Sunday, July 31, 2016

Carousel Court

Carousel Court by Joe McGinniss Jr.
Simon & Schuster: 8/2/16
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476791272

Carousel Court by Joe McGinniss Jr. is a bleak, unflinching look at a contemporary marriage falling apart. It is recommended for only a select group of readers - those who appreciate dark, disturbing literary fiction with overtones of hopelessness and plenty of self-medication. It was a so-so read for me, but the writing is very good.

Nick and Phoebe Maguire are a young married couple who have relocated with their young son from Boston to Southern California to live their dream. Instead Nick's job offer was withdrawn once they arrived and Phoebe (let's just call her Klonopin) is (hardly) working as a pharmaceutical drug rep. They had bought an expensive home, expecting to ride the tide of buying and flipping houses for a profit. Instead they joined the ranks of those who are upside down in their mortgages in a neighborhood full of abandoned homes and foreclosures. Their neighborhood is one of civil disorder and financial ruin, where neighbors set fire to their belongings and one lives, well-armed, in a tent in the front yard.

Nick is working for EverythingMustGo!, a company where movers/employees clean out foreclosed homes for banks. This leads him to a plan to make money. Simultaneously, Klonopin (Phoebe), who is constantly popping pills and maintaining a drugged out high, is in contact with JW, her previous boss/lover in Boston. Their son, Jackson, lives at daycare or with a sitter most of the time.

For those of you, like me, who have no idea what Klonopin is, it is the brand name of the drug Clonazepam which is a medication used to prevent and treat seizures, panic disorder, and for the movement disorder known as akathisia. It is a tranquilizer of the benzodiazepine class. It is also mentioned on almost every page, and Klonopin (Phoebe) is constantly popping multiple tablets, often with alcohol. This constant mention of her taking Klonopin became annoying. Very annoying. Distractedly annoying.

Combining the explosive, turbulent, abusive, and combative relationship of Nick and Klonopin with the neglect of their son, and add the bleak, hopeless, dangerous and almost surreal atmosphere and you have a novel with some extremely unlikable, damaged people in an setting the mirrors and magnifies their worst traits. She's high all the time and regards Nick with contempt and disdain. He obsesses over grabbing her jaw, which sort of creeped me out. They aren't good together and have absolutely no moral compass or sense of working together to overcome anything.

The quality of McGinniss's prose managed to keep me reading with a sense of disgust and urgency about these two people I loathed, a major feat. I have to give kudos for establishing their characters and keeping them true to form with the inevitable approaching train wreck. He left me thinking, "People suck." Three stars for the writing, but don't read this without being warned about the ominous tone.

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Beauty of the End

The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Kensington: 7/26/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781496705983

The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells is a recommended psychological thriller/murder mystery.

Noah Calaway is currently a writer, formerly a lawyer, living a quiet life in an inherited country cottage in Devon. When he gets a phone call from an estranged friend, Dr. Will Farrington, telling him that April Moon, a woman he loved since he was 14 years old and was going to marry at one time, is currently in a coma after a suicide attempt. She is also the lead suspect in the murder of her stepfather. Noah is certain that she is innocent. He rushes to Kent where April is hospitalized and decides to act as her (unofficial)  lawyer while trying to detangle the various threads of what happened and why in April's life.

At the same time we are privy to the discussions a teenage girl named Ella is having with her therapist. The two stories will eventually merge at the end, so while it seems like a pointless addition to the plot, it will eventually make sense.

The story of Noah and April bounces around in time to cover when he knew her as a teen and later, when they were older. The chapters are dated to assist readers in keeping track of the time period of the events (1989, 1994, 1998, 2016 - but not in chronological order). Unknown to everyone, all the time periods are full of deceit and lies. 

The character of Noah is a wee bit pathetic in the present day as he reminisces about the April he first laid eyes on and loved years ago. It takes effort to accept that he'd take off to be by the side of someone in a coma that he hasn't seen or spoken to for 16 years, especially when she made it clear at that time that it was over. Actually, he was kind of a dolt as a teen and young adult. It is also a stretch to think he was actually a practicing lawyer, as he seems to have a difficult time asserting himself with anyone. Noah certainly has very little discernment in dealing with people. He does manage to figure out what happened, eventually.

