Sunday, June 18, 2017

Wilders

Wilders by Brenda Cooper
Pyr Books: 6/13/17
eBook review copy; 367 pages
ISBN-13: 9781633882652

Wilders by Brenda Cooper is a highly recommended coming-of-age dystopian science fiction novel.

In the near future cities have expanded to megacities that take care of most of the populations every need. The land outside the cities is set aside for wilding, or returning it to a natural state, sans humans with the exception of those hired in the capacity to assist returning nature to a natural balance. Coryn Williams and her sister Lou grew up in Seacouver, a merging of Seattle and Vancouver.  After their parents' suicides, Lou was hired to join a rewilding crew and left the city. She left Coryn behind at an orphanage, occasional sending her bland emails about the beauty she sees in the wild. Once Coryn becomes of age, she chooses to leave the city with Paula, her companion robot, to look for her sister.

Outside the city's dome, the world is much different and more treacherous than Lou let on. Coryn is in almost constant peril of being harmed, robbed, and having Paula stolen from her. Even the weather, uncontrolled outside the city dome, is dangerous and unpredictable. While it seems that most people outside can't be trusted, Coryn manages to press on, meets a few people who may be friends, and she eventually does find Lou; but everything Lou wrote about outside to Coryn doesn't seem to reflect the reality of the life Lou is living. There is also some risky plan and private agenda between Lou and some people Coryn knows are evil. The only problem is that no one, not even Lou, trusts her enough to tell her what is going on.

This is the first book in a future series. Admittedly, I enjoyed Wilders considerably, although it felt like it was a whole lot longer than 367 pages while I was reading it. Part of the issue is that even though the plot has interesting little scenes or hooks in it to propel you forward with bursts of speed, the action is rather slow moving. Once you keep reading, not all the interesting bits are fully explained and the world building is a little lacking.

You need to set aside certain expectations and roll with the narrative in this case. The story flows smoothly, and we reach a conclusion of sorts, but obviously more books in the series will mean more information about the city, etc. Coryn is an interesting character and there are several other interesting characters along the way. Now, we don't get to know too much about any of them, except Coryn, but I'd imagine future books will flesh out people more completely. Wilders reads like a YA title and would be highly suitable for that audience.  This is a nice start to a new series.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Pyr Books.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan
Scribner: 6/13/17
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501116841

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan is a very highly recommended, clever, appealing mystery with a likeable protagonist.

Lydia Smith, thirty, is a clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore. When Joey Molina, one of her so-called "BookFrogs" (regulars who spend most of the day in the store), commits suicide on the third floor of the store just before closing time, she is devastated. She is also surprised to discover that twenty-year-old Joey has a picture from her tenth birthday party in his pocket. Joey also, inexplicably, left her name as the one to contact to inherit his meager worldly possessions. Lydia collects the books he seemed to have left for her, but the books are oddly defaced and may contain some sort of message.

As Lydia tries to figure out what was happening in Joey's life that led him to suicide, her traumatic past and buried memories begin to intrude on her thoughts. His suicide brings back terrible visions of her childhood when she suffered a traumatic event that changed her life. When Lydia's picture runs in the paper, it does help her best friend from that time, Raj Patel, reconnect with her, but it also helps a detective find her again. The answers about Joey's death seem to lead Lydia to reexamine her childhood and a twenty-year-old cold case.

This is an excellent novel. It is well paced, with an intricate plot that and a perplexing mystery. Along with the plot, Sullivan seamlessly describes and establishes an astute sense of place for all his characters. The characters are wonderfully realized - unconventional and realistic.  Lydia tells the present story and what is happening to her today. Flashbacks are told through her father's point-of-view to explain part of what happened in Lydia's childhood, until Lydia remembers what she experienced. It is perfectly presented and flows seamlessly from one part of the story to the next, past and present.

I was entranced by and riveted to every page of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. Not only is it an excellent, clever novel, it's hard to believe it is a debut novel. I really liked the character of Lydia and her other friends at the bookstore. It's rather nice to have a great summer read with a likeable character where you want everything to turn out for the best.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Accomplished Guest

The Accomplished Guest: Stories by Ann Beattie
Scribner: 6/13/178
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501111389

The Accomplished Guest: Stories by Ann Beattie is a highly recommended collection of thirteen previously published short stories. This collection explores aging, mortality, fragile bonds between people, fate, friendships, and family. In several of the stories people are meeting for a social event or going out to dinner. Most of the people are older, in their sixties and up, have been married multiple times and seem discontented, perplexed, and very removed from any true connection with other people, even while they are meeting with them.  Beattie gives us glimpses into these lives with her immutable excellent prose and clear, astute voice. Not every story was a complete winner for me, but, nonetheless, this is an excellent collection.

The Indian Uprising: A former student visits her professor.
For the Best: A man heads to a holiday party where he expects to see his ex-wife.
The Astonishing Woodchopper: A couple is going to a wedding where tensions rise.
Anecdotes: An older self-centered mother overshares and hurts feelings.
Other People's Birthdays: A woman returns home to celebrate her sister's birthday.
Company: A professor has former students over for dinner.
The Debt: Middle aged frat brothers get together in Key West.
Lady Neptune: A wheelchair-bound woman attends a holiday party in Key West.
The Caterer: A caterer recruits help for a job and encounters problems.
The Gypsy chooses the Whatever Card: Women visiting in a coffee shop are interrupted by a robber.
The Cloud: A woman goes out to dinner with her uncle.
Hoodie in Xanadu: A woman forms a partnership with her neighbor who has transformed his living room into Xanadu.

Save a Horse Ride a Cowgirl: An older man feels at odds and out of place in the world.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.

Small Hours

Small Hours by Jennifer Kitses
Grand Central: 6/13/17
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781455598526

Small Hours by Jennifer Kitses is a recommended domestic drama.

Helen Nichols and Tom Foster are in their forties and the parents of three-year-old twin daughters. They are regretting some of the decisions they have made, including buying their house in Devon, located in upstate New York. Unfortunately they are now upside-down in their mortgage and can't afford to leave. Tom has a long commute into Queens, while Helen tries to work from home. Neither are happy with the current arrangement. Both are exhausted. Both are stressed out from their jobs. Helen is a seething ball of rage and anger just under the surface. Tom is trying to be a father to the twins as well as another daughter born at the same time, a result of an affair.

