Thursday, March 31, 2016


Armadillos by P. K. Lynch
Legend Press: 4/1/16
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781785079603

Armadillos by P. K. Lynch is a highly recommended story of a teenage survivor.

Fifteen year old Aggie has been told by her older sister JoJo that they are "subs" in a "sub" family. It seems that what that means is that JoJo and Aggie must accept the sexual abuse by their father and brother on a weekly basis. On some deep level she knows the abuse is wrong, but knows no other life and JoJo seems to think they need to just accept it. One day something propels Aggie to walk away. She leaves the house and just keeps walking, escaping the abuse as her mother and other brother have done.

As a teenage runaway, Aggie engages in dangerous behavior, hitchhiking and then extorting money from her rides. She makes her way to a city and aligns herself with a group of misfits through Freak, another teen runaway she met on the streets. Freak brings her home to a squat, a house being inhabited by a group of misfits. This quasi-family of bohemian squatters represents a safe place and become a sort of dysfunctional family for Aggie. But Aggie keeps having disturbing dreams and worries about what is happening to JoJo. She wants to find a way to help her sister escape too.

Freak is not the friend that Aggie thinks she is, however. Things become more complicated and Aggie suddenly finds herself involved in a dangerous situation not of her making from which there is no good way to escape.

In terms of content, Armadillos is not an easy novel to read. It is heartbreaking - opening with a family where chronic, systematic sexual abuse is the norm. Then Aggie walks away with nothing and no plan... when what the world may offer her could be just as bad as what she's leaving. I couldn't help but wish Aggie found a shelter for abused women and children, that the information was available to her that there are safe places she could go where she would be believed. And that officials - law enforcement, hospitals, etc., don't represent the enemy. I desperately wanted her to tell her story to someone who could help her.

This is a very well written debut novel. Even though the content is tragic, Lynch accurately describes the setting and captures dialect of Texas. The plot flows well and the narrative is compelling. There are a few plot points that felt too... convenient. While I took note of them, I overlooked them because the writing is so good, expressive and lyrical. Lynch's writing combined with the storyline created an urgency that made it imperative to keep reading to find out what happened next.

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The History of Great Things

The History of Great Things by Elizabeth Crane
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062412676

The History of Great Things by Elizabeth Crane is a quasi-autobiographical novel that features a dual narrative between a mother and daughter. In this recommended novel a mother and daughter narrate each other's lives using real stories or various alternate stories. This would be a good choice for those who enjoy experimental literature.

Lois Crane is the mother; Betsy (Elizabeth) Crane is the daughter. This chronicles the strained and complicated relationship between mother and daughter. As one tells the other's story, the two also argue/editorialize what the writer of that part is doing or how it could be done better. Some stories the mother and daughter share are real, based on facts. Others involve speculation and made up episodes as they reinvent each other's lives to fill in blank spaces.

Lois Crane leaves her husband to pursue her career as an opera singer in NYC (as did Elizabeth Crane's mother, Lois). She left young Betsy for her father to raise until she divorced him and insisted that Betsy needed to be with her mother, a decision she regretted almost immediately. Betsy Crane stumbles after college, taking dead end jobs and becoming an alcoholic. She does insist that she always wanted to be a writer, and eventually sobers up and does so.

Crane does a good job in the narrative expression of her character's inner voices - this is a daughter and her deceased mother writing each other's life story, after all. She doesn't shy away from  the complications in a mother/daughter relationship, and deals with grief and forgiveness. I found the beginning of The History of Great Things interesting and it held my attention, however, that interest started to wane as the novel progressed. The voice of the mother and daughter are not always as distinct as their individual stories, therefore occasional back tracking is required to establish whose voice is whose during their commentaries/inner dialogue. The ending becomes even more confusing with several, alternate endings. While I appreciate the creativity and the experimentation this novel represents, in many ways it might have been better had Crane went with a memoir.

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

Monday, March 28, 2016

Miller's Valley

Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen
Random House: 4/5/16
eBook review copy; 272 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780812996081

Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen is a highly recommended family drama.

Mimi (Mary Margaret) Miller tells the story of her family's life in Miller's Valley in rural Pennsylvania. Her family has lived in the valley for generations. She says of her hometown: "When I got older I realized that the majority of people in Miller’s Valley were the most discontented kind of Americans, working people whose situations hadn’t risen or fallen over generations, but who still carried a little bit of those streets-paved-with-gold illusions and so were always annoyed that the streets were paved with tar. If they were paved at all."

After the prologue, her narration begins when she is eleven. She sells corn by the side of the road in the summer and eavesdrops via the heat vent on her parent's discussions. Mimi knows that the government is trying to buy up the farms in the valley before declaring eminent domain in order to build the dam they have been planning. She is a bright girl who is interested in science and she knows that there is more going on than the scientists are telling people. Her mother, a nurse, is a practical no-nonsense woman who realizes that it is inevitable that they will eventually have to leave while her father wants to stay on his family's land no matter what. In the opening we know that Mimi's mother says about flooding the valley, “Let them,” she said. “Let the water cover the whole damn place.”

