Sunday, October 30, 2016

This Way to the End Times

This Way to the End Times: Classic Tales of the Apocalypse edited by Robert Silverberg
Three Rooms Press: 10/17/16

eBook review copy; 468 pages
ISBN-13: 9781941110485

This Way to the End Times: Classic Tales of the Apocalypse edited by Robert Silverberg is a very highly recommended anthology of 21 wildly diverse apocalyptic stories. Don't miss this collection!

This collection covers the gamut from early, classic writers to recent contemporary authors. The end comes in incredible variety of ways, including the expected fire and ice scenarios, to willful extinction in many forms, to natural disasters, to "visitors" from beyond and more. The stories selected are all well written, most of them are exceptionally well written. Silverberg did a wonderful job in his selection of stories to include in this anthology. He opens the book with an introduction to the collection, where he points out: "Since apocalyptic visions are nearly universal in the religious literature of the world, and probably always have been, it’s not surprising that they should figure largely in the fantasies of imaginative storytellers." Then, before each story, he has an interesting and informative shorter introduction to the specific author and story.

There are many stories in this collection that I loved, but, incredibly, didn't have even one that I disliked. I'm giving credit to the care in which they were chosen as well as the talent of all the writers included. This is a great collection of superb stories!

Contents include:
INTRODUCTION by Robert Silverberg
THE LAST GENERATION by James Elroy Flecker
FINIS by Frank Lillie Pollock
THE COMING OF THE ICE by G. Peyton Wertenbaker
N DAY by Philip Latham
GUYAL OF SFERE by Jack Vance
A PAIL OF AIR by Fritz Leiber
WHO CAN REPLACE A MAN by Brian W. Aldiss
THE NEW ATLANTIS by Ursula K. Le Guin
THE WIND AND THE RAIN by Robert Silverberg
AFTER-IMAGES by Malcolm Edwards
DAISY, IN THE SUN by Connie Willis
FINAL EXAM by Megan Artenberg
PRAYERS TO THE SUN by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
LAST AND FIRST MEN by Olaf Stapledon

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

The Best Is Yet to Come

The Best Is Yet to Come by Anne Bryan Smollin
Ave Maria Press: 10/10/16
eBook review copy; 192 pages
ISBN-13: 9781933495965

The Best Is Yet to Come: Living Fully in Each Moment by Anne Bryan Smollin, Patricia A. St. John C.S.J. is a highly recommended book that is sure to encourage and inspire anyone who reads it.

This is the final book written by Sr. Anne Bryan Smollin (1943-2014) and finished for her by Sr. Patricia St. John, C.S.J. Sr. Anne's gift for telling humorous stories while bringing the point home is clearly shown in the brief inspirational chapters. You may have read several of the stories she shares already, but read them once again and allow the final message to sink in. There are also several personal anecdotes that lead to lessons. The end result of  The Best Is Yet to Come, is a positive, uplifting book with a helpful, loving message. Parts are perhaps more applicable if you are Catholic, but most of this wonderful little book will have a broad, wide ranging appeal.

There are some terrific quotes:

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who wake up in the morning and say, “Good morning, Lord,” and those who wake up in the morning and say, “Good Lord, it’s morning!” How we wake up each day and how we spend our precious 86,400 seconds is our choice.

We have the power as well as the possibility to increase our level of happiness and joy. Studies indicate that everyday activities such as gardening, listening to relaxing music, stroking a pet, smiling, singing, and enjoying a hug will increase our happiness level.

Laughter is a metaphor for the entire range of positive emotions: hope, love, faith, cheerfulness, humor, creativity, playfulness, and confidence. How rich is one who has a laughing buddy!

We cannot allow our fears to define us. If we do, we may never know what is possible. “Never be afraid to try something new."

I believe in miracles; I believe in the sacred events that unfold in our lives every day. We just don’t always recognize them because they are not packaged the way we would like them to be. Or they are not exactly what we are looking for.

What we look for we find! If we look for joy, peace, and happiness we will find them. If we look for disappointment, anger, or distrust we will find it.

We need to believe and trust. Prayer is always answered. Sometimes it is not the response we are looking or asking for, but it is always answered.

We have to do our part. We need to be responsible, proactive people. Wishing for things doesn’t make them real.

Deal with the stress in your life. If you don’t, it will deal with you. Stress blocks us from seeing the humor in our day. We need to keep things in perspective. Many of life’s daily happenings are beyond our control. Additionally, we have no power over another’s behaviors. Don’t rent space in your head for things like that. People are going to act the way they want to act, not the way you want them to act. You only have control over your own behavior.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Terranauts

The Terranauts by T. C. Boyle
HarperCollins: 10/25/16
eBook review copy; 528 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062349408

The Terranauts by T. C. Boyle is a highly recommended fictionalized account of a biodome project in 1994.

In the desert near Tillman Arizona is an Ecosphere, E2. Covering 3 acres, E2 is a sealed self-sufficient prototype of what a biodome on an off-earth colony, a new Eden, would be like. It has five biomes (rainforest, savanna, desert, ocean, and marsh) and enough water, vegetation, and animals to sustain a small colony of 8 adults. Out of sixteen finalists, eight are chosen to be Terranauts. The group chosen for this mission are: Dawn Chapman, Manager of Domestic Animals; Tom Cook, Technosphere Supervisor; Gretchen Frost, Manager of Wilderness Biomes; Diane Kesselring, Supervisor of Field Crops and Crew Captain; Richard Lack, Medical Officer; Ramsay Roothoorp, Communications Officer/Water Systems Manager; Troy Turner, Director of Analytic Systems; Stevie van Donk, Marine Systems Specialist.

