Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser
HarperCollins: 2/2/16
eBook review copy; 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062400826

Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser is a highly recommended debut novel of suspense set during a blizzard in Northern Michigan. Read this one with a blanket and a warm beverage nearby.

Percy James, 16, drives off to try and find her meth addicted mother, Carletta, just as a blizzard bears down on the northern Michigan woods. Percy checks out the cabin of known cooker and dealer Sheldon Potter. After having to abandon her truck a mile or so from the house, Percy sets off on foot. When she arrives she doesn't find Carletta; instead she sees Sheldon passed out with his girlfriend in the living room. Thinking her mother might still be there in another room, Percy sneaks inside and heads upstairs. What she finds is a dead dog in one room and a baby in the other. In the baby's room the crib, with the name Jenna written on it, is by an open window where the cold and snow are rushing inside.

Deciding that someone needs to save baby Jenna, who Percy nicknames Sweetgirl, Percy grabs the baby and the bag nearby. She's going to go get this baby to safety while still trying to find her mother. Percy heads on foot carrying Jenna to the cabin of Portis Dale, an ex-boyfriend to her mother and the closest thing to a father that Percy has ever had. She and Portis then take off, battling the elements and trying to hide from the criminal thugs Sheldon has sent out to look for the baby after he woke up and found her gone. You read that right. After Sheldon comes to and realizes the baby is gone, he tries to find thugs beholden to his uncle to help him look for her before he takes off in a snowmobile to find her too.

Sheldon Potter is a foolish man and his constant drug usage is addling his thinking. Portis is a hard drinking, but caring, philosopher. Percy is a sixteen-year-old who is wise beyond her years and a scrappy fighter. She is a protagonist that you will be cheering for as she tries to overcome the elements and other forces against her while saving little Jenna. Having the blizzard bearing down on them and bad guys after them creates more obstacles, problems, and difficulties getting to the proper authorities or finding some help.

Chapters alternate between Percy and Sheldon, creating a tension as you follow what is happening. I'm going to have to admit that there were a few things that seemed a bit too pat, like Sheldon's tenaciousness and ability to get around even as he constantly is getting a buzz from something. The biggest stretch of credulity is Percy's inability to get help in this day and age. Sure, most of us would use our cell phones and call for help but Carletta (conveniently) sold Percy's and Portis, naturally, doesn't have one.

The writing is quite good, which really elevates the plot above a cliche'. The setting also does this as one doesn't usually think of meth cooking going on in the woods of northern Michigan. But Percy, however, is the real winner here. She is a great character and this acts as a thriller, as well as a coming-of-age novel. I liked the ending very much and hope to read more from Millhauser in the future

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

After The Fog Clears

After The Fog Clears by Lee Thompson
DarkFuse: 2/2/16
eBook review copy; 220 pages (est.)
paperback ISBN-13: 9781940544939

After The Fog Clears by Lee Thompson is a so-so novel that deals with the abandoned and the psychotic.

Saginaw police officer Nathan Hazzard accidental hits a small child while in a high speed pursuit of Luther Anderson. Luther was speeding home because he received a disconcerting phone call from his grandmother and is concerned that something is wrong with her or his crippled brother. The child was the son of Raul Spencer, who just heard before the accident that his father was temporarily laying him off from the family's funeral home business, is walking home when his wife calls. Raul's wife, Geneva, is devastated as she tries to reach him without success.

The story deals with these three families and the aftermath an accident that sets into motion a violent chain of events. Luther was the only character I could even remotely care about. Hazzard is psychotic, aggressively so, and quickly determines that he has nothing left to lose, so it's time for him to take matters into his own hands. Raul is just as bad - in his own way. He calls his wife's best friend, with whom he is having an affair, and wants her support.

The story is simple and the main theme is the violence that will be taking place due to the whiny psychotics who want to blame everyone else for their problems and their actions. Obviously, I grew tired of them. Handled differently, the story could have been a psychologically tense thriller. However, this is more a laundry list of what happened next and then and next...
Is it awful? No, but it wasn't very believable. There were to many coincidences. Additionally is a lot of gratuitous violence. I had a hard time finishing this one. The fact that I did is worth 2 stars.

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

Monday, January 25, 2016

Beasts and Children

Beasts and Children by Amy Parker
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2/2/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
trade paperback ISBN-13: 9780544370135

Beasts and Children by Amy Parker is a very highly recommended heart-breaking short story collection.
All the stories in this collection are interconnected, with characters reappearing and their stories continuing from one story to the next, and following these characters from childhood to adulthood. All of the stories also feature animals. Read together these stories are complementary; the recurring characters of the stories create the feeling of a novel since all the stories are interrelated.

The writing is very good, descriptive and haunting, but the stories can be dark and depressing, with children and animals firmly at the mercy of selfish, obstinate, egocentric adults who are, quite frankly, neglecting them through their disregard, inattention, and carelessness. There are a couple times when I almost refused to continue reading. For those with a tender heart toward children and animals, this one might be too difficult to read to the end. In the end, I was glad I finished this collection, but, oh my, there were some tears and struggles to get there.