Miller's Valley is about the inevitability of eminent domain, but primarily about Mimi's role in her family and her life. In the novel she is looking back at her life, family, and friends during the 1960's and 70's. Mimi's two older brothers are polar opposites. Edward, the oldest, is a good student who leaves town, goes to college, and marries. Her brother Tommy is a charming underachiever who is their mother's favorite, but a decided prodigal. He enlists and returns a changed man.  Her Aunt Ruth, her mother's sister, is an agoraphobic who lives in a nearby house on the property whose inability to leave the house raises the constant ire of her mother. Mimi has a serious relationship with a questionable boyfriend and shoulders more than her fair share of responsibilities at a cost to her.

The writing is insightful as Mimi observes the people around her. There are family secrets, uneven friendships, and questionable loyalties as Mimi navigates her way through to adulthood. At the end of the book Mimi sums up her life to date, neatly covering decades, making Miller's Valley a sort of memoir about Mimi's coming of age during that time.

The writing is quite good and Quindlen has some keen insights into human behavior as she negotiates Mimi recollections and actions during this troubled time of maturation, turmoil, and questions. Not everything has a resolution, much like life itself. but there is a sense of satisfaction that the story has been told.

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

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Hush, Little Bird

Hush, Little Bird by Nicole Trope
Allen & Unwin: 4/1/16
eBook review copy; 384 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 978-1760113728

Hush, Little Bird by Nicole Trope is a very highly recommended novel about two very different women who share a tragic connection.

Birdy has recently been transferred to the Farm, a minimum security prison. Her nickname was Fliss, short for Felicity, but she was given the nickname Birdy because she now cares for the finches at the Farm and Birdy is the only name she likes now. She's has kept her anger a secret for a long time, especially from the counselors, but she silently has an agenda of what she will do to Rose once she is released. Birdy may not have to wait because it looks like Rose is going to be coming to the Farm and Birdy will be able to have her revenge sooner than she expected.

Rose, the wife of a minor celebrity, has been convicted of a shocking crime and has been sentence to serve her sentence at the Farm. Hopefully a retrial will set her free. Her lawyer and daughters are sure of that. Rose is struggling with the circumstances that have sent her to the Farm and the truth of what really happened. Rose has kept some secrets of her own

As Rose is assigned to work in the vegetable garden, Birdy is nearby, in the aviary, and she is keeping an eye on Rose. Birdy recognizes Rose immediately, but Rose doesn't recognize Birdy. Of course this could be because Rose last saw her years ago, when Birdy was a still child. Rose should have protected her then and kept her safe, just like Birdy keeps her own daughter, Isabel, safe. Now Birdy's sister Lila cares for Isabel. Birdy doesn't want her mom to see her.

These characters are fully realized and emotionally complex individuals. The chapters alternate between the stories of Birdy and Rose. Trope slowly reveals more and more facts as each woman tells her story. They have very distinct voices. Birdy is an individual with special needs. Her voice is literal and simple, but truthful. Rose is a fifty five year old woman who came from meager means but has lived a life of privilege for years. Her voice is mature, but emotionally fragile and insecure. It becomes clear in her account that she has been deceiving herself and turning a blind eye to the truth for years. 

This is a heartbreaking novel. The writing is incredible and the alternating stories are perfectly conceived, paced, and composed. There is anguish and an overwhelming compassion for the characters once their back stories are fully realized. Adults do sometimes fail to protect children. Monsters do hide in plain sight. It is wretched that sometimes we deceive ourselves and fail to see the truth in front of our faces. Trope covers a difficult subject with compassion and sensitivity in Hush, Little Bird.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Allen & Unwin for review purposes.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Crooked Heart of Mercy

The Crooked Heart of Mercy by Billie Livingston
HarperCollins: 3/8/16
review copy; 272 pages
trade paperback ISBN-13: 9780062413772

The Crooked Heart of Mercy by Billie Livingston is a very highly recommended novel about broken, disenfranchised people trying to recover. I'm not saying this gem is an easy book to read. It's not. The characters are heartbroken, suffering, grieving, depressed, and fragile working class people who must find a way back from an unthinkable accident. The Crooked Heart of Mercy is a great title for an unforgettable book.

Ben and Maggie were happily married, toiling away at their jobs to make ends meet and take care of their two year old son, Frankie. Maggie cleaned houses and ran errands for elderly women. Ben drove a limousine at night for wealthy tourists.  When the unimaginable happens and Frankie dies by accident, they are left to cope with their brokenness and grief. Understandably, this puts a strain on their marriage and the two separate while trying to find a way to mourn Frankie through their grief and depression. To add to their individual stress, they both have siblings who need help from them and Ben has a father in failing health who needs assistance.

At the beginning of The Crooked Heart of Mercy Ben wakes up in a psychiatric hospital in a dissociative state after what appears to have been a suicide attempt. He can't even say that he is Ben. Maggie knows she needs to try and get some work again, but it is hard to not break into tears over the littlest things that remind her of Frankie. If these two can recover and salvage their marriage, they will have plenty of scars to add to their already existing scars.

It could be easy to harshly judge these broken people, sitting from a safe, secure, stable situation. From my perspective, and perhaps that is based on age and life experiences, that critical judgement would be unwise. Mercy is required. A measure of sympathy needs to be extended as these people strive to come to terms with grief, mourning, and how hard it is to forgive. Life can be fragile, accidents happen, people make mistakes, and sometimes their mistakes appear foolish. But the death of a child is a grief from which it is said you never really recover.

