Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lost at Sea

Lost at Sea: The story of the USS Indianapolis by David Boyle
CreateSpace: 5/6/16
eBook review copy; 126 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9781533131546

Lost at Sea: The story of the USS Indianapolis by David Boyle is a very highly recommended concise account of what happened the the Indianapolis.

Many people were first introduced to the story of the USS Indianapolis by the movie Jaws when Quint talks about being on the Indianapolis: "So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb." In reality it was July 30, 1945, when the Indianapolis went down. It is true that the feeding frenzy on the survivors of the Indianapolis may have been the biggest shark attack of its kind in modern history.

"What makes the story of this American warship so compelling is that it was important in so many ways: it was the flagship of the fighting admiral Raymond Spruance, in 1943-44, during the crucial battles to control the central Pacific; it delivered the key components of the first atomic bomb dropped in anger, in this case on Hiroshima; it was the greatest single loss of life at sea in an American naval disaster at war; it goes down in history as the biggest attack by sharks on human beings ever recorded; and it also became a huge scandal as naval authorities tried to cover-up what had gone wrong, and why the crew had been inadvertently left to die." 

Boyle does an excellent job presenting all the information in this precise, informative guide. It is easy to read and provides the basic information and background needed to understand what happened. Boyle chooses to follow two very different men to tell the history: Captain of the USS Indianapolis Charles McVay and the man who sank the ship, Mochitsura Hashimoto. There is a bibliography if you want to read more, but Boyle's account is a good place to start for those who want the basic information. 

Survivor Harlan Twible is quoted as saying: "We returned to our loved ones, but we were never the same again. Most were markedly changed. Young boys had become mature older men, aged beyond their years. All because of those days in the sea." It is important to remember history and honor those who have fought and suffered for our country.

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

A World Between

A World Between by Robert Herzog
Story Plant: 5/24/16
eBook review copy; 324 pages
ISBN-13: 9781611882179

A World Between by Robert Herzog is a novel for physicists and philosophers - or anyone else who enjoys physics, philosophy, fractal geometry, quantum physics, and politics.

A World Between has a great opening hook that will pull you in immediately: "Parts of the world were disappearing; for a while nobody noticed." But, as the sections of missing world increase, people start to notice and report what they are seeing. The reports are taken by, say the police, but are not taken seriously. Once the right people, at the U.N., notice, then experts are pulled in to quietly figure out why the voids are happening. Susan, a U.N. relief worker who recently returned to the USA after observing the phenomena in Africa, is enlisted to interview physicists who might be able to study the problem and find an answer.

This seems like it would be an exciting science fiction novel. It isn't. If you are expecting a thrill a minute, nail biting sci-fi novel with a complicated plot as parts of the world are disappearing - you will be disappointed. I was expecting this and was disappointed. Once I let go of my preconceived expectations, there is a very subtle beauty in the exploration of consciousness, quantum mechanics, politics, energy, wave energy, etc. etc. There is also an in-depth descriptions of every little detail on activities, memories, and thoughts.

There are parts of A World Between that will likely be appreciated more by those who share the same interests as Herzog in all the above. This is highly recommended for you. Those of us who were anticipating a bit more sci-fi action will just have to be disappointed.

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Last Ride to Graceland

Last Ride to Graceland by Kim Wright
Gallery Books: 5/24/16
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501100789

Last Ride to Graceland by Kim Wright is a very highly recommended road-trip novel of self-discovery. I loved it.

Cory Ainsworth thought she was just going to get her father's hip waders out of the fishing cabin, but she just had to look in the shed, especially after she was repeatedly told not to. What she finds wrapped in bubblewrap is Elvis Presley’s Stutz Blackhawk. While it is shocking, it's not unbelievable since her mother spent a year as a back-up singer for Elvis just before he died. The big question on her mind now is this: is Elvis Presley her father? The inside of the car is a time capsule, with receipts and food bags, which must show where her mother was and where she stopped on her way home.

Cory knows someone besides her dad is her biological father. After all, she was a 9 pound premature baby, arriving seven months after her parents were married. They were married immediately after her mother came home from her year with Elvis. She decides that she is going to drive the Stutz Blackhawk back to Graceland along the back roads, retracing the route her mother took when she left, based on what was left in the car from 1977. Cory learns that her mother, Laura Berry Ainsworth, was known as Honey Bear when she was a backup singer. Her road trip uncovers part of the truth about her mother's past, her one rebellious year that she hid from Cory.

