Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Harrows of Spring

The Harrows of Spring by James Howard Kunstler
Grove/Atlantic: 7/5/16
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802124920
A World Made by Hand Series #4

The Harrows of Spring by James Howard Kunstler is the highly recommended fourth and final volume of the World Made by Hand series. After the world has experienced numerous catastrophes and plagues (before this book) the future now resembles the nineteenth century.

Spring is coming to Union Grove, a small town in upstate New York, which could be a good thing, but there are problems. Food is scarce in the spring and this year is going to be even more challenging since plantation owner and feudal landlord Stephen Bullock is no longer going to have some of his men take his boat down to Albany for goods. The whole town has depended upon his men making this trip and them paying him for the things they need but can't provide for themselves. Stephen can be a little moody.

After his travels, Daniel Earle is back and is starting a paper in town, Brother Jobe and his industrious group are still around too. More disturbing is the group of anti-establishment, hyper-liberals known as the Berkshire People’s Republic who are camping outside of town and have sent a representative to the town. "As the concluding novel in the series powerful, moving tale of insurrection, survival, and what it means to be human."

This is an entertaining conclusion to the series. Those who have not read the previous books might want to before jumping into this fourth and final volume. I don't think they stand entirely on their own without the scaffolding provided by the previous volumes. Clearly it reads like a novel set in the past. The roles of women in this society also reflect past duties, which may bother some readers. The Harrows of Spring reflect social critic Kunstler's views in real life. Perhaps not the best written of the series, I'm rating on the series as a whole.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Grace: A Bigger View of God's Love by Randy Alcorn
Harvest House: 7/1/16
eBook review copy; 224 pages
ISBN-13: 9780736967464

Grace: A Bigger View of God's Love by Randy Alcorn is a very highly recommended daily devotional which focuses on God's grace. 

"Because of Christ’s work, God’s door is always open, his supply of grace always overflowing. May we remember each day just how desperately we need the grace of Jesus. Because of his freely given grace, we have every reason for gratitude and happiness."

Grace features 203 daily meditations that begin with a scripture verse, followed by brief thoughts from Alcorn, and conclude with inspirational quotes. Alcorn says, "I hope you’ll spend time meditating on the brief reflections, great quotations, and Scriptures in this book. God promises that his Word 'will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it' (Isaiah 55:11)."

The short (1 page or less) devotions have a natural built in versatility.  The brief meditations in this daily guide can be the impetus for further reflection and memory work, or a quick daily reminder of how we need to accept God's continued grace and how much grace we have already received from Christ.  They may be short, but there certainly is much that can cause further reflection and study.

Because I received this as an advanced review copy, I didn't have the luxury to use Grace as Alcorn hoped it would be used - as a daily devotional - but rather had to read it quickly. The good news is that I can now go back and reread the passages, memorize verses, and reflect on the daily messages.

We all need grace. I still reflect on a message I heard years ago: "It's been said that learning to respond gracefully to ungraciousness is like learning to play the piano....if you didn't encounter people who treat you ungraciously, you'd never have the opportunity to learn to practice grace of your own." Alcorn's devotional can help us all reach that point where we can practice grace of our own because of the grace God has extended to us.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

We Are Not Such Things

We Are Not Such Things by Justine van der Leun
Random House: 6/28/16
eBook review copy; 544 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780812994506

We Are Not Such Things by Justine van der Leun is a very highly recommended account of the story behind the headline. During the last days of apartheid, on August 25, 1993, Amy Biehl, a 26 year old white American Fullbright scholar, women's rights advocate, and anti-apartheid activist, was murdered by a mob in Cape Town, South Africa. Four young black men were convicted for the crime. 

South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation program was put in place four years later - once apartheid was officially over. The Truth and Reconciliation program was an experiment in restorative justice and offered release from prison and a clean slate to anyone who took full responsibility for their crimes and could also prove that their crimes were politically motivated. Two men who were convicted for Amy's murder were released under this program. Amy's parents publicly forgave those involved with Amy's murder and started a foundation carrying Amy's name. The foundation even gave the men who were released jobs.

Van der Leun, who was initially interested first in how the forgiveness in the Reconciliation program affected real individuals, later became intrigued by the discrepancies surrounding Amy Biehl's murder. Even though it had been twenty years since the tragedy, she decided to dig deeper, and meet the people involved. She wanted to uncover the real story and ended up forging relationships with several men involved. She also presents background information and history of the colonial legacies present in South Africa. Many of the events started years ago are what lead to the huge gulf between blacks and whites that continue to this day.

We Are Not Such Things is a fascinating, well-researched look into a specific highly publicized murder case. Van der Leun makes it clear that there are still issues between the races today in South Africa. It becomes abundantly clear that the governmental systems in South Africa are broken, or extremely dysfunctional, which made getting information or trying to research difficult.  She also asks some difficult questions and uncovers questions about the true story of Amy Biehl's murder.

I was totally immersed in this story. It is about a murder, and van der Leun thought it was going to answer the question, "How could the Biehls forgive their daughter's murderers?" and address their celebrity status over their forgiveness. But then it evolved into a story about South Africa - its social problems and people. I could see where some repetition of what people said could be bothersome to some readers but I didn't have a problem with it. It seemed to reflect what she was experiencing or being told by people she was talking to, the repeating of a story, right or wrong, without question. It took many interviews and questions to uncover a glimmer of the truth.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Missing, Presumed

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner
Random House: 6/28/16
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812998320

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner is a highly recommended well plotted character driven police procedural.

Manon Bradshaw, 39, is a Detective Sargent on the Cambridgeshire police force who loves her job, but longs for a more fulfilling personal life, including a baby. She can hear her biological clock ticking and has been trying an internet dating site lately, unsuccessfully. After another dreadful date, Manon, who typically falls asleep to the calls on her police radio, hears a call that sends her out to the crime scene.

