Tuesday, March 31, 2015

We Regret to Inform You

We Regret to Inform You by Tim Fredrick
Tim Fredrick Publication: 3/31/2015
eBook Review Copy, 138 pages
ISBN-13: 9780692371558


A boy strives to become a world record holder.
A man wakes from cryosleep to learn he has months to live.
A catnip toy seeks affection from a cat.
A father turns to stone.
Writing in varied voices and pulling from different genres, from science fiction to fantasy to absurdism, Tim Fredrick explores male relationships with insight and humor. The characters in these fourteen stories-parents, siblings, lovers, and friends-struggle to find connection with those around them and contend with the inevitable fallout that accompanies love, heartbreak, fear, neglect, dysfunction, and fulfillment.
We Regret to Inform You challenges our conceptions of what men want out of relationships and examines moments that transcend our expectations and bring us closer together.

My Thoughts:
 

We Regret to Inform You by Tim Fredrick is a highly recommended collection of 14 short stories. There were times, while reading this short collection, that I felt a real personal connection with the author. Not that we even remotely run in the same circles, but the connection was that of one human to another. I wanted to be able to talk to him and just say, "Yes, I understand that feeling. I've been there." or "That is simple hilarious and can I send a copy to someone (or two)?" (Title story) I also felt that the order in which the stories are presented is well chosen.

I enjoyed almost all of the stories with just a few exceptions, but that perhaps had more to do with my inability to relate to the story the content (i.e. not male, not gay). I do have a good friend, a first best friend, to whom I would especially like to recommend this collection. Or I might just have to send him a copy.

Table of Contents - asterisks denote the stories I enjoyed the most

*By the Stream on Moving Day - A story of a first best friend
This One Night in the Bar Where I Work - a story of spittle
*Plaything - Stream of consciousness from a catnip mouse
*Egg-and-Spoon - a boy seeks to break the Guinness world record
A Tale of Five Thousand Erections - self-explanatory
*Thawed - cryogenically preserved man is brought back
*The Drawer - packing at the end of a relationship
My Right Armpit Sweats More Than My Left One - a man seeks answers
*We Regret to Inform You - a letter informing the recipient that he has been proven to be a "Total Dick"
*Driving Lessons - a younger brother gets driving lessons from his older brother
*The Kind of Person Who - She/He was the kind of person who....
*The Cat, on Snow - reflections on
*Dusting - cleaning day
*My Father the Statue - a family deals with a medical condition


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


Friday, March 27, 2015

At the Water's Edge


At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen
Spiegel & Grau, Random House: 3/31/2015 
eBook Review Copy, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385523233 
http://saragruen.com/
At the Water’s Edge is a gripping and poignant love story about a privileged young woman’s awakening as she experiences the devastation of World War II in a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands.
After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed - by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster - Maddie reluctantly follows them across the Atlantic, leaving her sheltered world behind.
The trio find themselves in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where the locals have nothing but contempt for the privileged interlopers. Maddie is left on her own at the isolated inn, where food is rationed, fuel is scarce, and a knock from the postman can bring tragic news. Yet she finds herself falling in love with the stark beauty and subtle magic of the Scottish countryside. Gradually she comes to know the villagers, and the friendships she forms with two young women open her up to a larger world than she knew existed. Maddie begins to see that nothing is as it first appears: the values she holds dear prove unsustainable, and monsters lurk where they are least expected.
As she embraces a fuller sense of who she might be, Maddie becomes aware not only of the dark forces around her, but of life’s beauty and surprising possibilities.
My Thoughts:  

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen is a very highly recommended period piece set during WWII.
 
Maddie Hyde, her husband, Ellis, and their friend, Hank, are part of Philadelphia society. After a drunken New Year's Eve party that results in some disastrous familial/financial repercussions for Maddie and Ellis, the trio decides to go to Scotland and prove the Loch Ness monster really exists. This is something Ellis's father attempted to do years before and his photos were later discredited. The fact that Ellis is color blind and Hank has flat feet, which prevented the two from enlisting, also plays into their decision. They are tired of the insinuations being thrown toward them. Despite the fact that it is during the war and U-boats are patrolling the very area of the Atlantic that they will cross, the trio finds transportation and manages to make their way to the village of Drumnadrochit, Scotland, and a small, quaint inn.

Maddie has a hard time with motion sickness while crossing the Atlantic and it is during the crossing that the effects of war also becomes very real to her. Then, once in Scotland, Maddie seems to completely sober up and take a good look at herself, as well as Ellis and Hank, who are insensitive, privileged, inebriated morons, and she realizes that she is associated with them and their entitled, gauche, drunken search for Nessie. Maddie begins to grow as a person and connect with the people in the village while Ellis and Hank become less civilized and more self-obsessed caricatures. But, due to the times, Maddie is also subjugated to Ellis, which creates a difficult dilemma.

I really liked At the Water's Edge and was totally engrossed in the story from start to finish. First, Sara Gruen is an excellent writer so she is able to describe imagery and capture the settings so vividly that it seems effortless and allows the story to flow along smoothly. I appreciated the growth and transformation Maddie experiences as she is presented with some hard truths and realizes the true essence of Ellis's character. She matures while Ellis and Hank are diminished. Including the local myths and signs as harbingers of what could happen provides nice foreshadowing. The totality added up to a great historical fiction novel. I could have done without the love story, but, obviously, it certainly didn't detract from my enjoyment.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Spiegel & Grau at Random House for review purposes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My Life in a Nutshell

My Life in a Nutshell by Tanya J. Peterson
Inkwater Press: 3/28/2014
eBook review copy, 386 pages
Trade Paperback ISBN-13: 9781629010724
http://tanyajpeterson.com/

From the author of Leave of Absence comes another compelling tale of the human psyche.
A brilliant and talented man crippled by extreme anxiety and panic attacks, Brian has carefully crafted his world so that his interactions with others are severely limited. Although incapable of changing his situation, he discovers that, somehow, he is the only person seven-year-old Abigail can trust. Having bounced from one foster home to another, she has unexpectedly come to live with a childless uncle and aunt she has never known. For very different reasons, both Brian and Abigail are trapped in emotionally and socially isolated lives. Can they learn from each other?