Table of Contents:
The White Elephant: It's 1967 and the last year sisters Cissy and Carline Bowman have an unbroken family.
Rainy Season: Jill Foster and Maizie, her little sister, are the daughters of diplomats in Chiang Mai. Disaster results occur when Jill decides to leave the compound one night and Maizie follows.
The Balcony: Danny's mother pulls him out of school and they hit the road with his dog Orla. She's following a man she's obsessed with.
Endangered Creatures: Jill and Maizie, who are in trouble with their father over their adventure, visit a Thai orphanage with a woman and her daughter.
Beasts and Children: Jerry's father tries to teach him to be tough after his mother leaves them. (This story is almost too much to bear.)
Catastrophic Molt: Cissy and Carline reflect on the year their mother was dying from cancer.
The Corpse Diver: Jill and Jerry are married and struggling with a needy woman who lives nearby. "When Piper was born, Jill got tired and Jerry got religion."
Sunfish: Daniel (Danny; Cissy and Carline's cousin) has fallen in love with Maizie.
A Neighborly Day for a Beauty: Maizie is deciding whether she wants to continue with her pregnancy.
Grace: Carline's life may be changing when she meets a single father.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for review purposes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Unfinished World and Other Stories

The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks
Liveright Publishing: 1/25/16
eBook review copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781631490903

The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks is a very highly recommended collection of 19 short stories set in worlds that are slightly askew.

The writing is excellent. In descriptive, precise prose Sparks manages to convey depth and meaning in the fable-like stories, many of which are very brief. There is no overall theme to the collection, which makes each imaginative selection a gem that stands alone. This quietly asks the reader to consider and pondered each selection separately, on its own merit. This is a strong collection and I appreciated and savored each selection. 


The Janitor in Space:  A woman who works as a janitor in space believes there is there a right way to atone for the past, to rid yourself of sorrow.

The Lizzie Borden Jazz Babies:  Twins do everything together, until one takes a different course and the other wants revenge.

The Cemetery for Lost Faces: The life of Clarence and Louise, a brother and sister whose parents tragically died. "It just goes to show, people said later. It just goes to show how fairy tales always stop too soon in the telling. Others said it was never a fairy tale at all. Anyone could see that. They were all too lovely, too obviously doomed. But the wisest said, that’s exactly what a fairy tale is. The happily-ever-after is just a false front. It hides the hungry darkness inside."

The Logic of the Loaded Heart:  Questions to determine the value of John's life. "If John is three, and John’s mother is six times his age, how old was John’s mother when John was conceived in the back of Al Neill’s pickup truck after a Styx concert in Milwaukee? If John’s parents spend 100 times zero days being actual parents to John, how many days’ total is that? Does your answer change if John’s mother sometimes bought him Mr Pibb and lottery tickets when she stopped at the gas station on her way home from work? Extra credit: Please calculate the probability that at his mother’s current age, John will drop out of school and work in a burger joint while playing lead guitar in a heavy metal band called The Slaughterhouse Four."

Thirteen Ways of Destroying a Painting: A time traveler tries thirteen different actions to prevent a painter from creating a specific work of art.
Lancelot in the Lost Places of the World: "Lancelot has been summoned out of sleep to find a secret kingdom."

And the World Was Crowded with Things That Meant Love:  A couple who met in person only once exchange gifts of devotion over their lifetime.

Birds with Teeth: Marsh and Cope, who used to be friends, are rival paleontologists. "It really began at Haddonfield, after he pointed out Cope’s dreadful mistake with the Elasmosaurus platyurus. The head is on the tail, he told the team in private."

For These Humans Who Cannot Fly: A man's love for his wife inspires his life's work, building death houses. "Every death is a love story. It’s the goodbye part, but the love is still there, wide as the world. When my wife died, I began to understand this."

Take Your Daughter to the Slaughter: Father's take their daughters on a hunt to kill werewolves.

We Were Holy Once: The Benders are a family who travel the country with their daughter, Doctor Katie, who is a healer.

La Belle de Nuit, La Belle de Jour: There is mythical trouble for seven brothers and their sister when a witch moves into the kingdom and marries their father. 

The Men and Women Like Him: Hugh is a Cleaner who has to stop time pirates from changing the course of history.

Things You Should Know About Cassandra Dee: Seven facts about Cassie, an ugly girl who can see bad things that will happen in the future.

The Fires of Western Heaven: Reflections about the aftermath of war.

The Process of Human Decay: What happens after a man dies.

The Fever Librarian: "From the Eternal Library’s Official Employee Handbook: The brain of the Fever Librarian should be made mostly of melancholy. The Fever Librarian should wear black bile in the veins. The Fever Librarian should be an unmarried woman with a soft, drowned heart, and a choleric disposition. She should be pale and thin, with a look that hints at Perpetual Anguish of the Soul. She should resemble someone’s grandmother, someone we have known for ages in the abstract. Dependable. Invisible."

The Unfinished World: This titular novella follows the separate lives as two future lover, Set and Inge, grow up and eventually meet in the 1920s.

The Sleepers: "Ancient dreams cling like crumbs to the mouths of the sleepers. They mutter and twitch, chasing after phantom women, fragments of words, half-drunk goblets of wine. This is what the sleepers find outside of history: a weakness in repose for which there is no cure but dreaming."

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Poison Artist

The Poison Artist by Jonathan Moore
Houghton Mifflin: 1/26/16
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780544520561

The Poison Artist by Jonathan Moore is a very highly recommended dark atmospheric mystery/psychological thriller.

Caleb Maddox has just had a fight with his girlfriend Bridget. She threw a glass at him, which hit his forehead, cutting it open. It looks like their relationship is over. Caleb left the house and is staying at a hotel. After cleaning up, Caleb goes on a bender to mourn her departure. He ends up at a bar called the House of Shields where he meets a mysterious woman who is drinking absinthe. She totally captures Caleb's interest and imagination. Even while he is drinking to excess over the loss of Bridget, he is obsessed with the mystery woman and seeks her out at various bars.

Amid Caleb's hard drinking, he hears from his friend, Henry Newcomb, a medical examiner, who has a professional question. Caleb is a toxicologist who also has an ongoing research study into pain and tolerance levels. Apparently while Caleb has been drinking his sorrow away, there is a serial killer loose. Several bodies of males have washed up Henry has a few questions about the lab results they have obtained and wants Caleb to test some of the samples. Caleb also has two police detectives questioning him over a man who was at the House of Shields the night he was there drinking.