Kitses debut novel focuses on an eventful, stressful twenty-four hour period with chapters alternating between the actions of Helen and Tom. Think 24, only focused on a perpetually exhausted, uncommunicative couple who both have work problems, are under paid, underappreciated, make increasingly poor choices, and in a crumbling marriage. But in this scenario there are no cool action scenes and no one is going to save the world, it is just a ticking clock, ever growing weariness, and one mishap and misstep after another.

What saved Small Hours from the quagmire of being simply yet another novel about a marriage falling apart is the excellent writing. While I didn't like either character (And what is this with an increasing number of books where I can not find a sympathetic character because they both have w-a-y too many issues and are in denial?) the quality of the writing does pull the novel out of muck to an at least acceptable level. (It is not to the level of quality of Richard Russo, as per the description.)


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Silent Corner

The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz
Penguin Random House: 6/20/17
eBook review copy; 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345545992

The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz is a very highly recommended conspiracy thriller and starts a new series. This is a perfect summer novel of suspense!

FBI agent Jane Hawk's husband, Nick, committed suicide, leaving behind a note that said, "I very much need to be dead." Jane knows that this is not her husband, a decorated Marine, a full colonel, on a career path to becoming a general. She needs to find out the truth behind his suicide and that of other capable, talented people. In fact, Jane knows that the suicide rate is dramatically increasing across the country. What is alarming is that these are people of accomplishment, of excellence. These are people who will make a difference or are making a difference. Why would these intelligent, proficient people be committing suicide?

After taking a leave of absence from the Bureau, Jane tries to find out the answer to the increasing suicide rate. When the life of her son is threatened, Jane knows they are a target. She hides her son and Jane goes rogue and underground. Clearly she is the target of powerful people who will do anything to stop her and there is no one she can trust. She has to rely on her skills to find the answers she needs. Who is behind the increasing suicide rate? How are they controlling people? More importantly, why? As she gets closer to the truth, the danger increases.

It is truly frightening to know how easily our every move can be tracked today.  Koontz takes real life technology and shows how the features built into it can be used to track people. It is frightening to realize how easily our every step and movement can be watched without us even realizing it. It's not the stuff of science fiction, it is fact.

The Silent Corner is an extremely well written, excellent thriller with incredible characterization and fast paced action. Jane Hawk is a fully realized, compelling character, full of depth, growth, and intelligence. It's good to know that this is the start of a series featuring her. It's also challenging. Because it is the start of a series there isn't complete closure or answers to all the questions.
There are terrific, nail-biting action scenes and narrow escapes. The suspense and threats grow but Jane narrowly manages to keep a clear head and a step ahead. And it's a great story.

Thriller/suspense fans: read this book. You won't regret it. After that you will be relieved to know that the second book in the Jane Hawk series, The Whispering Room, has a tentative release date of January 9, 2018.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

The Party

The Party by Robyn Harding
Gallery/Scout Press: 6/6/17
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501161247

The Party by Robyn Harding is a so-so domestic drama.

Jeff and Kim Sanders are throwing a sweet sixteen birthday slumber party for their daughter, Hannah, and four of her friends. Kim has listed the house rules to the girls: no alcohol, no drugs, no boys. They provide food and leave the girls alone in the downstairs family room. Naturally, the girls don't follow the rules, resulting in disaster. One of the girls, drunk, crashes through a glass-topped coffee table and is rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night. While the police investigation cleared the Sanders from culpability in the accident, the mother of the injured girl files a lawsuit asking for three million dollars. The impending lawsuit alienates friends and causes division, as secrets are revealed and nothing is as perfect as it appears.

The narrative is told through four characters: Kim, Jeff, Lisa (the mother of the injured girl), and Hannah. Sure, we learn their secrets, but the secrets are not as shocking as the blurb for the novel implies. They are, actually, pretty standard stuff and can be revealed on both sides of the lawsuit, something that no one seems to be pointing out about the mother of the injured girl. It also seems unlikely that one of the five girls would not break down and tell the truth instead of the half-truths/lies about what happened. 

Additionally, this is one of those novels filled with unlikable characters. You may try to find someone to pull for, but you will likely be let down as the few characters that seem to take a stand also don't seem to have a backbone. The ones telling you their side of the story never give you a reason to care. Harding does present the mean girls/high school queen bees social hierarchy effectively, although stereotypically.  Sometimes I like a novel where everyone is unreliable and unlikable, but it didn't quite work for me here.

For me, The Party missed the mark. It had potential, but something just never clicked for me. I grew very tired of all the characters and sort of wanted to lecture them to just grow up, adults and kids. I also found it hard to believe that a sixteen year old would want a sleep over party. Sorry, but that seems absurd to me. It also seemed odd that given they were doing this party, that the parents wouldn't be checking on the girls, staying awake all night to make sure they were following the rules. I'll also admit that I didn't like the ending. 

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

You'll Never Know, Dear

You'll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron
HarperCollins: 6/6/17
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062473615

You'll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron is a recommended novel of suspense featuring three generations of women and a mystery set in South Carolina.

Forty years ago four-year-old sister Janey Woodham disappeared from her year, along with the doll her mother made her. Janey's seven-year-old sister, Lissie, was supposed to be keeping an eye on her, but she ran after a a puppy that suddenly appeared in her yard. When Lissie returned home, Janey and her doll were gone. Now Lis has a daughter in college, but she still blames herself for Janey's disappearance. Her mother, Miss Sorrel, has fashioned individual, hand-made porcelain portrait dolls for years, with help from her bossy next-door neighbor Evelyn Dumont. Every year on the anniversary of Janey's disappearance she puts out an ad offering a large reward for a doll, Janey's doll, knowing that she will recognize it.

When a college student in a beat-up car answers the ad, Miss Sorrel knows it is Janey's doll, but the girl runs away rather than answering questions about where she got it. That night Miss Sorrel's kiln explodes, sending both her and Lis into the hospital and bringing Lis's daughter, Vanessa, home. This sets into motion a search for the mysterious young woman and an unraveling of a decades old mystery.