E2, or New Eden is the brainchild of Jeremiah Reed. The Terranauts, in keeping with the religious theme, call him G.C. for God the Creator. G.C  views E2 as "both an adventure in scientific discovery and a momentous publicity stunt." G.C. mans mission control with Judy, his assistant and girlfriend. To the Terranauts she is Judas, "because she was a betrayer, or at least that was her potential." Dennis Roper is called Little Jesus and Dennis Iverson is G.F., short for God the Financier.

The Terranauts are sealed off from the world, although they can be viewed by the world through the glass walls. Visitors must come to a designated area and then speak through a phone to the person inside. It is both an ecological experiment on perhaps settling on another planet one day, and a psychological experiment looking at how a group of 4 women and 4 men will engage with each other and if relationships will form. Because the first group, Mission One, failed, this Mission Two group has taken up the anthem, "A pledge is a pledge: nothing in, nothing out."

The novel is presented through three different narrators. They are having an inner monologue, sharing their inner thoughts while telling what is happening in E2, so they are very honest, for good or bad. Two narrators, Dawn Chapman and Ramsay Roothoorp, are Terranauts. Dawn is the positive narrator, the one who truly believes in the project and staying the course to the end. Ramsey is an immature womanizing jerk who can apparently charm whoever he wants into bed, but he can also put a spin on any situation. The third is Linda Ryu, one of the sixteen finalists who was not chosen for Mission two. Linda now works for Mission Control. Linda and Dawn were good friends, but clearly they are more frenemies now. Linda is bitter and scheming.

The Terranauts was based on a real story of people who tried living sealed into a biosphere. Boyle takes their story one step further here and tells the story of the next crew through a two year stay.

T. C. Boyle is an amazing writer. I found the quality of the writing to be incredible. Reviews are all over the place on this novel, which surprises me because I was totally engaged in the plot and the characters. Yes, it is a long novel, but I didn't even realize how long until after I was finished. (I just thought I was reading slowly.) Ramsey and Linda are unlikable characters, but the reader is privy to the narrators real thoughts on everything, and not everything that goes through a person's mind is positive or uplifting. On the plus side, this results in the narrators being very well developed characters. I finished The Terranauts and I could picture it really happening, as if Boyle recorded the thoughts of people during a real second mission in 1994.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

Friday, October 21, 2016

This Was Not the Plan

This Was Not the Plan by Cristina Alger
Touchstone: 10/18/16
eBook review copy; 368 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9781501103766

This Was Not the Plan by Cristina Alger is a recommended novel about discovering what is important in life.

Charlie Goldwyn works long hours trying to make partner at the Manhattan corporate law firm where he works. Charlie is a widow whose 5 year-old son, Caleb, has been watched/raised by his twin sister, Zadie, since the death of his wife, Mira, two years ago. After spending a long 72 hours at work to complete a big case, Charlie just wants to go home, but he has to attend a party for the new associates at the firm. He ends up drinking too much and making a speech that is brutally honest about life at the firm. His drunken speech was being filmed and is put on YouTube, where it goes viral, resulting in Charlie being fired from the firm.

Now that Charlie's free to watch Caleb, Zadie asks to take a little vacation, leaving Charlie totally in charge of his son. What Charlie wants is his job back. Even when Mira was alive, she was the caregiver, not Charlie. Now it's all up to him to become the father his wife wanted him to be, but the one he hasn't been. The forced time off from work will also give him a chance to grieve the loss of his wife. But there are a lot more surprises in store for Charlie as he learns to become the father Caleb deserves.

Even though Charlie loses his job, you know that nothing really bad is going to happen here. Anything really bad has already happened, off the page, and is only discussed now. Charlie is really the only well-developed character while the rest of the characters are more caricatures of a type of person. The narrative alternates between present day actions and Charlie's memories of Mira. The story heads in a predictable, familiar direction, which isn't always bad.

In the final analysis, this is a pleasant, feel-good book. The writing is good. There is some substance to the story even though it's meant to be and written as light escapism. Many reviewers liked this one much more than I did. To be honest, I didn't really like the free spirited character of Mira, which sort of put a damper on my enjoyment.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

Stars at Night

Stars at Night by Paula D'Arcy
Franciscan Media: 10/21/16
eBook review copy; 192 pages
ISBN-13: 9781632530424

Stars at Night: When Darkness Unfolds as Light by Paula D'Arcy is a recommended book of meditations and thoughts on loss and transcending the darkness to find light.

Paula D’Arcy was only 27 when a drunk driver killed her husband and young daughter. She survived the accident and so did her unborn child. As D'Arcy was crying out, she discovered "a presence within her that responded to her fearful cries for help. Her anguished heart was met by a great tenderness and wisdom, which she grew to recognize as a transcendent love." This realization helped her find her way out of the darkness into the light.