This delightful, smart, touching, and humorous southern novel alternates narrative voices between Cory in the present day and Honey (her mother, Laura) in the past. As Cory uncovers some of her mother's story, or what she thinks is the story, we hear from her mother, back when she was 18, what was really happening during that time. The different voices of the two women and the story they are telling is compelling and engrossing, with sharp contrasts and parallels between the two. Seriously, Cory is a great character.

If you are an Elvis fan this would be a great choice, but I'm not a fan and I enjoyed every minute of Last Ride to Graceland. It is an ultimate novel of self-discovery all wrapped up in encounters with great, fully realized characters and settings. The trip will keep you interested, especially as Cory narrates it. It's also a novel about mothers and daughters - and what they leave behind or try to hide about their past. 

The writing is exceptional and Wright held my rapt attention from beginning to end. This is the perfect summer read!

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

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Game for All the Family

A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah
HarperCollins: 5/24/16
eBook review copy; 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062388292

A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah is a complex family drama where insanity is a close companion.

Justine Merrison has left London for Devon, along with her opera singer husband, Alex, and their 14 year-old daughter, Ellen. Justine, a former TV producer plans to do nothing at Speedwell House, their new estate. Trouble starts when she receives a weird, oddly threatening phone call from some woman who apparently thinks Justine should know her. After a second phone call, it becomes clear that whoever is calling has a lot of information about Justine while she still doesn't have a clue about the identity of the caller.

At the same time her daughter Ellen is writing a murder mystery story for school about the Ingrey family, who, from the story, may have lived at Speedwell House in the past. Justine is concerned about the events in the story and her daughter's frame of mind to be writing about such things. When she talks to Ellen, Ellen is more distraught that her best friend, George Donbavand, has been expelled from school for no good reason. When Justine asks about George at the school, she is told that no such student ever existed.

All the bizarre events meander down a twisted, convoluted trail with several implausible leaps of intuition to eventually interconnect in the end. While Hannah does an excellent job making you wonder about the reliability of Justine as a narrator, she also expects you to follow and accept Justine's implausible connections and impetuous behavior as normal perceptive actions. Many of them aren't. Additionally, there is a whole lot going on that you need to keep straight, including alternate chapters with the story Ellen is writing about the Ingrey family.

I'm in a quandary about this novel. While I basically enjoyed it, it also felt way too long, complicated, and entangled to be credible. No matter how how relaxed the school is, no head mistress of a school would give out any information about a family in the school. Additionally, most people would contact the police as soon as they received the first threatening phone call, and they would have been taken seriously until they had cause to doubt their veracity. In most cases the authorities would be called if a family was behaving like the Donbavands. 

There were more problematic leaps of credibility for me. While I did enjoy the novel, I'm not sure the ending was worth it. For that reason it's only recommended.

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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Beyond the Ice Limit

Beyond the Ice Limit by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child
Grand Central: 5/17/16
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781455525867
Gideon Crew Series #4

Beyond the Ice Limit by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child is a skillful, intelligent stand-alone thriller. While it is a new Gideon Crew novel and completes the story started in The Ice Limit, this is a realized narrative that concludes any unfinished plot points found in The Ice Limit for those who have read the earlier novel, but it is immensely entertaining for anyone who hasn't read the previous adventure.

Five years ago Eli Glinn, the head of Effective Engineering Solutions, led a mission to retrieve a 25,000 ton meteorite from the Isla Desolación, located at the very tip of South America by billionaire Palmer Lloyd. The mission was a disaster resulting in the loss of the meteorite, which sank two miles down to the ocean floor, along with the ship, the Rolvaag, and the death of 108 crew members. Now Glinn believes that the meteorite was, in fact, an alien seed from deep space, and the previous mission to retrieve it, in fact, planted it right where it wanted to be. Now it is growing into some strange alien plant. Glinn recruits Gideon to destroy it using a nuclear weapon because he believes that if it continues to grow, it will destroy the planet.

This is another addictive, electrifying adventure that will satisfy both fans of Preston and Child and science fiction devotees. There is plenty of riveting action, suspense, and imminent peril at every turn. There are also some surprises along the way that have me dying to share an alternate title/quip that I simply can't say because it will ruin part of the suspense. This is a page turner and I enjoyed every part of it.