My Thoughts:
 

When a book about a man with anxiety disorders has you sobbing multiple times in just the first few pages, you know the author has managed to capture some essential truth of the human condition and the book is something special. My Life in a Nutshell by Tanya J. Peterson is very highly recommended; very emotional, but worth every tear.

Brian Cunningham is 37 years old and works as the night custodian and information technology specialist at Hayden Elementary School. After 18 years of working at the same job, with the same man as the head, day time custodian, Brian is able to handle this job and his panic attacks because his contact with other people is limited. Brian not only suffers from anxiety disorders, and panic attacks, but he recently lost his best friend, his dog Oscar, so he is in mourning. Brian is isolated and full of anxiety daily. 

When 7 year old Abigail Harris, a new student to the school, is found hiding in the janitor's mechanical room, she latches onto Brian as someone she can trust after the initial fright both of them experienced. Abigail  has multiple problems of her own. She has been abused and lived in multiple foster homes. She is suffering from attachment issues and disorders.

When her immediate attachment to Brian is discovered by the principal and her uncle and aunt, Brian ends up being charged as watching Abigal after school until her uncle or aunt can arrive to take her home. The assignment gives Brian even more anxiety, but he finds himself able to relate to Abigail better than many of the other adults around her and help her.

The help for Brian comes in the form of Abigail and Dr. Greene, a therapist who Brian's mom contacts and makes an appointment for him. Even though he only sees her a few times in the book, those visits help give the reader an extra insight into therapy and how Brian may be helped to cope with life a bit easier.

Peterson is a mental health professional with a background in public education, so she brings a skill set to this novel that is incredible. She manages to capture what Brian,  the narrator, is thinking and feeling as he tries to get through each day. It is heart breaking. She allows Brian to tell us what he is thinking and feeling in such an empathetic but realistic way that you can't help but want the best for him; want him to receive some kind of help. She also provides the background information on the origin of Brian's anxiety. While she may not be a technically gifted story teller, she has brilliantly captured the inner thought process of Brian so completely that any quibbles about the plot fall away. This is a great book.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Vostok

Vostok by Steve Alten
Rebel Press: 2/17/2015
eBook Review Copy, 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9781681020006

https://www.stevealten.com/
 
East Antarctica: The coldest, most desolate location on Earth. Two-and-a-half miles below the ice cap is Vostok, a six thousand square mile liquid lake, over a thousand feet deep, left untouched for more than 15 million years. Now, marine biologist Zachary Wallace and two other scientists aboard a submersible tethered to a laser will journey 13,000 feet beneath the ice into this unexplored realm to discover Mesozoic life forms long believed extinct – and an object of immense power responsible for the evolution of modern man.

In this sequel to The Loch and prequel to the upcoming MEG 5: Nightstalkers, New York Times best-selling author Steve Alten offers readers a crossover novel that combines characters from two of his most popular series.
My Thoughts:

Vostok by Steve Alten is a recommended thriller that brings back The Loch's popular marine biologist Zachary Wallace. Times are tough for Zachary. After Nessie was found, there have been some economic trials and now his marriage is struggling.  When Zachary is recruited to head down to Antarctica and explore Lake Vostok, which is located underneath miles of ice, he hesitates at first, but then agrees.

Predictably (and honestly, what we all wanted to read about), Zachary encounters some Miocene monsters in the deep as well as some monsters of the human variety. Then the novel takes an odd turn that I could go with, as long as there would be more creature action. Well, the creature action diminishes and the story becomes a sort of UFO encounter of the higher consciousness. Then the story morphs into a tirade against big oil set in Washington DC and conspiracy theories. Next it... Well, that will give you enough of an idea of the directions the plot takes.

Honestly, I was looking forward to the escapism of an action/adventure thriller. I thought that was what I was getting. Come on, look at the cover! At page 143 my eyes widened, I grinned, and said "Now that's what I'm talking about!" Then things changed, but I could go with the new twist. It is different, not what I was hoping for but, hey, I'm flexible. Then they changed again, and changed again, and.... Finally, the beginning of Vostok is noticeably better written than the last half of the book in my review edition. Now this could be changed in the final version, but it was glaring for me.

I loved The Loch and was anxious to read about Zachary's latest adventure. Vostok didn't quite live up to that promise. While it wasn't as preachy-bad as The Shell Game, it certainly wasn't as entertaining and wonderful as Alten's earlier works. For me, Vostok is a solid airplane book. It will keep you entertained. You'll likely want to keep reading to find out what happens next, but if you misplace it or switch to another eBook, you aren't going to miss it.