She feels that we all have dark times, they are a natural part of life, and may need help making our own way through and back to the light. The Stars at Night offers hope.
Paula is a writer, playwright, retreat leader, and conference and seminar speaker. In 2001, she established Red Bird Foundation, which supports the growth and spiritual development of those in need throughout the world, including men and women in prison. The foundation has sponsored two international gatherings of women known as WOMENSPEAK, conferences which honor the woman’s voice as a force of peace and healing for the world.

D'Arcy writes her reflections in a meditative, poetic manner. This didn't quite work for me. I would be reading, appreciating the tone she was setting and then, boom, I was distracted. I kept finding sentences where my attention to the meaning was lost because I was mentally rewriting the sentence so it made more sense or was grammatical correct. This is notable because I am not a writer and have no illusions about that fact. I am, however, a voracious reader who can recognize the quality of the writing.

This was a so-so book for me that I was hoping I would like much more. I went through a dark period where my whole life was changed. This already stressful time was punctuated by overwhelming, profound loss and grief when two close immediate family members died, 1 1/2 months apart. Now, looking back at that time, which hasn't been all that long ago, it was a season of loss where my faith sustained me, held me, and I survived, stronger but changed. While Stars at Night will offer help and hope for people, it was too vague in the sense of where and in whom their hope should lie during those dark times.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Truevine by Beth Macy
Little, Brown and Company: 10/18/16
eBook review copy; 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316337540

Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest by Beth Macy is the very highly recommended true story of two African-American brothers who were stolen and shown as circus freaks. Macy summarizes her book as "It's a story about race, greed, and the circus, and I've been chasing it for more than 25 years."

The story of how 9 year old George, and 6 year old Willie Muse were stolen in 1899 right out of the tobacco field where they were working was handed down through the African-American families who lived in Truevine, Virginia, for generations. George and Willie, who were both albinos, were enslaved by a circus side-show manager and forced to be on display as various caricatures over the years. The Muse brothers became a popular top tier sideshow act. At Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey they were known as "Eko and Iko, the Ecuadorian Savages. During various other shows they were billed as cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even "Ambassadors from Mars."

Their mother may have initially made an agreement for the boys to work at the sideshow, but did not plan to have her boys enslaved by a shifty promoter and never returned home. She spent 28 years trying to get them back and securing pay for their work, which had been uncompensated.

The historical scope of Macy's book is rich in period details and facts. Macy divides her book into four parts. She focuses on the world the boys were born into, the Jim Crow South, and looks at the life in the circus, including  the side show acts/performers and managers, while uncovering the scarce details she could find about the life of the Muse brothers in the circus. Macy clearly admires Harriet Muse, the boy's mother, and her determination to find and secure some kind of compensation for their work. She managed to use the legal system to her advantage during a time when that scarcely seems possible.

Truevine is an extremely well researched, thoughtfully written, historical account that is just as gripping as a thriller. Macy, a reporter, spent years waiting for the Muse family to approve her covering this story. Then she spent more time researching the story of the Muse brothers and the pertinent background information. and the historical context of the times. Her account of the facts and presentation of the historical information is simple fascinating and results in a compelling narrative that is a credit to her skills at research, reporting the facts, and presenting the information in a factual yet compassionate way. 

As is my wont, I was thrilled to see that Truevine includes extensive notes for each chapter and an index.  This is one non-fiction book that should not be missed.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Beautiful Maids All in a Row

Beautiful Maids All in a Row by Jennifer Harlow
Random House Group: 10/11/16
eBook review copy; 325 pages
ISBN-13: 9780425285855
Iris Ballard series #1

Beautiful Maids All in a Row by Jennifer Harlow is a highly recommended thriller.

Dr. Iris Ballard is just trying to survive day to day now. Two years ago she was working as a profiler for the FBI when she and her husband were attacked in their home by a serial killer she has helped track down. Her husband was killed. Iris survived being cut open but lives daily with flashbacks, phantom pain from her wounds, and guilt. She left the FBI and is teaching at a small college, drinking and mixing it with pills to forget. She rarely gets a full night of sleep from the nightmares.

Iris happens to see her former partner, Luke Hudson, on TV, as part of the investigation to find the serial killer dubbed "The Woodsmen." She also realizes that she knew his latest victim. When Luke shows up at her door asking for help in constructing a psychological profile of the killer, she's not interested, until she sees the case file and reluctantly agrees to help. Iris is up against an intelligent killer who thrives on control and not making mistakes. Can Iris help Luke and the FBI or has she really met her match?

Beautiful Maids All in a Row is a page-turner. The writing is good. The plot moves along with only a few stalls along the way. The serial killer is ruthless and takes pleasure in being cruel and torturing his victims. The descriptions of his actions are vivid and brutal.  Iris is depicted as a real person; she is flawed, damaged, and struggling with her own anger issues and mental health. Luke is less well developed as a character, but Harlow does set up a backstory for the two. This looks like an intriguing start of a new series. Based on this first book, I would certainly pick up the next book featuring Iris Ballard. Yeah, she's damaged physically and emotionally, but she is also tough and determined.