Edith Hind, a 24 year-old Cambridge graduate student has been reported missing for 24 hours by her boyfriend. The front door was left ajar, there is blood in the kitchen, and her keys and phone are in the cottage they share. Edith is beautiful, smart, spoiled, and self-centered; she is also the daughter of Sir Ian Hind, physician to the royal family.  Manon and her partner Davy know that the pressure will be on to solve this case quickly, as the media attention and her well-connected parents are going to make it headline news. As they are investigating all leads, another body is found. This time it is a young black man. Could there be a connection.

This is a well written procedural that also focuses on establishing and developing the characters. The story is told through alternating narrators, which Steiner is quite successful at navigating between and keeping the complex plot moving along smoothly through the many directions the investigation takes. Manon is a credible, flawed character who is successful at her job, but struggling personally. The other characters who narrate parts of the story are also uniquely individual voices and characters. Their different viewpoints add an additional potency to the investigation.

Since the novel is character driven, it has a more measured, even pace rather than utilizing many thrill-a-second surprises. There are a few twists. I will admit I wasn't totally surprised by the ending as I had surmised parts of it. This didn't lessen my enjoyment of the novel because it is character driven - and I needed to see if my suspicions were correct. Part of the pleasure in reading Missing, Presumed was found in the characters and the journey. It will be interesting to see if Steiner continues with these characters in another book and this becomes a series.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Friday, June 24, 2016


Atlantis: And Other Lost Worlds by Frank Joseph
Arcturus Publishing: 4/1/14
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781782129097

Atlantis: And Other Lost Worlds by Frank Joseph is a recommended for those interested in speculation about Atlantis and Lemuria (Mu).

After researching and writing a paper about Atlantis many years ago, the sunken city has always fascinated me. Joseph gathers evidence that he claims support the conclusion that Atlantis really existed, where it most likely was located, along with information about their religious beliefs, as well as other thoughts. He does the same for the lost civilization of Lemuria, also known as Mu. This is a book which is clearly for those who already have an interest in the topic.

Obviously, many books about Atlantis are going to have a lot of speculation rather than hard facts, which makes them entertaining, but not necessarily a scholarly work that will be taken seriously by experts. Joseph manages to present a plethora of conjecture along with some discoveries and facts that could be interpreted to potentially be Atlantis - and Lemuria. The most important thing to note is that there are no footnotes or chapter notes, so the reader has no other point of reference to refer to. There are archeological discoveries discussed, but no extensive research into them. There is only a limited bibliography.

I also wanted more pictures. There are some pictures, but certainly not enough to prove and document many things described. It also stretches my credulity when Edgar Cayce is a major source of evidence. Read it for fun if you are interested in the topic, but don't expect a serious scholarly work with well documented information.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

All the Missing Girls

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
Simon & Schuster: 6/28/16
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501107962

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda is a highly recommended novel of suspense told in reverse.

Nicolette "Nic" Farrell, 28, has to return to her hometown of Cooley Ridge, North Carolina. Nic left right after graduation and has stayed away, other than short visits to see her father. Now Daniel, Nic's brother, has called to tell her they are going to have to sell their family home and he needs her help getting it ready as well as trying to persuade their father to sign the papers.  Their father, Patrick, has been in a long term care facility due to his dementia. Daniel's wife, Laura, is 8 months pregnant, so he would like to get things settled as soon as possible.

Nic leaves her fiance, Everett, in Philadelphia and heads to Cooley Ridge. While Nic was planning to leave for college anyway 10 years ago, what really sent her packing was the mysterious disappearance of her best friend, Corrine. She and her friends were questioned by the police at the time, including Tucker, Nic's high school boyfriend, and her brother. Now Patrick is starting to mutter to people at the facility that he saw the girl - which everyone thinks must mean Corrine.

"Corinne was larger than life here. Had become even larger because she disappeared. But she was just a kid, eighteen, and bursting out of her skin. Believing the world would bend to her will. Must’ve torn her up something good the first time she realized it wouldn’t." Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, 24, a neighbor of the Farrells. She was peripherally involved in the investigation of Corrine's disappearance. Then she disappears and people are searching for her.

The hook in the case of All the Missing Girls is telling the story in a reverse chronology. We get a current day set up of the story so we know why Nic's leaving and have the bare minimum of background. Then the story jumps to 15 days in the future and counts down to day one, after which we get to go back to real time and figure out who done what. It does make the reading compulsory so you do read as fast as you can to try to figure out what the heck happened. Miranda manages to do this and not give away the big reveals until the end, which is laudable.

Lots of people loved All the Missing Girls. While I really liked it and thought the reverse story telling was an interesting concept, it didn't manage to hide some of the flaws for me. The characters aren't as well developed as I would expect and there are places where the plot isn't quite as tight as I would like. The big question is how much can you overlook for a unique plot device? I discovered I could overlook quite a bit because Miranda managed to surprise me with some major information being disclosed later in the novel, while earlier chapter are more reactionary based on that information that we don't have yet. In the end, a worthy debut novel into the adult market. (However, I would like to note that these are missing women, not girls.)

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Vinegar Girl

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
Hogarth: 6/21/16
advanced reader's edition; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9780804141260
Hogarth Shakespeare Series

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a highly recommended adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew done for Hogarth Press's Shakespeare project where authors are required to modernize one of the Bard's works. Tackling a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew is a major feat in itself and Tyler does an admirable job despite the limitations placed on her due to the very nature of the project.

Kate Battista, 29, is the vinegar girl. She has firm opinions, is outspoken, and values her individuality, but has little opportunity to really exercise this trait. Kate is stuck running the house for her eccentric and needy scientist father, trying to enforce his rules with her 15 year old sister, Bunny, and working as an aide at a preschool, even though she doesn't really like children. Kate is stuck in a routine, but even she couldn't envision the plan her father has cooked up for her.

It seems that Dr. Battista's lab assistant, Pyotr Shcherbakov,is here on an O-1 visa that is about to expire and he is not sure how his research can go on without his brilliant young assistant. Dr. Battista has decided that if he can get Kate to marry Pyotr, then Pyotr won't be deported and his research will certainly be able to make some breakthroughs. After all, Kate doesn't have any suitors or real plans, and at least she can be helping him out (even more) if she'll just cooperate. Kate wishes he could just marry Pyotr himself and leave her out of it.

