Sunday, August 13, 2017

New Boy

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
Crown/Archetype: 5/16/17
advanced readers copy; 208 pages
ISBN-13: 9780553447637
Hogarth Shakespeare Series

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier is a highly recommended retelling of Othello for the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

Chevalier sets her tragic story based on Shakespeare's Othello in an elementary school located in the Washington D.C. suburbs during the 1970s. With only a month of school left, sixth grader Osei Kokote is yet again the new boy in school, a position he has found himself in repeatedly as the son of a Ghanaian diplomat. Osei is also used to being one of the few students of color in school, so he knows he must find an ally.  He is lucky that the teacher told popular student Dee to help him. He is even luckier that he and Dee hit it off immediately.

As adolescent mercurial romances and allegiances ebb and flow quickly, the connection between the new boy and Dee is noticed by everyone, including teachers. There is one student, Ian, who can't stand to see the black boy and the white girl together and he decides to destroy their friendship. Ian is already a known bully. How far will he go to destroy Osei and Dee?

This is a very well written and great addition to the Hogarth Shakespeare series. The action all takes place here in the course of one day, which is rather quick. Additionally, of course, if you know Othello, you know basically what is going to happen. This does take some of the surprise out of the retelling, which has been the case in some of the other books in the Hogarth series. Chevalier sets her book in five parts which portray the five acts in the play, and she does incorporate Shakespeare's plot into her novel.

Actually this is more successful when taken on its own as a novel and not as a retelling of Othello. Since Chevalier uses adolescents as her characters, their emotions, allegiances, and angst are front and center. This works well when New Boy is considered as a novel about racism in suburban schools in the 1970's, but, in my opinion, it doesn't work quite as well for the Hogarth Shakespeare series. So, I liked it very much as a novel, but a little less as a Shakespearean tragedy for the Hogarth series.

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

I Know a Secret

I Know a Secret by Tess Gerritsen
Random House: 8/15/17
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345543882
Rizzoli and Isles Series #12


I Know a Secret by Tess Gerritsen is the very highly recommended twelfth installment of the Rizzoli and Isles crime series.

Boston PD detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are investigating homicides that are linked by more than just the investigative team. Indie horror filmmaker Cassandra Coyle is found murdered with her eyeballs cut out and put in her hands. When Timothy McDougal is found dead with three arrows in his chest, Isles and her priest friend realize that the two murders have been done to resemble pictures of the death of saints. Specifically these two murders have been staged to depict Lucy, patron saint of the blind, and Sebastian, patron saint of archers. They soon discover that what ties the two victims together is that twenty years ago they were children at a local day care center during an infamous child abuse case. Now the two must find out who the killer is, as well as who might be the next victim.


While investigating these cases and others that may be tied together, the two women are also facing some struggles in their personal lives. Even while Maura's biological mother, the infamous serial killer Amalthea Lank, is dying from cancer, she still finds a way to get into Maura's psyche with a comment that may apply to her current cases. Rizzoli is watching her own mother's unhappiness grow while her spirit is being crushed from staying in a loveless marriage.

This is an intense, extremely well written mystery that will hold your rapt attention from beginning to end. Those unfamiliar with Rizzoli and Isles will easily be able to enjoy this suspenseful novel even if it is their first book in the series. Although the two character are well established at this point, Gerritsen provides enough character background along that way for anyone to easily slide right into this novel and enjoy Rizzoli and Isles for the first time. Expect some twists and surprises. This is one you won't want to put down once you start it.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House.

The Luster of Lost Things

The Luster of Lost Things by Sophie Chen Keller
Penguin Publishing Group: 8/8/17
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735210783

The Luster of Lost Things by Sophie Chen Keller is a very highly recommended whimsical story teeming with feel-good emotions, lyrical writing, and a dash of magical realism.