You'll Never Know, Dear is definitely more character driven than a novel of great suspense. The mystery is easy to figure out, so the pleasure in this one is in the characterizations of the women. Ephron does a nice job developing her characters and placing them in the context of the story.

While it starts out slowly and doesn't really provide much suspense until the end, it does reaches a satisfying conclusion, which makes it a good summer reading choice. In many ways this novel would actually make a better movie because of all the dolls that are collected and sitting around the house. I think the visuals of dolls, staring at the viewer, could make this much creepier and up the suspense. (Just consider the cover and a house full of staring dolls.)


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Perdition

Perdition by R. Jean Reid
Midnight Ink: 6/8/17
eBook review copy; 360 pages
ISBN-13: 9780738750651
Nell McGraw Series #2

Perdition by R. Jean Reid is a highly recommended mystery.

Recently widowed Nell McGraw has decided to stay in the small Gulf town with her two children and continue to run the weekly paper, the Pelican Bay Crier, founded by her husband's grandfather. Not that it's all that easy when long-time Sheriff Hickson and relatively new Police Chief Shaun can't seem to get along or cooperate with each other. First a young girl is murdered and then a young boy. Is there a serial killer on the loose in this small Mississippi town and can law enforcement manage to cooperate with each other long enough to find the killer.

As a journalist, Nell needs to keep digging and asking questions to try and get as much information as she can. To make things worse, the killer has taken to calling Nell late at night, disguising his voice, to tell her where the bodies are or just to taunt her. To further her stress, Nell has one great cub reporter and one worthless one, and the sexist bully in the police department who threatens Nell got his charges dropped due to his father's connections. Adding to everything is the fact that keeping track of her teen children is now her sole responsibility.

The writing is very good and Reid keeps the reader guessing about the identity of the killer. Sensitive readers should note that the prologue in Perdition is very graphic, albeit a good hook to keep you reading. It takes place in the past and the reader is left wondering how it fits into the present mystery.  The beginning of the novel moves at a fast pace but then the action/pace seems to slow down after that. Even though this a second book in the series, you needn't read the first book to enjoy this one.

I did have a few minor issues with Perdition. Nell should have just fired Carrie. If an employee constantly whines about doing her job to her boss and is incompetent at her job, then it is time for her to move on to something else. There is no reason Nell should have kept her around. Also many of the interactions with her kids, especially her daughter, became annoying. She tends to alternately  worry about both of them obsessively, anticipate her daughter's poor reactions, or forgets them completely. Perhaps the constant driving her kids around is realistic, but mentioning it so much became tiring and seemed out of place in the small town setting where her kids would both be riding bikes or walking to/from school. And since everyone in town knows there might be a killer on the loose, other people would likely help pick them up and drop them off.


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


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Dis Mem Ber

Dis Mem Ber and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense 
by Joyce Carol Oates
The Mysterious Press: 6/6/17
eBook review copy; 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802126528

Dis Mem Ber by Joyce Carol Oates is a highly recommended collection of seven dark, carefully crafted short stories.

Contents:
Dis mem ber: Eleven year-old Jill is captivated but a little frightened of Rowan Billiet, an older relative.
The Crawl Space: A widow keeps driving by the house she lived in for over two decades.
Heartbreak: The rivalry between two sisters intensifies when an attractive male step-cousin visits.
The Drowned Girl: A university student becomes increasingly obsessed with the drowning of another girl.
The Situations:  A father cruelly shows his children that he is the one in charge.
Great Blue Heron: A recent widow recalls watching a Great Blue Heron with her husband and begins to identify with the bird.
Welcome to Friendly Skies!: "Welcome aboard our North American Airways Boeing 878 Classic Aircraft! This is North American Airways Flight 443 to Amchitka, Alaska - Birdwatchers and Environmental Activists Special!"

All of the writing is superb in this collection of stories published in 2016. While I tentatively agree that there could have been more stories added to this collection, I liked the theme these stories presented, with the last story being an exception. Each of the other six stories had a psychologically vulnerable female protagonist. Each of the women (or girls) had an obsession that would result in some unexpected action, or is the result of a precarious situation. They are all in some kind of danger. The last story adds a comedic touch that also takes a dark turn.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of The Mysterious Press.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Blackout

Blackout by Marc Elsberg
Sourcebooks: 6/6/17
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781492654414

Blackout by Marc Elsberg is a recommended novel about the power grid going out across Europe. This was originally published in Germany in 2012.

When the power grid starts to go down, station by station, Piero Manzano, a former hacker and activist, figures out what may have caused the collapse. As Manzano battles the authorities to get them to listen to him, Lauren Shannon, an American CNN camera operator/reporter follows the story. As suspicions fly and answers are not evident, the grid in the USA goes down, and the disaster is becoming worldwide. While trying to help Manzano becomes the prime suspect and ends up having to run from authorities as he still tries to find the answers.

This is not a techno-thriller as much as it is a semi-realistic scenario of what would happen if the power grids failed due to the actions of a terrorist group. In this scenario the terrorists are well educated, well connected and wealthy, which wouldn't necessarily always be the case. The important fact to take away from Blackout is that we, all countries, need to safe guard our power plants. After all, it's not just electricity at stake. No power would affect so much more, like the food supply, healthcare, communication, and the water supply. The concern over what could happen is real and Blackout does a service pointing attention to this.

While the concept of the book is chilling and could be more frightening than many nightmares in the hands of some writers, in this instance the execution of the novel doesn't quite live up to the description. Elsberg did his research, which is evident, and that definitely helps the novel and gives it an edge, but the actual presentation of the action is not quite as realistic and the plot suffers. Manzano just keeps getting out of one desperate situation after another. While it is an interesting book and did hold my attention I couldn't help but think that perhaps a nonfiction novel would have been a better choice to present all the facts.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Sourcebooks.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Theft by Finding: Diaries

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris
Little, Brown and Company: 5/30/17
eBook review copy; 528 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316154727

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris is very highly recommended collection of entries from his diaries.