There are several flaws in this novel, but, after I learned that Harlow was 19 when she wrote this years ago, I am choosing to overlook them - even though she has written several books since and could have, perhaps edited some of the questionable material out or added material to keep it realistic in the novel. Specifically I'm questioning the opening addictive behavior of Iris and the abrupt cessation of her addictive pattern. A patch is mentioned for the smoking (not as easy as all that) but what about the drugs and alcohol? The something in the mouth scene was too close to Silence of the Lambs for me. But, moving beyond any qualms, I think Iris has a lot of potential for more investigations.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
47North: 10/11/16
eBook review copy; 300 pages
ISBN-13: 9781503939110

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison is a very highly recommended plague/post-apocalyptic novel that held my rapt attention from start to finish.

Society has fallen apart. A disease, a plague of Biblical proportions, has stricken the world. It’s likely autoimmune, but nothing seems to stop it: "No antibiotic. No interferon. No anti-inflammatory, no sedative, no emetic, nothing. Nothing touches this once it starts." This has resulted in the death of 98% of the world's men, but it has been even more devastatingly fatal to women and children. It seemingly targets women and children. Childbirth is deadly for both mother and baby, but always for the baby.

An unnamed woman, a labor and delivery nurse in San Francisco who toiled in vain to try to save women and babies during the height of the plague before she became ill, wakes up in the hospital, alive, with no survivors around her. She knows who she is, where she is, and that she has survived the illness, but has no idea how long she was sick or what day it is. She makes it home, realizing that the world has changed since her illness. The first person she encounters is a man who breaks into her apartment that first night and tries to brutally rape her.

"When the sirens quit, the rules gave out. Some people had been waiting their whole lives to live lawlessly, and they were the first to take to the streets. Some people knew that would happen; they knew better than to open their doors when they heard cries of help. Others didn’t. What disease cannot do, people accomplish with astonishing ease."

Our heroine quickly learns that being a woman is a dangerous proposition in this new world where women are very rare and are captured to become sex slaves for gangs of men. Even men who might be allies don't want a woman with them because it makes them targets for the gangs who aren't as civilized. She makes the life-saving decision to shave her head, wear a chest binder, and dress like a man. When she meets anyone, she gives them a false name. We never learn her real name, which she guards closely, a secret piece of her that she keeps to herself.

She finds a gun and arms herself, which wasn't easy in California. Because of her experiences as a nurse, she collects medical supplies, especially birth control because if she meets any women this can save their lives. As she makes her way north and then east, she sees women chained as slaves, used as a commodity (sex) for trading goods, and brutally used and abused by their captors. She has to kill men trying to capture her. Long portions of her time are spent alone, although she saved and travel with another woman for a while. She meets some survivors. Most importantly is that she manages to stay alive in this new world.

The novel is partly written as journal entries, and as such the language is very informal, just as it would be if you were writing something for yourself. In the opening we know that young scribes in the future are being charged with making a copy of this journal, so it is startling to see the stark difference between the formal language in the opening followed by the language of the journal entries. 

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is a gritty, harsh, raw story. Elison tells it like it would very likely be in this scenario. Nothing is sugar coated. There are no safe places for a woman. If you have ever felt that society tends toward the misogynistic now, then this is what happens when there are no filters or restraints. I was hooked from the beginning mention of the plague and read it straight through. Sure I lost some sleep but this is one post-apocalyptic tale that is worthy of the time. It is realistic, thought provoking, brutal. After reading it, I have been thinking about it, pondering parts of it, for days, and that, my friends, says it all. Deservedly, it won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award Winner for Distinguished Science Fiction.

There is a part two, The Book of Etta, due to be released in February 2017.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

Small Great Things

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Random House Group: 10/11/16
eBook review copy; 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345544957

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult is a very highly recommended novel that targets race and prejudice.

For over twenty years Ruth Jefferson has been a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital. During the beginning of her shift she is assigned to the room where the mother has just had the baby. Ruth enters the room and begins the routine checkup on the newborn when the father demands to speak to her supervisor. The parents, the Bauer's, who have the newborn are avowed white supremacists and do not want a black person in their room. Ruth is taken off the case and a post-it note is left in their file saying that no African-American is to touch their child. Ruth is the only nurse on staff that this note would apply to, but she complies and moves on with her day.

The next day every other nurse on staff is assisting with an emergency c-section and Ruth is left alone in the nursery. When the Bauer's baby goes into cardiac distress, Ruth must decide if she should follow her training and natural instinct to try and save the baby or if she should follow the orders to not touch this child. When the charge nurse enters and orders Ruth to assist her in trying to save the baby's life, Ruth follows orders, doing compressions for CPR as a whole team rushes in to help. Unknowingly, the parents also rush into the room. After the child dies they claim Ruth was purposefully beating on the chest of their baby trying to kill him. Murder charges end up being filed and Ruth is arrested.

The narrative is told through three different viewpoints: Ruth; Turk Bauer, the white supremacist; and Kennedy McQuarrie, the white public defender. Despite Ruth's objections, Kennedy advises Ruth that they need to keep race out of her trial because it is not a winning strategy. The novel was inspired by a real event in which a white supremacist father refused to allow an experienced African-American labor and delivery nurse to touch his newborn.

In my opinion, the novel could have been stronger if told through Kennedy's viewpoint, one that would basically be Picoult's, and reflect her enlightenment to racial profiling and white privilege as the case unfolded. It would have allowed a more natural realization of how white privilege is a part of her world every day. The ending is a wee bit too pat and positive, with issues nicely settled, to be a reflection of the real world, but it is nice to have a solid ending.