This is The Taming of the Shrew transformed into a tale of a marriage of convenience for a green card via Tyler's inimitable style. She uses satirical humor and a keen understanding of human nature to create characters that are memorable in their own right. Tyler notes that this is her attempt to tell the other side of the story, the part that will help make the illogical or inconceivable story in of The Taming of the Shrew make more sense today.

She does deftly retell the story in a new, compassionate way and creates some memorable characters. Really, how could anything Anne Tyler writes be bad? She has a gift. Personally, I think if Tyler were allowed to use The Taming of the Shrew
simply an inspiration to plot her own story in her own way, this could have been even more successful for me. She could have done so much more with her characters if she had free reign to change the plot or add some more complexities.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Mandibles

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver
HarperCollins: 6/21/16
eBook review copy; 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062328243

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver is a very highly recommended economic dystopian novel set in a future USA.

In 2029 President Alvarado addresses the nation and declares that rather than accept the new global currency, the bancor, the USA will default on all its loans. Oh, and citizens are required to turn in all of their gold to the US government. Members of the Mandible family were all counting on a large inheritance from the family patriarch, but that is wiped out and members of the family must do whatever they can to survive living with each other during a time of absurdly high inflation and few jobs.

Florence is the one family member who has a job (at a homeless shelter) and a home not in foreclosure, so the many diverse members of the family descend upon her and rely on her. Willing, Florence's son is the one family member who really understands what is going on and what they should be preparing for in the future. Florence's upper class sister, Avery, descends upon their house with her economics professor husband and three children, while their Aunt Nollie, returns after living for years in France. Their brother Carter and his wife are forced to care for their demented stepmother when she and their father were forced out of a care facility. Yup, it's a family in decline and the drop is steep.

It's almost refreshing that Shriver's end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it dystopian is based on economic policy and accrued national debt rather than zombies or viruses. Even though there is a claim that this isn't science fiction in the description, it is speculative fiction about the future based on current economic policies, and economics could be considered a science... At the same time it is a satire where economic policies are held up for ridicule and criticism.

Because of the nature of The Mandibles, there is a lot of information and discussion about economic policies and complicated financial terms. If these discussions bother a reader, they could be skimmed over, but that would also mean missing some of the overarching point of the novel. Sure, it's all economics, but it will make sense in the end, should you decide to follow the information. If not, you could follow the question of how these people who are so ill-equipped to survive could possible manage to do just that. Can they change to survive the upheaval and make the necessary sacrifices?

Admittedly, I am a fan of Shriver's writing; it's intelligent, well-reasoned and impeccably written. Shriver has a masterful skill with her use of language and I am always in awe of it. She also likes to tackle a specific topic in her books, so I was expecting this. I seem to be in the minority here, but I enjoyed The Mandibles from start to finish and was already recommending it before I even  started writing this review.

The writing is exceptional; the plot is well researched, clearly presented, and believable. The characters, likeable or not, are all well developed. I especially liked the last part, where the novel jumped ahead fifteen years in the future to show the results of the economic disaster. 

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

The Joy of Less

The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify by Francine Jay
Chronicle Books, Updated and Revised edition: 4/26/16

eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781452155180

The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify by Francine Jay is a recommended inspirational guide to living with less.

Also known as Miss Minimalist, Francine Jay has updated and revised her original The Joy of Less published in 2010. I've been curious about the minimalist movement for several years. After spending years moving approximately every 4-5 years,  I am naturally inclined to declutter and reduce the sheer volume of stuff I own. This book seemed like it would be a great match to inspire me to do more of what I already do naturally. The Joy of Less accomplished the goal of inspiring me to greater minimize my belongings, to cull what is not needed, but it wasn't a perfect fit for me as an individual.

The Joy of Less is "about decreasing the amount of stuff you have to deal with in the first place. Furthermore, you won’t have to answer quizzes, make checklists, or fill out charts - who has time for that? And there won’t be dozens of case studies about other people’s junk; the focus here is on you." According to Jay our stuff can be divided into three categories: useful stuff, beautiful stuff, and emotional stuff. We need to decide what category our things belong in and deal with them accordingly.

Jay Streamline method is the highlight of the book and could be adapted to many different households and lifestyles. She shows how to use this method and them takes you through a room by room tour on how to use it
STREAMLINE consists of:
Start over
Trash, treasure, or transfer
Reason for every item
Everything in its place
All surfaces clear
If one comes in, one goes out
Narrow it down
Everyday maintenance

I think most of us have heard the phrase, "A place for everything, and everything in its place." This is one of the most important minimalist principles and it works alongside the "One In-One Out" rule. This is a strong point of Jay's book - she breaks down the concept into steps that will help anyone interested in decluttering succeed at it. Jay does get repetitious in sharing her thoughts, which might bother some readers, although it is helpful for those who are simply flipping to the chapters they are interested in reading. Jay does maintain a positive, chipper, up-beat attitude throughout the book.

While Jay has some great points, she also made a few nonsensical statements that puzzled me and left me scratching my head. To support her premise that all of our stuff may be draining us of time, she asked: "How many precious hours have we wasted running to the dry cleaners, how many Saturdays have been sacrificed to oil changes or car repairs, how many days off have been spent fixing or maintaining our things (or waiting for a technician to make a service call)? How often have we agonized (or scolded our children) over a broken vase, chipped plate, or mud stains on our area rugs?"

Routine car maintenance to ensure your vehicle is in good working condition is just a given for many people. Or if your job requires a wardrobe where clothes need to be dry cleaned, that doesn't preclude having a well-planned minimal wardrobe of quality items. What, rather than repair items we replace them (and wait for delivery)? And we have no vases, plates, or rugs so we won't need to tell children to not track in mud or play ball in the house? (Basic family rules shouldn't be thrown out like they are clutter.)