Preston and Child excel at writing intelligent novels with great character development and exciting, complex plots. Beyond the Ice Limit is a wonderful addition to their repertoire. I actual have The Ice Limit, but haven't read it yet, but that didn't hamper my enjoyment and pleasure at reading this sequel because it really does stand alone. I still plan to read The Ice Limit.  Beyond the Ice Limit is very highly recommended and would be a great summer vacation read.

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

In the Clearing

In the Clearing by Robert Dugoni
Thomas & Mercer: 5/17/16
eBook review copy; 355 pages
ISBN-13: 9781503953574
Tracy Crosswhite series #3

In the Clearing by Robert Dugoni is another winning third book featuring Seattle homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite.

Tracy is asked by Klickitat County Sheriff Jenny Almond to look at a cold case - a cold case from 1976, 40 years ago, that was handled by her late father, Sheriff Buzz Almond. At that time Buzz was a deputy and it was the first case he handled. He was never satisfied with the investigation and kept the file at his home. Tracy agrees to look over the case and see what she can find.

One night in 1976 high school senior Kimi Kanasket was working at the diner. She called her parents to let them know she was walking home, as she normally did, but this time Kimi didn't come home. Her parents called the sheriff's and Buzz responded. There was something about the case and the final ruling that never sat well with Buzz. Tracy calls in some experts to help her see what Buzz saw, or what may have been overlooked in 1976.

In the present, Tracy and the team at the Seattle PD are looking into the murder of Tim Collins. It looks like his estranged wife shot him, and she is saying she did, but all the clues may not be adding up to her story. Things become more questionable when her son comes into the station and claims he shot his father. Tracy is involved with this case but leaves much of the work to the boys as she takes some time to look at the case of Kimi Kanasket.

Dugoni is an engaging writer who skillfully manages the plot development while keeping interest in both investigations. Tracy's character is well developed (after reading the previous two novels) in this police procedural. My Sister's Grave and Her Final Breath are the previous two books in the series. I enjoyed both of them immensely. But, that said, don't let the fact that this is the third book featuring Tracy Crosswhite stop you from reading In the Clearing. This can hold up as a stand-alone novel, although I would predict that you will want to read the first two, especially if you appreciate a strong female main character.

I will admit that the final verdict in both of the cases was not entirely surprising this time around. Also, since Tracy is more focused on the cold case from 1976, that case also seems to be the more interesting of the two cases. This is highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Don't You Cry

Don't You Cry by Mary Kubica
Mira: 5/17/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780778319054

Don't You Cry by Mary Kubica is a highly recommended psychological mystery.

In the opening Quinn wakes up to her roommate Esther's alarm in the apartment they share in Chicago. The problem is Esther is gone. Apparently she left via the fire escape and left her window open. Quinn becomes increasingly alarmed about Esther's disappearance and begins to wonder if something sinister was planned as she discovers more and more clues and makes many assumptions based on those clues.

Alternating chapter feature 18 year-old Alex. All his friends have left for college, but Alex is still working at the diner and taking care of his alcoholic father. He is intrigued by a mysterious new girl who has started coming to the diner. He nicknames her "Pearl" because she is wearing a pearl bracelet. Alex continues to watch, and sometimes follow Pearl.

Kubica continues to alternate between the two narratives with each chapter until things merge at the end. This tale is more psychological mystery and treatise on making assumptions rather than a fast-paced thriller, per se. It is not full of nail-biting suspense, but it is still compelling. Part of the appeal is Kubica's talent. The writing is excellent, descriptive and believable. She does an admirable job establishing the atmosphere, handling the two narrative threads in the plot, and developing her very different characters. It just seems to be taking the action along at a little slower pace.

In the end I enjoyed Don't You Cry quite a bit. It's a decent mystery and enjoyable entertainment. Fans will like it and it should be well received by readers new to Kubica. (Try The Good Girl too.)

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

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Are You Here For What I'm Here For?

Are You Here For What I'm Here For? by Brian Booker
Bellevue Literary Press: 5/10/16
eBook review copy; 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9781942658122

Are You Here For What I'm Here For? by Brian Booker is a very highly recommended exceptional collection of seven stories. With an acute eye for detail, intelligent presentations, and an accomplished style, Booker delivers thoughtful selections that will be appreciated by short story aficionados. Several of these stories deal with sickness, contain a sense of foreboding, mention natural disasters, and the trials of childhood. They all explore the emotional lives of fragile people.