Disclosure: My advanced reading edition was courtesy of Rebel Press for review purposes.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

The Tusk That Did the Damage

The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James
Knopf Doubleday: 3/10/2015
eBook Review Copy, 240 pages

Hardcover ISBN-13: 9780385354127
http://taniajames.com/
...a tour de force set in South India that plumbs the moral complexities of the ivory trade through the eyes of a poacher, a documentary filmmaker, and, in a feat of audacious imagination, an infamous elephant known as the Gravedigger.
Orphaned by poachers as a calf and sold into a life of labor and exhibition, the Gravedigger breaks free of his chains and begins terrorizing the countryside, earning his name from the humans he kills and then tenderly buries. Manu, the studious younger son of a rice farmer, loses his cousin to the Gravedigger’s violence and is drawn, with his wayward brother Jayan, into the sordid, alluring world of poaching. Emma is a young American working on a documentary with her college best friend, who witnesses the porous boundary between conservation and corruption and finds herself in her own moral gray area: a risky affair with the veterinarian who is the film’s subject. As the novel hurtles toward its tragic climax, these three storylines fuse into a wrenching meditation on love and betrayal, duty and loyalty, and the vexed relationship between man and nature.
With lyricism and suspense, Tania James animates the rural landscapes where Western idealism clashes with local reality; where a farmer’s livelihood can be destroyed by a rampaging elephant; where men are driven to poaching. In James’ arrestingly beautiful prose, The Tusk That Did the Damage blends the mythical and the political to tell a wholly original, utterly contemporary story about the majestic animal, both god and menace, that has mesmerized us for centuries.
My Thoughts:

The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James is a highly recommended novel set in southern India, that covers the illegal poaching of ivory through three unique viewpoints. These three viewpoints are presented in alternating chapters.
 
The first viewpoint is that of the elephant which the villagers now call the Gravedigger. He witnesses the killing of his mother, after which he is captured, loved, trained, and abused. He later escapes, which is when he becomes The Gravedigger and is a source of fear and hatred.
 
The second viewpoint is the poacher, Jayan. This section is narrated by his younger brother Manu, who has been asked to look after his older brother. Jayan is attracted to the money he can make through poaching, although he tries to hide his illegal activities from his family at first. They would prefer he worked hard at farming. Gravedigger has already killed one member of their family.

The third viewpoint is that of the filmmakers, specifically Emma. Emma and Teddy are Americans in India to film a documentary about a vet named Ravi at an elephant sanctuary. They are trying to capture on film his technique for reuniting baby elephants with their mothers, who are known to disown babies who smell of human contact. A love triangle develops between the three.

James succeeds admirably in the chapters told through Gravedigger's point of view. I was sobbing like a baby over some of these sections, which are gruesome and heartbreaking. She brilliantly captures how a sentient being would react and be traumatized by seeing their mother killed, and then being captured and trained by the same kind of beings who did the act. She also evokes the sensory world of an animal and the resulting confusion his capture would cause. These are the strongest chapters in the book.

Although not quite as compelling, the chapters told through the poachers point of view are certainly enlightening. The financial reality of poverty and the money that can be made through poaching is brought out, as well as the problem of elephants destroying the farmer's crops. Certainly the actual poachers are low on the list of those who benefit from their illegal acts. The least successful chapters are those of the filmmakers.

James is an excellent writer and the prose flows beautifully, managing to portray each individual, their struggles, pain, and confusion, along with the questions of morality the narrative begs we ask.  She manages to capture the clash of man and nature in an individualized way, but, in the end, it is also a rather depressing tale.


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


TLC Book Tour 



Friday, March 20, 2015

Black Moon

Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun
Crown Publishing Group: 1/20/2015
eBook Review Copy, 288 pages
Trade Paperback ISBN-13: 9780804137164
kennethcalhoun.com

Insomnia has claimed everyone Biggs knows.  Even his beloved wife, Carolyn, has succumbed to the telltale red-rimmed eyes, slurred speech and cloudy mind before disappearing into the quickly collapsing world.  Yet Biggs can still sleep, and dream, so he sets out to find her.
He ventures out into a world ransacked by mass confusion and desperation, where he meets others struggling against the tide of sleeplessness.  Chase and his buddy Jordan are devising a scheme to live off their drug-store lootings; Lila is a high school student wandering the streets in an owl mask, no longer safe with her insomniac parents; Felicia abandons the sanctuary of a sleep research center to try to protect her family and perhaps reunite with Chase, an ex-boyfriend.  All around, sleep has become an infinitely precious commodity. Money can’t buy it, no drug can touch it, and there are those who would kill to have it. However, Biggs persists in his quest for Carolyn, finding a resolve and inner strength that he never knew he had.
Kenneth Calhoun has written a brilliantly realized and utterly riveting depiction of a world gripped by madness, one that is vivid, strange, and profoundly moving.

My Thoughts:

"To sleep, perchance to dream - ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come"
Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 3 scene 1

 
Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun is a highly recommended surreal story of a world plagued by insomnia. What happens when the person with the ability to sleep, and to dream, is the rare exception? Sleep deprivation causes hallucinations, a disconnect with the sensory world, and language centers in the brain can no longer keep your word usage in syntax. Certainly everyone has experienced at some point a time when they craved the restorative power of sleep, and desired the release of dreaming, perhaps to work out life's problems through the dreams. But we all know that you are also at your most vulnerable when sleeping, cut off from the world around you. What is even more dangerous in this changed world for those who can sleep is the murderous rage insomniacs feel when they see someone sleeping.

In this dystopian world several characters try to hide their ability to sleep, while trying to get sleep even when they know they will be killed if found.
The main character in Black Moon is Biggs, a sleeper. Biggs has watched the gradual disintegration of his wife, Carolyn, who is an insomniac. When she disappears, he sets off across a changed, dangerous urban landscape to find her as well as reflect on their life together.
Lila Ferrell is a teen whose parents are insomniacs. When they become a threat to her life when she is sleeping, they send her off to the research center they have heard about.
Chase, an oblivious college student, teams up with Justin, a former high school buddy who has been following the news, to steal sleeping pills.
Felicia, Chase's former girlfriend, is a lab assistant at a sleep research center where they are trying to fight their own symptoms.