The action flips back and forth between Caleb's excessive drinking and obsession over the mystery woman and helping Henry with the murder cases. There are a lot of unanswered questions  in this moody, pensive mystery. Really, most of the book will leave you feeling like it is set in a dark, gloomy night, with everything hazy and vague - as if the story is incomplete. And it is incomplete for almost the whole novel. You won't learn what Caleb and Bridget fought about for most of the book. While you question Caleb's inexplicable obsession and pursuit of the mysterious woman, you won't actually know the real reason why until the end.

The writing is sumptuous, both beautifully crafted and wonderfully descriptive. This could leave some readers with the same dilemma I felt. The quality of the writing kept me reading, but I was growing a bit impatient with dearth of solid information presented. The clues to the mystery are extremely slow in being revealed. The strength of Caleb's obsession with and pursuit of the mystery woman seemed too intense for simply seeing her after having a fight with a girlfriend that he says he loves. And the fixation on drinking absinthe...

The ending is worth all the questions and doubts I had while reading The Poison Artist. I even, briefly, considered setting the book aside because it seemed too vague, but I'm glad I kept reading because the ending was incredible - shocking, dismaying, and frightfully satisfying. 

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

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Portable Veblen

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie
Penguin Publishing Group: 1/19/16
eBook review copy; 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9781594206856


The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie is a very highly recommended novel about a young couple on the brink of marriage. It is a quirky, humorous, unique novel that encompasses dysfunctional families to personal professional goals to relationships to feelings about squirrels.

Veblen Amundsen-Hovda has accepted the marriage proposal of her boyfriend Paul Vreeland, a 34-year-old neurologist. While the ring seems a little big and Paul doesn't like squirrels the way Veblen does (she talks with them) they are both determined to make this work even though they have only known each other for three months. They still need to meet each other's families.

Veblen is named for Thorstein Veblen, an economist who coined the term "conspicuous consumption," is a temp agency typist and an amateur freelance translator of Norwegian, especially the works of her namesake. Her mother is a hypochondriac and a narcissist. Her step father is a nice guy, but is an enabler and panders to her mother. Her father is institutionalized for mental illness. Veblen is a free spirit who loves typing, talks to squirrels, and tries to gauge her reactions based on what other people are saying or doing. She's fixed up a crumbling house in Palo Alto by herself and made it her own. She admires Thorstein Veblen and his beliefs.

Paul grew up with hippy parents who grew pot and had other people traipsing in and out of the house/commune all the time - not to mention the DEA watching the house.  He always has felt his older brother Justine, who is mentally disabled, was favored by their parents. He is recruited by a large medical corporation with a Department of Defense contract due to his invention of a device that could potentially minimize brain trauma for those in combat situations. Paul is ambitious and driven to succeed, so he accepts the position with its promise of fame and fortune. ( (Admittedly, I wasn't a fan of Paul at the beginning of the book, but quickly began to see his point of view.) 

Now this young couple who have seemingly totally opposite views on life, are trying to navigate the emotional, tense meeting-of-the-parents, as well as their own misgivings over their future. What would you do for love - of another or those in your family?

This is a wonderful, entertaining, extremely well written literary gem. It is quirky, but replete with exquisitely descriptive passages. Adding to the mix are the well-developed cast of characters and all of their incongruous idiosyncrasies.  Interspersed throughout the book are these photos, that are both funny and endearing, placed to illustrate something in the text as simple as a bag of ugly clothes for donation.

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

What She Knew

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan
HarperCollins: 12/01/15
eBook review copy, 496 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062413864
What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan is a very highly recommended, tense novel about the search for a missing eight-year-old boy and the impact felt by the mother and the inspector on the case. This is a winning debut novel. I stayed up way-past-my bedtime to finish this one, folks, and it was worth it.

It's Sunday and, as they usually do, Rachel Jenner is taking a walk with her son, Ben, and his dog, Skittles, in a Bristol Park. When Ben asks to run ahead of his mom to the tree swing, Rachel hesitates, but acquiesces because she knows she be right along a few minutes after him. When she reaches the tree swing, there is no Ben or Skittles in sight, so she naturally assumes they are hiding to surprises her. When it becomes clear that Ben is not hiding and has simple vanished, Rachel begins to frantically search for him and others in the park start to help her. The police are called as well as Rachel's ex-husband and his new, very young wife.

The police investigation is lead by Detective Inspector James “Jim” Clemo, who recommends DC Emma Zhang for the Family Liaison Officer. Unknown to anyone else, Emma is also his girlfriend. When Rachel is given a statement to read, she veers off the script which signals the start of the media bias against her. The personal attacks against Rachel are relentless and stress her out even more. Suspects are found and ruled out and secrets are revealed during the search for Ben and the taut investigation.

Macmillian alternates the narrative between Rachel's search for Ben and the police investigation with transcripts of DI Clemo's post-investigation department-ordered counseling sessions after the case was closed. Clearly this amps up the suspense because we know that something went wrong with the search. Clemo is suffering from insomnia, depression, and panic attacks.

This is a very well written, outstanding, engaging debut novel. The format of the novel combined with the pacing of the narrative helps create a real sense of urgency and escalates the tension felt when reading. There are several suspects and they all seem plausible. It's no wonder that I stayed up too late to find out what happened when I was close to the end of this exceptional novel.

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

Friday, January 15, 2016

Daughters of Divorce

Daughters of Divorce by Terry Gaspard, Tracy Clifford
Sourcebooks: 1/19/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781492620655

Daughters of Divorce by Terry Gaspard, Tracy Clifford is a recommended self-help book.