Brace for Impact: A teenage boy visits a girl's house with a friend, and has an encounter with her mother, who survived a plane crash.
A Drowning Accident: During an encephalitis epidemic in a small town, a boy talks to a tramp about his book of lucky numbers based on what you dream.
Are You Here for What I’m Here For?: "It was 1985 and there were two possibilities: Gina Maisley was dying, or Gina Maisley was not dying." Gina and her husband visit a health resort.
The Sleeping Sickness:  Nothing is as it seems when a disease researcher takes a train trip.
Here to Watch Over Me: A father heads up to a mountain cabin to look for his son.
Gumbo Limbo: A young blind boy finds a friend, a sea creature, and is allowed to save/keep it in a bottle.
Love Trip: A teenager is sent to a therapeutic boarding school that follows dubious practices.

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


Relativity by Antonia Hayes
Gallery Books: 5/3/16
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501105074

Relativity by Antonia Hayes is a highly recommended novel featuring a gifted 12 year-old boy living in Australia.

Ethan Forsythe is gifted, a savant, in his understanding of physics and astronomy, but less keen in his understanding of interpersonal relationships. He lives with his mother, Claire, and has never met his father, who left when he was an infant. As Ethan gets older, he increasingly wonders about his father. When an event sends him to the hospital, he learns more about why his father left and his parents divorced -  a secret Claire has kept.

Simultaneously, his father, Mark, is back in Sidney because his father is dying. Ethan intercepts a letter Mark drops off for Claire and makes contact with him by sending him years of father's day cards he saved after making them at school. Mark and Claire do meet, although she keeps it secret from Ethan and it is a tension filled event.

This well written debut novel tackles some timely issues. Bullying plays a pivotal role in the novel, as does the effects of an absent father and a mother keeping secrets about their past. The validity of another headline-grabbing incident is questioned, but I can't say too much, because it is an major, important plot point. The narrative is told through the alternating viewpoints of Ethan, Claire, and Mark, exploring each character and their thoughts.

The ending made this book worth the time, but getting there wasn't easy through the middle of the novel. Expect lots of discussions about physics and astronomy as well as metaphors utilizing physics. It would behoove a reader to like and understand physics and science before reading Relativity, otherwise it could become a bit too much. Additionally, all of the dialogue doesn't flow quite as smoothly as one would like. It might have helped to downshift the incessant physics discussions and focus more on propelling the plot forward. A solid 3.5 stars for me.

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

The Raft

The Raft by Fred Strydom
Talos: 5/3/16
eBook review copy; 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9781940456607

The Raft by Fred Strydom is a highly recommended clever postapocalyptic novel.

"The day every person on earth lost his and her memory was not a day at all. It couldn’t be slotted in a schedule or added to a calendar. In people’s minds, there was no actual event - no earthquake, tsunami, or act of terror - and thus whatever had happened could be followed by no period of shock or mourning. There could be no catharsis. Everyone was simply reset to zero. This moment of collective amnesia could not be understood within any context because it was the context itself that had been taken away. There was nothing anyone could do to repair themselves because they didn't know what was broken." (location 1348)

On Day Zero civilization collapsed because no one had any memories of relationships, how everything worked. From the confusion and aimlessness left behind a new movement arose, the Renascence. The Renascence collected people and sent them to distant, random collectives/communes. Families were separated because the concept had been lost. There is a mysterious group in charge of the communes who monitors the individuals collected there, and their dreams.

Kayle Jenner is in a commune located on a random beach. The trouble is Kayle remembers his son, Andy. Andy appears in his dreams and Kayle's one goal is to find Andy. But how does one do that when he has no clue as to where Andy has been sent and how to find him in this world without a set frame of reference, where little is understood or remembered. All Kayle knows is that he must escape and find Andy.

The characters are well developed - multifaceted and complicated. Due to the nature of Day Zero, the recollection and memories shared by characters may be dreams or real. Characters tell stories/dreams to each other that may have meaning. You can't tell and won't know until later... maybe. It's not a puzzle to be pieced together. It is many puzzles all mixed together without context that must be sorted to come to some semblance of an answer. This is one of those novels that you have to stick with, through everything, even if you feel confused or have many more questions than answers. The ending will be worth staying the course.

Strydom does an excellent job presenting his very complex, carefully plotted debut novel. The writing is incredible - descriptive and thoughtful. I like the advice one reader gave, to be patient while reading The Raft. There is action, but much of it is more cerebral. The ending will have you shocked and then very thoughtful. Some readers might follow my thoughts and say "But, wait, didn't... and what about..."