The Beauty of the End is well written and will certainly provide escapism for a summer vacation read. It isn't a bad novel by any means. It just wasn't a great mystery for me.  Although the pacing is a little slow at times, once you get the gist of the story it is easy to read quickly. A 3.5 but I'm rounding down for this one. Howells' The Bones of You was better.

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Unseen World

The Unseen World by Liz Moore
W. W. Norton & Company; 7/26/16
eBook review copy; 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780393241686

The Unseen World by Liz Moore is a highly recommended family drama about secrets and artificial intelligence.

Ada Sibelius is 12 when she first learns about her father's early-onset Alzheimer's. As an only child of a single father, David Sibelius has been Ada's whole world.  Daily he brought her to his computer science lab on the campus of a prestigious university in Boston. She was home schooled, His lab colleagues are her friends. They have been working on an A.I. program they call ELIXIR.  Ada herself talks to ELIXIR to help the program learn human speech.

Diane Liston, one of David's colleagues, as well as a friend and neighbor, knows something is wrong and encourages David to tell Ada, especially when David disappears for over a day without a word to Ada. As David's condition worsens, Ada attends a public school for the first time while trying to hide from others how bad David's condition has deteriorated. It soon becomes evident that David must be sent to a care facility and Ada will be cared for by Liston.

It is once she is living with Liston as her legal guardian that Ada learns that her father may not be who he said he was. The search is on to discover David's real identity. Ada is also consumed with trying to decode the last message her father left for her to try and find out answers to all the questions she has, including answers to what is in the file called The Unseen World.

The story jumps between the 1980's, when David is declining and Ada is a young teen, to the 1990's when Ada is an adult working for a tech company, the 1940's and 50's when David was young, and ending in the present day.

While the novel has computer programming/science fiction elements in the A. I. storyline, the main focus is on the humans: Ada and David, but especially Ada. There are several parts that are heartbreaking and had me in tears, feeling for Ada as she tried to make her way in a world that was entirely foreign to her. The action in The Unseen World is cerebral rather than quick paced. Because of this it takes time and patience to reach the juncture where the story merges into a surprising conclusion.

The characters are well written and the backstory is worth the deliberate pace and the slowly unfolding mystery.  The writing is excellent, with a carefully crafted story and intelligent plot. Ada's situation as a young girl is emotionally compelling as she tries to adapt to a world with no experience to handle it.  The final chapter is a startling and satisfying conclusion, although at almost 500 pages the whole novel sometimes feels rather slow to reach the end.

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

The Lost Girls

The Lost Girls by Heather Young
Harper Collins: 7/26/16
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062456601

The Lost Girls by Heather Young is a family saga set over two time periods. This is a highly recommended debut novel.

Lucy was the only surviving sister of the three Evans' girls. She is planning to leave her great niece, Justine, the family summer home located on a lake near Williamsburg, Minnesota, as well as a portfolio of $150,000. If Justine decides to come to the home, Lucy is leaving her a written account of the true story of what happened in 1935. It was a year of great change for her family and started when her youngest sister, Emily, disappeared.

In the summer of 1935 the Evans family moved to their summer home located on a nearby lake. Sisters Lilith, 13, Lucy, 11, and Emily, 6, endure their pious and strange father during the weekends, but are allowed more freedom to roam during the week. Their mother does keep an unnatural amount of attention on her youngest daughter, Emily. It is the summer that Lilith was a teenager and becoming rebellious and distant to Lucy.

Justine is the daughter of Maurie, the only child of Lilith. Maurie grew up in the lake house and left as soon as she could. Justine had an unstable childhood moving constantly. Now she has some stability, but her boyfriend seems to be too needy - she's just not certain he is what she needs. When Justine learns that her great aunt Lucy has died and left her the house and her investments, she takes her two daughters and leaves him behind in San Diego in a desperate attempt to make a better life for her and her daughters.

Both timelines are fraught with tension, mystery, and family drama. The tragic conclusions are foreshadowed in both time periods, bringing a sense of closure at the end. While the pace of the plot is measured in both timelines, the unsettled feeling gradually increases at the same careful rate. There is a plethora of details in the settings, times, and emotions throughout the novel. The writing is intricate and the characters are well developed and distinctive. All the girls are lost in some way in this moody drama. You will want to find out with equal anticipation what happens in both time periods, which is a remarkable feat in and of itself. The Lost Girls is a great choice for a summer read.