Written by a mother/daughter team who have both been daughters of divorced parents, Daughters of Divorce is focused on helping women who are from a family effected by divorce to overcome their background and establish healthy, long-lasting relationships as adults.

"This book is about how you, a daughter of divorce, can learn to overcome the legacy of divorce and move forward to enjoy rewarding relationships built on love, trust, and intimacy. Each chapter describes a central theme and skill that are essential to achieving this, and includes practical steps to go about it. At the end of each chapter, we include perspectives from both of us - mother and daughter - on our own experiences with divorce and lessons we've learned."

Even as a child, women are wired to have "a fairly precise, three-dimensional, sensory snapshot of experiences such as family disharmony or breakup." The authors want to reassure women that there are steps they can take to change the family legacy in their own lives. She is not broken just because her family is broken.

The authors present 7 steps to a Successful Relationship and show women how to proceed through those steps. The steps include:
Step 1: Examine your parents' divorce from an adult perspective.
Step 2: Attempt to forgive others and move on from the past by developing a forgiving mind-set.
Step 3: Examine your relationship with your father and attempt to repair any father-daughter wounds.
Step 4: Improve your self-esteem.
Step 5: Build trust in your relationships.
Step 6: Practice being vulnerable with your partner in small steps.
Step 7: Make the commitment.

The authors encourage those reading the book to keep a journal to document their thoughts. The book also includes questions for women to answer for themselves and action steps they can take to encourage their healing. The book includes recommendations for further reading and a list of informational websites available. The book also includes source notes and an index, tools I always look for in nonfiction titles.

While the concept of this book is certainly needed and should be well received, it is not going to address all situations equally since the circumstances surrounding the divorce and family situations can widely vary. Daughters who have been abandoned by their fathers after the divorce are going through some different experiences. I found the following two quotes, from the same author, actually better addressed the situation my daughter is experiencing more than anything else in this book:

Author Victoria Secunda writes, "It is a tragic and unavoidable reality that once a marriage ends, a great many fathers simply vanish. "Surprisingly, this parental neglect isn't due to the vindictiveness of ex-wives. In her research, Secunda found that very few mothers deliberately withheld their daughters from their fathers. She says, "In the end it was indifference and inertia that kept these fathers from finding their daughters. And if the reunion was to be effected, it was almost always the daughters who did the legwork, broke through the silences."
Secunda explains, "My own research has led me to conclude that divorced fathers who abandon their children, either wholly or in part, share one primary characteristic: they don't appear to have a paternal identity. Abandoning fathers are essentially immature, stuck in the primary narcissism of early childhood, unable to feel anyone's pain or joy but their own."

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

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Winter Girl

The Winter Girl by Matt Marinovich
Knopf Doubleday: 1/19/16
eBook review copy, 224 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385539975

The Winter Girl by Matt Marinovich is a recommended, fast-paced psychological thriller.

Scott and Elise are in the Hamptons for Elise to care for her terminally ill father, Victor, during his final days. Elise's mother is deceased and her brother, Ryder, is incarcerated, so she is the only one available. There are several problems with the plan. First, Elise, as far as Scott knows, has never had a good relationship with her father and there was likely abuse when she was younger. The second problem is that, although the doctors said it would be a matter of weeks, the vigil has turned into months, and Victor is still holding onto life, spewing venom. Scott and Elise's relationship was teetering on the edge of divorce before, but the situation now is pushing it to the brink.

Scott, who narrates the novel, becomes obsessed with the lights on the house next door. It's obvious no one is there and that they are on a timer. Scott's obsession with the house escalates and eventually results in his breaking into the house. Scott then talks Elise into accompanying him. This one act uncovers a myriad of secrets, intrigue, and horror.

The first part of the story was compelling and caught my attention. Then it sort of went downhill, or at least I had to ignore niggling questions that kept popping up while I was reading. Questions like: "Why are you obsessed with the house next door and what would compel you to break into it?" and "Maybe I missed something, but does breaking and entering really give people a sexual thrill?" and "Really? Unbelievable... really?"

The good news is that The Winter Girl is a short novel and moves along quickly. If you just want escapism with some titillating, gratuitous sex and violence with a vaguely implausible plot, read on. There isn't a lot of character development here. It is all about the secrets and shocking disclosures. The last half of the novel feels rushed and that is where the action/events seem disjointed and dubious.

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

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
Sourcebooks: 1/19/16

eBook review copy; 400 pages
trade paperback ISBN-13: 9781492623441

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald is a highly recommended novel of romantic escapism for book lovers.

Sara Lindqvist has traveled from Sweden to spend 2 months with her pen pal, Amy Harris in the very small town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. Sara and Amy connected over their love of books and a correspondence began that led to friendship.  Amy is shocked to learn that her friend has passed away and she has arrived just in time for the gathering after the funeral. The townspeople Amy meets insist that she stay on at Amy's house, as Amy planned and would have wanted. They have even stocked the fridge for her and put her luggage in the spare bedroom. Sara reluctantly agrees to this and the start of her introduction to the people of Broken Wheel begins as they offer their hospitality to Sara. 

In an effort to repay the town for their kindness, Sara decides to open a book store for the town. She uses the closed building that Amy owned and collects all of Amy's books together. Her new friends in Broken Wheel help her get furniture and bookcases together, while at the same time coming up with a few schemes of their own.

This book was originally published in Sweden and translated into English. It still reads smoothly and you'd probably never realize it is a translation. I had to laugh at the following line in The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend: "One of my friends in Spencer does genealogy.... Anyway, she did some research. Found relatives from Sweden. She was really pleased about that. Much better than relatives from Ireland or Germany, I told her. Everyone has relatives from there. Sweden is much more exotic." There are actually more Swedes running around in the Midwest than this line would have you believe (said the woman who is half Swedish and never particularly thought it exotic due to all the others with a Swedish heritage running around.)