Calhoun's writing is brilliant. Those who can sleep are also sleep deprived because sleeping is dangerous and he manages to capture the dreamlike fugue characters are wading through. I like the word hallucinatory used to describe Black Moon because he manages to evoke that feeling. His characters are traveling through a known world that has suddenly become an illusory deception. Real landmarks are there, but changed due to the restless wandering of the sleepless. Biggs is reflecting on a past and dreams he shared with Carolyn that may be delusive. What is real and true in a sleepless world where dreams are a rare anomaly? And is it sleep or our dreams that determine our humanity?

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cost of Life

Cost of Life by Joshua Corin
Alibi, Random House: 3/17/2015
eBook Review Copy, 274 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101882610
http://joshuacorin.com/

Happy Independence Day. You’re all going to die.
Life can’t be better for veteran pilot Larry Walder. He has a great job, a terrific kid, a gorgeous wife—and no inkling that tonight will be the end of the world as he knows it. In the early hours before the Fourth of July, three men break into Larry’s home. And as the day lurches on to its terrifying course, a life is taken, and Flight 816 from Atlanta to Cozumel, Mexico, vanishes off the radar.
In the air, Larry must find a way to save his family, his crew, and his passengers. On the ground, disgraced FBI agent Xanadu Marx goes rogue, making it her mission to track down the missing flight before the hijackers reach their diabolical endgame. With the casualties racking up and the world’s busiest airport under lockdown, a message arrives: This is no ordinary hijacking, no typical hostage crisis. This ransom is a totally different beast—the first hint of a conspiracy that might bring America to its knees.

My Thoughts:
 

Cost of Life by Joshua Corin is very highly recommended. This is a stuck-overnight-at-the-airport thriller that should hold your rapt attention from the start.

Pilot Larry Walder is woken up and informed that his wife and son are now hostages - and only he can keep them alive by following the kidnapper's instructions. Larry is scheduled to fly from Atlanta to Cozumel, Mexico, that day. Instead, once he takes off in Atlanta he is to fly the plane and all passengers to the location of the coordinates provided by the group of men. One of the men accompanies Larry to the airport just to make sure he follows their instructions.

Once Xanadu Marx, a former FBI agent recently released from rehab to a halfway house, hears some interesting information on a police scanner, she talks a fellow housemate into giving her a ride to the local FBI field office. She is sure that she will be needed on this case by SAC Jim Christie, Special-Agent-in-Charge at the Atlanta field office. What she learns is that she is now considered a civilian, but because of her special ability with a wide variety of languages she is being sent over to be an interpreter for a suspect in custody at the airport. A young intern is giving her a ride and will stay in touch with the field office.

This is no ordinary hijacked airplane story where the bad guys set a ransom in order to release the imprisoned passengers. Corin has set his high adrenaline-packed thriller decidedly in today's device laden society where everyone is connected all the time. At almost the half-way point this story took a twist and a turn that set my world of expectations in a tailspin, but made so much sense in today's culture. Devious, demented, shrewd, and calculating -  but so 21st century. And that is all I'll say. I don't want to spoil anything about this compelling thriller.

Corin is a good writer... or let me sheepishly admit that he must be a very good writer because I was not paying a lick of attention to his word usage or adept descriptive skills. It's all about the action here, baby, and he had me hooked at the start. Once you start your story with a family taken hostage and an ultimatum to keep them alive that could mean the death of others, you can pretty much bet on a plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The story is told through alternating viewpoints, basically between those on the hijacked plane and the people trying to find the aircraft, although the main characters are basically Larry and Xena with several supporting characters. I know the character of Xana will likely grate on some people, but I liked her tough resourcefulness as she pieces clues together while fighting her demons. Hopefully Corin will bring Xena back for another thriller sometime in the future.


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


TLC Tour Schedule


 




Monday, March 16, 2015

The Wilderness of Ruin

The Wilderness of Ruin by Roseanne Montillo
HarperCollins: 3/17/2015
eBook Review Copy, 320 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13: 9780062273475

In late nineteenth-century Boston, home to Herman Melville and Oliver Wendell Holmes, a serial killer preying on children is running loose in the city—a wilderness of ruin caused by the Great Fire of 1872...
In the early 1870s, local children begin disappearing from the working-class neighborhoods of Boston. Several return home bloody and bruised after being tortured, while others never come back.
With the city on edge, authorities believe the abductions are the handiwork of a psychopath, until they discover that their killer—fourteen-year-old Jesse Pomeroy—is barely older than his victims. The criminal investigation that follows sparks a debate among the world’s most revered medical minds, and will have a decades-long impact on the judicial system and medical consciousness.
The Wilderness of Ruin is a riveting tale of gruesome murder and depravity. At its heart is a great American city divided by class—a chasm that widens in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1872. Roseanne Montillo brings Gilded Age Boston to glorious life—from the genteel cobblestone streets of Beacon Hill to the squalid, overcrowded tenements of Southie. Here, too, is the writer Herman Melville. Enthralled by the child killer’s case, he enlists physician Oliver Wendell Holmes to help him understand how it might relate to his own mental instability.
With verve and historical detail, Roseanne Montillo explores this case that reverberated through all of Boston society in order to help us understand our modern hunger for the prurient and sensational.
My Thoughts:
 

The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer by Roseanne Montillo is a highly recommended historical account of Boston in the late nineteenth century. Although, in reality, there is no frantic search for Jesse Pomeroy in this account, it is, nonetheless, an interesting look at 19th century Boston.