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Night Parade

The Night Parade by Ronald Malfi
Kensington: 7/26/16
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781496703866

The Night Parade by Ronald Malfi  is a highly recommended apocalyptic end-of-the-world-as -we-know-it novel.

"Was this how the world was to end? Not with a bang and not even with a whimper, but with the slow deterioration of everything good and beautiful and kind? With a sky absent of birds, a world overrun by insects, of droning cicadas and kaiju spiders...."

All the birds have died, or they are gone. It's the middle of the night and David and his 8 year-old-daughter Ellie are on the run, specifically from the government and doctors at the CDC. They killed Ellie's mother, Kathy, and David fears Ellie will be next. It seems that Kathy had a natural immunity to the disease that is sweeping the land and will likely wipe out humanity. Kathy was imprisoned in a hospital as they used her blood to try and find a cure for the disease they call "Wanderers Folly." Wanderer's Folly is much more gruesome than people simply aimlessly wandering around. It seems that Ellie's blood contains the same natural immunity as her mom and the CDC wants her, now that her mom is gone. David is not going to let that happen, so they are on the run in a stolen car, headed west.

"They’re not looking for me, baby," he said. "They’re looking for you. That special thing about your mom, that one-in-a-trillion resistance she had against the disease that made her immune... you’ve got it, too. It’s in you, too. You’re immune, Ellie." He pulled her close to him so that their foreheads touched. "But I’m not going to let them take you. I’m not going to let them find you."

Ellie is mature beyond her years and she may have some special abilities beyond her immunity. As she clutches the shoe box that never leaves her side, she knows her dad is not telling her the whole truth.

Chapters in the narrative alternate between what is happening in the present and, starting two years ago, the backstory about what happened that lead up the David and Ellie's flight for safety. The disease is cruel and humanity may be on the verge of ending. Classified as a horror novel, there are scary parts and some creepy things that happen, but nothing shocking. Any horror is found in what people can do to each other, the progression of Wanderer's Folly, and, for me, the thought of insects taking over (and spiders growing huge). The tone is dark and hopeless. David and Ellie's safety is not guaranteed.

With great story telling combined with good writing, The Night Parade will capture your attention quickly. The narrative is easy to follow and you'll find yourself wanting to gallop through the novel quickly. The ice cream truck story is especially ominous. The Night Parade has similarities to several other novels but doesn't reach their level of terror/horror or the depth and completeness of the storytelling (King's The Stand and Firestarter; McCammon's Swan Song).

The significance of the title of The Night Parade to the characters is explained several different times. For some reason, the explanation felt forced to me, like the title came first and then an explanation for it was needed. This doesn't affect the plot in any way; it was just something I noted when reading. Additionally, I totally understand the cornfield on the cover, but the crow is out of place.

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

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Sunlight Pilgrims

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan
Crown/Archetype: 7/19/16
advanced reading copy; 310 pages
ISBN-13: 9780553418873

Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

~ Robert Frost

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan is a highly recommended frigid and prophetic character study set in 2020. The polar caps are melting, cooling the oceans, stopping the warm Gulf Stream and the world is being thrust into a new ice age. In this new increasingly dangerously frozen world, the illusion of three suns, commonly called Sun Dogs, or Parhelia, is common. In November of 2020 it is -6 degrees. As the months go on, the temperature continues to drop... -19...-38...-56. It is going to be a record breaking winter as snow is falling across the world places where snow never falls.

Dylan MacRae leaves London with the ashes of his beloved grandmother and mother in tow after the art house cinema his family has owned for 60 years goes bankrupt. He heads north to the Scottish harbor town of Clachan Fells where his mother left him a caravan. He is planning to eventually spread their ashes in the nearby Orkney Islands where his grandmother was born.

Living next door to Dylan's caravan is 12 year old Stella and her mother Constance. Dylan quickly becomes infatuated with Constance and friends with Stella. Thirteen months ago Stella used to be a boy named Cael, but having always realized she was meant to be a girl, her name is now Estella. Constance's goal is to stop the bullying of her trans daughter and survive the worsening weather. Once Dylan, Stella, and Constance become friends, they begin to work together to survive both Stella's journey and the worsening weather. And then there is the huge iceberg that is heading for the Clachan Fells Harbor.