Livingston does an excellent job telling this poignant story in the alternating voices of Ben and Maggie, exploring both their present and past. The characters of Ben and Maggie are both well developed. Ben's voice, in the beginning, can be challenging to follow because he is in the dissociative state and won't admit he is Ben or come to terms with everything that has happened. His early chapters focus on his sessions with his psychiatrist. Maggie's voice, while often heart breaking, is also funny, resilient, and determined. Only the most merciless could make it through Maggie's description of feeling Frankie in her lap without shedding a tear and feeling great sympathy and compassion for her.

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


Monday, March 21, 2016

The Worthing Chronicle

The Worthing Chronicle by Orson Scott Card
Endeavour Press: 2/26/16 (eBook)
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780441918102

The Worthing Chronicle by Orson Scott Card is a recommended, maybe highly, 3rd book in his original Worthing series. This title was originally published in 1983 and is now available as an eBook.

Lared is a sixteen year old boy who was there, along with his family, to experience the Day of Pain, the day everyone in his small village lost the outside protection of what some called angels and now experience pain. It is the day his grandmother, who had been dead and buried for a year, was found dead again in her bed. There were three deaths that day, a noteworthy occurrence anyway, but it is unbelievable that one was a strong man and another was a child. They both should have had years to live. Whatever happened that day, now people can experience anger, pain, minor cuts, burns and major injuries. Whatever protected them has left.

The Scribe who was staying at their family's inn and kicked by his mule is also dying. Before he dies, he gives his books to Lared, an amazing event and one that is mocked by his mother. It is also the day that the mysterious Jason and Justice arrived on the planet and approached Lared. The visitors speak to Lared and his little sister in their minds. Only Jason learns their language. As Jason works alongside Lared, he instructs Lared that Justice will send him a story in Lared's dreams, Jason's story, that Lared is to faithfully write down.

There are interesting ideas here that could be expounded upon to make a more complete novel, but The Worthing Chronicle itself reads more like a collection of short stories that are amassed to make a novel. It might make a difference if you were to read the whole Worthing Saga rather than this third installment of the story. Some of the stories in the second half are more engaging than others. A solid 3.5 stars. It is interesting that those who know the Book of Mormon can see a heavy influence from it on this novel.

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

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Just Fall

Just Fall by Nina Sadowsky
Ballantine Books: 3/22/16
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780553394856

Just Fall by Nina Sadowsky is a so-so debut thriller that tells the story by jumping between "Then" and "Now" chapters.

The novel opens with our beautiful, desirable, blond newlywed, Ellie, killing a man. Apparently she needed to kill him to save her dashing but mysterious husband, Rob, who she loves more than is prudent, or certainly beyond common sense, and decency. On their wedding day, immediately after the ceremony, Rob told her that he is a killer. Subsequently, some men showed up at the reception to beat Rob up, take him hostage, and force Elle to kill a man if she wants to see Rob again.

She is sent to St. Lucia to kill the man in the opening. In St. Lucia there are also children who are going missing, which is consuming the thoughts of a local policeman, Lucien, even as he is sent to investigate the man Elle killed.  And then more stuff happens now and we learn more about the past of both Rob and Elle.

Elle and Rob are not very sympathetic or engaging characters. This really isn't remedied when we learn more about their past in the "Then" chapters. The character development that does take place never brought me to the point where I cared what happened to these people. In fact, I actually cared less about their well-being. They lacked credibility as characters and were both annoying and unbalanced. What I was curious about was more of Lucien's story and what was happening to the missing boys.

This is a quick read, so you can quickly jump from one absurd plot twist to another. Don't expect a resolution to all the plot elements and be prepared for frequent changes in the points of view as chapters flip back and forth without following any time sequence.

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

The Last Girl

The Last Girl by Joe Hart
Thomas & Mercer: 3/1/16
eBook review copy; 386 pages
ISBN-13: 9781503952089
Dominion Trilogy #1

The Last Girl by Joe Hart is a recommended dystopian thriller.

Zoey is not the last girl, but one of 7 girls who live in a well-guarded compound called the ARC run by the NOA (National Obstetric Alliance). They have all been taught by Miss Gwen about the mysterious dwindling birthrate of females that began years ago and the plague that hit and wiped out most of the population outside the walls where they are kept protected and safe. They are kept there for the common good of all. When the girls turn 21 they are told that they will be released and reunited with their parents.

Zoey doesn't believe the propaganda they are being told, but she has nothing concrete or firm to base her suspicions on, besides a well-tuned skepticism and suspicion that all is not as it seems. The girls are under heavy, armed supervision, and the guards and men who care for them are mainly creepy, sadistic control freaks with perverse rules to subjugate the girls, who are their test subjects. Zoey longs for freedom and knows that she must find a way out soon because she is just a few days away from her 21st birthday. She is certain that the girls are being lied to and knows that she will not be meeting her parents. Zoey is confident that what awaits her via those who run the NOA will not be for her good, or even for the common good of all.  Zoey must discover if she has the inner strength to escape.

I really wanted to love The Last Girl based on the description so I was disappointed that the writing is uneven, at best. The actual technical writing ability is good, but things fall apart in the narrative with the plot development.  There were simply too many questions raised as I was reading about various facts and choices in the storyline. I kept telling myself to ignore the nagging questions I had about things and just see where the story heads to next. That is good, because I was invested enough in the story to keep reading, but the fact that questions were cropping up is telling.

Chiefly, and the first question most readers will encounter, is the poor, misogynistic treatment of these girls.