Walter Lavender Jr. is a twelve-year-old boy who lives with his mother, Lucy, above their bakery, The Lavenders. Walter's ability to find things has been developed because he has been silenced by his motor speech disorder. Because he found it impossible to talk, he observed the world around him. "My whole life, my mouth had been shut and my eyes wide open, and the deeper and darker my silence became, the more I began to sense outside of it - traces of light, shifts in matter, changing undercurrents. As I grew older and it became clear to me that Lucy didn’t perceive what I perceived, it was already just another part of me, and there was nothing so incredible about that. The things I noticed were small and fleeting, easy to miss - scratches or flourishes in reality, clues that pointed the way to the larger truths buried beneath the surface, like the molten ripple along the base of a vase of lilies in danger of tipping over or, when it came to people, the disappointed hiss of something doused before it could be said."

Walter lost his father, an airline pilot, whose plane went missing three days before he was born. While Walter observations of the world have helped him become a master of finding lost things, he is ultimately hoping to find his lost father. Lucy has told him stories about his father and the connection between them and the book that is proudly displayed in the shop. The book brings magic to their bakery, a bakery where the deserts come alive. You can see vol-au-vent mice jump double dutch with licorice ropes and marzipan dragons breathe fire. Walter's life is happy and safe in his limited world - until someone steals the book, causing the bakery to lose its magic. Walter, along with Milton, his golden retriever, must find the missing book and bring the magic back to the bakery.

Walter's search is an archetypal story of a hero on a quest. While seeking the missing book, Walter must leave the safety of his home, go on a long adventure, face adversity, overcome challenges, and return home changed from his journey. As Walter seeks what he has lost, he learns lessons from those he meets. Along with his quest, it also becomes a coming-of-age story for Walter, who makes friends outside of his sheltered home life. This allegorical narrative not only deals with things lost and found, but also deals with our capacity for kindness and how our acts of kindness can ultimately change the lives around us, as well as our own life.

The writing is poetic and expressive, capturing descriptions, emotions, and even humor with grace and beauty. The characters in The Luster of Lost Things are all well-developed. Their descriptions make them all come alive on the page. While I can concede that having twelve-year-old Walter seek out and meet so many strangers on his quest was a bit far-fetched, I must also equally acknowledge that passing many trials is often the case with a hero on a quest. In any event, I liked this story and Walter. I liked Walter's written comments in his notebook along with his observations of the world. The world can always use a good hero story with a touch of magic realism and Sophie Chen Keller has given us just that.

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

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Great Quake

The Great Quake by Henry Fountain
Crown/Archetype: 8/8/17
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101904060

The Great Quake by Henry Fountain is a highly recommended account of the Alaskan earthquake of 1964, especially for those who enjoy  historical background and personal information about those affected by the quake and tsunamis.

"At 5:36 p.m. on March 27, 1964, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake - the second most powerful in world history - struck the young state of Alaska. The violent shaking, followed by massive tsunamis, devastated the southern half of the state and killed more than 130 people.  A day later, George Plafker, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, arrived to investigate.  His fascinating scientific detective work in the months that followed helped confirm the then-controversial theory of plate tectonics."

Fountain approaches the story of the Alaskan earthquake from a human-interest angle, discussing the people, their way of life, and the history of Alaska more than the actual quake itself and the exciting scientific enlightenment that resulted from studying the quake. He offers details about some of the citizens of the small village of Chenega and the little town of Valdez, both of which were devastated, changed, and altered by the quake and resulting tsunamis. While there is scientific information about the quake and tsunamis, Plafker observations that resulted in changing the way we look at geology and the theory of plate tectonics is condensed into just a couple chapters. Those who appreciate the science might desire more, but most readers will concede that Fountain chose an interesting and basically successful way to approach the topic,

It is a well written account of a historic natural disaster that is both factual and accessible. Fountain succeeds in showing what happened, who it happened to, why we should care about what happened, and the results of the scientific fieldwork and analysis. The book opens with a map of the area and the final version will have notes and suggestions for further reading, additional sources, and an index. (I would hope that the final version includes photos, but I have no information about this. There are photos available online that are worth looking up after you have read this book.)