It is well written and has well developed, likeable characters. The novel includes letters from Amy to Sara between each chapter, so you get to read what Sara read before she came to visit. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a rather sweet book that starts out stronger than it ends (I thought it was going to be 5 stars until the second half) but I don't want to discourage people from reading it because it's a charming novel that includes light-hearted escapism with some romance. Rather than completely an old-fashioned, quaint tale, it is definitely a book of the 21st century, with progressive characters. There is, for example, a recovering alcoholic, and accepted gay couple. Even bisexuality is mentioned.

What holds me back from a 5 star rating, besides the slowing down and meandering focus in the latter half of the book is that I couldn't fully accept the premise of the story and suspend some disbelief over the practical difficulties that were just assumed. It would never be that easy to just move into a deceased friend's home and live there for two months. Nor does it seem likely that anyone would be so beloved so quickly. I would guess that there are plenty of readers who would enjoy it and ignore my little quibbles.

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

Sunday, January 10, 2016

American Housewife

American Housewife by Helen Ellis 
Knopf Doubleday: 1/12/16
eBook review copy; 208 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780385541039

American Housewife by Helen Ellis is a very highly recommended entertaining collection of 12 short stories.
This one is a winner! Every story is clever, humorous, and capricious - funny and quirky with a dark side. Every story is extremely well written.  The titles often say what the story is about, but perhaps not exactly as you envisioned it. I love this collection!


What I Do All Day: Literally what a perfect woman does all day. "I weep because I am lucky enough to have a drawer just for glitter."

The Wainscoting War:   An increasingly hostile email exchange between neighbors Angela and Gail that begins with the decor in the shared hallway. "
Our hallway looks like a room at the Met that makes schoolchildren cry."

Dumpster Diving with the Stars: A not-so-famous writer agrees to participate as a contestant in a reality TV show.

Southern Lady Code: What Southern ladies mean when they say something. For example: "
Is this too dressy?" is Southern Lady code for: I look fabulous and it would be in your best interest to tell me so. Well, bless your heart...

Hello! Welcome to Book Club:
A book club that is about a bit more than the books welcomes a new, young member. "My Book Club name is Mary Beth. We all have Book Club names at Book Club."

The Fitter: The Fitter has the gift of knowing what bra will give a woman a perfect fit. "
The Fitter is what you call pilgrimage-worthy. He sees you, he sells to you, and you leave with your breasts and your spirits soaring higher than kites. A good bra is fine, but a great bra is life changing."

How to be a Grown-Ass Lady:  A nice, concise guide to help ever woman act like a grown-ass woman. For example: "If you don't like something someone says, say 'That's interesting.' If you like something someone says, say "That's interesting!'"

How to be a Patron of the Arts: Ellis expounds on the 8 steps you need to take. Step 1: Take your husband's money. Step 2: Lose yourself in marriage. Step 3: Make your own mantra. Step 4: Support the literary community. Step 5: Become a gay man's eye candy. Step 6: Buy art. Step 7: Become a muse. Step 8: Develop a signature look.

Dead Doormen:  A portrait of a woman who seems to be perfectly devoted to her husband becomes increasingly more disturbing as you follow her life.

Pageant Protection: An woman who is in an underground railroad, of sorts, that helps young girls escape from pageant mothers is giving instructions to her latest rescue girl. 

"To change you’ll need to do what I say and look like I say and talk like I tell you to talk. No more y’alls. No more mamas. We’re on our way to New York City.
"That’s right, New York City! Lose your accent and no one will know you were a Miss Anything anymore. Don’t and you’ll be on the next bus back to Birmingham. I’m sorry, sweetie, but I’m not going to prison because you can’t quit saying cain’t."

Take It From Cats: How to act like a cat. "If you stand in a kitchen long enough, someone will feed you."

My Novel is Brought to You by the Good People at Tampax: An author's corporate sponsor becomes less understanding and increasingly ruthless when trying to get the author to finish writing the contracted book.

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

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Where It Hurts

Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman
G.P. Putnam's Sons: 1/26/16
eBook Review copy, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399173035
Gus Murphy Series #1

Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman is a very highly recommended detective novel and the start of a new series.

Gus Murphy has had a bad couple of years and his life still seems to be spiraling downward. He was a Suffolk County cop, happily married with two kids and a house on Long Island, but after his son tragically, unexpectedly dies, his life is in shambles. Now he's retired from the force, divorced, and working as a security guard and courtesy driver for a run-down hotel, where he also lives. He's still mourning his son and the disintegration of his marriage and family. He tries to keep busy so he doesn't have to think. Thinking means remembering and Gus doesn't want to remember or think about what he's lost.

When ex-con Tommy Delcamino finds Gus and asks for his help, he tells Gus it is because Gus is the only cop who he ever trusted. Tommy's son T.J. was brutally tortured and murdered, his body left in a vacant lot. The Suffolk County PD doesn’t seem interested in pursuing the case and Tommy wants answers. He offers Gus all the money he has. Gus's first reaction is anger, thinking that Tommy came to him because of his son's death, but later circumstances cause him to start asking a few questions and looking into T.J.'s murder.

What Gus doesn't know until he is already involved in the case, is that he has inserted himself into a case where everyone seems to have something to hide. And it is becoming dangerous, even deadly, for anyone who asks questions or seems too interested in this case. Gus fights through his own personal demons and pain to find out what really happened. His investigation brings him into contact with a cast of bad, bad dudes and his life is on the line.