So let's think about this. (It's not a spoiler since this all happens early.) Okay, these girls are supposed to be humanities last hope for the survival of the species. They, the NOA, are looking for the keystone, the girl who can have female babies. Pretty grim stuff, considering they have only 7 girls to pin humanities survival on. So, do they keep the girls happy? Do they make sure they feel loved, cared for, important? Do they make them comfortable so they want to stay and help humanities chance for survival?

No. They treat them like prisoners. The girls are threatened with punishment; the guards are there to keep the girls in line. The girls sleep in cells, have just two sets of clothes, and attend indoctrination classes with a shrew who hates them. Some of them remember being taken from their parents. They don't get to have a last name. They are simply living test subjects. You might not really care about them, but have some smarts and at least act like you do so they are more compliant without the armed guards threatening them.

Now, this is not an isolated question about the plot, there are others but I don't want to include spoilers. Additionally, the uneven part is found in the fact that Zoey is clueless on some things but not other things that she should be clueless about, and there are several very convenient and predictable occurrences.

I did finish The Last Girl, which counts for something. Despite the fact that there were several points were I was ready to set it aside, there were more places where I wanted to know what happened next and see some questions resolved. This was a good airplane book. It will keep you engaged but you won't cry if you lose or misplace it.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Thomas & Mercer via Netgalley for review purposes.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Newspaper Boys Always Deliver

Newspaper Boys Always Deliver by Joseph Gulesserian
CreateSpace Publishing: 1/5/16
trade paperback; 346 pages
ISBN-13: 9781507898628

Newspaper Boys Always Deliver by Joseph Gulesserian is a very highly recommended look at cultural and historical changes since the 1960's. He organizes his commentary similar to how newspapers are organized into sections. The book includes photographs, and notes for each chapter are found at the end of the book. Major sections include: Front Page News; People; Arts and Entertainment; News; Sports; Lifestyle; Business and Technology; Editorial and Comment. This is the story of some of the cultural events and vast changes that have occurred in the last fifty years.

Front Page News cover why our lives are organized like sections of a newspaper. The People section starts in 1966 and the swinging sixties, when major social upheaval and changes were happening. Then we reach Arts and Entertainment where Gulesserian undertakes an in-depth humorous discussion of what the 1965 Batman TV show was really about, looking back at it as an adult in their midlife, with some comparison to present day gangbangers and more on each of the villains.

The News section examines the July 22, 1969 moon landing and the events that led up to it. The Sports section first talks about hockey (after all, Gulesserian is Canadian) and the 1972 game where Canada defeated the Russians. After that lessons learned from pro-wrestling are shared.

The Lifestyle section is a treatise about the music of the times, but especially disco. Yup, disco. It was the swan song of the baby boomers and, according to Gulesserian, allowed the democratization of glamour. This means that disco allowed people with little means to join a fabulous lifestyle and participate. In this discussion of music, he also mentions the cultural impact of the Ed Sullivan Show.

The Business and Technology section is a exposition about the innumerable advances in technology and social media in our daily lives over the last fifty years. The changes from our lives in the 1960's to today are so numerous and varied that unless you have lived during all these years you simply won't/can't understand the differences. You will understand what Gulesserian is writing about if you've lived life without a calculator, only had a land-line phone with a cord and no answering machine, wrote letters, remember when the first home computers were out, had a car with a starter, and remember a time before there was the internet and Google.

Finally, the Editorial and Comment section thoughtfully considers the changes that have occurred over the last fifty years.

I really enjoyed reading Newspaper Boys Always Deliver. Much of my appreciation for it and enjoyment is firmly based on my age and that Gulesserian and I are contemporaries, therefore many of his experiences and memories closely resembled my own. When you've lived the history and the changes it is very different from reading about them. Even the way I use a cell phone/smart phone is exceedingly different from how those who are younger than me use theirs. I am not as tied to it, as dependent upon it. I can easily set it aside and check messages/texts when I have time.

I laughed about the whole Batman discourse. I remember watching the show mostly for the action and the "POW" "BAM" fights. Perhaps I'd look at it differently where I to watch any episodes today. Additionally, while the disco section was wildly entertaining, I'll have to correct Gulesserian in that not all of us were able or had a place to actively participate in the glamorous disco lifestyle. There was no outlet or place to experience disco dancing in my neck of the woods in the late 1970's.

It is true that some strong opinions are stated in the book, but nothing outlandish or unconventional. There should always be room for people to express their opinions and point of view. I found it refreshing to read Gulesserian's assessment of the current PC movement. Because of this, I simply had to include a couple of great quotes from the Business and Technology section:

"The world seems to be turning many of the social media tools into some type of digital supermarket tabloid, where rhyme and reason and critical thinking are being tossed aside to make room for innuendo, groupthink, and diluted rhetoric since.... various other sites provide hashish for the mind in a spiralling debacle of idleness." (page 267-268)

"And the intellectual immaturity of the politically correct lacks the ability to credibly attack one's ideas and as a result degrades themselves by attacking the person, with cheapened media cliches." (page 268)

So as opposed to debating someone's ideas, the politically correct smear a person's character, while hypocritically espousing the values of democratic thinking, and this is what makes them so dangerous. And by manipulating all the multiple media outlets into fear, they can conduct a witch hunt against anyone who does not think like them, like some type of digitally enhanced renaissance of McCarthyism. So, in many respects, the politically correct and their clan of social architects are the new McCarthyism."(page 269)

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

Tour Schedule and giveaway link

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Perfectly Broken

Perfectly Broken by Robert Burke Warren
Story Plant: 3/8/16
advanced readers copy; 270 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781611882186

Perfectly Broken by Robert Burke Warren is a highly recommended novel about dealing with marriage, parenting, friendships, uncertain futures and devastating secrets.