It's helpful for the USA audience to mark that if the temperatures given are in Celsius, -6 C is 21.2 Fahrenheit, -19 C is -2.2 F;  -38 C is -36.4 F, and -56 C is -68.8 F. It's also interesting to note in passing that in the 1970's, rather than global warming, a coming ice age was the global weather prediction, so I've kind of been waiting for this end to the world, although perhaps not with the tie in to melting icecaps, but we'll go with it for the story rather than debate the science, cause I'm all about a good story. And, in all reality, the world is probably ending, but the focus is more on the lives of these three alienated people and Stella's struggles as a transexual. The weather is also a character, a beautiful and cruel character.

This is an extremely well written novel. It is not a science fiction novel, even though it has sci-fi elements as a consequence of the weather and coming ice age. It is more a character study of these people who chose to try and survive the deteriorating weather in an even crueler northern climate. The characters and their interaction are what make this novel.

Finally, you need to be mindful of the fact that, at least in my advanced reading copy, dialogue is denoted by a dash, as:
 - Do you really know who is talking?
- It's me. Aren't you paying attention?

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

Friday, July 15, 2016

Stranger, Father, Beloved

Stranger, Father, Beloved by Taylor Larsen
Gallery Books: 7/12/16
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501124754

Stranger, Father, Beloved by Taylor Larsen is a recommended debut novel featuring a family falling apart.

The James family is wealthy, living in a very nice Cape-style home on the Rhode Island peninsula. Michael James, his wife, Nancy, teenage daughter Ryan and young son Max should be content, but that isn't the case. Michael has a diagnosed mental illness, neurotic paranoia, and has been on medication for it for years. Now it seems that his medication isn't working as well as it should, probably due to Michael's drinking. That combined with his chronic insomnia is affecting his thought processes. When he sees his wife smiling and laughing with a stranger at a party, Michael decides that this man should be the one Nancy is married to and also the father to his children. Michael makes friends with the man, John, and sets his delusional plan into motion.

Stranger, Father, Beloved is told in the third person. Each chapter reflects the viewpoints of either Michael or Ryan, occasionally Nancy. It is all introspection, personal experiences, and thoughts. Michael is unlikable and looks at everything as something that could have been better had he made the right choice - the right choice being not his current life. Ryan, their teenage daughter, stays away from their home for days at a time, yet neither parent stops her. She is going through her own struggles with self-identity. Nancy is the long-suffering wife who loves Michael.

This is a very well written novel; however, it is unrelentingly sad. While I didn't find it particularly compelling, it does capture the slow demise of a family and Michael's paranoia. Ryan is actually the more interesting character, but the focus is on Michael, who is the most irritating.

Michael's constant looking to the past was tiresome for me. I know he has a mental illness, but he also sought out and craved sadness and dissatisfaction. His elevated opinion of his great mental prowess compared to lowly Nancy's lack of any intellectual ability was annoying. Ryan's actions and her freedom to basically do as she pleased because she is unhappy at home were startling. These parents are immersed into self-contemplation and yet so fearful of her reaction that they did not try to talk to her to find out where she has been for the past week?

Finally, the big startling revealing insight at the end felt contrived and opportunistic. Yes, Stranger, Father, Beloved is technically very well written and I stayed with it to the end. I just don't buy it.

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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

All Is Not Forgotten

All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker
St. Martin's Press: 7/12/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250097910

All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker is a very highly recommended psychological thriller.

Jenny Kramer, 15, is drunk when she wandered into the woods at a teenage party in Fairview, Connecticut. In the woods she is brutally raped for an hour. The rapist wore a condom and shaved all his body hair. When she is at the hospital her parents, Tom and Barbara, consent to the doctors giving her a new drug that will erase her memory of the attack. While Jenny's body heals, she won't have to deal with the psychological trauma. The problem is that the attack left scars, emotional and physical. Jenny is in pain emotionally but because she doesn't remember the attack she has nothing to fight against, except, perhaps, herself.