In Boston in the 1870s young boys began to disappear of turn up tortured, beaten and bloody. It turns out that the killer/torturer was 14 year old Jesse Pomeroy, a mentally ill sociopath who was convicted and sentenced to the reform school. After he was released early from the reform school, another boy was tortured and a young girl turned up dead. Pomeroy was convicted and sentenced to hang, but that was changed to life imprisonment. While detailing Pomeroy's life, Montillo includes information about the area, including the history of prisons, the treatment of mentally ill criminals, the fire of 1872, author Herman Melville, and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes.

In The Wilderness of Ruin Montillo succeeds in presenting an expertly researched, riveting look at historical 19th century Boston and some of the people who inhabited the city rather than a frantic true crime search for a psychopath. Anyone who enjoys American history or the history of Boston will likely appreciate The Wilderness of Ruin. While Pomeroy's story is disturbing, it is more interesting when placed in historical context and presented as a part of history. What is less successful is the attempt to draw a comparison between Melville and Pomeroy. I'm not sure that the forced comparison was even necessary.

The book includes black and white illustrations. As is my wont I was pleased to see that in her well documented research Montillo presents a plethora of notes, an extensive bibliography, and index.
 

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

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Pocket Wife

The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford
HarperCollins: 3/17/2015
eBook Review Copy, 320 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13: 9780062362858
http://www.susancrawfordnovelist.com/

A stylish psychological thriller.... in which a woman suffering from bipolar disorder cannot remember if she murdered her friend.
Dana Catrell is shocked when her neighbor Celia is brutally murdered. To Dana’s horror, she was the last person to see Celia alive. Suffering from mania, the result of her bipolar disorder, she has troubling holes in her memory, including what happened on the afternoon of Celia’s death.
Her husband’s odd behavior and the probing of Detective Jack Moss create further complications as she searches for answers. The closer she comes to piecing together the shards of her broken memory, the more Dana falls apart. Is there a murderer lurking inside her . . . or is there one out there in the shadows of reality, waiting to strike again?
A story of marriage, murder, and madness, The Pocket Wife explores the world through the foggy lens of a woman on the edge.

My Thoughts:

The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford is a highly recommended psychological thriller. The suspense in this debut mystery novel is going to sneak up on you and become quite intense by the end.

After spending an afternoon drinking too much at a neighbor's house, Dana Catrell goes home and naps, only to wake up and discover her neighborhood, Celia Steinhauser, is now dead. Dana was the last known person to see Celia alive, but Dana can't remember much of what happened that afternoon. Between the alcohol and her worsening bi-polar disorder, for which she has stopped taking her meds, Dana is unsure of what is real and what is a by-product of her own psyche. Could she possibly have murdered Celia? She vaguely recalls an argument. She doesn't think she could possibly be capable of murder, but she can't be sure. And what happened to Celia's phone and the picture on it, of Dana's husband leering at another woman?

Detective Jack Moss is investigating, but he's got problems of his own. His second wife just left him. It looks like Dana is the most likely suspect, but Kyle, his son from his first marriage, might be involved with the case in some way. Celia was Kyle's GED teacher. Adding to the suspense is the increasing pressure to hurry and solve the case by the prosecutor's office. Chapters alternate between Dana and Jack. While Dana's mania is building and her thoughts are becoming more scattered, Jack is plodding forward with the case, dreading the clues that seem to point to some involvement by his son.

My appreciation of Crawford's  The Pocket Wife increased as I continued reading. Dana's mental state seems to make her an unreliable narrator, but one who also seems to have an acuity and awareness of what is going on around her. I knew she was heading toward a breakdown because she knows she is. Because of this, there is almost a surreal quality to what Dana sees and how she perceives it. Are the notes she finds real? Did she really see a figure in a hoodie? And is her husband really the total jerk he seems to be? (And he really is a complete jerk.)

The writing quality and descriptiveness is wonderful in this literary thriller. Crawford excels at setting the tone and pace, which helps to slowly build the suspense. This is a character driven mystery and the characters are all well developed, completely unique individuals. I found the conclusion to be satisfying.


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

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Hush Hush

Hush Hush by Laura Lippman
HarperCollins: 2/24/2015
Advanced Readers Edition, 320 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13: 9780062083425
Tess Monaghan Series #12
http://lauralippman.net/

Private detective Tess Monaghan is back in an absorbing mystery that plunges the new parent into a disturbing case involving murder and a manipulative mother.
On a searing August day, Melisandre Harris Dawes committed the unthinkable: she left her two-month-old daughter locked in a car while she sat nearby on the shores of the Patapsco River. Melisandre was found not guilty by reason of criminal insanity, although there was much skepticism about her mental state. Freed, she left the country, her husband and her two surviving children, determined to start over.
But now Melisandre has returned Baltimore to meet with her estranged teenage daughters and wants to film the reunion for a documentary. The problem is, she relinquished custody and her ex, now remarried, isn’t sure he approves.
Now that’s she’s a mother herself—short on time, patience—Tess Monaghan wants nothing to do with a woman crazy enough to have killed her own child. But her mentor and close friend Tyner Gray, Melisandre’s lawyer, has asked Tess and her new partner, retired Baltimore P.D. homicide detective Sandy Sanchez, to assess Melisandre’s security needs.
As a former reporter and private investigator, Tess tries to understand why other people break the rules and the law. Yet the imperious Melisandre is something far different from anyone she’s encountered. A decade ago, a judge ruled that Melisandre was beyond rational thought. But was she? Tess tries to ignore the discomfort she feels around the confident, manipulative Melisandre. But that gets tricky after Melisandre becomes a prime suspect in a murder.
Yet as her suspicions deepen, Tess realizes that just as she’s been scrutinizing Melisandre, a judgmental stalker has been watching her every move as well. . . .