Grant Kelly is currently a stay-at-home dad who used to be in a successful rock band. Now he cares for 4 year old Evan while his wife, Beth supports them. They are struggling, though, and deep in debt. When Beth loses her job,  they have to accept the offer from their friends, Trip and Christa, and they leave NYC to move into an old farmhouse that their friends own in the Catskills.  Their friends are living nearby and recently adopted a daughter.

Grant and Beth are already going through a hard time and the change to rural NY state don't make their lives easier. Grant is still suffering from depression and low self-esteem. He's had to halve his meds due to their cost and may have to discontinue them. There doesn't seem to be an end in sight for his malaise. His dreams have been left by the wayside and he is unable to talk about his mental suffering.

Their friend, another former rocker and godfather to Evan, Paul Fairchild, has succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. He and his wife, Melora, don't have children and Paul adores Evan. He helps Grant move and offers his unconditional friendship, but Grant resents his success, which stand in sharp contrast to Grant's failures.

When Beth leaves for a job interview in the city, Grant is left on his own with Evan and his worries about his marriage. Trip and Christa are no better off emotionally, although they have the financial security for which Grant and Beth yearn. Their adopted daughter has behavioral issues and both parents resent her. At this point the novel takes a turn that will be very difficult emotionally for some readers. (I'll admit I just didn't see where it was necessary, but since I wasn't consulted...) The events left me disturbed and tired of these individuals who need to grow up.

But I kept reading and a very rude awakening that will lead to growing up may be where they are headed, with even more emotional turmoil involved. I also wanted these people to open up and honestly share what they are thinking with their spouses. The anguish and raw emotions from all the characters overflow into a major train wreck.

This is an excellent debut novel that portends even more accomplished works in the future. The quality of the writing is admirable. The characters are well developed and nuanced, especially Grant in the depiction of the emotional baggage he is carrying and needs to let go. They are real, flawed individuals. The writing makes it easy to read; some of the actions and emotions make it difficult because of their brutal honesty.

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


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

No One Knows

No One Knows by J. T. Ellison
Gallery Books: 3/22/16
eBook review copy; 368 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781501118470

No One Knows by J. T. Ellison is a recommended mystery with an unreliable narrator.

Aubrey Hamilton's husband, Josh, disappeared five years ago under mysterious circumstances and has now been officially declared legally dead by the state of Tennessee. Aubrey was the main suspect, but after she was acquitted, the investigation seemed to stall, leaving Aubrey with many questions and no answers about where Josh is and what happened to him. He disappeared the night they were attending friends' bachelor and bachelorette parties at a hotel - leaving few clues and a large amount of blood at their home. They were childhood sweethearts and adored each other, so perhaps that is why Aubrey holds out hope that he is alive and believes she has saw Josh from time to time over the years.

Josh's mother, Daisy, always hated Aubrey. She is the one who pushed the state to declare him legally dead. Then Daisy is planning to fight Aubrey for the 5 million dollar insurance policy payoff. Aubrey says she doesn't want the money; she just wants Josh back.

When Aubrey meets Chase Boden the day Josh is declared dead, something about Chase's walk and mannerisms makes her think of Josh and she falls for him. Aubrey has believed Josh is still alive for years, but perhaps it is time to let go of that hope and start anew. But, when new information comes to light about Josh, Aubrey doesn't know what or who to believe.

Ellison tells the story from multiple points of view and different time periods in the characters' lives, jumping back and forth from the present day to some point in the past. As the novel  progresses, it becomes clear that Aubrey is not a reliable narrator and the truth lies in the clues she provides.

The writing is very good and the character of Aubrey is well developed. All of the flashbacks were, perhaps not necessary and made sections of the novel seem overly long. The story drew me in at the opening, but then I'll have to admit that I had several niggling questions and doubts that kept creeping in about the plot. To be honest, I figured out or suspected the plot twists ahead of time and will admit to some eye rolling over the convenience of some of the details and coincidences.

These doubts were set in place early on for me. Chase's appearance and Aubrey's immediate attachment to him was too convenient and I found it hard to believe that a woman who is pining away for her husband would suddenly jump into bed, drunk or not, with a stranger on the day her beloved missing husband is declared legally dead. Future events make this even less likely. Then there were times I'd be saying to myself, "Wait, didn't she say xyz before and now it's abc." Sure Aubrey's an unreliable narrator, but I still want firm details while you make the context fluid for your unreliable narrator. 

I did read the novel to the end, though, which counts for something. If you just want to read a well written suspense novel and not follow facts or details too closely, this will fit the bill.

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

Saturday, March 12, 2016

50 Great American Places

50 Great American Places: Essential Historic Sites Across the U.S. by Brent D. Glass
Simon & Schuster: 3/15/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9781451682038

50 Great American Places by Brent D. Glass is a very highly recommended guide to 50 places that have cultural and historical significance in the USA.