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

Thursday, May 12, 2016

X Child Stars

X Child Stars: Where Are They Now? by Kathy Garver, Fred Ascher
Taylor Trade Publishing: 4/15/16
eBook review copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781630761134 

X Child Stars: Where Are They Now? by Kathy Garver, Fred Ascher is a highly recommended guide that answers the titular question. The entries are short and succinct, which allows many, many entries and coverage of a large number of TV shows. The book covers forty years of television history, starting with early shows from the 1950's, such as "I Love Lucy" and "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" through to more recent series from the 1980's, like "The Wonder Years," "Growing Pains," and "Rosanne."

Each entry has how many seasons, the number of episodes were made, the network, if it was in black and white or color, the debut date and the ending date. This is followed by a brief description of the show, some entries have a cast photo from the show, and then a concise summary of what life held for each the child stars afterward the show ended. There are some stories of great success and accomplishments later in life, like Ron Howard. There are many stars that left acting and went on to pursue other activities as adults. And there are some tragedies. Many children struggled with making the transition after their show ended and turned to drugs or alcohol. Many handled the transition with much more ease.

Many of these childhood stars know each other, so there are anecdotal references and personal comments about some of the individuals. Kathy Garver was Cissy on "Family Affair" so she knows the subject and many of the people included in this guide. This is a fun, quick look at many child stars from a forty year span. Do expect brief summations; don't expect current photos or in depth entries.

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Kathryn Kelly

Kathryn Kelly by Barbara Casey
Cardinal Publishers Group: 2/1/16
Trade paperback; 196 pages
ISBN-13: 9781939521491

Kathryn Kelly by Barbara Casey is a recommended historical biography of the gun moll Kathryn Kelly, wife of Machine Gun Kelly.

If you have any interest in reading about the criminal activity during the prohibition era, then this would be a good addition to your collection. While many books feature the men involved, there were women who were also career criminals during this time, like Kathryn Kelly, aka Cleo Lera Mae Brooks.

Casey quickly covers the background of both Kathryn and George and highlights their early forays into various illegal activities, with bootlegging being high on the list. It is likely Kathryn who encouraged George to expand his activities to include bank robberies and kidnapping. This escalation eventually resulted in their capture, arrest, and trial.

In 1933 George "Machine Gun" Kelly and his wife Kathryn Kelly went on trial in Oklahoma City for the kidnapping of and holding for $200,000 ransom Oklahoma businessman Charles Urschel. This was a first major case solved by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, now that kidnapping was a federal crime. It was also the first time a trial was allowed to be filmed in a federal courtroom, which made the defendants stars, of a sort, as the nation watched.

Kathryn Kelly includes 16 pages of photographs. As is my wont, I was pleased to see included an epilogue summarizing what happened to others involved in the kidnapping and trial, notes of interest, a bibliography, and index.  This is a well written and researched biography, although it is not exhaustive, it does succinctly provide accurate historical information about Kathryn Kelly.

It is worth noting that in my copy, on page 13, last paragraph mistakenly spells Kathryn as "Katherine." It's an easy mistake to make, but one that should have been corrected. It is also worth mentioning that the font size on this biography is larger than normal which is good news if you like larger print books but a bit disconcerting for the rest of us, as is choosing a different font style for the table of contents. These are little quibbles, but, nonetheless, they do stand out.

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

iRead Books Tour Schedule


Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Pier Falls

The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon
Knopf Doubleday: 5/10/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385540759 

The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon is a very highly recommended collection of nine short stories. Most of them feature protagonists who are desperately alone, yet seeking a connection to others.

Contents include:

The Pier Falls: A pier falls after the rivets, which should clamp the joint between two weight-bearing girders on the western side fail, resulting in death and disaster. The disaster is carefully described and as time progresses the number of casualties rises.

The Island: A Greek princess is left abandoned on an island by the man she called her betrothed. "He is the only man she’s ever loved, and he has dumped her like ballast." The narrative weaves myth and fairy tales into a dream-like story. 

Bunny: An unhappy woman forms a relationship with a recluse who is a morbidly obese (518 pounds) man. 

Wodwo: A family Christmas gathering is interrupted by the arrival of a mythical wild man who has his own agenda. "A family Christmas is a guaranteed generator of unease." 

The Gun: A 10 year-old boy remembers the afternoon his friend took his brother's gun out for them to shoot. 