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Follow the River Home

Follow the River Home by Corran Harrington
Arbor Farm Press: 4/28/16
advanced reading copy; 220 pages
ISBN-13: 9780985520021

Follow the River Home by Corran Harrington is a touching, melancholic collection told in a poetic and lyrical manner. It is highly recommended. The first part of Follow the River Home is a novella, while the second part contains supporting short pieces. The setting is in New Mexico along the Rio Grande.

In the novella, we are introduced to Daniel Arroyo. Daniel has guilt, a lifetime of guilt. First he feels he is somehow responsible for the death of his baby sister, Carmen, when he was eight. We don't know what happened, but we know Daniel feels guilty and culpable. The tragedy altered his family as well. When, later, he is drafted and sent to Vietnam, he comes home with PTSD, while a childhood friend dies over there. Now, thirty years later, he is still tormented by nightmares from the war and his sister's death. His wife and children are tired of it and he is searching for some redemption from his anguish.

The stories in the second part of the collection provide additional glimpses of Daniel's life and of others who lived in the home. Some of the stories are told through certain pieces of furniture in the house in relationship to the families who have owned them and their surroundings. Taken as a whole, these supporting pieces create a scaffolding to show a more complete accounting of Daniel's life. Daniel's fear and guilt is overwhelming; the answers to his questions may be found in his old neighborhood.

The quality of the writing sets this collection apart. Even when dealing with dark themes, like PTSD and flashbacks, Harrington describes what Daniel is experiencing and the anguish it is causing him and his family. The sudden, abrupt shift to the supporting stories in the second half of the book may be a bit disconcerting to some readers who are expecting a smooth continuation of Daniel's story.

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


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
Gallery/Scout Press: 6/14/16
eBook review copy; 224 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501126925

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid is a recommended, creepy psychological horror novel - for the right reader it could be rated even higher.

A girlfriend, yes, we never learn a name, is traveling with her boyfriend, Jake, to meet his parents at their home for dinner. They live hours away on a farm in the country. Girlfriend is seriously thinking of ending things with Jake - they just aren't clicking - but she hasn't said anything to him. Why she agreed to go have dinner with his parents is a conundrum. Girlfriend may have problems with confidence and asserting herself.

Girlfriend hasn't said a thing to Jake about the phone calls she's been getting. Her phone says they are from her own number. It's always the same. Some guy she calls the Caller leaves messages and tells her that "There's only one thing we need to resolve." She should have told someone after the first few calls, but now it's been going on for too long.

Anyway, the ride up is increasingly uncomfortable as Girlfriend tries to get Jake to chat during the car ride. He's smart, a scientist, and more a philosopher than someone who easily makes idle conversation. Once they are at the farm, the parents are awkward and weird and the atmosphere in the farm house is unsettling and vaguely menacing. Jake is acting more remote and even a tad disturbing at times. Girlfriend is anxious to get home and is glad when they leave, in a snowstorm. Things get even more ominous.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things reads like a bad dream. Girlfriend may not be the most reliable narrator. Adding to the tension are fragments of conversation found in-between the main narrative where we know something awful has happened.

This is a well written credible debut novel that has been given great reviews by others, and for good reason. Reid is a good writer. He establishes the ominous atmosphere immediately. The tension escalates with each page. There were a few drawbacks for me that might not bother other readers, like the rather abrupt ending. Admittedly, I also had a good idea about what was happening pretty early on. It is a short book, though, so if you enjoy psychological horror, it might be worth your time.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Girls

The Girls by Emma Cline
Random House: 6/14/16
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812998603

The Girls by Emma Cline is a very highly recommended novel about girls in cults seeking acceptance and belonging. "Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get."

As an adult today, Evie Boyd is looking back at the summer of 1969 when she was 14 years old, awkward, lonely, and looking for a way to fit in and belong in Northern California. Her parents are divorced, and caught up in their own lives and desires. Her best friend may not be such a great friend after all. When Evie sees a group of girls walking through the park, carefree and confident, she takes note of them and wonders who they are. Evie runs into one of the girls again, 19 year old Suzanne, and is immediately drawn to her. Circumstances lead Evie to the dilapidated ranch in the hills where the girls are living in commune-like cult led by the charismatic Russell. The cult is based on the Manson Family.

Evie is drawn back to the ranch repeatedly, spending more days and nights there, implying to her mother that she is staying with her former friend. As the summer goes on, Evie finds herself obsessed with Suzanne. The ranch is a place where she feels acceptance and love. She is also intrigued and attracted by their daring existence and self-assurance. But eventually, the mood at the ranch darkens in ways Evie doesn't quite understand.

The Girls is narrated by Evie today, an adult woman looking back at this one period in her life that marked her passage into adulthood in a destructive way. Evie knows what happened and has had decades to reflect on why she was so gullible and enamored with the cult.

"There are those survivors of disasters whose accounts never begin with the tornado warning or the captain announcing engine failure, but always much earlier in the timeline: an insistence that they noticed a strange quality to the sunlight that morning or excessive static in their sheets. A meaningless fight with a boyfriend. As if the presentiment of catastrophe wove itself into everything that came before. Did I miss some sign?"

It is about the psychological harm young women can do to themselves in their quest to belong and find love and acceptance. This theme is reinforced by the interaction between the day young man and woman who show up at the vacation house where she is staying - the young man cocky and brazen, the young woman acting self-confident, but insecure and submissive to him. Anyone who has read about the Manson Family will immediately see that the plot is loosely based on them, although it is not a retelling of those murders.

Cline's writing is incredible, with keen insights into the psychology, thoughts, and behaviors of young women. It is addictively readable. I was so submerged into the plot and Evie's life, I lost track of time reading this brilliant, mesmerizing debut novel. What's had to believe is that this is Cline's debut novel - the writing is that precise and her insight into women and girls is that discerning. It's not always an easy book to read emotionally, but it is honest. Keep an eye on Cline.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Life Moves Pretty Fast

Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman
Simon & Schuster: 6/14/16
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501130458

Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don't Learn Them from Movies Anymore) by Hadley Freeman is a very highly recommended look at selected movies from the 1980s. Freeman writes, "I wanted to write about why the Fun Eighties Movies... are also Good Eighties Movies." She does an exemplary job of accomplishing that goal. This is one of those books that you can read straight through or just jump to the chapters/movies that interest you.