I was annoyed by one small part, when Ruth, who has taken a fast food job, doesn't want Kennedy to think of her as someone who would work at that job if she had any other choice. Um, lots of people have service jobs and not all of them are teenagers. Lots of people have taken jobs for which they are over qualified. Sometimes life happens no matter what your racial background. There is no shame in working. I wouldn't have my current management position if I hadn't taken a part time retail position for a little extra income.

In the end, it has to be noted that Picoult is an incredible, exceptional writer. She takes her gift for capturing characters and always tackles a controversial issue in her novels. Book groups should love Small Great Things and the discussions it will spark. While she may have had a few missteps with this one for me, I'm giving her full points for the discussion, and all the discussions it should inspire (including mine above.)  Additionally, Picoult held my attention from the beginning to the end in this page turner. 4.5, rounding up to 5.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

Monday, October 10, 2016


Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Penguin Random House: 10/11/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780804141291

As part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, William Shakespeare's The Tempest is retold in Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. It is very highly recommended.

Felix Phillips was the acclaimed and creative Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival until he was forced out of his position by his scheming and conniving second-in-command, Tony Price. After his ignoble exit, he goes into a self-imposed exile, living in a remote shack. After twelve years pass, Felix applies under the name of Mr. Duke for the position of a teacher in the Literacy Through Literature program at the Fletcher County Correctional Institute. His one requirement is that he be allowed to use Shakespeare's plays to teach and that he be allowed to have his students/inmates put on the play. His class becomes wildly popular and highly successful in increasing literacy among the participants.

When he learns that his nemesis Tony and the other bigwigs that ousted him from the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival will be visiting the Fletcher County Correctional Institute with the intent of ending the Literacy Through Literature program, Felix has another end game in mind. They don't know he is the one teaching the program as they only know him as Mr. Duke. This is Felix's chance to put on a performance of The Tempest, the play he was planning to direct before Tony had him removed from his position.

The narrative is a parallel to the play as Atwood uses her characters to retell The Tempest while also having the inmates perform their version of the play. The results are simply amazing. The vengeance, magic, spirits, etc. are all there, but the prisoners are allowed to rewrite sections to make their performance based on a more contemporary version. This Tempest has the re-writing of the play featuring rapping  - and Ariel is no ethereal fairy. The inmates are also only allowed to swear using Shakespearean swear words found in the original.

I am delighted with this fourth addition to the Hogarth series. Atwood's narrative is wonderfully inventive and compelling. Don't expect boring or tell yourself that you aren't interested in a re-imagining of Shakespeare. This is a thoroughly modern take on the plot and a man seeking revenge. A synopsis of Shakespeare's original plot in The Tempest is found at the conclusion of Hag-Seed for those who are interested or need some refreshing of their memory. 

Atwood is, as always, brilliant. I am a dedicated fan of her writing anyway, but Hag-Seed is clever, humorous, and a marvelously complete, original retelling of the play. The Hogarth series has featured Jeanette Winterson's The Gap of Time (The Winter's Tale), Howard Jacobson's Shylock is My Name (The Merchant of Venice), Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew), and  Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed (The Tempest). I highly recommended Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl, but for me, Atwood's
Hag-Seed was a more successful adaptation. I am anxious to read the first two books in the Hogarth series and I'm planning to read each new adaptation as soon as possible.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

A Desolate Splendor

A Desolate Splendor by John Jantunen
ECW Press: 10/11/16
eBook review copy; 312 pages
ISBN-13: 9781770412040

A Desolate Splendor by John Jantunen is a so-so survival tale told in a western patois.

The opening has a band of some kind of child warrior/savages accompanied by dogs arriving at the front door of a rural homestead. Then the narrative switches to a different homestead, with Pa, Ma, the boy, and their pack of hounds. Then the narrative switches to two different groups, at which point some plot begins to take a vague shape and form as it jumps between the groups of people. Touted as a post-apocalyptic novel, you aren't going to really know/understand this right away. It could just as easily be historical fiction or alternate history from the dialect of the characters and the rural life they are living.

The collapse of civilization, the apocalypse, and really most of the description of the novel are spoiler-ish. I'm of two minds over this novel. There is no question that Jantunen is technically a good writer and had a plan for this story. I'm just not sure the story, as it is told, is successful for me. The description is what kept me reading past my usual cut-off for a novel that isn't working for me. I kept thinking it would get better. It is a dark, violent tale of survival and brutality. There is no real explanation of what happened and why the unnamed event turned the clock and the vernacular language of the characters back to reflecting a rural western language pattern. And to be honest, this dialect quickly became tiring and then annoying for me. It is also worth noting that there are no  quotation marks to denote dialogue.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Crosstalk by Connie Willis
Random House Group: 10/4/16
eBook review copy; 512 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345540676

Crosstalk by Connie Willis combines social satire, science fiction, and romantic comedy in a very highly recommended novel.

Set in the near future, a new procedure called the EED has been developed. It is touted as minor brain surgery, an "enhancement procedure" that creates a neural pathway which makes partners more receptive to each other's feelings, resulting in a deeper emotional connection. Briddey Flannigan and her boyfriend, Trent Worth, both work at Commspan, a small communications technology company. Trent is pushing hard for the EED. He implies that he will propose after the EED is done and he and Briddey have achieved the perfect relationship with complete empathy and understanding that should result.