Brent Glass is the director emeritus of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, so this is an expert guiding you to the sites included.
He writes "I envision 50 Great American Places as a contribution to historical literacy. Historical literacy is more than simply knowing the names of leaders or when famous battles were fought. It involves understanding the context of historical events and how events are connected. Above all, history is a resource for understanding our own lives and times. Sustaining a democratic society in America is not possible without citizens who know and love its history. We cannot participate fully in democracy without historical knowledge."

This is a great guide and would be a perfect addition for any excursion planned across the USA. The essays for the 50 places are organized chronologically. All of them are a few pages long but full of pertinent information about and the historical or cultural significance of each place and, sometimes nearby places. Included at the end of the information are websites listed for each site and nearby places of interest. Glass also points out that "The National Park Service (NPS) websites are uniformly reliable and good resources for information about national parks, battlefields, historic sites, memorials, and monuments. The NPS sites also include good maps and updated information about programs and events. Websites generally provide current information about hours of operations, fees, and construction that might limit access to certain sites or collections."

The list of places by state includes the town or city in which the site is located or, in some cases, the nearest town to that site. The site mentioned on this list is the major subject of each essay.
ALABAMA Huntsville/Saturn V Rocket
ARIZONA Tucson/Mission San Xavier del Bac
ARKANSAS Little Rock/Little Rock Central High School
CALIFORNIA Burbank/Warner Bros. Studio La Jolla/Salk Institute Palo Alto/Silicon Valley San Francisco/El Presidio at the Golden Gate
COLORADO Cortez/Mesa Verde
CONNECTICUT Hartford/Nook Farm
DELAWARE New Castle/New Castle Court House Museum
FLORIDA Orlando/EPCOT Celebration Maitland/Research Studio
GEORGIA Atlanta/Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
HAWAII Honolulu/Pearl Harbor
IDAHO Jerome/Minidoka
ILLINOIS Collinsville/Cahokia Mounds Chicago/World’s Columbian Exposition
INDIANA New Harmony
KANSAS Lawrence/Allen Field House Manhattan/Kansas State University
LOUISIANA New Orleans/Jazz National Historical Park
MARYLAND Baltimore/B&O Railroad Museum
MASSACHUSETTS Boston/Freedom Trail Salem/Witch Trials Memorial
MICHIGAN Dearborn/Ford River Rouge Complex
MINNESOTA Edina/Southdale Center Bloomington/Mall of America
MISSOURI St. Louis/Gateway Arch
MONTANA Crow Agency/Little Bighorn Battlefield
NEBRASKA Red Cloud/Willa Cather Foundation
NEVADA Boulder City/Hoover Dam
NEW JERSEY West Orange/Edison’s Laboratory
NEW MEXICO Santa Fe/Palace of the Governors
NEW YORK New York/Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty New York/Grand Central Terminal Seneca Falls/Women’s Rights National Historical Park
NORTH CAROLINA Asheville/Biltmore House Kill Devil Hills/Wright Brothers National Memorial
OHIO Hudson/Village Green
OKLAHOMA Claremore/Will Rogers Highway
PENNSYLVANIA Gettysburg/Gettysburg National Military Park Philadelphia/Liberty Bell Pittsburgh/Forks of the Ohio
RHODE ISLAND Pawtucket/Slater Mill
SOUTH CAROLINA Charleston/Fort Sumter National Monument
SOUTH DAKOTA Pine Ridge/Wounded Knee Memorial
TENNESSEE Nashville/Ryman Auditorium
TEXAS San Antonio/The Alamo
UTAH Salt Lake City/Temple Square
VIRGINIA Charlottesville/Monticello Yorktown/Virginia Peninsula
WASHINGTON Richland/Hanford B Reactor
WASHINGTON, D.C. The National Mall WISCONSIN Spring Green/Taliesin
WYOMING Yellowstone National Park

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

The Remnants

The Remnants by Robert Hill
Forest Avenue Press: 3/15/16
eBook review copy; 272 pages
trade paperback ISBN-13: 9781942436157

The Remnants by Robert Hill is a unique novel about endings in a small, insular community. It is recommended, highly for the right reader.

New Eden is an isolated community, cut off from interaction with the outside world, where the citizens live in a collective milieu with a miasma of secrets. This isolation has resulted in intermarriage and inbreeding that has resulted in a plethora of hereditary oddities among the generations of the limited families living there.

It begins with True Bliss, who is 99 and will be 100 the next day, planning the birthday tea she has every year with Kennesaw Belvedere, who is turning 99. Hunko Minto is planning to put this tradition to an end. "On every tenth of September since the molten lava cooled, True Bliss served tea and saltines to Kennesaw Belvedere in the parlor of her home on the occasion of his birth, and this was the day, and that was the deed, and he, Hunko Minton, was going to be the blast that would finally end that repast."

As these citizens are introduced, we meet more of the residents and hear the history of the community, the families, intermarriages, secrets, grudges, deaths, and oddities. Now and again the social taboos broken and the downright weird customs and behaviors of the citizens can become overwhelming. I enjoyed The Remnants at the beginning, but as it continued, I'll have to admit that it all became a bit too much for me. At the opening you aren't sure where this community is or why the citizens have these oddities. They could be survivors from some nuclear disaster or perhaps they are truly a remnant population after some other disaster.

The saving grace of the novel is the writing, which is mellifluous and descriptive, but also feels antiquated. At times Hill creates a vocabulary of his own making for many custom and actions in the novel, which requires the reader to carefully follow along to deduce what he is describing or what is happening.