Chapters include: Dirty Dancing (1987), The Princess Bride (1987), Pretty in Pink (1986), When Harry Met Sally (1989), Ghostbusters (1984), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Steel Magnolias (1989), Baby Boom (1987), Back to the Future (1985), Batman (1989), and Eddie Murphy’s Eighties Movies. The discussion is not limited to these movies as Freeman examines many other movies made in each chapter. In-between chapters are fun list like: Top Ten Best Power Ballads on an Eighties Movie Soundtrack; Top Ten Fashion Moments; Top Five British Bad Guys; Top Five Montages; Top Ten Best Love Songs on an Eighties Movie Soundtrack; Top Ten Best Rock Songs on an Eighties Movie Soundtrack; Top Ten Weirdest Songs; and top ten quotes from several eighties movies. She also rates the Batman movies from best to worst. The book includes footnotes and a list of notes from each chapter.

While some readers may not agree with Freeman's analysis of the movies she discusses, I found her examination and corresponding critical thoughts and opinions interesting. Even if I disagreed, I found her points engaging. Let me make it clear, however, that I was an adult in the 1980's, a young adult in the early 80's, but certainly older than the target audience at the time for, say, The Breakfast Club, so I watched these movies as an adult with an adult's sensibilities. I'm not going to discuss every move in the book, but I will a few of them.

I would agree that Dirty Dancing is "one of the great feminist films of all time" due to the realistic manner it covered the subject matter in the plot that did not involve dancing. I always had a problem with Grease (1978). It was a fun movie with a good soundtrack, but I never liked the message that the girls had to change to attract the guys. It's a bad message to give young girls that continues on today.  As Freeman notes, ".... in the vast majority of eighties teen films, girls are celebrated for being their own gauche, unique selves, and this is a common theme in almost all eighties teen movies for all teenagers..." which is a much better message than you have to change to get the guy.

The Princess Bride is a good movie and it stands to test of time (with the exception of the video game in the beginning). I agreed with Freeman that it is funny, exciting, scary, silly, and sweet with a plot for kids and dialogue for adults. "But the reason it has endured is that it is such a warm film, one without cynicism or calculation, and a film as lovely as this one could only have been born out of love itself - all kinds of love."

John Hughes films are an eighties staple and that he "made the 1980s the golden age of teen films because he realized that the trick to making good films about teenagers was to take them as seriously as they take themselves." "Teen films were about deep emotions, and deep emotions were reserved for his teenage characters alone." Teens always think their emotions are more real than anything anyone else has ever experienced, and Hughes managed to capture this. Plus, in Pretty in Pink, Andie learns never to change herself for anyone. (I was on team Duckie though, and thought Blane was a jerk, pretty, but still a jerk. It was interesting that in the original ending of the film Andie does end up with Duckie.)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, another Hughes film,  is still a movie adored by plenty of people. It makes sense that it represents an exaggerated fantasy about what their teenage years should have been like. It "presents a nerd’s idealized view of teenage life: sanitized, safe, and sweet, in which you are universally adored for being your own weird self and can do whatever you damn well want." Freeman loves another classic 80's movie, Ghostbusters, more than I do; I will concede it was entertaining but I didn't feel that it depicted how a man should be as Freeman does. (Okay, I laughed about that point.)

I still love Steel Magnolias. It is a wonderful women's movie with a strong and talented female cast. I also agree with Freeman that it's a movie that likely wouldn't be made today, with women existing as humans in their own right, strong and independent, and not as an accessory or idealized or fighting over a man. This is a movie with so many great quotes it's the one I would pick for that right. (“I’m not crazy, M’Lynn - I’ve just been in a very bad mood for forty years.”) Freeman also gives a nod to Terms of Endearment (1983) and Beaches (1988).

Finally, it was interesting that in Back to the Future, "Marty takes the role of what’s known in story theory as 'the mysterious stranger.' He comes out of nowhere and helps the characters sort out their lives. It’s a construct that’s been used in countless westerns." Additionally it proved that it was alright to include parents as part of the story. 

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Dead End Fix

Dead End Fix by T. E. Woods
Alibi: 6/7/16
eBook review copy; 300 pages
ISBN-13: 9780425284551

Dead End Fix by T. E. Woods is a highly recommended thriller and the 6th book in the Justice/Mort Grant series.

Mort's granddaughter, Hadley, has been kidnapped by his daughter, Allie, who is a known killer and head of an international Russian crime syndicate. After a rocky relationship and estrangement between Allie and her family, they finally gave her a chance and she repaid them by running off with six-year-old Hadley.

Mort, who is a Seattle detective, must secretly turn to Lydia Corriger, The Fixer, for a chance to see Hadley returned home. Lydia is the one person who could track Allie down and get Hadley returned to her family. But Allie hates Lydia, so any direct confrontation between the two may be fatal for one of them.

At the same time a twelve-year-old boy has been killed in a drive-by shooting in Seattle. Mort's team is on the case, but it looks like violence is about to erupt in the city. A gang war may be about to start and more lives may be at risk.

Woods does an good job with the writing and plot in Dead End Fix. It has a darker feel to it than previous books and present a major game changer in the series. For anyone new to the series, I must caution you that this really needs to be read as part of the series. I think there is too much backstory and history between the characters for a reader new to the series to just jump in with book six. The gang story line does stand apart, but I certainly couldn't tell anyone to read the series based just on that part of the book. I have enjoyed Lydia's character in the past books more than this one, which may be the last book in the series. Rumor has it that Woods will be starting a new series, which will be something to look forward to.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Ink and Bone

Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger
Touchstone: 6/7/16
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501101649

Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger is a very highly recommended psychic psychological thriller.

The prologue immediately seized my attention. A father and son are shot while a young girl, Abbey, is kidnapped by two strange men. They were simply taking a hike in the woods while on a family vacation in upstate New York, near the small town called The Hollows.