The Woodpecker and the Wolf: A group of astronauts establish a base on Mars. " 'Sofanauts' was the word they coined, people willing to be fired into space on top of a 700-tonne firework then spend the rest of their lives playing Scrabble and cleaning toilets." 

Breathe: A daughter returns home after being in America for years only to find her mother living in filth and her sister resentful of her return. 

The Boys Who Left Home to Learn Fear: An expedition explores the Amazon jungle with disastrous results. 

The Weir: A man forms an unlikely bond with a much younger woman. 

The stories do a wonderful job showcasing Haddon's talent and ability to tell a compelling story utilizing several different genres. I enjoyed most of the stories immensely. There are several surprises and some stories are depressingly dark. Wodwo was probably the least successful story for me.

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

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Last Good Girl

The Last Good Girl by Allison Leotta
Touchstone: 5/3/16
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476761114

The Last Good Girl by Allison Leotta is a highly recommended topical novel of suspense.

This is the fifth book in a series that features Anna Curtis, a federal sex crimes prosecutor based in Washington, D.C.. She is visiting her sister and niece in Detroit when she is called into help with an investigation by her former fiancé, Jack and is once again working with her friend in the FBI, Agent Samantha Randazzo.

It seems that freshman college student Emily Shapiro has gone missing. Emily just happens to be the daughter of the college president. She also has recently filed rape charges against Beta Psi Fraternity member Dylan Highsmith, the son of the state's lieutenant governor. Dylan is caught on security tapes following Emily and is arguably the last person to see her.

In-between chapters following Anna and the investigation, as well as other characters, is the transcripts of the vlog, video log/diary, Emily was keeping for a class. The diary tells Emily's story while the investigation uncovers more information about Dylan, his actions, the frat parties, Emily's case, and the university's response. Anna is also asking herself questions and must make some choices about her uncertain personal life.

The Last Good Girl is well written and the plot moves along at a good pace. The suspense of the investigation and what they are discovering will keep you reading. There are several surprises along the way too, especially the ending. This would be a great airplane book. It'll hold your attention.

While I like the character of Anna, I did feel like I was missing some vital background information jumping into this fifth book in the series. The plot lost nothing, the suspense was there as the investigation was underway, but I was lacking the extra information about the character's relationships. Now, this is easy to simple overlook, but it's always good to know that the book is fifth in a series before you start it.

I'd also have to agree that Dylan is an over-the-top stereotype/parody: the bad frat boy who is rich and arrogant with a well-connected, powerful family. It's not that it can't be true, but he's just so.... everything.

The actual "ripped-from-the-headlines" plot consists of the statistics for rape on college campuses and problems relating to fraternities. Living in a town with a large university means that these problems aren't just statistics for my community. It's a real problem. But for those of us who went to college many years ago, we know it has also been a problem for years. I'd like to think, from what I have read, that most colleges and universities are taking rape and sexual assault very seriously now, which makes this novel a bit unfortunate, as far as the depicted reaction of those at the college.

The same can be said about problems with fraternities. Frats don't seem to getting away with what this frat did anymore. That's not to say that there can't be problems, but, again, I think most colleges try to keep a closer eye on things now.

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

I Let You Go

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
Penguin Publishing Group: 5/3/16
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101987490

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh is a highly recommended novel about a tragic accident and secrets.

In the opening of I Let You Go Jacob, a 5-year-old boy, is killed by a hit and run driver in Bristol. His mother let go of his hand, for just a moment, and he dashed ahead of her, into the street. The police have a headline-grabbing complicated case they must try to solve with very few good clues and no good witnesses. People are weighing in with their own opinions, saying that the mother should not have let go of his hand. If she had held his hand, Jacob would still be alive.

In the meantime, Jenna Gray, a sculptor, is haunted by Jacob's death. She runs away to live in a rented cottage in the remote coastal town of Penfach, Wales. It is Jenna's plan to start over here, in this remote area where no one has heard of Jacob and the horrific hit-and-run accident that changed her life. She wanders the cliffs and shoreline, using photography as a way to help her recover.

The Bristol CID team headed by DI Ray Stevens, and assisted by long-time friend and investigator Stumpy and rookie DC Kate Evans. The team is doing all they can to try and dig up new information that will lead them to the hit and run driver.  It doesn't help the investigation that Jacob's mother has disappeared, unable to handle the criticism that she is partially to blame for his death because she let go of his hand. 