The questions about why and where are what kept me reading, but there were times it did cross my mind to set The Remnants aside because of the parts I did not enjoy. So, it is worth reading but it is not a novel I'd recommend for many people. I'd highly recommend it for the right reader - literary, unconventional, dauntless, and tenacious - to reach the end.

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

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Opposite of Everyone

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson
HarperCollins: 2/16/16
eBook review copy; 304 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780062105684

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson is a very highly recommended novel about a tough lawyer and what made her so tough - her past.

Paula Vauss was named Kali Jai after the Hindu god of change and destruction when she was born to her teenage mother, Kai (Karen), who was serving time in a juvenile detention center in Alabama. Her grandmother, who was going to care for Paula, was sure she heard "Paula Jane" so that is what was written on Paula's birth certificate. Paula grew up with her young free-spirited mother, who delighted in telling young Paula tales from Hindu mythology as the two aimlessly moved from town to town as Kai went from boyfriend to boyfriend. Kai taught Paula how to tell a story, and Paula uses that skill today.

Now a tough divorce lawyer, Paula has been estranged from her mother for 15 years. The incident that changed their relationship and put a wedge between the closeness they once shared happened years ago, and Paula has been trying to make amends for her actions by sending her mother monthly checks for years. Now her mother has returned her check with a cryptic note written on it, saying that she is dying. Then, Paula, who has kept an emotional distance from others and refuses to form any attachments beyond the one to her cat, has a surprise literally come to her that will change her world.

As the present day drama unfolds, Paula recounts her mother's stories and recalls memories from her past. All the barriers she's built around herself for protection may have to be torn down if what she suspects is true. And then there is her former lover, current private investigator, Birdwine. Does she really want a relationship with him again, beyond a professional connection, or is one even possible.

I was totally engrossed in the story and the mysteries that drive the plot forward. Paula is a hard, tough-as-nails woman who has made herself that way because she believes it's what she needed to do to survive. She has major, glaring flaws and shortcomings in her personality and modus operandi, but I liked her. I wanted Paula to succeed in her personal life as well as in her profession. Ultimately this is a story of an unconventional family and forgiveness, and the power of mythology to transform the ordinary into something magical and compelling.

As always, Jackson's writing is incredible - smart, funny, poignant. She describes scenes and characters with a seductive ease and charm that allows the plot to flow beautifully, propelling the story forward even if the scene or the truth about a character is hard or ugly. That is part of the sublime appeal of all of Jackson's novels. Her characters are real people, with flaws and big problems, but you care about these wounded souls. You will want what's best for them and for them to reach some measure of peace in the end.

The Opposite of Everyone is good. Very, very good. It will grab you right at the start and you will be racing to the end to see what happens next. (I blame Jackson for some lost sleep last week.) Sure this is a stuck-overnight-at-the-airport book, but it's also a pull-it-out-and-read-at-every-opportunity book and a take-a-little-longer-lunchbreak book. I love everything Jackson has written and The Opposite of Everyone is no exception.

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


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Two If by Sea

Two If by Sea by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Simon & Schuster: 3/15/16
eBook review copy; 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501115578

Two If by Sea by Jacquelyn Mitchard is a highly recommended novel about a grieving man, a young boy with a special ability, and horses.

Frank Mercy lost his pregnant wife and her entire family when a Christmas Eve tsunami hit in Brisbane, Australia. He was part of the volunteer search and rescue team, so even while grieving, before he knew if his wife or any of her family had survived, he set out to help rescue others. During his efforts he saves a little boy, age 3, and calls him Ian. Frank believes that Ian has a telepathic gift to make others, animals and people, calm down, relax and "be nice." Ian quickly attached himself to Frank and needs to be by him all the time. 

An American expat, Frank decides that he is going to return to his family's horse farm in Wisconsin. He sidesteps the law and takes Ian with him, telling people a tale of how they are vaguely connected and having a lawyer friend acquire proper paperwork. They arrive in the USA, along with a horse named Glory Bee and a former jockey and set in training horses at the family farm.

Frank and Ian are healing and settling into life cautiously when Frank meets Claudia, a psychiatrist and champion equestrian, and they quickly form a close connection as she trains with Frank for the Olympics. Franks family and Claudia have notice that Ian has an unexplained ability. It also becomes clear that someone or a group of people are after Ian. Frank knows that Ian's gift could be used for evil or personal gain by unscrupulous people. He doesn't know who the people are who want Ian, but he clearly knows that they are watch and nearby. 

This is a solid 3.5 for me. The story is engaging, and the writing is great. Mitchard does an excellent job developing her characters describing the setting. I did have several niggling complaints about elements of the plot. These might not bother other readers, or you might be able to set them aside, but they were bothering me. Often I can overlook improbabilities and suspend my disbelief, but I just couldn't do that here. 

The first is Frank getting the paperwork to take Ian to the USA without using the same lawyer and his ability to handle sketchy paperwork to legally adopt Ian. I don't want to think it would be that easy to take a child out of a civilized country. That he did so bothered me all the way through the novel, even though I realize Frank had good intentions. 