Where It Hurts is a totally engrossing novel and portends a great new series that I'd certainly follow. Coleman does an excellent job with the character of Gus. He has captured the nature of a man who is in mourning and unable to move on with his life after the tragedy that struck his life until circumstances force him to start thinking and interacting with people again. This is a well written, descriptive novel with a tight plot, and plenty of action and clues to follow. The cast of characters, while long, are easy to keep track of because they are so well defined as individuals. The ending was great, with an eye for future investigations and maybe some healing for Gus.

This is a winner for me and I'm thrilled that it is the start of a new series. Perfect stuck-overnight-at-the-airport book. You won't even know time has passed - but make sure you have another book with you because you're going to be racing through this one!

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of G.P. Putnam's Sons for review purposes.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Shame and Wonder

Shame and Wonder by David Searcy
Random House: 1/5/16
eBook review copy; 240 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780812993943

Shame and Wonder by David Searcy is a highly recommended collection of twenty-one essays that seek connections between wildly different things and ideas.

In this well written collection, Searcy discovers connections between wildly different subjects and while recalling past events.  He is observant, honest, and engaging as he shares his recollections and his often meandering thoughts that are all somehow now interconnected with the event or memory. Many of these essays bring to mind a discussion between friends, where one topic meanders onto another, but there is a connection in the overall theme.


The Hudson River School: Searcy learns of a rancher who used a tape of his infant daughter's cries to lure in and ambush the coyotes who had been killing his lambs.

El Camino Doloroso: An ordinary truck is transformed into a custom car, but sold after an unfortunate accident.

Mad Science:  Remembering "dorky" kids in the 50's who made real models/machines that worked, like a seismograph out of a record player or, more impressively, rockets.

A Futuristic Writing Desk: Thoughts while hiking/climbing on and around the 400 foot high granite Enchanted Rock near Fredericksberg, Texas.

Sexy Girls Near Dallas: While looking online for a new car an ad pops up.

Didelphis Nuncius: A recollection of moving his son and two daughters to a new neighborhood after a divorce and Rocky the dog's skill and proclivity for killing possums. 

The Depth of Baseball Sadness: Reflecting on his childhood in the 50's when it was a requirement for boys to know how to play baseball, Searcy realizes it was a skill he lacked.

Santa in Anatolia: Searcy visits Turkey where the legends of Saint Nicholas originated.

How to Color the Grass: Searcy notes how there is a first time to discover everything as a child as he recalls being taken outside to draw the playground at school.

Science Fictions #1: Reflections on electron microscopy and those who conceived and build the instruments.

Science Fictions #2 (for C.W.): The 100 acre Trinity River Bottoms Homeless Park and Astronomical Observatory is discussed.

Science Fictions #3: A friend, Bob (poet Robert Trammell), goes to live under Mary Kay's Pink Cadillac.

Nameless: What artist Doug MacWithey left behind after his death and the tragedy of a 

Jewish tightrope walker crushed in a fall in Corsicana, Tex., in 1884.

On Watching the Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan Documentary About Lewis and Clark on PBS: musings on the show.

Love in Space: Understanding space as a seven-year-old in the 50's.

An Enchanted Tree near Fredericksburg: Contemplating the oak tree that was growing on the top Enchanted Rock, Searcy's reflects on the hearts people carved into the bark.

Cereal Prizes: Reminiscing about the prizes found in cereal boxes.

Paper Airplane Fundamentals: A proper thinking person in this world needs to know how to make a functional paper airplane.

Three Cartoons: Krazy Kat, December 18, 1918; Koko's Earth Control, animated, 1928; Uncle Scrooge Comics #6, 1954.

Always Shall Have Been: Remembering an incursion into the hilly, lightly forested, empty realm of a ravine in a city while toting weapons, homemade double pea-shooters.

Still-Life Painting: While cleaning out a storage shed with twenty years of stuff, a small painting done by Searcy's mother is found.

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

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

What She Left

What She Left by T.R. Richmond
Simon & Schuster: 1/12/16
eBook review copy; 336 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781476773841

What She Left by T.R. Richmond is a recommended thriller told through emails, blog and diary entries, articles, letters, tweets, Facebook messages, text messages, voice mail, interviews, Spotify playlists, and email.

Anthropology Professor Jeremy Cooke is collecting information, digital and written, about the life of his former student and the daughter of a former lover. He plans to collect all these artifacts of the modern age and piece them together for a book about her life. The young woman of his obsession is twenty-five-year-old reporter, Alice Salmon. Her body was found on a Southampton riverbank and the investigation is trying to determine if her death was an accident, suicide, or something more sinister.

Slowly the real Alice Salmon is revealed in Cooke's collection of information, which is damning and casts suspicions toward Cooke and others. At the same time, the line between research and obsession is blurred. A large part of the story is not composed of what Alice left behind but is told through letters Cooke writes to a friend. Everything Cooke discovers is dated so readers can tell when various bits of information are discovered.

What She Left had a lot of potential. It is well written and I initially enjoyed it. The use of digital clues is quite intriguing - this is what originally captivated me. There are several suspects and a surprise ending, which I didn't see coming. I certainly don't regret reading it and look forward to the next book by Richmond.

The problem I had with the novel was the fact that by the time I was over half way through it all the characters were beginning to get on my nerves and I didn't care quite as much what really happened to Alice. Cooke's letters compose a large part of what began to become grating in the story. Combining his rather whining tone in his (endless) letters with the fragments that comprise telling the story of a life largely through digital detritus, left me removed from ultimately caring what happened.

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

Monday, January 4, 2016

Pawn's Gambit: And Other Stratagems

Pawn's Gambit: And Other Stratagems by Timothy Zahn
Open Road Integrated Media: 1/5/16
eBook review copy, 342 pages
trade paperback ISBN-13: 9781504016223

Pawn's Gambit: And Other Stratagems by Timothy Zahn is a very highly recommended collection of 15 short stories that were previously published in magazines from earlier in Zahn's career. 