At the same time Tom is on a vendetta and is determined to find Jenny's rapist and bring him to justice. Barbara, on the other hand, is a master at splitting her personality into two people. She wants their lives to all continue as if nothing happened. Barbara has never dealt well with the pain from her childhood and she is unable to see/accept Jenny's pain. Jenny is angry, and emotionally distraught. She knows something happened to her, but she can't remember it. The town knows something happened to her and they do remember.

The narrator of the novel is Dr. Alan Forrester, the family's psychiatrist. He eventually has Jenny and both of her parents under treatment. He also shares some of the stories of other patients he has had that shed some light on their circumstances - or his involvement. He is a rather smug, self-important man and, for at least half of the novel you can't tell if he is a reliable narrator or not. He is nonjudgmental as he discusses events. His main stated goal is to help Jenny.

This dark psychological thriller will slowly surround and ensnare you. There is more going on than it appears, and secrets are slowly revealed. Even after you think you have something figured out, trust me, you don't. You really won't know the whole story right until the end. All Is Not Forgotten required slow, careful reading. I was actually surprised it wasn't a longer novel when I noticed the number of pages. It is a page turner, but it is a dense, complicated novel too.

The writing is outstanding. Walker presents an intelligent plot that is carefully crafted to slowly release just enough information. The narration by Dr. Alan Forrester is pitch-perfect. He's egotistical, kind of creepy, and a didactic know-it-all. He's the professional with the inside information of each individual and he's the one who is going to slowly tell you what he wants you to know when he thinks it is time. By the end I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this dark thriller and its twists and turns.

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


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Scribner: 7/12/16
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501121890

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon is a highly recommended debut novel featuring two ten year old girls who decide to look for God and solve a mystery.

It is the summer of 1976 and a heat wave has swept England. What is really troublesome is that Mrs. Creasy has disappeared from the cul-de-sac and no one knows why. Friends Grace and Tilly decide, after a casual conversation with the vicar, to search for God and Mrs. Creasy at the same time. Interestingly enough, the girls figure out that the adults around them aren't all being completely honest when answering their questions and it seems that the adults around them are hiding something. What all the adults seem to agree on is that Grace and Tilly should stay away from #11.

The title of the novel refers to a parable where Jesus is separating good from evil, explaining it as separating the sheep from the goats. The novel almost acts like a parable itself, showing how the truth will eventually be revealed and the hypocrisy of judging others without acknowledging your own involvement in wrong doing. (See the parable "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" Matthew 7:3) The citizens on the cul-de-sac firmly believe all their actions are just and they blame Walter Bishop in #11 (their goat, or scapegoat) for all manner of crimes.

Chapters alternate between the present day, 1976, and events occurring 9 years earlier, in 1967.
It seems to Grace and Till that the adults are hiding some secrets from that time and apparently Mrs. Creasy had begun to figure out some of the lies. The events of 1967 begin to explain some of the events of 1976. Each chapter begins with the date and address, making it clear which neighbor is narrating that piece of the puzzle. This is a very engaging story and  you will want to figure out what exactly happened in 1967 that has all these people blaming Walter Bishop for, well, everything.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a well written debut novel that combines a mystery with a coming-of-age story. Grace sounds much older than ten, so I simply mentally made her a couple years older and went on with the story. Admittedly, finding the image of Christ on a drainpipe was a bit of an eye-roller for me. It felt like it sent things too far over the top and made what was allegorical and symbolic into more of a farce. The end was a surprise.

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

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Last One

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
Random House: 7/12/16
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101965085

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva is a very, very good debut novel about a contestant in a survival reality TV show during an apocalyptic plague. It is a brilliant, shrewd, clever, astute novel.  Very highly recommended.

In the opening of The Last One, you know that people are going to be dying from an unknown illness.  As a new survival reality TV show is starting, people behind the scenes are dying. They try to get everyone out, but the contestants are on solo challenges and spread out across the wilderness area. The first chapter goes to a female contestant nicknamed Zoo. She is alone and trying to find the next clue during what she believes is a long solo challenge. She has been sick for several days, she thinks from bad water, so she knows she must be behind the others. Zoo is sure that the signs of destruction and distress she encounters are staged for the TV show.