This is an edited compilation selected by Sedaris of his diaries. "I’m including only a small fraction. An entirely different book from the same source material could make me appear nothing but evil, selfish, generous, or even, dare I say, sensitive. On any given day I am all these things and more: stupid, cheerful, misanthropic, cruel, narrow-minded, open, petty - the list goes on and on." A different edit would have changed the entire book. In fact, Sedaris started out planning to just share the funny diary entries when his editor suggested that he go back to the early entries and share things that weren't as funny. He did this and it changed the book, as he then decided to eliminate many of the funny entries. The result is a compelling collection that follows Sedaris's life from a struggling drug-abusing drop out to a celebrated humorous author.

For his diary entries Sedaris notes: "What I prefer recording at the end - or, more recently, at the start - of my day are remarkable events I have observed (fistfights, accidents, a shopper arriving with a full cart of groceries in the express lane), bits of overheard conversation, and startling things people have told me." The wonderful thing about these tidbits of observation  is that they often capture societal opinions during current events of the times. For those of us who are around the same age, the entries pull you back to that time and what was happening then, as well as what you were doing.

Fans of Sedaris's writing will clearly see the inspiration for some of his stories. His wit and humor, along with the gifted way he has with words and descriptions, is here, and many will recognize  the source material for some of his stories. But while he is often hilarious, he is also honest. There are many poignant revelations and emotional situations presented along with the expected funny remarks, stories, and observations.

Theft by Finding is not to be missed. The title of the book is based on a term used in the U.K. where, if you discover something of value and keep it, it is called "theft by finding." Sedaris's acute eye and ear for actions and dialogue is clearly evident as he recorded many events and conversations that he "found" or overheard, along with the more direct conversations and encounters he experienced.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Little, Brown and Company.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Hold Back the Stars

Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan
Gallery Books: 5/23/17
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501142932

Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan is a romance in a science fiction setting. I accepted a review copy based on the description, but I was bitterly disappointed. This is, above all else, a romance, not science fiction. The universe is unrealistic and the sci-fi elements are laughable. I powered through to the end hoping it would get better, but my opinion of the book just kept plummeting with every chapter. This reads like a YA novel.

The description: "Trapped in the vast void of space, Carys and Max have only ninety minutes of oxygen left to live. None of this was supposed to happen. After a freak accident, Carys and Max are left adrift in space with nothing to hold onto but each other. As they fall, they can’t help but look back at the world they left behind. A world whose rules they couldn’t submit to, a place where they never really belonged; a home they’re determined to get back to because they’ve come too far to lose each other now. While their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation - but who will take it?"

Carys and Max are both annoying characters that I could neither relate to nor muster any sympathy for them. Perhaps if the world building was better I could have overlooked my annoyance, but the world building was worse than the actual "star-crossed lovers." For future reference, please, if you are going to write science fiction... if you are going to set your novel in space... if you are going to have an asteroid field circling the Earth, (if... I could go on) please do research. And don't even get me started on the societal rules that are not logically explained. The poor world-building was not just found in the science fiction bits in space.

Now, if you enjoy romance novels, something I avoid, perhaps this novel will be just fine for you because you can ignore all the parts that I intensely disliked.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Gallery Books.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Wicked Wonders

Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages
Tachyon: 5/9/17
eBook review copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781616962616 


Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages is a very highly recommended collection of fourteen short stories. I enjoyed almost all of the stories in this collection immensely, with just a couple I was slightly less enthusiastic about. Those are pretty impressive odds. The stories consist of a mix of science fiction, fantasy, humor, coming-of-age, magic, and real life. All the stories except for one, Woodsmoke, have been previously published.


Contents:
Introduction by Karen Joy Fowler: "There is something powerfully strange and strangely powerful, but it is off to the side or coming up behind you. You’ll sense it in the small, particular details at which Ellen excels..." "The only thing you can depend on is magic. However sober and quotidian the world, Ellen always brings the magic."
The Education of a Witch: Young Lizzy loves Maleficent the witch from Sleeping Beauty while dealing with changes in her life.
Amicae Aeternum: Before she and her parents board The Goddard, a generation ship, Corrine Garcia-Kelly is saying good-bye to everything she will miss on Earth.
Mrs. Zeno’s Paradox: Annabel meets Midge for a treat, which they split, repeatedly.
Singing on a Star: Becka has her first sleep over at her friend Jamie's house where a song opens an elevator to a different world where she meets a man named Hollis.
Hey, Presto!: Polly is working with her father, the magician Vardo!, for the summer.
Echoes of Aurora:  Jo Norwood returns to her hometown to settle her father's estate after being gone 35 years and meets Aurora.
Friday Night at St. Cecilia’s: Rachel Sweeney was supposed to be playing backgammon with her friend Addie, but instead gets caught up in the grip of a fairy queen and is trapped inside several board games.
Caligo Lane: Located in San Francisco, Caligo Lane might be an illusion. Difficult to reach, or find again, it is here that Franny, a cartographer, lives and combines mapmaking and origami.
Goodnight Moons: Zoe is part of the first team of six astronauts to go to Mars. She discovers she is pregnant after they have already started their voyage.
Gone to the Library: Izzy, an eight year-old girl who loves math, meets her neighbor, Bibber, who needs her help. 
Household Management: We get a glimpse into the life of Sherlock Holmes landlady.
Sponda the Suet Girl and the Secret of the French Pearl: A thief buys a map that he believes will lead him to a wizard who owns a pearl of great value.
Woodsmoke: "Every childhood summer is special. School is out and freedom beckons. Then comes a magic summer.... For Patricia Ann Maas that summer was 1963..." Patty spends her fifth summer at camp Wokanda, where she can be herself and is known by the nickname Peete.
The Scary Ham: A true story. Klages father was given a full-sized ham which he hung in his basement for twenty years, in the room with the litter box. This story and pictures can be found on the Tor website. http://www.tor.com/2014/05/22/the-scary-ham/
Afterword: Why I Write Short Fiction
10 Facts About Ellen Klages
Story Notes About the Author


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Tachyon.



Dragon Teeth

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
HarperCollins: 5/23/17
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062473356

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton is a highly recommended historical adventure novel.