Finley Montgomery has escaped to her Grandmother Eloise's home in The Hallows, a small town in upstate New York. Finley is attending college there, but she really escaped to The Hallows to be with her grandmother. Both Finley and Eloise have psychic abilities and see spirits around them who are trying to communicate with them. Finley needs her grandmother's help to learn how to deal with her ability and, perhaps, manage to assert some control over it.

The young girl's mother, Merri, needs to return to the site of the abduction of Abby to try and find some clue or help. She has turned to private investigator Jonas Cooper who has worked with Eloise in the past to solve cases using her ability. Eloise is unable to help him, but she tells him that it is her granddaughter, Finley, who may be able to read the psychic clues around that will solve the case of the missing girl.

Finley is unsure she's the one to help because she's just trying to learn to control what she sees and hears. Soon it becomes clear that Finley is the one Jonas will have to work with. At the start of chapters is the story of a young girl being held hostage and called by a different name by a strange, cruel family.

Filey is a great character and it will be exciting to see her development in future stories. She's got an edge to her along with all the extra stuff she has to deal with. The Hallows is  its own character too. It calls the people it wants to be there and I imagine that will continue is some capacity.

Lisa Unger has a winner with Ink and Bone. Naturally it is very well written, with a tight, intense plot, great character development, carefully placed clues, and heart stopping scenes. Although it could be considered part of a series set in The Hallows, it is most certainly also a stand-alone novel. I don't want to even approach anything near a spoiler, but I can say that there are several stunning developments in the plot at the end.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.


Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
W.W. Norton & Co.: 6/7/16
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780393245448

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach is a fascinating, entertaining, and very highly recommended look at how military scientists try to make combat more survivable for soldiers. This is a must have book for fans of Roach's many other books.

Roach covers a variety of topics with insight along with humor. She's not looking at military action, but rather at the many subjects that scientists research to enable soldiers to survive,stay awake, sane, uninfected, and basically healthy. This isn't, like all of Roach's books, for the squeamish. She takes an entertaining yet informative look at, for example, diarrhea, shots below the belt, penile reconstruction, and the use of cadavers and maggots in research. Other topics discussed include the importance of military fashion, the effects of hearing loss, stink bomb research, and how the use military uses chicken guns. There are even more topics covered. Oh, be sure to read the footnotes too.

The chapter headings include a brief description of the information/topic the chapter covers.
Chapters include:

SECOND SKIN: What to wear to war
BOOM BOX: Automotive safety for people who drive on bomb
FIGHTING BY EAR: The conundrum of military noise
BELOW THE BELT: The cruelest shot of all
IT MIGHT GET WEIRD: A salute to genital transplants 
CARNAGE UNDER FIRE: How do combat medics cope?
SWEATING BULLETS: The war on heat
LEAKY SEALS: Diarrhea as a threat to national security 
THE MAGGOT PARADOX: Flies on the battlefield, for better and worse 
WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU WILL MAKE YOU REEK: A brief history of stink bombs
OLD CHUM: How to make and test shark repellent
THAT SINKING FEELING: When things go wrong under the sea
UP AND UNDER: A submarine tries to sleep
FEEDBACK FROM THE FALLEN: How the dead help the living stay that way


Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I Like You Just Fine When You're Not Around

I Like You Just Fine When You're Not Around by Ann Garvin
Tyrus Books: 6/4/16 

eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781440595455

I Like You Just Fine When You're Not Around by Ann Garvin is a highly recommended family drama.

Tig Monahan is a classic caregiver, people pleaser, and part of the sandwich generation. She's trying to make sure her mother, Hallie, who has Alzheimer's, has the best care possible and is settling into Hope House, an assisted living facility without any help from her sister Wendy. She is a therapist who is reaching the end of her patience. She is a partner in a relationship where her boyfriend, Peter, wants/expects her to leave everything and go to Hawaii on sabbatical with him. Clearly, Tig has some issues.

Predictably, since no one can do it all, Tig reaches her breaking point. At her last day of work, a therapy practice she gave notice to leave so she could go with Peter to Hawaii, she snaps at a patient during couple's therapy and lets him know exactly what she thinks. Then, with her mother not settling in and Wendy nowhere in sight and not taking her calls, she decides she simply can't leave with Peter right away. Peter leaves Tig with a load of guilt. Then Wendy shows up, with no notice, 9 months pregnant. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of issues. No wonder Tig is stressed out. Now she's jobless with a very pregnant sister staying with her and a mother who never recognizes her. Could things get worse? Can Tig really take care of everything for everyone all the time?

Garvin does an excellent job keeping all the stressors of Tig's life realistic, while at the same time adding some humor and wit along with the realistic drama. Families can be messy. Aging parents that must be assisted by their children, who are already overly busy and stressed out, is a common occurrence. Garvin takes this fact and runs with it, while carefully developing the plot. Tig's character is well developed. Her struggles with handling everything are detailed and very realistic.

The quality of the writing sets this apart from other family dramas. Garvin keeps the plot moving as more things happen to Tig that force her to confront some personal revelations. There is one thread in the plot that happens a bit too smoothly, so you will have to suspend disbelief there. No spoilers - it will either bother you or it won't. I found it easy to overlook, but I did note its convenient placement in the plot. This would be a great choice for summer escapism reading.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The View from the Cheap Seats

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman
HarperCollins: 5/31/16
advanced readers copy; 544 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062262264

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman is a very highly recommended collection of various nonfiction speeches, essays, and introductions.

Gaiman organizes the various sixty nonfiction pieces into ten categories including: Some Things I Believe; Some People I Have Known; Introductions and Musings: Science Fiction; Films and Movies and Me; On Comics and Some of the People Who Make Them; Introductions and Contradictions; Music and the People Who Make It; On Stardust and Fairy Tales: Make Good Art; The View From the Cheap Seats: Real Things. 

For anyone who has never read any of Gaiman's nonfiction pieces before this, you are in for a real treat should you pick up The View from the Cheap Seats. Gaiman shines here on many far reaching subjects and the plethora of material in these selected pieces should cover the interests of and appeal to a wide variety of people. There are some recurring themes that will resonate especially with readers, artists of all types, and those interested in literacy and the arts.