Alternate chapters show the beginning of the show, introduce the characters for the program and their nicknames. These chapters go through the first week of filming for the program, during group challenges. In-between the chapters that cover the early action in the show, are the present day chapters where Zoo is looking for anything marked with light blue, the color for her clues in the show. She is trying to make her way to the next clue and sure that everything she encounters is tied into the show and are props - including bodies. Also included in the narrative are snippets from a fan forum for the TV show, which become important.

This is one intelligent, insightful post-apocalyptic novel. The world has changed, but we are viewing it through Zoo's eyes - and she is sure bodies are props and the things she encounters are staged. It's all for the production. We see in the early show chapters how encounters and actions are edited out or edited to change the viewers perception. Zoo is competitive enough to stay in the game and keep playing by the rules. The rules and the idea that she is still in a survival game cloud her judgement and undermine her intuition. The only way out of the show is to quit, and Zoo is determined to stay in the game and win the million dollars. She can explain away everything she sees as being part of the game.

The writing is incredible. Olivia's novel becomes reality and it is easy to see why Zoo believes the show is still ongoing, even when the surroundings seem to scream something is wrong. At the same time, the insights into Zoo's character are perceptive, discerning, and adroit. Zoo lets us know more about her inner most thoughts as the novel progresses. She is a fully developed character placed in an unbelievable situation that she encounters while thinking on some level that it is all staged.
This is likely to be on my top ten list for the year.

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

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Neon Green

Neon Green by Margaret Wappler
The Unnamed Press: 7/12/16
eBook review copy; 246 pages
ISBN-13: 9781939419712

Neon Green by Margaret Wappler is a highly recommended alternate history novel set in 1994 in Prairie Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and follows the Allen Family, Ernest and Cynthia, and their two teenagers Alison and Gabe. In this 1994, you can enter a sweepstakes to have a spaceship from Jupiter land in your backyard for 9 months, give or take a few weeks. Everything else is the 1994 you remember.

Ernest Allen, environmental activist and family patriarch, is indignant that Gabe entered the contest and actually won. Once the spaceship lands in their backyard, he is outraged and immediately corners Gabe, the only person over 16 who would have dared enter the sweepstakes. He then starts calling New World Enterprises, the company sponsoring the spaceships. First he wants them to remove it because he is sure that the ship is not environmentally safe and is dumping toxins into their yard every time it dumps gallons of neon green fluid onto his lawn. The EPA has declared it is safe, and Ernest has now real recourse, except to nag New World with phone calls. What kind of environmental footprint is this thing leaving?

He also has his family start a journal to record everything the spaceship does, including it's almost nightly show of lights and beeps and any discharge of the green liquid. They do this, but they also record other, less serious things, much to Ernest's consternation. He is very serious about the log. Ernest becomes increasingly obsessed and paranoid, inflicting his family with his daily preoccupations and diatribes. He really thinks that everyone should feel the same way he does. This obsessing is an on-going pattern for Ernest.

Ultimately, this is not a novel about the spaceship or aliens. It's a dysfunctional family saga. It's about how one man's obsession is affecting his whole family, and making them all suffer needlessly because he needs to blame something. Ernest may be freaking out over the spaceship, but he could just as easily be obsessing over the effect high voltage power lines and/or electromagnetic fields could have on his family's health.

Wappler's story is quite funny at times, especially Gabe and Alison reactions, but it is also heartbreaking. I really grew to dislike Ernest and felt that if he was really that serious, he should have tried to move. I would imagine there would be some kind of real estate market for a home with a spaceship in the backyard. He was so focused on it that he completely lost track of what he claimed to care about - his family - until it was too late to save what was left. My heart broke for Cynthia. She still loved him, but she deserved better from Ernest.

Neon Green is well written, but it also seemed to move slowly. This is a novel for those who like literary fiction involving a dysfunctional family in a unique setting. It isn't a novel for fans of science fiction. The spaceship is there, but it's simple a large visual representation of Ernest's character trait of obsessing over various subjects. Gabe and Alison were highlights. Neon Green could be a good choice for a book club because I imagine there are alternate views. Based on your devotion to environmental causes, you might appreciate Ernest much more than I did, and accept his flaws much easier.

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Hummingbird

The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan
HarperCollins: 6/28/16
Trade paperback; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062369550

The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan is an emotionally gripping very highly recommended novel with three distinct themes. It covers hospice care, PTSD, and a WWII Japanese bomber.