Let me preface this review with a few comments. As most people know Crichton passed away in 2008 and the books published since then have been from manuscripts found by his wife Sherry.  Dragon Teeth is an early manuscript; purportedly research on it began in 1974. Longtime fans of Crichton's work will recognize in the style a resemblance to several of his earlier novels. That fact doesn't diminish this novel, but Dragon Teeth is neither a Jurassic Park story nor a prequel. What it does do is affirm that Crichton's fascination with dinosaurs, fossils, and paleontology began long before the Jurassic Park novels were written.

Dragon Teeth is set in 1876. At this time there was war in the west between Native American tribes and the US, a gold rush in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and legends of the Wild West were alive. It was also the time of the "Bone Wars," a nickname given to the bitter rivalry between paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edwin Drinker Cope. The narrative follows William Johnson, an entitled Yale student who made a bet with a rival that he would go west to dig for dinosaur bones. He learns photography so he has a skill that enables him to join Marsh's expedition. Marsh, however is a paranoid man and ends up abandoning Johnson in Cheyenne, Wyoming. At that point Johnson joins Cope's group, who are heading west to the Montana badlands to dig for fossils. They make an incredible find, but unforeseen circumstances separate the exhibition members, resulting in getting half of the bones back east to become solely Johnson's dangerous quest.

William Johnson is a fictitious character, but the novel is populated with many other recognizable historical figures, places, and events. Dragon Teeth is a western more than anything else, but it demonstrates the research Crichton undertook for his novels. This is a nice combination of historical fact and fiction that showcases Crichton's ability to take facts, science, and history and mold it into an entertaining story.

While Dragon Teeth doesn't have the high level of exceptionally-fast-paced-heart-stopping action that is displayed in many of his books, this is still a very entertaining story that will hold your attention from beginning to end. I do wonder, however, if it was set aside and not published earlier because Crichton wasn't satisfied with it. It is not as good as many of his novels. But, setting that aside, fans will be pleased with it and easily place Dragon Teeth in context as an early example of his body of work. As a long-time fan, I love Crichton's books, but... a gentle suggestion to his estate: I think it might be time to close the vault on things he wrote but didn't publish.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Nuclear Family

Nuclear Family: A Tragicomic Novel in Letters 
by Susanna Fogel
Henry Holt & Company: 7/18/17
advanced reading copy; 212 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250165237

Nuclear Family: A Tragicomic Novel in Letters by Susanna Fogel is a very highly recommended, hilarious, wonderfully quirky, entertaining debut novel. I loved and adored it!

This epistolary novel is a collection of letters/emails written to Julie by her dysfunctional, fractured Jewish family, as well as a few surprising sources that don't normally write letters. We never actually hear directly from Julie, but we meet her through what her family has written to her. The letters begin when Julie is a teen and end when she is in her mid-thirties and publishing a book about her family. Most letters are from her younger sister, Jane, and her mother, but her father, grandmother, uncle, and other family members also write.

The letters all have a title/heading. Here are some examples: "Your Sister, Who has Questions about Your Uncle Ken's Lifestyle, Has a Great Idea for His Birthday Gift"; "Your Grandma Rose Is Still Not Feeling This E-mail Thing"; "Your Stepmother Has Some Theories about Why You're Still Single"; "Your Dad, Who Asked Your Last Boyfriend If He Watches Porn, Is Wondering Why He Hasn't Met Your New Guy"; "Your Mother's Goddaughter, Who Crashed with You for Many Days, Is Sorry She Didn't Have Any Time to Hang Out"; "Your Dad, Who Lacks Boundaries, Wants to Talk about Your Body"; "Your Dad's Six-Year-Old Son from His Second Marriage Discusses His Superior Childhood"; "Your Mom has Some New Judgements She'd Like to Share"; "Your Mom is having Some Issues with Regularity"; "Your Sister, Who has Two Exes in Jail, Agrees That You Gotta Do You."

I loved every minute spent reading Nuclear Family! It is clever and humorous, from the titles to the letters themselves, and I laughed aloud through the whole novel. The titles preceding the letters can be just as comical as the letters themselves. The letter writers are clearly clueless as to what their letters are actually conveying and often over-sharing. Each family member has their own voice when writing, for example Jane writes her letters in text-speak, which adds a clever layer to the mix. You'll be surprised at how much of a story these letters tell about Julie's life - enough that you might want to look back at your own correspondence to see what stories are hidden there.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Henry Holt & Company via Library Thing

What She Saw

What She Saw by Gerard Stembridge
HarperCollins: 5/23/17
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062568984

What She Saw by Gerard Stembridge is a so-so novel that follows a woman through 24 hours in Paris.

Lana Gibson has decided to travel to Paris to see the Edward Hopper retrospective. She stays at the expensive Hotel Le Chevalier located on the Right Bank and assures her unknowing husband after-the-fact that she will be fine and take her meds to control her manic phases. She does see the Hopper exhibition, but she also becomes increasingly obsessed with seeing who is using the private elevator to the exclusive penthouse suite on the top floor. As happenstance and curiosity collide, she actually gets on the elevator when the door is open and is whisked to the top floor. When the door opens she sees quickly observes that an orgy is taking place, but she also witnesses a young woman trying to escape from a naked older man. She quickly snaps a few pictures with her cell phone before the elevator doors close again.

It turns out that the older man is Jean-Luc Fournier, an important French politician. Lana is already on the radar of his security detail, who have noticed her interest in the private elevator. Now she is on the run from the security men and needs to figure out what exactly is going on and who she can trust before her time runs out. The narrative follows Lana's perspective and that of a chauffeur for Fournier, Ferdinand (Ferdie). Ferdie has his own stakes in the outcome.

I really wanted to like her simply due to her desire to travel to see the Hopper retrospective, but Lana is a hard character to relate to or find any empathy for. She is also not a very well-developed character. Mainly you learn she doesn't seem to really even like her husband, she's on meds (apparently for bipolar disorder), and she's way-too-weirdly-curious about the penthouse elevator door. This makes it a challenge to feel invested in what happens to her, especially when she's repeatedly and consistently making some rather stupid actions and decisions.