Most people already know Gaiman is an incredible writer. This collection expands that well deserved adoration to his nonfiction pieces. I predict readers will find themselves checking back and rereading some of these pieces over the years, which is a recommendation in itself.

I especially love several pieces included in this collection. The 2013 Reading Agency Lecture had several paragraphs I flagged on children, the importance of reading and how well meaning adults can easily destroy a child's love of reading:
"You don't discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing." If you are at all involved with libraries, or education you're going to love the first section on some things Gaiman believes. He is a champion of voracious readers everywhere, of every age.

I don't personally read comics or graphic novels, but I have nothing against them. Obviously Gaiman is a huge fan and that section is quite interesting for someone like me. I loved just a little but essential piece of advice found in a speech given at PROCON in 1997:
"It took me longer to learn that you can say no. And it's an easy thing to say. It helps you define your boundaries." Yes! But difficult.

Then in a piece titled "Confessions: On Astro City and Kurt Busiek":
"This is the magic trick upon which all good fiction depends: it's the angled mirror in the box behind which the doves are hidden, the hidden compartment beneath the table.
It's this:
There is room for things to mean more than they literally mean."
Wow! What a concept that people need to embrace. A story may mean one thing on the surface, but underneath there are layers that will surface for the right reader.

From the 2004 Harvey Awards Speech, which is a variation on his "Make Good Art "speech, I liked this advice:
"Make Mistakes. Make great mistakes, make wonderful mistakes, make glorious mistakes. Better to make a hundred mistakes than to stare at a blank piece of paper too scared to do anything wrong, too scared to do anything."

Gaiman's Make Good Art commencement speech from the University of the Arts in 2012 is glorious and should be viewed by anyone who is involved in any of the arts. Millions have viewed the video.
"Make good art.
I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art."

Get this collection. You will never regret it.

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


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Goodnight, Beautiful Women

Goodnight, Beautiful Women by Anna Noyes
Grove/Atlantic: 6/7/16
eBook review copy; 224 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802124845

Goodnight, Beautiful Women by Anna Noyes is a debut collection of eleven short stories featuring girls and women living in Maine.

Most of the young women in this collection are doomed by circumstances or life or bad choices. The tone of these stories is dark and melancholy - you will feel that failure and depression is seemingly just around every corner and no redemption is in sight. The quality of the descriptions and emotions of the women and girls portrayed is well done and notable. Most of the stories end without a firm conclusion, denouement, or closure, which didn't work for me in every case. There was a point where the stories began to meld together into an overarching pattern of damaged women and confused girls struggling against the odds which are never in their favor.

Contents include:
Hibernation:A woman's husband drowns himself.
Treelaw: A young woman's story is told after her father's suicide.
Safe As Houses: A thirteen year old girl tries to process the fact that a girl was raped near her house.
Drawing Blood: A young woman in the early 1900's begins an affair with the girl her family took in as a maid.
The Quarry: Two sisters discuss whether or not they are white trash.
Glow Baby: A woman takes her daughter with her as she leaves her partner.
Goodnight, Beautiful Women: A teenager takes a road trip with her family during which her mother abandons her stepfather at one of their stops.
Werewolf: A young woman looks back at a lie she told as a child.
This Is Who She Was: A pregnant college student goes on vacation with her boyfriend's family.
Changeling: A woman on a bus trip thinks a woman might be the mother who abandoned her.
Homecoming: A woman feels hopeless when she moves back to her hometown with her husband. 


Disclosure: My digital advanced reading copy was courtesy of Grove/Atlantic for review purposes.

The Fallout

The Fallout by Tamar Cohen
Mira: 5/31/16
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780778317562

The Fallout by Tamar Cohen is a highly recommended psychological thriller about divorce, discord, and friendship.

Josh and Hannah's best friends are Dan and Sasha; even their 4 year old daughters, Lily and September, are best friends. They have all become accustom to spending time together, so when Dan announces to Josh that he is planning to leave Sasha for a much younger 24 year-old model, all allegiances are strained to the breaking point. Sasha is suddenly relying on Hannah and taking it for granted that she will support her and stand by her - no matter how disconcerting her behavior becomes. And Dan expects Josh to support his choice too.

Sasha becomes more bitter and retaliatory, pulling Hannah's loyalties along in her wake, while Dan complains to Josh about Sasha's actions. Soon the divorce is affecting Josh and Hannah's relationship, as well as their daughters. Josh also has some personal problems going on at work that he is reluctant to share with Hannah. To add even more stress, they are experiencing financial strains that aren't helped by Sasha's smothering, ultra-needy dependence on Hannah.  Soon, it starts to look like their friend's divorce is going to destroy their marriage. 

Previously published in the U.K. as The Broken, this is a tension filled dark novel. Cohen ratchet's up the tension by interspersing between chapter's italicized commentary from a young girl who is clearly disturbed and exhibiting signs of a multiple personality. You don't know which female character she could be and won't know until a twist at the very end. The only issue for me is that I had to suspend disbelief that Hannah wouldn't have set up some boundaries as Sasha became increasingly parasitical, out-of-control, and malicious. Oh, and Dan's initial thought that the divorce would all be amicable was laughable.

Cohen handles the details of the narrative in this well-traveled subject matter deftly and adds the extra jolt at the end, which elevates the novel above an ordinary family drama about divorce. The plot moves along quickly as more and more details are added and you will find yourself compulsively reading to see what happens next. While the characters are developed, there are no truly likeable characters in this novel - they are all broken people - but Cohen adds little hints and details in the plot that pull you along to keep reading, if only to find out who the girl is in the italicized sections.

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

Saturday, June 4, 2016


Devour by Kurt Anderson
Pinnacle: 5/31/16
eBook review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780786036790

Devour by Kurt Anderson is a highly recommended thriller/horror novel set on the ocean, off the coast of Massachusetts.