My Thoughts:
 

Hush Hush by Laura Lippman is the highly recommended twelfth book in the series featuring P.I. Tess Monaghan. Tess is now dealing with juggling work, her relationship with Crow, and the logistics of having a three year old daughter, Carla Scout.

When Tess and her partner,  ex-homicide cop Sandy Sanchez, are asked to help with security by Tyner Gray, her mentor and an attorney who just happens to be married to Tess's Aunt Kitty, it is a given she will say yes. The client just happens to be the infamous Melisandre Harris Dawes. Twelve years earlier Melisandre left her infant daughter in a hot car to die. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity based on evidence that she was suffering from postpartum psychosis at the time. Melisandre left the USA, and her two young daughters in the custody of her ex-husband, Stephen, after her treatment was completed.

Now she has returned to Baltimore along with a documentary filmmaker, Harmony Burns. She commissioned the documentary ostensibly to examine the insanity defense, but in reality she is hoping to capture on film her reunion with her daughters, 17-year-old Alanna and 15-year-old Ruby. The trouble is her ex has remarried, has a new wife and a new infant, and is not interested in allowing the reunion to take place. She doesn't have a clue what her daughters might want. Included at various points within the narrative are several transcripts of Harmony's interviews for the documentary, so you can learn about Melisandre's past infamy and how that notoriety might affect her now.

Melisandre is an intensively disagreeable, haughty character who is used to getting her way and easy to dislike. Tyner seems to jump at her every summons and, strangely enough, she doesn't seem particularly interested in listening to any security measures Tess and Sandy suggest. Melisandre also seems to be manipulating almost everyone around her in some way, but, she also pays very well and Tess can use the income. Then, just as Melisandre starts receiving weird, vaguely threatening notes from a presumed stalker, Tess also starts receiving notes from an unknown source.

While working for Melisandre, Tess is struggling with the demands of being a mother of an active three year old. It is challenging to juggle work and motherhood and Tess doubts her ability to be a good mother. At the same time her relationship with Crow, while good, seems to have all sorts of new food rules now that Carla Scout is here. It is also challenging to do it all - work full time and care for a very active, rather obnoxious child. No wonder Tess questions her ability to do it all.

Lippman keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace, which make reading Hush Hush a pleasure. There isn't any filler here. While it's not an intense, action-packed thriller, it does cover the backstory and the current events without a wasted word. The novel is either covering the people and actions surrounding Melisandre or Tess. For those who don't know Tess or other returning characters, Lippman brings you up to speed quickly. It's not going to matter if this is your first Lippman book featuring Tess or your twelfth. I'm going to have to admit that I like this maturing Tess, who struggles with being a working mother, more than the Tess in earlier books.


Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins for the TLC tour of reviews. 

Tour schedule





http://tlcbooktours.com


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Fire Sermon

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig
Gallery Books: 3/10/2015
eBook Review Copy, 384 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13: 9781476767185


Four hundred years in the future, the Earth has turned primitive following a nuclear fire that has laid waste to civilization and nature. Though the radiation fallout has ended, for some unknowable reason every person is born with a twin. Of each pair, one is an Alpha—physically perfect in every way; and the other an Omega—burdened with deformity, small or large. With the Council ruling an apartheid-like society, Omegas are branded and ostracized while the Alphas have gathered the world’s sparse resources for themselves. Though proclaiming their superiority, for all their effort Alphas cannot escape one harsh fact: Whenever one twin dies, so does the other.
Cass is a rare Omega, one burdened with psychic foresight. While her twin, Zach, gains power on the Alpha Council, she dares to dream the most dangerous dream of all: equality. For daring to envision a world in which Alphas and Omegas live side-by-side as equals, both the Council and the Resistance have her in their sights.
My Thoughts:

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig is a recommended first book to a new YA dystopian series.
 
Centuries ago a nuclear apocalypse destroyed the known world, leaving behind a blighted land. In this new  world all babies are born as twins, one male and one female, one Alpha and one Omega. The Alpha's are the "perfect" twins (either male or female), without any birth defect or mutation. The Omegas are the "weaker" twins, the one with some "defect" that sets them apart. The Omegas are all branded on the forehead and sent away to live in separate hardscrabble communities where, while the Alphas shun them, they also rule the Omegas and require them to pay tithes. If either one of the twins experiences something painful, the other twin will feel the pain too. More importantly, if one of the twins dies, the other will too. Their lives and deaths are inexplicably connected.

Cassandra is an Omega whose defect is that she is a seer, which means she has a kind of psychic ability. In her case she was able to hide her defect until she was 13, at which point her twin, Zach, tricks her into admitting it. Cass goes to live in an Omega hovel while Zach rises to the Alpha Council. Once there he imprisons Cass but sends a seer in who is working for the Alphas, to try and get her to reveal what she sees in her visions, especially wondering if she sees an island where only Omegas live.

There is no doubt that Haig, a poet, has a way with words. Technically her ability to write and capture a scene and the emotions surrounding it add a depth and richness to the narrative which elevates the story about just another YA dystopian novel. It is the quality of writing that kept me reading this novel. This is the first of a planned trilogy and rights have already been purchased by Dreamworks.