Chapters in the first part of the novel alternated between what is happening in the investigation, and of the personal life of Ray Stevens, and Jenna's life. Then the novel throws a big mind-bending deviation half way through. Once you start down that path, expect several other twists and complications before you reach the end. I can't say anything else because experiencing the shocking twists are what make this novel worth reading.

I Let You Go is a well written, complex who-done-it with plenty of layers to the plot. Mackintosh does an excellent job in this debut novel. The plot twists are surprising, but not contrived, which increases the tension and should hold your rapt attention through to the end. The character of Jenna and Ray are well developed; they are flawed characters with a depth that lends them realism. For me, the only kink in an otherwise exemplary novel was the relationship between Ray and Kate.

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

Britt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
Atria Books: 5/3/16
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501142536

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman is a highly recommended novel about a set-in-her-ways and taken for granted unhappy woman who makes a change in her life.

Britt-Marie, 63, likes to keep a clean, orderly house. Her cutlery draw is always properly arranged. Baking soda is her go-to cleaning and housekeeping aid, along with the window cleaner called Faxin. Britt-Marie is outspoken, socially awkward, and straightforward. She knows she is called a "nag-bag" and doesn't particularly care. She has also left her husband of 40 years, Kent, after he has had a heart attack and smells of perfume and pizza. She recognized but choose to ignore his unfaithfulness for years, as long as his shirt was put right into the washer when he got home because it smelled of perfume and she doesn't use perfume.

Britt-Marie talks to the employment counselor and finds herself as the caretaker for the Recreational Center in the very small town of Borg. Borg has been hit hard by the financial crisis, even though Kent says it is over. Britt-Marie does her best to clean and meets some of the citizens still left in the town, which includes soccer-playing children, a visually challenged former soccer player, the owner of the only business still open in town, and the local police officer.

Backman does an excellent job developing the flawed character of Britt-Marie. Her thought processes and mannerisms are clearly captured and some of the inner turmoil she is dealing with and the mistreatment she has endured is revealed. In the end she is a very real woman who has been handling her circumstances by cleaning. At first she is not a lovable or even very likeable character. Her discovery of herself is very touching and I did find myself finding Britt-Marie more endearing, in her prickly out-spoken way.

I adored Backman's My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry. While I liked this novel very much, for me it wasn't quite as wonderful as My Grandmother, a novel where Britt-Marie first appeared as a character. It's not that I have anything in particular that I dislike; it's simply that for all of the things done right, there are a few drawbacks. It would help if you like soccer. I don't dislike soccer, but I'm neutral on the sport. The ending was one of the biggest drawbacks for me. It felt a wee bit contrived and too pat for me. Perhaps I'm too much of a cynic for this sweet book.

And it is a sweet book. It is charming and It is good feelings and hugs and chocolate all around, even for those who seem to be unlovable. It is how one person can make a difference. It encourages us to overlook a person's flaws and accept them as they are. You will feel Britt-Marie's pain and you will be sending her warm wishes and sending good thoughts in her direction. Even though there are parts that are heartbreaking, it is, at its core, an uplifting, hopeful book. 

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

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Father's Day

Father's Day by Simon Van Booy
HarperCollins: 4/26/16
review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062408945

Father's Day by Simon Van Booy is a very highly recommended story about a father and daughter that follows two timelines.

The novel opens as Harvey, a little girl, is remembering scenes around her as a very young girl. Then we jump twenty years ahead into the future when Harvey at age 26 is living in Paris, and planning a special week of activities for her father, who is coming to visit her over Father's Day. Harvey has a box of gifts that symbolize some important moment in their lives together. The last gift she has will free her father from a secret he's been keeping for years.

Harvey's parents were been killed in a car accident when she was six and she ends up living with her father's estranged older brother, Jason. Jason is a disabled ex-con and a recovering alcoholic who has anger management issues. He reluctantly becomes Harvey's father - and rises to the occasion. These chapters follow the building relationship between Jason and Harvey and notes important events in their lives together as Harvey grows up.

The alternating present day chapters take place in Paris and follow the father and daughter as they enjoy each others company and Harvey plans special activities for them to enjoy. The affection Harvey feels for Jason is palatable; clearly he has been a great father for her. The alternating chapters telling their story as she grows up show what Jason has done and sacrificed to care for Harvey. She didn't fully comprehend some of the things he did until later, as an adult.