The writing is good, but the 24 hour format seemed to just drag out the action and didn't work for me. Those who love novels set in Paris and Francophiles will likely appreciate the setting. I had a difficult time immersing myself in this novel, probably due to my increasing annoyance with Lana.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Sister Sister

Sister Sister by Sue Fortin
HarperCollins: 5/23/17
eBook review copy; 384 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9780008238070

Sister Sister by Sue Fortin is a recommended psychological thriller.

Currently Clare, a solicitor, and her husband, Luke, a painter, and their two daughters are living with her mother, an arrangement that has worked out well for all of them. Twenty years ago Clare's father took her little sister, Alice, on a trip to the USA and never returned. Her mother has been pining away for her missing daughter ever since, even buying and putting aside presents for her yearly. Over the years they have hired investigators to look for Alice, but nothing turned up. Then when a letter from Alice suddenly appears, everyone is elated that there will be a reunion with the missing daughter/sister. What seems like a wonderful heartwarming visit soon turns into tension-filled days as Clare's suspicions about Alice's behavior begin to rise.

Sister Sister is certainly technically well-written and the story will keep your interest. You will want to continue to read the story to see what happens to the characters.  It is a good choice for a vacation read or an airplane book. It will hold your interest but you won't cry if you misplace it. Many readers are going to be thinking that they have heard very similar stories before and this one is equally predictable. There is nothing truly shocking that happens in it nor are the twists really surprising.  You will likely have already predicted what is going to happen long before any of the characters, besides Clare, have a clue.

Although I read it to the end and basically enjoyed it, Sister Sister is not without its problems - beyond the predictability.

Clare starts out as an intriguing character but quickly becomes a bit bumbling and insipid. She is supposedly an intelligent woman who is a lawyer. She should be able to logically collect evidence and present a well-supported case. Instead she becomes a bit of a shirking violet, afraid of hurt feelings. It is also illogical that no one else in the family is suspicious of anything and that they turn on Clare so quickly and easily. Her mother should have had suspicions too. Even if you want to believe, that doesn't mean you don't use your head. Luke is an idiot who should have been supporting his wife. Clare, though, mainly acts out, whines, and throws out suspicions without presenting evidence. Even a simple, "Alice did this, then this, then this. Why is that acceptable?" And, come on Clare: use that cell phone, take pictures, gather evidence and supporting proof.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Perfect Stranger

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda
Simon & Schuster: 4/11/17
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501107993

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda is a very highly recommended page-turner and I relished every one of those pages in this complex tale of suspense.

Leah Stevens was a journalist in Boston, but needed to resign from her job due to a story she wrote. Now she needs to find something new to do - in a hurry. By coincidence she runs into a roommate she had years ago during a time in her life when she also needed help in a hurry. Emmy was there eight years ago when they first met and helped Leah out before Emmy went overseas with the Peace Corp. It is a shocking surprise for Leah to run into Emmy now. The two immediately bond and take up where they left off. They decide to move together to a small town in Western Pennsylvania on a whim. Leah can get a position teaching at the high school and Emmy can find a job doing something.

Then a woman who closely resembles Leah is found seriously injured and Emmy has gone missing. Leah works with the police to try and help them while at the same time she tries to get them to look into the whereabouts of her missing friend. As both investigations continue it becomes increasingly clear that Leah really never knew Emmy well at all and the police are beginning to look at her as a suspect. Leah realizes that she needs to use her journalistic skills to uncover the truth about what happened and who Emmy really is.

Leah is a well-developed character and I began to like her more and more as the novel progressed and doubts began to develop. She becomes more spunky and begins to show more and more of her intelligence and intuition as she begins her own investigation while the police are more focused on investigating her.

The revelation of new information is wonderfully timed. It begs the question: How well do you really know other people? As Leah is desperately trying to find out what happened to her friend, you will begin to wonder if Emmy is even real and doubts about Leah's sanity will creep in. You only know Emmy through Leah, and Leah doesn't even reveal everything about her own life right away. The plot of The Perfect Stranger moves along at a gallop and never lets up. I enjoyed the fast-paced ride and twisty plot immensely. The writing is pitch-perfect in the suspenseful narrative.

I really enjoyed uncovering the twisty-layers of this swift-paced, agile novel of psychological suspense. It was a pleasure to read.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Monday, May 15, 2017

You Were Here

You Were Here by Gian Sardar
Penguin Publishing Group: 5/16/17
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399575006

You Were Here by Gian Sardar is a recommended atmospheric debut novel of suspense that follows two storylines in two time periods.

Abby Walter's is currently living in LA with her commitment-phobic boyfriend Robert. She hasn't returned home to Makade, the small Minnesota town she grew up in, for fourteen years. She had horrible recurring nightmares about being buried alive, among other things, and the nightmares stopped after she left. Now she has decided to visit her hometown for the upcoming high school reunion, but especially to research her family's past because the name Claire Ballantine has surfaced in her dreams. She thinks looking into the past may end her nightmares, which have returned with the news of the reunion. Abby's high school crush, Aidan Mackenzie, has also returned to Makade after working on the police force in St. Paul. He's a detective on the trail of a violent serial rapist.

The story set in 1948 focuses on a love triangle, or, really, an affair between a dashing, handsome older man and a younger woman who wants to escape her small town existence. Small town Eva is a young woman in love with William Ballantine, a privileged wealthy man who is married to Claire. William and Eva conduct their affair in Rochester. She takes the bus from her small town and meets him at a house he owns there. The two are in love or obsessed with each other, but William doesn't want to hurt Claire.

The slow moving duel plot eventually connects the two timelines, showing how the decisions made and secrets held in the past have consequences that can influence or affect the future. The secrets actually aren't all that shocking once you get to them because they are easily deduced much earlier in the novel.

The novel is beautifully written, almost poetic at times. The quality of the writing helps You Were Here rise above the numerous plot elements that are less-than-perfect. This isn't really a romance novel, more of an exploration of dark secrets. The romantic connection between Abby and Aidan seemed forced to me and served no real purpose in the plot. The affair between Eva and William has been seen many times before - an older successful man starts an affair with an attractive, desperate-to-escape younger woman.

The characters, for the most part, are well-developed, even if they are also at times a bit too melodramatic. It seems that most of the women in this novel are holding tightly to the role of victim and looking for a man to save them, which became annoying. Abby was the most developed of the characters, while Eva was perhaps the most sympathetic.