That said, I almost stopped reading this novel for several reasons. The abelism, disability discrimination, is disturbing. I was never able to buy into the whole Alpha/Omega system where you send the "defective" twin away, treat them badly, etc, etc, and yet if the Omega twin dies so will the Alpha. It just doesn't make sense to me and I can't suspend my disbelief enough to get all the lingering questions out of my head. I also found the plot rather slow moving. It was difficult to believe in Cass's abilities, which seem to be rather random, present when they are needed for the plot. The big plot twist was not a surprise for me.

So, for me, this is a technically very well written novel with an unbelievable world. YA readers may be able to set aside any niggling disbelief or questions about how this society is set up, but, in the end, I couldn't.


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

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What Stands in a Storm

What Stands in a Storm by Kim Cross
Atria Books: 3/10/2015
eBook Review Copy, 320 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13: 9781476763064

April 27, 2011, marked the climax of a superstorm that saw a record 358 tornadoes rip through twenty-one states in three days, seven hours, and eighteen minutes. It was the deadliest day of the biggest tornado outbreak in recorded history, which saw 348 people killed, entire neighborhoods erased, and $11 billion in damage. The biggest of the tornadoes left scars across the land so wide they could be seen from space. But from the terrible destruction emerged everyday heroes, neighbors and strangers who rescued each other from hell on earth.
With powerful emotion and gripping detail, Cross weaves together the heart-wrenching stories of several characters—including three college students, a celebrity weatherman, and a team of hard-hit rescuers—to create a nail-biting chronicle in the Tornado Alley of America. No, it’s not Oklahoma or Kansas; it’s Alabama, where there are more tornado fatalities than anywhere in the US, where the trees and hills obscure the storms until they’re bearing down upon you. For some, it’s a story of survival, and for others it’s the story of their last hours.
Cross’s immersive reporting and dramatic storytelling sets you right in the middle of the very worst hit areas of Alabama, where thousands of ordinary people witnessed the sky falling around them. Yet from the disaster comes a redemptive message that’s just as real: In times of trouble, the things that tear our world apart also reveal what holds us together.

My Thoughts:


What Stands in a Storm by Kim Cross is a very highly recommended account of the April, 2011 superstorm tornado outbreak in Alabama. If you are a weather geek or live anywhere prone to tornadic activity, this book should be a must-read. Having grown up and lived much of my life in the region that most people think of when they hear "tornado alley," I have plenty of tornado memories, close calls, and stories of my own, but certainly nothing that even reaches close to the heart breaking devastation Cross describes in this account that is an expanded version of an article that first appeared in Southern Living magazine.

In the foreward Rick Bragg writes: "April 27, 2011, became the deadliest day of the biggest tornado outbreak in the history of recorded weather. It was the climax of a superstorm that unleashed terror upon twenty-one states—from Texas to New York—in three days, seven hours, and eighteen minutes. Entire communities were flattened, whole neighborhoods erased, in seconds, by the wind. This was an epic storm in an epic month: April 2011 saw three separate outbreaks and a record 757 tornadoes—nearly half of which (349) occurred during the April 24-27 outbreak that inspired this book."

The book is divided up into three sections: “The Storm,” “The Aftermath” and “The Recovery.” The first section introduces us to the people who will play a prominent role in subsequent stories and provides some information of the history of forecasting. Cross tells the story through the individuals who lived it, including meteorologists, storm chasers, and the individuals caught in the storms, some who survived and some who did not. The book reflects the year of extensive research and interviews Cross undertook in order to present the information and the story in a very approachable, caring, personal way that humanizes the event that claimed 348 lives in 72 hours.

Most of the dramatic footage you see of tornadoes are from the Great Plains, the marked tornado alley, where the wide open relatively flat land allows you to see a storm coming from miles away. In Alabama, the terrain of the land and the amount of trees obscure residents view of the sky. There are also a plethora of old wives tales and folk lore about the movement or directions tornadoes will or won't take that are simply not true. (I've heard many of these over the years and have tried to explain to more than one person that their facts are not true at all.)

This extremely well written account of the storm and the aftermath is heart breaking, but there is a resilience and neighborliness in the South that transcends the devastating aftermath of the storms. Cross captures the essence of this in the August 2011 edition of Southern Living:
"But that same geography that left us in the path of this destruction also created, across generations, a way of life that would not come to pieces inside that storm, nailed together from old-fashioned things like human kindness, courage, utter selflessness, and, yes, defiance, even standing inside a roofless house. As Southerners, we know a man with a chain saw is worth ten with a clipboard, that there is no hurt in this world, even in the storm of the century, that cannot be comforted with a casserole, and that faith, in the hereafter or in neighbors who help you through the here and now, cannot be knocked down."


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

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dead Wake

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
Crown: 3/10/2015
eBook Review Copy, 448 pages

Hardcover ISBN-13: 9780307408860 http://eriklarsonbooks.com/
On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. 
Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.
It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. 
Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.
My Thoughts:

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson is very highly recommended. It is a perfect integration of thorough research and an impeccable presentation which results in a definitive account of the tragedy that manages to present the facts and the personal stories. Most of us probably think we know the story of the sinking of the Lusitania: it was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland on May 7, 1915, and propelled the USA into WWI. While those may be facts, as Larson proves, there is much more to the story. Larson's narrative follows the Lusitania, the news of the war, what the intelligence community knew, the U-boats, and the personal stories of passengers, captains, and President Wilson.