Here they are gathered together for the first time in book form.  The opportunity to read this collection was a treat for me. I enjoyed every single story. Admittedly I loved some more than others, as is the case with almost any collection, but there really wasn't a dude in this collection. These are hard science fiction stories with a few fantasy offerings. Every story was an excellent choice for the collection.


The Price of Survival:  The alien ship Dawnsent must scoop up fuel from suns to reach their final new home, but this action will doom life in the solar systems they go through. 1981

The Giftie Gie Us: After the Last War, a Soviet Nuke Bacteriological Barrage, the post-apocalyptic survivors include a disfigured man who offers help to a blind woman. 1981

The Final Report on the Lifeline Experiment: The Lifeline Experiment will end the abortion debate when a man telepathically attempts to answer the question, "When does a fetus become human?" 1983

Cascade Point: A cargo ships captain accepts paying passengers. Is it just a coincidence that the voyage developed problems when a psychiatrist and his patient are aboard? Hugo Award–winning novella; 1983

Music Hath Charms: The discovery of an old alien instrument, the Demonflute, may cause a resurgence in the much-loved-by-teens Thwokerjag music movement. 1985

The President’s Doll: The president's voodoo acupuncture doll has been stolen. 1987

Clean Slate: A wizard sets out to fulfill his oath by opening a mountain pass for an unappreciative town. 1989

Hitmen - See Murderers: The new phone books are out, but one of them isn't your usual phone book. 1991

Protocol: It's market day, but they must watch out for Stryders and follow the protocol.  2002

Old-Boy Network: The extremely wealthy use people as telepathic, personal terminals to insure privacy. 2002

Proof: Oregon's Hillcrest prison utilizes the CURL system (Cognitive Universal Reality Linkage) to control the prisoners, but Angel thinks she knows how to escape. 2004

The Ring: A man comes into possession of The Ring of the Nibelungs, which carries the power to create wealth. 2007

Trollbridge: A N.J. toll collector is a troll, but he may need to look for a new job. 2009

Chem Lab 301: A T.A. has 20 students and Rosie the lab in his chem lab. 2014

Pawn’s Gambit: An addendum to the Alien Research Bureau's 30th Annual Report brings humans to the attention of the director and the decision to test them is approved. 1982

I really appreciated all the stories included in this collection but perhaps liked The President's Doll the least. Some of the stories are humorous, or include humor, while others are thoughtful and point out larger implications to a situation. It has been noted that the protagonists in these stories are mainly men and some of them feel dated. As I was reading I was enjoying the stories, not looking for pc things to object to, and it didn't even occur to me to complain about the protagonists being mostly male. I didn't find the stories dated, per se; many were written in the 80's so sure, some things might feel dated to a much younger reader. For me this is a great collection and most science fiction fans are going to appreciate the stories collected here.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Open Road Integrated Media via Netgalley for review purposes.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

My Name Is Lucy Barton

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Random House: 1/12/16
eBook review copy; 208 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781400067695

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout is a very highly recommended, heart breaking and exquisitely written, restrained book about mother-daughter relationships. For its diminutive size, it provides a substantial emotional impact.

Lucy Barton is in the hospital in NYC recovering for nine weeks due to complications after what should have been a simple appendix removal. Her husband has an aversion to hospitals and doesn't visit as often as he should with their two daughters. He sends a neighbor in with the girls instead. What he does do is call Lucy's estranged mother and pays for her to fly from rural Amgash, Illinois, to sit with Lucy in the hospital. She stays for a week.

Lucy hasn't spoken to her mother in years. Her dysfunctional childhood was one of extreme poverty, harsh treatment, and social isolation. Her family lived in a garage until she was eleven. Her family was the one who smelled funny. They were teased and avoided. Also, just below the surface, we know that her childhood was filled with even more trauma than she gives voice to and that her mother did not protect her children from the actions of their WWII traumatized father or the people around them. Once Lucy was able to escape and attend college, she came to realize just how emotionally and socially isolated and stunted her childhood was.

Lucy's mother declines the cot the hospital staff offered to bring in to the room. She claims she sleeps in cat naps - that she learned as a child you can sleep sitting up when you don't feel safe. She refuses to talk about anything personal. She will not talk about their past or acknowledge any comments about it. She doesn't ask about her granddaughters and seemingly doesn't want to know anything about them or Lucy's life in NYC. Instead her mother causally tells the stories of others from Amgash that Lucy knows. Lucy's mother cannot say, "I love you" to her daughter, who she calls by her childhood pet name, "Wizzle."

Now a writer, Lucy embraces the comment she learns from another writer who reminded her that "...we never know, and never would know, what it would be like to understand another person fully." Clearly, Lucy does not understand her mother, nor does her mother show any desire to understand her. Comparatively, Lucy is much more caring and demonstrative to her daughters, but realizes that she will never understand their reality either.

What My Name Is Lucy Barton captures in short chapters is a woman reflecting on her life. What is shared and revealed is not a chronological, linear biography. It is much more indicative of a person's inner thoughts and reflections, where thoughts jump around from year to year and transcend a timeline. Connections can be made across the years. Somethings are left unsaid, but lurk just around an avoided dark corner.

The writing is pitch perfect and captures exquisitely subtle and poignant longings and wounds that are left unsaid and unacknowledged. The character development of Lucy is amazingly accomplished. This would be an excellent selection for a serious book club discussion because the writing is stunning. There is so much depth to Lucy and, clearly, pain just below the surface.   She is wounded from her childhood, but Lucy is a survivor; she has chosen to embrace acceptance and affirm what is good. 

