reverberation of Marching Boots

Between the Mediterranean World and Southern Africa
The Tophet of Carthage - Children Burned for the Gods
Oumaradi - Shipwrecked by Sands
Poveglia - The Island of Death
Charybdis and Scylla - A High-Risk Cruise
Kasanka National Park - The Invasion of the Bats
Valley of the Kings - The Curse of Aten
Gaza - A Territory Adrift
Beirut - Destruction and Construction
Moriah and Golgotha - Spiritual Nightmares
Kibera - An Uncharted Cesspool

From the Barents Sea to the Indian Ocean
Zapadnaya Litsa - The Antechamber of Hell
Gulf of Aden - Hunting Ground of Pirates
Gur-Emir - The Malevolent Mausoleum
Thilafushi - The Toxic Lagoon

Around the Bay of Bengal
Jharia - Underground Inferno
Jatinga - A Plague of Birds
Sunda Strait - The Monster of Krakatoa

Between the Orient and Oceania
Houtman Abrolhos - Massacre of the Shipwrecked
Aokigahara - The Suicide Forest
Cape York - In the Land of the Killer Crocodiles
Takuu - An Atoll Living on Borrowed Time
Nauru - Blighted by Phosphate

America From Coast to Coast
Mavericks: The Big Wave - A Cold-Blooded Monster
Nevada Triangle - A Danger in the Sky
Stull, Kansas - The Forbidden Cemetery
Tonina - The Mystery of the Mayas
Adams, Tennessee - The Bell Witch Lives On
Pine Barrens - The Devil's Offspring
Amityville - the Devil's Lair

Among the Islands of the New World
Cite Soleil - All the Misfortune on Earth
Cape Horn - Sailor's Nightmare
Bermuda Triangle - Empire of Enigmas
Sable Island - A Ship Trap in the Atlantic

Beneath the Atlantic Breeze
Cumbre Vieja - Birthplace of the Tsunami
Eilean Mor - Lighthouse Mystery
Yeun Ellez - The Marsh of the Damned
Tiffauges - Castle of a Killer

Disclosure: My digital edition was courtesy of Black Dog & Leventhal for review purposes.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell
W. W. Norton & Co.: 10/5/15
eBook review copy, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780393248456

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell is a highly recommended well written collection of 16 short stories featuring tough, marginalized, deeply flawed working-class women who are in unbalanced and unhealthy relationships. Most of these stories are heart breaking and the characters acceptance of abuse is disturbing, albeit realistic.

Stories in the collection include:

Sleepover: Two teenage girls and their boyfriends
Playhouse:  A young woman, who doesn't quite remember the previous night, hurts her arm when helping her brother fix a playhouse for her niece
Tell Yourself: A mother worries about her daughter
The Greatest Show on Earth: What There Was, 1982: Buckeye and Mike are in a relationship and in the circus.
My Dog Roscoe: Pregnant Sarah believes Roscoe, the stray dog she took in, is her deceased boyfriend Oscar.
Mothers, Tell Your Daughters: An inner monologue directed to the daughter of a dying woman who has had a stroke and is unable to speak.
My Sister Is in Pain: a sister in pain "Stabbing pain sixty hours a week as she bathes and medicates and tends to the needs and the pain of others for minimum wage, throbbing pain when she has a day off..."
A Multitude of Sins: An abused wife is caring for her dying husband in their home.
To You, as a Woman: What a woman might have to do to survive.
Daughters of the Animal Kingdom: A beleaguered woman biologists talks about her life.
Somewhere Warm: A woman wants to create a place of love for her family
My Bliss: things she married
Blood Work, 1999: A woman spends her life and inheritance giving to others.
Children of Transylvania, 1983: A woman and her sisters take a bicycle trip in Romania.
Natural Disasters: A baby shower takes place during a tornado warning
The Fruit of the Pawpaw Tree: a hot summer on the farm where work never ends

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
W. W. Norton & Co for review purposes.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pretty Girls

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
HarperCollins: 9/29/15
eBook review copy, 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062429056

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter is a very highly recommended thriller. This nail-biter is tense, gritty, and very disturbing. Oh, and just when you think you know what is going to happen, trust me, you don't.

In 1991 nineteen year old Julia Carroll vanished and her disappearance changed the dynamics of her surviving family members. Sam, her father and a veterinarian, writes journal entries addressing his missing daughter and the lengths he takes to search for her. Helen, her mother and a librarian, divorces Sam, and starts drinking. Her two sisters, Claire and Lydia, have been estranged for years and still miss their older sister.

Claire is married to Atlanta architect and millionaire Paul Scott. Because of Paul's influence and connections, Claire has gotten off with a light punishment for an incident on the tennis court. When the couple meets for a night out after her ankle bracelet is removed, the couple is robbed and Paul is fatally stabbed. Then, right after the funeral, Claire returns home to a yard full of police because her home was broken into. Then, while trying to find the computer files Paul's partner needs for a meeting, Claire stumbles onto some horrific videos. And then some meticulous files that Paul has kept.

Lydia Delgado was the bad girl years ago, when Julia was live, and her life continued to spiral downward until she was going to have her child and had to clean up her act. Now clean and sober, she is the single mother to a teenage daughter, Dee, and in a relationship with Rick, her neighbor, mechanic, and also now clean, sober and law-abiding. Before she had Dee, Paul, Claire's husband tried to rape her. Claire chose to believe Paul, which caused the estrangement.

The two meet again when current circumstances have sent Claire to try and find her remaining sister. She now believes that Lydia may have been telling the truth. The two still share a bond between them, but don't totally trust each other. They are also forced to face some very chilling, horrific facts that may lead them to finding the answer to the question of what happened to Julia, as well as other missing girls.

Slaughter alternates each chapter between the sister's point of view and Sam's journal entries. She keeps the pace very steady and the tension ratchets up with each new piece of information. I thought I had the plot all figured out just before the half way point in this novel. I was totally wrong. Suddenly I was left  with my mouth hanging open and my heart racing. Then the novel really took off and the tension was intense.

The writing is excellent and the characters are all well developed. There are a few details that you will likely have to stretch you incredulity over, but I thought it was easy to accept the information as fact and get on with the story. This novel is not for the meek. It is at times gruesome, horrific, maddening, and disturbing. There is language. But it is also a very, very good thriller that will keep you up late at nights reading - with the lights on and the windows and doors all locked.

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