To be honest, I had a difficult time finishing this novel and flirted with stopping just before the half-way point. It just didn't seem worth my time. In the end I had to give credit to Sardar for pulling it all together and for the quality of the writing, which is what kept me reading and resulted in my recommendation. But, for followers of my reviews, there were no real surprises in the plot for me, as it all has been done before in one way or another, and the big, shocking twists were all very predictable. Other reviews seem to be more glowing, so it could be I am just the odd miss for the title. Literary fiction readers will appreciate the writing.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Penguin Publishing Group.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Inkblots

The Inkblots by Damion Searls
Crown/Archetype: 2/21/17
uncorrected proof: 405 pages
ISBN-13: 9780804136549

The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls is a very highly recommended fascinating examination of the short life of Rorschach and the phenomenal spread and influence of the iconic test he developed. The first part of The Inkblots is an account of Rorschach's life, while the second is the history of the Rorschach Test and psychological evaluation.

In 1917 Rorschach was working at an asylum in Switzerland when he developed his inkblot test. Rorschach, the son of an artist, had artistic talent himself which aided him in carefully designing all of the final ten inkblots. His goal was to find a tool to use what we see and how we describe it as a way to find insight into the human mind. "Rorschach had come to believe that who we are is less a matter of what we say, as Freud thought, than what we see." The shapes he developed are bilaterally symmetrical. The shapes suggest both movement and form. This is a test where the psychological insight it reveals is based on the interpretation of what you see as it strives to measure imagination and personality. It is not a test with correct or incorrect answers. Today the ten shapes can readily be seen with a simple online search.

Rorschach tragically died in 1922 at age 37, but his test took on a life of its own, spreading across the world and especially took hold in America. It was used as a means of psychological evaluation in a wide variety of different situations. In the second half of the book Searls covers the history of psychology and the problems and changes associated with scoring the test. It also entered the realm of popular culture and at one time inkblots imitating the test could even be found in advertising.

I especially enjoyed this biography/history of psychology and thought the writing was exceptional. It is easy to understand while providing the background information and details you need to follow the information presented. It is well-researched, thoughtful, and intriguing. While I was totally engrossed in the whole book, the first part detailing Rorschach's life was especially detailed and interesting. Searls biographical account covers Rorschach's early life and his progressive beliefs as he grew up. Rorschach is presented as a very likeable man. Searls found a vast amount of material on Rorschach from a biographer who died before he wrote his book. Once we reach the second part of the book, which focuses on the spread of the test, the feuds, controversy, and revisions begin.

The Inkblots has all the special elements I love to see in nonfiction. The book includes many photos. There is an appendix focusing on his wife, Olga, and an excerpt of a tribute to her husband she wrote years later. There is a note by Searls in his acknowledgements explaining how he found original source material. Finally, there are extensive source notes for each chapter, which is always appreciated.

IF you are anything like me, you will want to see the original ten inkblots. They are easily found online (Wikipedia) and there is even an online inkblot test (which I didn't take therefore can't vouch for its validity.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crown/Archetype via Library Thing.



The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree by Rodney Hobson
Endeavour Press: 4/10/17
eBook review copy: 168 pages
ASIN: B06Y5VXVH9
D.I. Paul Amos series # 5

The Hanging Tree by Rodney Hobson is a highly recommended fast-paced police procedural set in the 1990's.

Detective Inspector Paul Amos and Detective Sergeant Juliet Swift are on  the case of a middle aged man found hanging from a tree in his back yard. The two older women living next door heard noise in the night and saw a naked man walking through the backyard so the police were on the scene rather quickly and have a few clues to follow. The murdered man was Duncan Watson. He was apparently the leader of a group of protestors in the sixties who participated in a siege of historic Wykeham Hall in an attempt to save it. Their efforts resulted in failure, but the group is having a 30th reunion this weekend. Amos and Swift rely on interviews while following the various clues that lead to a conclusion.

This is most decidedly an old-fashioned police procedural that follows the clues in the case without the help of current technology or advanced forensics. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as you follow the deductions the detectives make through their interviews and investigations. It is also a simple, short, fast-paced novel. There isn't a lot of time for character development or more than one line of investigation. The Hanging Tree is definitely a novel to read simply for relaxation. It is a good story that reaches its conclusion quickly. And let's be honest, sometimes this is a nice change of pace, especially if you have had a hectic week.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Endeavour Press.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Sycamore

Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor
HarperCollins: 5/9/17
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062661098

Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor is a very highly recommended debut literary mystery that explores a gamut of emotions. This is compelling reading.

In 1991 Seventeen year old Jess Winters has just moved to Sycamore, AZ, with her mother, Maud. Jess's father has left them for his new young wife and new baby daughter. We know that Jess disappears in December of 1991 and no one knows what happened to her. Her disappearance has haunted the town. Her mother Maud has never given up hope that she would find an answer to what happened someday. In 2009 a woman out walking finds bones that may be those of Jess.

Sycamore flips back and forth in time, as well as the voices of different characters, between 1991 and 2009. The story of what happened to Jess back in 1991 slowly emerges, as does the current information about the other citizens of Sycamore, the former friends, classmates, neighbors, and teachers  who knew Jess, then and now. The multiple points of view enrich the story and give an added emotional depth to the answers that are forthcoming as the novel progresses.

This spellbinding novel covers a multitude of emotions and subjects. It is a coming-of-age story with all the teenage angst that this suggests. It is an exploration of friendship and loneliness. It covers a variety of betrayals and faithlessness. It delves into love, grief, secrets, passions, rumors, disillusion, unfaithfulness, and hope. The novel begins quietly, but gradually becomes increasingly tense and complicated. These are broken people depicted on the pages of Sycamore, but even broken people search for happiness and a way to belong.