Father's Day is a wonderful, emotionally honest, poignant novel about a unique family. And yes, I did shed some tears as I was reading. Jason is trying very hard to be a good father, but, it becomes clear that he perhaps learned how to be a good father from being a good big brother. The bond between Jason and Harvey is as strong as any father/daughter relationship. The two build a relationship and a future.

The writing is incredible and perfectly captures the relationship between the two. I loved Van Booy's The Illusion of Separateness and this adoration continues with Father's Day.
Again, it feels like each word, each sentence has been very carefully planned. The language and sentences are seemingly simple, but express a world of emotion. (I like the idea that this story is reminiscent of a fable.) This is another thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent novel that you need to savor, as the depth of the relationship between the two slowly unfolds and builds.

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


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wilde Lake

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman
HarperCollins: 5/3/16
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062083456

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman is a very highly recommended, complex family saga that alternates between current events and those from over 30 years ago.

Luisa "Lu" Brant has just been elected the state's attorney of Howard County, Maryland, a position her father previously held many years before. After her husband suddenly dies, Lu and her two children move in with her father in Columbia, Maryland. Even though she is now independently wealthy and doesn't need to work, she feels like she must work. Her ambition, competitive streak and work ethic have always been personality traits.

When Rudy Drysdale, a homeless man, is accused of murdering a woman in her apartment, Lu takes the case on. She ends up being pitted against her old boss, Fred, the man she defeated for the position of state's attorney, Frederick C. Hollister III. 

While preparing for trial, living in her childhood home raises all sorts of memories, especially about an incident which involved her idolized older brother, AJ, and his group of friends. Lu wasn't an especially well-liked child, so she managed to follow the activities of her brother's group of friends. With her small family circle just consisting of her father, AJ, and herself, it seems natural that she would know many of the details of a case her brother was in when he was 18 and she was 10. He was acquitted, but now Lu is questioning some other incidents that happened back then, and wondering if her memories are reflecting what really happened.

Chapters alternate between the events of Lu's childhood years before and the present day case. There are plenty of unanswered questions in both cases. Lu realizes that, as an adult, she now has the perspective to understand more of what really happened years before and why all the events took place. She is also discovering facts about the current case that open up new questions.

Lippman expertly raises the questions that what we remember, and how we perceive those memories may be influenced not only by our maturity and understanding, but how the times in which we live can influence the way we view certain events. The past isn't always how we remember it, and our memories can change with new knowledge. Additionally, is justice best served by raising questions about the past or is it better to leave the past alone?

This is an excellent novel. It really is part crime novel, part dysfunctional family saga. The plot is complex as the stories carefully unfold. The story alternates seamlessly between the past and the present. As more and more information is revealed about both times, the facts begin to add up and more questions are raised. There are no pat answers. The emotions and secrets add up, while the tension rises. 

As always, Lippman does a superb job developing her characters and presenting the complicated moral issues they are facing. As a character, Lu has an intelligence and psychological depth that is incisive and keen. She is a real person, with faults and scares. She is also struggling while dealing with moral/ethical choices that reach back to her childhood, before she would have had any true knowledge of the circumstances behind the events she remembers.

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

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Doll-Master

The Doll-Master by Joyce Carol Oates
Grove/Atlantic: 5/3/16
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802124883

The Doll-Master by Joyce Carol Oates is a highly recommended collection of six short stories.  The stories in this collection have recently been published in other places and have been gathered together for this book. All of the stories deal with psychological terror and suspense, of a disquieting and disturbing variety, rather than a horrific gore-fest.

The six stories include:
The Doll-Master: A man began a doll collection as a child when his cousin died of leukemia.
Soldier: A man is on trial for shooting a teenager.
Gun Accident: Hanna house sits for a teacher.
Big Momma: A girl thinks she likes another family better than her own.
Equatorial: A woman suspects her husband wants to get rid of her.
Mystery, Inc.: A young man tries to buy up a bookstore.

The stories were uneven for me - while I liked most of them to various degrees, I didn't care for Soldier at all.

As mentioned by others, Oates'
signature move is to end in medias res, or in the middle of things. This abruptly ending or stopping the story with no resolution will either work for you or it won't - and it may depend upon the individual story. But, Oates is an incredibly gifted writer, with the ability to establish clear settings and great character development, and so this collection is worth your time if it only serves as a way to see if you like her short stories.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of  Grove/Atlantic for review purposes.