Briddey's very connected and outspoken Irish American family opposes the procedure, as does her coworker C.B. Schwartz. She is used to her family being too involved and intrusive in her life, but she is surprised by C.B.'s insistence that it is a bad idea. When Trent somehow manages to get them in for the operation in a few days rather than spending months on the waiting list, Briddey goes ahead with the EED. What is shocking is that when Briddey finds herself connecting to someone it isn't Trent. She's hearing C.B.'s voice in her head, and the connection is telepathic.

To read a novel by Connie Willis is to know you are in the hands of a master. She is an incredible, awarding winning writer who know how to handle dialogue, character development, and plot advancement, all while mixing social commentary on our ever increasing need to be connected with a romantic comedy. I was actually surprised to see the number of pages in Crosstalk because they just flew by effortlessly in this engaging, fast-paced story. The way that Willis addresses our addiction to smart phones, social media, and an increasing amount of information in an intelligent, funny plot that is a little sci-fi and a little romance, is brilliant. 

Now there are parts that go over the top, like Briddey's over-involved family, but don't be too quick to dismiss or judge the novel based on their boundary issues. Step back, after you're done with it, and consider the novel as a whole. As someone who can easily (and happily) turn off their cell phone and doesn't always have to be connected, I can see that I'm the odd one out in the current trend to be more and more connected and how all this information and over-sharing on social media is, perhaps, not heading in a healthy direction. Willis captures these extremes in an astute, and inventive way in this social satire.

The title is perfect in more than one way:
crosstalk (‘krostok) noun 1. a disturbance in a communication device’s (radio, telephone, etc.) transmission caused by a second device’s transmission, resulting in crossover, intermingling, and confusion; the presence of unwanted signals and/or interference due to accidental coupling 2. incidental, off-topic conversation during a meeting 3. witty, fast-paced repartee; banter

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Venom Doc

Venom Doc by Bryan Grieg Fry
Arcade Publishing: 10/4/16
eBook review copy; 316 pages
ISBN-13: 9781628726992

Venom Doc: The Edgiest, Darkest, Strangest Natural History Memoir Ever by Bryan Grieg Fry is the very highly recommended memoir of a professional venom biologist.

In this very appealing conversational style memoir Bryan Grieg Fry, Australia's most renowned field biologist/venomologist, shares stories, jokes, close calls and quips. Ultimately it is all about what he loves: venomous creatures. Yup. Fry loves all things poisonous and deadly. He has been "bitten by twenty-six venomous snakes, been stung by three stingrays, and survived a near-fatal scorpion sting while deep in the Amazon jungle. He’s received more than four hundred stitches and broken twenty-three bones, including breaking his back in three places, and had to learn how to walk again." I know this may surprise all of you, but Fry lives a much more exciting, adrenaline pumped life than I do and I'm good with that.

Venom Doc (Check out the website for YouTube videos and more information)
YouTube Video
venom evolution chart
There are also many pictures to be found online of Fry and venomous creatures, but the book does include a section of black and white photos.

The great thing about Venom Doc is that you don't need a scientific background to enjoy it as Fry will explain any scientific or technical terms he uses and has made this memoir for the general public. While entertaining you, and you will be entertained (and maybe a bit horrified at his actions), he will also educate you. It is fast-paced and does not have any slow or boring sections, which is sort of what I expected and therefore was pleased about finding true. If you need to set this aside while reading it it will be because you needed the break, either because the action was overwhelming or creeped you out (guilty).  It's not all just for the thrills, though. Fry's discoveries have contributed to venom-based medications that can save lives.

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Napoleon's Last Island

Napoleon's Last Island by Thomas Keneally
Atria Books: 10/4/16
eBook review copy; 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501128424

Napoleon's Last Island by Thomas Keneally is a recommended historical fiction novel of Betsy Balcombe's account of Napoleon Bonaparte's banishment to the island of Saint Helena.

The story, written as journal entries, opens with Napoleon's death, as told by a British teenager, Betsy Balcombe, who befriended Bonaparte and then goes back to October of 1815 when Napoleon Bonaparte was first exiled to St. Helena, an island governed by the English. He is taken in by William Balcombe, a representative of the East India Company who is the provisioner of goods on the island. Bonaparte stays in the guest house because his resident wasn't ready. Napoleon and his small French entourage are well provided for while with the Balcombe's. He and Balcombe's daughter, Betsy, eventually become friends. When St. Helena’s new British governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, arrives, he is determine to make Napoleon's stay on the island painful and closer to being imprisonment. He also makes the Balcombe's suffer for their hospitality to Napoleon. The family struggles after their association with Napoleon, and move to Australia..

The formality of the language in the journal entries helps set the period tone for the novel. While it is technically well written and full of accurate, period details, and some interesting facts, the novel starts out strong and later slows down, especially as it details Betsy's growing up. The problem is that Betsy is not interesting enough to carry the story and after time the novel becomes slow and tedious. As noted by other reviews, there is some fictional ridiculousness and some obvious prejudice shown by Keneally toward the British, which lessens the impact of the rest of the narrative.