Larson writes: "I always had the impression, shared I suspect by many, that the sinking immediately drove President Woodrow Wilson to declare war on Germany, when in fact America did not enter World War I for another two years—half the span of the entire war. But that was just one of the many aspects of the episode that took me by surprise. As I began reading into the subject, and digging into archives in America and Britain, I found myself intrigued, charmed, and moved. In short, I was hooked. What especially drew me was the rich array of materials available to help tell the story in as vivid a manner as possible—such archival treasures as telegrams, intercepted wireless messages, survivor depositions, secret intelligence ledgers, Kapit√§nleutnant Schwieger’s actual war log, Edith Galt’s love letters, and even a film of the Lusitania’s final departure from New York. Together these made a palette of the richest colors. I can only hope I used them to best effect." 

The cast of historical figures makes Larson's account the substantial, vivid account he was hoping for. The Lusitania was the star of the Cunard fleet and William Thomas Turner was the experienced captain. Captain Walther Schwieger commanded the U-20 who torpedoes the Lusitania. Larsen follows the maneuvers and travels of both the Lusitania and U-20, including a plethora of background information. President Wilson's infatuation with courting Edith Galt provided a distraction that took his attention away from current events. British spymaster Blinker Hall decoded German messages and followed the movements and actions of U-20. Adding to these people is the information on many of the passengers included by Larsen, including Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat, trailblazing architect Theodate Pope, and suffragette Margaret Mackworth.

The attack resulted in the loss of 1,195 passengers and crew. "Of the 791 passengers designated by Cunard as missing, only 173 bodies, or about 22 percent, were eventually recovered, leaving 618 souls unaccounted for. The percentage for the crew was even more dismal, owing no doubt to the many deaths in the luggage room when the torpedo exploded. Of 404 missing crew, only 50 bodies were recovered."

This is much more than a dry presentation of historical facts and research. Larson presents all the historical facts in a very accessible manner that makes the history come alive and explains what really happened to the Lusitania. "In the end, Schwieger’s attack on the Lusitania succeeded because of a chance confluence of forces. Even the tiniest alteration in a single vector could have saved the ship." Larsen's gripping presentation proves his point. In the end, reading this tale of a historical tragedy is just as compelling as any novel. Included is an Epilogue, Personal Effects, Sources and Acknowledgements, Notes, and Bibliography.

Erik Larsen is one of a few authors I know I will automatically buy and read any book they write and Dead Wake underscores why that is true. Bravo, Mr. Larson!


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

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce
Random House: 3/3/2015
Hardcover, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812996678
http://www.rachel-joyce.co.uk/

From the bestselling author of comes an exquisite love story about Queenie Hennessy, the remarkable friend who inspired Harold’s cross-country journey.
A runaway international bestseller, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry followed its unassuming hero on an incredible journey as he traveled the length of England on foot—a journey spurred by a simple letter from his old friend Queenie Hennessy, writing from a hospice to say goodbye. Harold believed that as long as he kept walking, Queenie would live. What he didn’t know was that his decision to walk had caused her both alarm and fear. How could she wait? What would she say? Forced to confront the past, Queenie realizes she must write again.
In this poignant parallel story to Harold’s saga, acclaimed author Rachel Joyce brings Queenie Hennessy’s voice into sharp focus. Setting pen to paper, Queenie makes a journey of her own, a journey that is even bigger than Harold’s; one word after another, she promises to confess long-buried truths—about her modest childhood, her studies at Oxford, the heartbreak that brought her to Kingsbridge and to loving Harold, her friendship with his son, the solace she has found in a garden by the sea. And, finally, the devastating secret she has kept from Harold for all these years.
A wise, tender, layered novel that gathers tremendous emotional force, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy underscores the resilience of the human spirit, beautifully illuminating the small yet pivotal moments that can change a person’s life.

My Thoughts:


The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce is a very highly recommended novel  in which a woman in hospice is examining her life. This is very much a companion novel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Queenie's reflections will likely be appreciated more by those who have read about Harold's journey first. Queenie Hennessy, the woman who was the destination of Harold Fry's 600 mile pilgrimage, has entered St. Bernadine's Hospice in northeast England. She is near the end. Cancer has destroyed her throat and jaw. When Harold sets out on his journey, writing and telling Queenie to wait for him to arrive, it gives her and the other residents something to anticipate before their deaths. This is Queenie's story.

Sister Mary Inconnue suggests that Queenie write a final letter to Harold, one in which she reveals all her thoughts and secrets to Harold. Confession is good for the soul, she is told, so she sets out to write her story. She can confess her love for him, tell him the things she held back from him and never discussed or confessed. She can tell him about where she ended up after she left, about her beach house and the garden by the sea. As Queenie writes the things she needs to say to Harold, we learn more about her, past and present. The past is filled with regrets and some pleasures. The present is with an assortment of odd, endearing companions at the hospice. They all know why they are there, which makes their time together now more poignant. Queenie knows the end is very near.

As I now expect from Rachel Joyce, the writing is exceptional. The story is wonderfully wrought and irresistible, the presentation and pacing is impeccable.  Queenie's story alone is compelling, but underneath the surface, there is a literary depth to the narrative that takes it above and beyond a simple recalling of events in a life. There is a twist at the end which surprised me and provided a perfect conclusion.

While I loved this novel, it is very much based on loving The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. The only drawback to The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is that it very much depends upon you knowing Harold Fry's story first, which will give Queenie's story a context and background. But, if you enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry as much as I did, you will want to read The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.

And don't skip Joyce's novel  Perfect. Rachel Joyce is now moving to the upper echelon of the list of authors I will automatically buy anything they write.


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