This novel is a well-written gem. The writing is marvelous. I was totally engrossed in both narratives, 1991 and 2009. If you enjoy literary fiction, as I do, you are going to see several corresponding themes running through the novel, connecting past and present. If you want to sit back and enjoy a well-written mystery, Sycamore will also fit that description.  This is a novel that should be savored. And keep your eyes on Chancellor for more novels in the future.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Dinner Party

The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris
Little, Brown and Company: 5/2/17
eBook review copy; 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316465953

The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris is a highly recommended collection of eleven previously published short stories. The stories in The Dinner Party, six of which were first published in The New Yorker, are about "the modern tribulations of marriage, ambition, and the fear of missing out..." The lives here are all changed in some way and at times the stories read like dark comedies. The writing is wonderful and there are several stories with surprising twists at the end. This is an admirable collection with only one story that I didn't enjoy as much as the others.

Contents:
The Dinner Party: A man loathes having to sit through another dinner party with his wife's friend and her husband.  "He also wanted his wife and her friend to drift apart so that he never had to sit through another dinner party with the friend and her husband."

The Valetudinarian: It's Arty Groys birthday. The Florida retiree is at loose ends until he receives an unexpected gift "If I had known about any of this forty years ago, I wouldn’t be so gloomy today, but no one gives you a manual."

The Pilot: Leonard, who is writing a pilot for a TV show is invited to a party by Kate Lotvelt, a very successful writer, and he is unsure if she intended to invite him. "He and Kate, they weren’t…were they friends? Well, yeah, they were friends. They were acquaintances. They’d met twice, once at the producer Sydney Gleekman’s yearly blowout, and then, a few months later, at the actor’s dinner party."

A Night Out: A man is unable to hide his cheating from his wife. "She didn’t know how she knew. She just knew. Tom wanted not to have seen her, then he shifted with a smile and a loud, “Clara!” Clara was surprised to see him, or acted so. Tom introduced his wife. Clara complimented Sophie’s handbag."

The Breeze: A woman is out on the balcony, catching a pleasant spring breeze, which sets into motion endless possibilities for her but complacency from her husband.  " 'In the brig!' Sarah called out and, with her wineglass at a tilt, peeked down again on the neighborhood. They called their six feet of concrete balcony overlooking the street the brig.

Ghost Town Choir: A fatherless boy watches his mother chase off another boyfriend. " 'Mom, why are you mad at Lawton?' She opened the window above the sink, and all her figurines fell into the water. 'Because I got an expiration date on my stupidity!'"

More Abandon, or What Ever Happened to Joe Pope?: A man stays in his office building long after closing. "But there is work to do, work to do, and that, he tells himself, is why he stays. It is nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow, but he is incapable of breaking free."

Fragments: A man listens to the fragments of conversations he hears while out walking, thinking about his life. "That night, Katy came home later than usual. He was up but feigned sleep. With the lights off, she tiptoed into the bedroom, making no effort to wake him. He wanted her to. He wanted her to say something, anything..."

The Stepchild: An actor's wife has left him and he's in despair. "...passersby might have thought him utterly seduced - until he turned and they glimpsed that he was crying. Then they knew they were in one of those city moments, a public audience to a stranger’s despair."

Life in the Heart of the Dead: A middle aged man spends an afternoon on a guided tour of Prague. "'It’s Prague Castle,' she said. 'And by the way,' she added, just when the whole table, and really the whole restaurant, seemed to go completely silent. 'For some reason, you keep calling it Czechoslovakia. You understand, I hope, that it isn’t Czechoslovakia anymore. It hasn’t been Czechoslovakia for twenty years. It’s the Czech Republic now.'"

A Fair Price: A man hires an older man to help him move his stuff but he becomes increasingly belligerent as the day progresses. "Nothing sucked more than moving your stuff out of storage. Luckily Jack had a hand. Guy he’d never met before named Mike. Ryan, his yard guy, had hooked them up. Mike worked for Ryan or knew Ryan somehow. Jack didn’t ask. He was just glad to have the help."


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

Sympathy

Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 4/4/17
eBook review copy; 416 pages

Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic is a so-so overwritten novel focusing on obsession, stalking, and social media.
Alice Hare, 23, travels from England to NYC to stay with her ill grandmother. Even before she met her, Alice is obsessed with  Mizuko Himura, a Japanese writer living in NYC who teaches creative writing at Columbia. Alice's fantasies and thoughts are fueled by her desire to meet and establish the relationship she knows she is supposed to have with Mizuko. Alice stalkes her and manages to meet her in person via a social media clue mentioning a coffee shop, and proceeds to tests boundaries with her relationship with Mizuko.

I could go on with the description, but honestly, I don't like the novel enough to spend more time on this. The narrative jumps around in time, without building a sense of continuity or some identifying theme that allows the readers knowledge to grow with each chapter. The novel is over-long and slow paced, but still feels so disjointed that it wasn't a pleasure as much as it was a chore to keep reading. Additionally I didn't care for any of the characters. If you are going to throw a long, muddled, over-written plot at me with all sorts of obsessive narcissistic social media obsessed characters, at least give me one person to care about. By the end of this novel I was just celebrating the fact that it was over. It is given the so-so rating simply for the final third of the novel.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

It Started with Goodbye

It Started with Goodbye by Christina June
Blink: 5/9/17
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780310758662

It Started with Goodbye by Christina June is a recommended YA retake on the story of Cinderella.

Tatum Elsea (TLC) is sixteen and about to experience a horrible summer. After Tatum unwittingly acted as a getaway driver for her best friend Ashlyn and Ashlyn's boyfriend, she's been charged with a misdemeanor. She has to pay a $500 fine and perform 100 hours of community service. To make things worse, her strict and intolerant stepmom along with her perfect stepsister are the ones in charge of her "house arrest" as her father is going to be away on business. When her stepgrandmother/fairy godmother arrives, it is a blessing. Tatum is secretly starting a graphic design business, TLC Design during this summer of reflection and growth.

This is a feel good story where the characters make dramatic changes rather quickly and the plot is very predictable. but it is all for the happy ending that you know will be coming because it is a Cinderella story. It is also quite decidedly a young adult novel. As an adult reader there were parts that made little to no sense and annoyed the heck out of me, but I am definitely not the target audience here. I would take this down to a younger teen audience (grade 8 for sure) as older teens or adults who like YA fiction are likely going to also have a few issues with the novel.

The writing is fine and there is some progression with the plot. Suspend disbelief for a few parts and just go with the flow to appreciate this light, fun novel for younger YA readers. (I really love the cover more than the book.)


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Blink.