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

Dear Mr. M

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch
Hogarth/Penguin Random House: 9/6/16
uncorrected proof; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101903322

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch is a highly recommended novel about a novel based on real events.

H is the downstairs neighbor who loathes M, the novelist who moved into his apartment building a little less than a year ago and lives above him. H is keep a close eye on M, his very young wife, Ana, and daughter. Clearly his attentions to M seem to be malevolent, even before H makes it clear to the reader that he is not one of M's characters; he is a real flesh and blood person on whom a writer has loosely based a character. How implausible and quite the coincidence that M is now living above H. Perhaps some form of payback is in order.

M is an aging author whose popularity has been waning for years. Forty years ago he wrote one book that still sells and is actively in print, Payback. The novel was based on real events: two teens were accused of killing a teacher who had an affair with one of them. No body was ever found.

Koch begins strong, with H as the narrator. Then the novel switches to alternating points of view and the recounting of real events that happened in the past. Narrators include M, Herman and Laura (the teens), and the teacher. The real events surrounding the disappearance of the teacher in the past combined with current events that make a general uneasiness, along with the tension, rise. No one can be trusted as they all have rather pernicious motives and behaviors, which will leave you feeling increasingly uncomfortable.

The backstory of H, who is Herman, one of the teens M ostensibly wrote about, overwhelms the current story of M until the very end. The end itself is wonderfully clever and shocking.

Dear Mr. M is translated into English from Koch's native Dutch. I found the writing to be astute and inventive. Koch has an acerbic sense of humor and presents a keen perspective on the human condition. While the opening narrative from H clearly grabs your attention because of the sheer maliciousness he feels, the later narrators round out the story with their revelations and make it a more complex and layered tale. 

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House via Library Thing for review purposes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Ramblers

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley
HarperCollins; 2/9/16
hardcover; 385 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062413314

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley is a recommended novel about three successful Yale alumni in their 30's experiencing angst in NYC. All the action takes place during one Thanksgiving week. 

Clio Marsh is an ornithologist who works at the Museum of Natural History. A story about her weekly bird-watching walks through the Central Park Ramble is featured in New York Magazine opens up the novel. She is torn about having a committed relationship with 50 year-old hotel magnate Henry Kildare, a man who adores her. Clio feels unable to share information about her back ground and her mother with Henry.

Clio's best friend, Smith Anderson, comes from a wealthy, privileged background. Her parents, Bitsy and Thatcher not only have provided her with a million dollar apartment (that Clio stays in too), they have financed Smith's venture into her own business. She is recovering from her recently broken engagement to a doctor and is trying to pull herself together, with the help of a phone-in life coach, in time for her younger sister's impending wedding.

Tate Pennington has just sold his app PhotoPoet for millions of dollars to Twitter and is right in the middle of a divorce. He has returned to NYC from the west coast and just happens to run into Smith. Tate is at loose ends with no job, but more than enough money. He and Smith are attracted to each other immediately.

Rowley's novel is well written and includes bits of extra information about the characters (articles, papers, etc.) or epigraphs of people the characters revere, that add some interest. The setting is all Manhattan, from the Upper West Side, to Central Park, to Greenwich Village, and drops plenty of names of landmarks along the way for those familiar with NYC. The issues these characters are dealing with are nothing rare or earth shattering, but Rowley explores how these individuals are coping with their particular problems during this one week.

First, I will have to admit that I was expecting a totally different kind of book than the one I read, which puts me in a bit of a quandary. Rowley is an excellent writer and she did explore these characters and capture their feelings. However, I didn't enjoy this book and experienced more than my fair share of eye rolling at these angsty overly privileged characters and their whining. There, I've said it. Clio is all nervous because she's afraid to tell her billionaire boyfriend who just created a penthouse apartment for them in his brand new hotel that her mother was bi-polar. What is this - the 1950's? No? Then if you love him tell him. There is medication should you have the same problem in the future. Smith broke up with her fiancée and now her little sister, the doctor, is getting married. Goodness, no wonder you can't recover from that blow without the help of your call-in life coach. And poor Tate (figuratively speaking, literally he's loaded) is just looking for meaning and love in his life.

Concerning my rating, The Ramblers is recommended based on the writing and Rowley's ability to tell a story. Personally, it may not be a novel I would chose, but it is a very well written novel and very likely geared toward a (much) younger demographic than the one I represent. I guess I'm just too old to work up a lot of empathy for the problems these young adults are experiencing without wanting to tell them to just snap out of it. And don't get me started on their names. 


Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC for review purposes.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Feedback by Mira Grant
Orbit: 10/4/16 
eBook review copy; 496 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316379342
Newsflesh book 4
Feedback by Mira Grant is a highly recommended new addition to the Newsflesh series set 20 years in the future and on the presidential campaign trail during 2039-40. (And really, a zombie novel set during a presidential election year is almost irresistible.)

After the Rising, journalism now consists of online reporting through blogs. Aislinn (Ash) North (originally from Ireland), Benjamin Ross (her husband for green card purposes), Audrey (her girlfriend), and Mat (techie and gender-fluid) are housemates who work and live together. Ash is an Irwin blogger whose blog is called "Erin Go Blog," and Ben is a Newsie whose blog is called "That Isn't Johnny Anymore." Audrey is the fiction blogger and Mat has a makeup blog. They are surprised, but thrilled when they are selected to cover the campaign of the blue-pantsuited Democratic presidential nominee, Susan Kilburn. The famous brother and sister team, the Masons (from Feed), are covering the Republican presidential nominee.