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

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill: 1/5/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781616203825

Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington is a very highly recommended coming-of-age novel about how love is embodied and embattled in many different relationships.

The novel focuses mainly on Rocky's relationships and is set in the seventies and eighties. The novel opens in 1977 in Spencerville, Virginia, where we meet eight-year-old (Richard) Rocky Askew and his idolized older half-brother, sixteen-year-old Paul. Their father, the Old Man (Richard), is married to a much younger second wife, Rocky's mother. She doesn't trust Paul and question's the Old Man's unfailing devotion to his oldest son, who is considered a long-haired, smoking, drinking "bad boy." None of his mother's misgivings about Paul matter to Rocky, who loves Paul and Paul seems to like having his little brother around too.

Her distrust seems justified when one day Paul picks up Rocky from school and takes him on a road trip, into the woods, and nearly abandons him there. Rocky doesn't learn until later why Paul might have done this. Right after he went back for Rocky and took him home, Paul disappeared with his girlfriend, Leigh. He seems to be gone forever, but Leigh returns a few months later.

The novel then jumps to seven years in the future. Rocky is now a teen. He's keeping Paul's room and his vinyl records safe. In fact he's adding to "their" collection of records. Rocky's also having an illicit relationship with a neighbor's older daughter, Patricia Culver. This relationship sets into motion a course of events that Rocky could never have envisioned. When the Old Man has a stroke, Paul comes home. He seems calm and at peace now, but there is still trouble coming when a double murder occurs at the Culvers.

There is a sound track to this novel and it would enrich your enjoyment if you knew it and knew the time in which the novel is set. Neil Young's album, "After the Gold Rush," is a favorite of Paul and Rocky. Tarkington has a playlist for those who would benefit: Playlist  I, however, know the songs and felt a strong identification with the story and the characters because of this. It also didn't hurt that I was a teen in the seventies so I knew the times and could easily bring up a mental picture of all the scenes.

The characters are all dealing with the devotion and heartache of various kinds of love, or lust, in many different relationships - between siblings, families, and friends. We see the problems that can arise from these interpersonal relationships and Rocky's ability (or inability) to handle them. Tarkington supplies closure for all the threads and quarries in the novel, which I appreciated.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart is exceptionally well written and carefully plotted. This novel was a pure joy to read for the use of language alone. Even though there weren't any great surprises or twists, I found myself totally invested in these characters as they lived through these difficult years of their lives.  This is (surprisingly) a debut novel. Tarkington should expect a strong following if his next novel is as engrossing as
Only Love Can Break Your Heart.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill via Netgalley for review purposes.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Angels Burning

Angels Burning by Tawni O'Dell
Gallery Books: 1/5/16
eBook review copy; 288 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781501132544

Angels Burning by Tawni O'Dell is a very highly recommended fast-paced literary murder mystery in a contemporary setting.

In the opening of Angels Burning, Police Chief Dove Carnahan, and two of her young officers meet Detective Nolan Greely and his team from the state police Criminal Investigations Division at a horrific crime scene in an abandoned rural Pennsylvania mining town. Dove had called in the state detectives right away because she knows she will need help solving this crime. There they recover the body of a teenage girl who was beaten and her body was thrown into a burning sinkhole. Apparently this action wasn't disposing of the body sufficiently for the perpetrators, so an accelerant was used, leaving the top half of her body burned beyond recognition.

The teen is later identified as Camio Truly, a 17 year-old from a severely dysfunctional blue collar family. By all appearances, Camio is the one bright light in the hate-filled Truly family, which has more than its fair share of incarcerations, deaths, and illegitimate births. Camio actually wanted to go to college and make something of her life. The Truly family seems sullen and uncooperative. Camio's mother, Shawna, is apathetic. Her sister, Jessyca, a single mother, seems to care. When the matriarch of the clan, Miranda Truly, shows up, they all stop any pretense of cooperation. Miranda makes it clear that they don't trust Dove Carnahan. She also has no problem throwing the fact into Dove's face that Dove comes from a family background just as sketchy as their family.

It is known in the community by those old enough to remember that Dove's beautiful, promiscuous mother used men to survive. She cared more about herself than her three children, Dove, Neely, and Champ. Dove reflects that "From watching my friends at home with their moms, I learned the most important aspect of a mother’s love was not the intensity but it’s reliable consistency." This consistency was something none of her siblings ever had from their mother. She was murdered when Dove was fifteen. Dove and her younger sister Neely are still very close, but both have chosen solitary lives. Neely trusts dogs more than people. Their younger brother, Champ, took off when he was 18 and they have only heard from him a few times. Now, right during this current murder investigation, Lucky Dombosky, the man convicted of murdering her mother based on testimony from Dove and Neely, has been released after serving 35 years. He maintains that he was innocent and is accusing Dove and Neely of framing him.

This is an extremely well written and very satisfying mystery. The characters are remarkably well developed; the plot is complex and full of surprising insights and discoveries. Dove Carnahan is not perfect, but she came across as a real person. I loved it when she mentioned she got new shoes from Kohl's - with a 30% off. I could picture myself saying that exact thing (only maybe adding on sale with a 30% off and some Kohl's cash.) She recognized and knew the name of the bedding collection from Bed, Bath and Beyond, only because she has just went there. Sometimes it's the little details like this that pop-up in a character's conversations that make them feel like real people, someone you'd know.

I am hoping that Angels Burning is part of a series. It felt like it could be, or that at least there should be another book with Dove and Neely to continue on with some story lines that were left open. Make no mistake, the murder is solved in a very satisfying way with some twists and surprises. However, I would love to spend some more time with Dove and see what happens next in her life. (I read Angels Burning in December, but wanted to make sure it was on the list of books for 2016 when it is released because it will be a contender for a top book.)

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