The second bothersome point was that Two If by Sea felt like it wanted to be a love story after great tragedy, with lots of horses involved in the plot. But Ian and his gift were added to the plot to create a tension and suspense. It never felt like all the elements gelled for me into a cohesive whole. I was never fully convinced that Ian's "gift" was all that necessary to the story. Plus his age, 3, seems a bit young for this great gift to be so proven that bad guys are after him. Just think about a 2 or 3 year old and let the idea of a psychic ability to make people and animals "be nice" sink in for a moment and you'll likely feel the same way I did.  

The story would have made more sense to have Frank rescue Ian, adopt him, try to make a new life in the USA, train champion horses, and become a new family with Claudia. A different story, but the direction that Two If by Sea felt like it wanted to take, except the supernatural psychic bits were added. 

I did read the whole novel. It is well written and I wanted to know what happened next, thus the 3.5, or rounded up to 4 because of all the things Mitchard did right.

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

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Travelers

The Travelers by Chris Pavone
eBook review copy; 448 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780385348485

The Travelers by Chris Pavone is a highly recommended twisty espionage/spy laced plot that is one big adrenaline rush.

Will Rhodes is a travel writer for a well-known, long established magazine, Travelers.  He is recently married to Chloe, who used to write for Travelers, and they are trying to fix up a dilapidated house that they inherited from her father. From all appearances they are like many other struggling young couples - with the exception of Will's job that sends him traveling all over the world. 

During one assignment he meets a gorgeous woman, Elle, who claims to be a travel writer from Australia. She seduces him and, despite his protests that he is a married man, he succumbs to her wiles. Bad choice. Elle goes on to use his infidelity as a way to recruit him to do some undercover espionage work for her. She claims she's with the CIA and he was a purposeful choice because: “You travel around the world, in and out of embassies and palaces and exclusive events, with press credentials. With the impunity that comes from an ironclad legend. How many people in the world have similar access and cover, do you think? A couple dozen?”

Will's assignments become increasingly fraught with danger and he's struggling with the lies he is telling Chloe, as well as his boss, Malcolm Somers. But Malcolm and Chloe seem to have a few secrets of their own. Additionally, surprise surprise, it doesn't appear that Elle is being totally honest with Will.

Pavone provides plenty of incentive to keep flipping the pages in this fast-paced, action-packed thriller. There are enough twists and turns and globe-trotting to keep you glued to the pages to see what happens next. Of course, you may wonder, as I did, why Will seemed to be so thick-headed and missed the clues that were right in front of him. This is another novel about secrets wrapped up in secrets, like the much loved Expats (which I liked better than The Travelers in a book-to-book comparison).

The plot is complex and there are several characters you'll need to follow at the beginning. I'd suggest just going with the flow and things will become clear later on - but then other things will become more complex. Pavone does an excellent job setting up the plot and moving this novel along at a furious but smooth pace. The quality of the writing is great There are parts where you will need to suspend disbelief and, honestly, you may not like any of the characters in The Travelers, but it will provide exhilarating escapism with enough twists and reveals to keep you glued to the pages.

This is a perfect stuck-over-night-at-the-airport book, but you will find yourself keeping an eye on your fellow travelers.

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

The Knack of Doing

The Knack of Doing by Jeremy Davies
Black Sparrow Press: 1/15/16
eBook review copy; 170 pages
ISBN-13: 9781567423227

The Knack of Doing by Jeremy Davies is a highly recommended well written debut collection of thirteen short fiction. The collection "runs the gamut from parody to tragedy and back." Also expect some historical along with present day settings in the stories.

Forkhead Box:
Contemplating the life of a man named Schaumann, the state executioner who just happens to breed mice in his spare time.
Sad White People: Reflections on the hipster couple, Chris and Chris, who have only been apart twice since they've been together. "Chris had never in her life met anyone else with Chris’s odd laissezfaire dependence."
The Terrible Riddles of Human Sexuality (Solved): Questions are raised and answered; the questions and answers tell the story of a
The Dandy’s Garrote: "
Editor’s note: The author was asked to provide a blurb for the debut novel of an old and dear friend. He delivered the above text. It was returned."
Ten Letters: A gullible mother with plans for her two children travel on a Cunard liner.
The Excise-Man: The excise man is out making inquiries and bringing men to justice.
Kurt Vonnegut and the Great Bordellos of the Danube Delta: "
Do you remember Kurt Vonnegut? Mr. Vonnegut has left us eight rules for writing, in the introduction to his short-story collection 'Bagombo Snuff Box.'"
The Sinces: Every sentence begins with "Since you went away...."
On the Furtiveness of Kurtz: Thoughts on a man named Kurtz. "
It has been much remarked upon. By those who have observed him. He’s sitting. He’s crouching. Crouching as though expecting a blow. Or else: As though recovering from a blow."
Illness as Metaphor: A man is unhappy that his mother has made his illness public. "Such things are only for family consumption."
Henrietta the Spider: Henrietta, who tenaciously
holds on to all perceived minor slights, is slowly going mad.
The Knack of Doing: "
This is the story, he says, unclean thing, abomination of desolation, spitting a little into the mouthpiece. He was thinking, he says to his once-wife, that he, of the two of them, is the angrier: the medal goes to him, his anger is like unto the sun in its endless fizzle. His anger is on the table, she should weigh, she should measure, she can imagine it as a sort of a demipenteract; which by the way is a five dimensional hypercube, whereas her complaints are, as it were, strictly 2D."
Delete the Marquis: Set in the nineteenth century, this is the story of a ghostwriter told in numbered points that are not presented in numerical order.

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