Deborah Birch is an experienced hospice nurse in Portland, Oregon, who knows that it's not about her. She firmly believes that "every patient, no matter how sick or impoverished, gives lasting gifts to the person entrusted with his care." This is why she sweeps her thumb down the back of a wooden hummingbird that a patient carved for her before she sees a new patient. She has been called into assist retired professor Barclay Reed, an expert on the Japanese in WWII. Reed has terminal kidney cancer and no family. He is bitter and tests each new nurse - and he's had many.

Deborah also believes that the measure of a vow does not lie in upholding it when things are easy, but, rather, your commitment is proven in times of difficulty. Her husband Michael is surely testing the strength of her vows. He has returned from his third deployment to Iraq a changed man. He is plagued by nightmares and anxiety. He is distant, cold, angry, and terrified. Deborah is desperate to find a way to help him recover and save their marriage.

After Deborah makes a breakthrough with Professor Reed, she confides in him about the difficulties with her husband. He is sure that he knows the secret to helping Michael. Reed feels that to help Michael, first Deborah needs to understand the code of a warrior. Although Reed left his academic career amid a scandal, he has the book he was working on at his home. He has Deborah read the book aloud to him.

The book is about WWII Japanese pilot Ichiro Soga, a descendant of samurais, who took off from a submarine in a light plane on a mission to bomb the forests in Oregon. Soga later atoned for the bombing. Reed is sure that the story will give Deborah the key to help Michael on the road to recovery. But, she must promise that she will decide if the story is true only after reading it and without consulting any outside sources. Between chapters of the novel is the professor's story of Soga. As the professor worsens (and perhaps Michael too), the story of Soga unfolds.

Kiernan does an excellent job handling the three themes. The information and stories of past cases Deborah shares as a hospice nurse is heartbreaking, but her commitment to her work is clear; her patience is laudable. You can see her courage, care, and temperament demonstrated in her current job helping Professor Reed. Then there is Michael's PTSD and Deborah's commitment to help him. It is certainly another timely topic and a real problem that many families face. The final subject is Soga's story, which is based on a real person, Nabuo Fujita, and real historical information.

The quality of Kiernan's writing is admirable. The novel flows smoothly and held my rapt attention beginning to end. But, most of all, Deborah is a wonderful, fully realized character. I like her.

It's always a pleasure to read a book that gives a nod to the intelligence of the reader and that is the case here. We have three very different topics all making an appearance in this novel, and all three are interesting and worthy of a novel in their own right. The message of absolution and forgiveness is timeless and is integrated into all three storylines, albeit in different ways. The two are a part of the story, while the story of Soga is truly a story within the novel itself. It was an effective way to integrate Soga's journey into the present daily activity.

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


Sunday, July 3, 2016

I Am No One

I Am No One by Patrick Flanery
Crown/Archetype: 7/5/16
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101905852

I Am No One by Patrick Flanery is a recommended character study about the loss of personal privacy in the age of public security concerns.

When Professor Jeremy O'Keefe failed to get tenure at Columbia, he took a position at Oxford University shortly after 9/11, leaving his soon-to-be-ex wife and daughter back in the States. After living in the U.K. for ten years and acquiring dual citizenship, he accepts a position at NYU and returns to NYC. He begins to receive mysterious boxes containing records of his Internet browsing history, phone calls, and photos from the past ten years. What event in his life could have triggered this surveillance? Then there is Michael Ramsey, a young man who keeps unexpectedly appearing in Jeremy's daily life. Is he being followed? And is Ramsey the same young man who seems to be watching his apartment? What could Jeremy have possibly done to warrant this intense scrutiny?

I Am No One is written as a first person narrative utilizing long sentences in a formal tone.  And Jeremy does drone on and on and on. He is not the most compelling or interesting character, so he could potentially represent an everyman - but no, not really, once the whole story comes out. He is also simply too formal, wordy, pedantic, and, most of all, boring, before all the information is revealed. There are many characters that are delusional about their actions and the consequences of those actions, so the struggle is to make us care about this particular everyman. In that goal, Flanery did not succeed.

Where the novel succeeds is in the cautionary portion of the narrative. Most average people don't know or really care about the extent of government intrusion and surveillance in their private lives; or, for that matter, the loss of privacy through other entities. All of our activities are kept track of in some way, especially digitally (stores with rewards cards or those who track your browsing history on their site, etc.). The government may not be watching you specifically, but someone is carefully tracking some part of your life, even if the goal is commercial.