The novel follows several embedded story lines. Brian Hawkins is a fishing boat captain who responds to a distress call from a research ship. He manages to save the last survivor, but he also sees what they are up against and knows his ship is doomed. A primordial sea monster has awakened beneath the ice in the Arctic Circle and is starting to feed as it heads south following the current. When it discovers tasty morsels can be found on boats, it begins attacking boats and eating the crews. In the meantime, a casino cruise ship is setting out beyond territorial limits to facilitate a secret high stakes poker game and hide a secret cargo, while the rest of the unknowing guests partake of the normal games of chance.

The monster is the hook, but the novel spends a lot of time setting up the characters on the boats. Brian is a compelling, credible character. The majority of the people introduced on the cruise ship are untrustworthy and unsavory characters, with very few exceptions. Frankie Moore, who is facilitating the high stakes game and trying to keep an eye on the men in the private security details of the two players involved, is an interesting character, but not likeable. It's not that the cruise ship portion of the plot is dull, it's just that, well, you're going to want more sea monster action because that's what you are expecting, but the bulk of the novel focuses on the various cruise ship characters. This makes the novel more of a thriller than horror novel.

Devour will hold your attention and is a satisfying debut novel for Anderson. I was going along with the direction the author chose to take for Devour, until an incident that happens a little past the half-way mark that stretched my credulity a wee-bit too much. The novel manages to recover from this event. It certainly would be a great land-based vacation read and meets all the requirements of a stuck-overnight-at-the-airport book.

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

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Passage

The Passage by Michael Hurley
Ragbagger Press: 6/1/16
eBook review copy; 362 pages
ISBN-13: 9780976127581

The Passage by Michael Hurley is a very highly recommended novel of self-discovery.

Jay Danforth Fitzgerald, "Fitz," is a failed stockbroker in his early 60's who has also failed at three marriages. He doesn't believe in love, certainly not lasting love. After his third and last divorce, he moved onto his sailboat. His boat has been in Charleston Harbor for the last three years. Fitz is slowly running out of money, but he still goes to Tiddly's Bar every evening for dinner and a beer. When a young, 34 year old woman, Gemma, sits next to him at the bar and starts a conversation, his life changes. He decides to attempt to sail to Ireland (or die trying), but when Gemma secretly stows aboard, his plans change.

I'm going to be honest and tell you that I did not like The Passage in the beginning. I was not in the mood for Fitz's self-loathing pity party. I was not prepared to accept that a young 34 year old woman was intrigued by this guy in his 60's who is soaking wet and dressed like a bum. And when Fitz lies to her and says he's 44, well, I was not too keen on a protagonist who was, by all appearances, going to be a huge jerk, lie, and hit on a young woman. Nope, not too keen on old guys thinking they deserve younger women and not interested in reading any novel along those lines. But that's not quite what happens, and I should have given Hurley more credit based on his previous to novels I read and loved.

Yes, this is a novel about love, failed love, and redemptive love, but it's also a novel about longing for what might have been - and that is what makes it a much stronger novel than my first impression allowed. When the twists happen in the plot and everything falls into place, I was totally enamored with the underlying themes and symbolism Hurley tucked into the plot so perfectly and tenderly. I went from strongly disliking The Passage to adoring it, a tough transition to make and certainly a change of opinion that is rarely traversed.

Hurley is an exceptional writer and that helped me stick with The Passage until I reached the transformative part. As I have said before, Hurley writes with a depth, intelligence, and thoughtfulness that make you crave more - and made me want to keep reading. The settings are clearly described. Obviously, Hurley knows his way around a sailboat and can describe it. The characters are also clearly well developed and there is personal growth and change in the end.

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

Before the Fall

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Grand Central: 5/31/16
eBook review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9781455561780

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley is a very highly recommended novel of suspense. I thoroughly enjoyed Before the Fall.

Eleven people board a private jet for New York. Sixteen minutes into the flight, the plane disappears from radar and plunges into the ocean. Two passengers survive. One of the survivors is Scott Burroughs,  a painter who was invited on the flight by the wealthy couple who chartered it. The other survivor is JJ, a four year old boy. Scott, who has an injured shoulder, figures out which way land is and swims miles to shore, with JJ, saving the boy's life.

When they make their way to a hospital, Scott makes sure JJ is taken care of before him. He is lauded as a hero for saving the boy's life, but then the media begins to ask questions, along with the NTSB, FBI, and NSA. The media attack is led by Bill Cunningham, a commentator who specializes in speculation, sensationalism, and personal attack tactics.

Part of the accusations and suspicions are because of the other people on the flight. Powerful media mogul and president of the 24 hour ALC News station, David Bateman chartered the flight for his family, including Maggie, his wife, and his two children, Rachel and JJ. They are incredibly wealthy movers and shakers in the news industry. They also suffered through a kidnapping of their daughter years before. Since then they have had plenty of security around them and take precautions to ensure their family is safe.

Ben Kipling and his wife Sarah were invited on the flight. Ben is a Wall Street financier and about to be indicted on a SEC investigation for money laundering. Others on the flight include the private security guard, Gil Baruch, pilot James Melody, copilot Charlie Busch, and flight attendant Emma Lightner.

People are questioning why Scott, an alcoholic and painter, was invited on the flight by Maggie, and why he survived. Scott tries to hide from the media, but the accusations are becoming increasingly accusatory and insidious. The various federal investigators are also wondering why Scott survived and are looking at him closely.

Hawley effectively uses flashbacks to tell the story of each of the passengers, which helps increase the intrigue and explains why the investigation into the crash is so fraught with speculation. The plot becomes increasingly complicated when various back stories are revealed and as Bill Cunningham up his personal attacks to sheer malicious conjecture. The tension continues to rise as each person's story is told, the search for the wreckage and bodies is underway, and the media and some of the federal investigators become increasingly obsessed with Scott.

Before the Fall is a perfect summer novel. All of the characters are well developed because we get their backstory. It is extremely well written with a compelling plot and subject matter that is timely. We are a media obsessed society where we analyze every little detail of a news story, while overlook other, bigger stories that haven't been sensationalized - or had videos that have gone viral. Who are we to throw accusations at a survivor of a tragedy? Do we really need intensive news coverage over every little incident? Do we need constant speculation about a tragic accident? 

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