The tension and danger rises when zombies begin to disrupt and attack campaign stops. Obviously, a conspiracy is afoot that will potentially affect the election. Ash is a tough, funny, woman who tells it like it is, but when Ash discovers a hidden agenda, her team may be the next planned target.

Expect the action to come hard and fast in this latest Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) novel narrated by Ash. Add to the list of expectations, or things to anticipate, plenty of political intrigue, zombie attacks, and even more paranoia. Although this is being touted as a new entry point for the original Feed series, new readers may want to consider starting at the beginning as starting here will mean spoilers for the previous books. If your goal is just to read a rip-roaring zombie novel with a diverse cast of characters, then go ahead and start here.

The series consists of: Feed, Deadline, and Blackout Rise is a collection of Newsflesh stories.

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

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Heart of Henry Quantum

The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
Gallery Books: 10/4/16
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501126802

The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding is a so-so tale of a love quadrilateral.

It is December 23 and Henry Quantum, aka Bones, needs to find a Christmas gift for Margaret, his wife of 15 years. His plan is to purchase a bottle of Chanel No. 5. Henry is very easily distracted by everything and his inner monologue often sends him off in different directions or has him missing his goal. When he leaves the office after a meeting in search of the perfume, he runs into an old flame, Daisy, who he had an affair with years earlier. Daisy is now divorced and misses Bones. In the meantime Margaret has taken the day off to spend it with her lover, Peter.

The book is set during one day, December 23, and told from the points of view of Henry, Margaret, and Daisy. While there are parts, bits and pieces, of this novel that are charming, and the setting is realistic and brilliantly described, mostly I found The Heart of Henry Quantum annoying and tedious. I began to dislike Henry only after a few pages. Sometimes following the stream-of-consciousness-inner-dialogue of a character can work, but, alas, not in this case. even if some of his inner thoughts were amusing, I ended up thinking that Henry needed some therapy to learn some good focusing skills in order to get from point A to B in one smooth line. Recording all his internal musing over a wide variety of things went too far.

When the focus switched to Margaret's point of view, I found her an even a more irritating character. Her lover, Peter, is even worse, but his appearance is brief. I had to agree with Margaret, however, that the ever-on-going wandering of Henry's thoughts was aggravating. Then we get to Daisy, the only even remotely likeable character in this whole mess. But, as all these people are/were married and having affairs, they sort of set themselves up for me to lose a vast amount of respect for them right at the start. I might have been able to roll with it if I liked Henry and wished him well. 

So, in the end the writing is good, if you can stomach all the stream-of consciousness from Henry. The plot is simple, a day in the life of these people. The characters, well, they are not very appealing. The only thing that pulled the rating up a bit for me was the ending, which I thought was a nice touch.

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

You Will Know Me

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Little, Brown and Company: 7/26/16
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316231077

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott is a highly recommended thriller set in the competitive world of young gymnasts.

Devon Knox is exceptional. Everyone knows it. Despite a childhood injury to her foot, Devon, daughter of Eric and Katie Knox, is on the Elite training path at the BelStars gym to, hopefully, be an Olympic gymnast. Devon is the star of the gym; her innate talent is both revered and resented by the other parents. The family, including her younger brother, Drew, has sacrificed a lot for Devon's dream.  Eric is obsessively involved with the boosters and fundraising efforts to help the gym and he and Katie have a second mortgage on their home just to keep Devon's dream alive. It is, of course, the whole family's dream (except for poor neglected Drew) but one that can only be fulfilled by Devon.

When a young man, Ryan, is tragically killed it sends ripples of gossip and rumors through the close-knit group of parents. Coach Teddy Belfour hasn't been to practices because Hailey, his niece and the tumbling coach at the gym, was dating Ryan and is devastated. There is gossip that he was going to propose to her, but who knows if that is true. The answers to all their questions aren't that simple. Now, while the police are trying to determine what happened to Ryan and who is responsible, Katie needs to find out some answers on her own and protect her daughter.

Even if you know little or nothing about gymnasts, you will recognize the overly involved parents who are obsessed with their children's activities. These parents feel the success of their children reflect upon them, which goes hand-in-hand with the belief that the abilities of their children are greater than they are in reality. (Sports, academics, etc., oh, the real life stories I could tell about others of their ilk!) These misguided parents are determined that their children will succeed - if they have any say on the matter - and most of them are overly optimistic about their true abilities of their children. Honestly, the parents are mainly annoying sheeple or, in the case of one obviously reprobate financier, controlling and overbearing.

You Will Know Me is an unsettling, compulsively readable family drama. It is very well written and had me hooked from the beginning, when you know that a young man will die, but don't have all the information or the back story yet. Abbott does an excellent job setting up the story and allowing the truth to slowly unfold and reveal itself. I found it thoroughly enjoyable even though I did figure out the direction the story was going to take long before it went down that path. My heart broke for young Drew, who has his own interests and gifts that are neglected in favor of Devon's goals. What would you sacrifice to support your child's endeavors and dreams?

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