This is not a thriller or even a mystery. It is a character study with a message - and it moves excruciatingly slowly. Finishing the novel became a feat of endurance for me. The quality of the writing is wonderful, which helped my determination to persevere to the end. While I appreciate the overarching message and warning, the presentation may not appeal to a wide audience

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

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Listen to Me

Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 7/5/16
eBook review copy; 208 pages
ISBN-13: 9780544714441

Listen to me and I will speak: but first swear, by word
and hand, that you will keep me safe with all your heart. 
Homer, The Iliad

Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard  is a highly recommended modern gothic thriller.

Mark and Maggie are a forty-something-year-old couple who are going through a rough time in their relationship. The trouble started after Maggie, a veterinarian, was violently mugged. The aftermath left Maggie with an overwhelming fear, PTSD. She is scared of the evil and violence that can seemingly lurk everywhere. Nowhere is safe. Maggie is on the internet, obsessing over terrible, tragic attacks that have happened to other people and imagining they could happen to her. She was getting better, but when the police came by to talk to her because a college student in their neighborhood was killed in a mugging, she loses it again and sinks back into her fear and paranoia.

Mark, a college professor, has had enough of the fear, the mace, the internet searches, the thought to get a gun. He wants the old Maggie back, the woman he fell in love with. He decides that they need to take off from their home in Chicago to his parent's country house in Virginia asap to help mend their relationship.

As Mark and Maggie, along with her dog Gerome, take off, a storm is brewing, literally. The weather is bad along their route. Electricity is going out in the towns along the way and the rain is pounding down. They need to find some place to stop, but it seems everyplace is full. Perhaps the motel off the highway will have a vacancy.

The story is fast paced and takes place over 24 hours. Chapters alternate between the thoughts of Mark and Maggie, which is very effective way to develop both characters in this short novel. The tension builds gradually and your anxiety will be slowly rising as the storms worsen and their trip continues. When you reach the point where just want something to happen to break the tension, you won't want what does happen to be it, but Pittard takes it and makes a powerful social statement with the ending.

The writing is quite good. I was very absorbed in the back and forth between Mark and Maggie, what each of them was feeling and thinking apart from the other - the emotions, ruminations, assumptions, and suspicions. They both know their relationship is stressed, but what they share with each other isn't always exactly what they are thinking. This, aside from the startling ending, is the examination of a marriage under duress and how the two very different individuals in this relationship are handling the stress of their expectations.

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


Millennium by Ben Bova
Endeavor Press: 6/24/16 (re-release)
eBook review copy; 295 pages
ISBN: 9780394494210

Millennium by Ben Bova is the highly recommended re-release of the novel originally published in 1976.

Millennium is set in 1999 on the moonbase Selene. Selene is the name the Americans and Russians living on the base call the moon, in contrast to the names given by the officials on Earth to the separate American and Russian areas in the moonbase. Inhabitants of Selene call themselves "Luniks" and the two coexisting communities have a good working relationship. Things are different on Earth, where the Americans and Russians are heading into an undeclared war. Both sides are trying to destroy the others defense satellites and are trying to pull the moonbase into the battle. In a shocking move, American Colonel Chet Kinsman and Russian Colonel Piotr Leonov declare themselves the independent nation of Selene and take control of the orbiting stations that control the satellites of both sides.

While reading Millennium, the first thing you will notice is the 1999 date and how the novel shows it's age. The cold war from the 1970's is alive and well. (Of course, China is nothing  and of no concern as far as the world political climate is concerned in this novel.) The Americans versus the Soviets was certainly timely when Millennium was written. Additionally, the setting may be sci-fi, but this is a novel more concerned with social commentary on the cold war. Certainly Bova has added sci-fi aspects. And, since this was written in 1976, it's interesting to see how he envisioned technological advances in the future.

It is well written, but it does show it's age in the subject matter and in the societal interactions depicted. Whether to recommend reading Millennium depends upon your own point of view. Read it with the idea to simply enjoy some old science fiction (from your younger days for me) and you will find it enjoyable. If you focus on the flaws, you won't.

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