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

Binary System

Binary System by Eric Brown
Solaris: 8/8/17
eBook review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9781781085516

 
Binary System by Eric Brown is a recommended science fiction novel with a YA vibe.

Delia Kemp manages to survive the explosion of the starship she was on by getting into an escape pod on the advice from her Imp, a computer implant in her brain. With only her Imp for advice and company she makes her way to the world of Valinda where the winters are nine years long following one year of a scorching hot summer. Fortunately for her, it is nearing the end of winter and soon the year of summer will begin. She finds herself crash landing when her pod is hit by some laser or weapon.  She is stranded on the ice-world and taken hostage by the Skelt, a cruel race of giant mantis/insect beings who move at incredible fast speeds. After her Imp deciphers the language of the Skelt, she discovers that they are relative newcomers to the planet too. Their race arrived thousands of years ago and they have enslaved and dominated the other two sentient races on the planet while the Skelt have digressed into a more primitive society.


The blue chimpanzee-like aliens are the Fahrans. Their people are captured and made to work for the Skelt. The giant crab/spider-like aliens are called the Vo. The Skelt use them as beasts of burden and often sacrifice them. Delia makes an ally of a Fahran, Mahn, who helps her escape from the Skelt. They later save and befriend a Vo. The three travel together trying to avoid the Skelt, heading for what looks like another downed escape pod that will hopefully contain other survivors from her starship. 


This is mainly a story of Delia's extraordinary escapes and recaptures, as aided by her Imp, which has some neato, quite coincidental features tailor made for her to communicate with, survive and outwit an alien race while befriending other races and trying to make her way to the valley of Mahkanda.

Now, I'm recommending Binary System because there are plenty of readers who will enjoy the escapism and won't care one iota about any of the things that annoyed me. The ending makes up for much of the slow start and a reader can chose to ignore many of my gripes. The writing is technically excellent, descriptive and fluid.  The characters jump from one adventure/escape to another while encountering all sorts of new, interesting settings and creatures. There are battles and celebrations. The good guys are all good and the Skelt are all bad. It is like a classic sci-fi/western plot.


However, there were many cons for me, including the plot, simplistic world building, aliens, characters, and the Imp. I almost stopped reading after several escapes, etc. when the alien Vo was giving Delia and Mahn a ride, and said in reply to her questioning their weight that they were as light as a fly on its back. Hello... this is an alien race and world and there are no flies here.  Why on earth would an alien say that? Well, actually the aliens, other than descriptions, aren't all that alien-sounding. I'm betting the Imp humanized them for us and gave them personalities we could relate to.


The Imp is the real hero here. The Imp is the one thing that keeps Delia alive. Delia is supposed to be a doctor, but in reality, mentally, she is just in the Imps way. I'm sure if the Imp could experience human emotions, it would be just as annoyed as I was over her swooning over Tim in the beginning. It must be hard to be an Imp in an adult who acts like a teen. Perhaps the whole character of Delia could have been destroyed with the starship but the imp survives. It could set a new directive, finding a way to be mobile, making its way to a planet, communicating with the inhabitants, and escaping the bad guys.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Solaris.

Emma in the Night

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker  
St. Martin's Press: 8/8/17
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250141439

 
Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker is a highly recommended psychological thriller/mystery.

On one night both of the Tanner sisters disappeared. At that time Emma was seventeen and Cass fifteen. Now three years have passed and Cass has returned home, without Emma, and she is sharing an incredible story of what happened and begging her family, the police, FBI, etc. to find Emma. She says that three years ago the two girls were picked up from a beach on Long Island Sound by a couple who wanted to help Emma, who was pregnant. They were both subsequently held on a mysterious island in Maine and the couple took Emma's child as their own. Cass escaped and now she wants them to find the island where she was held and find Emma.


It's a bit more complicated than this because the two girls came from a dysfunctional family. Cass calls their mother, Judy, Mrs. Martin and Mrs. Martin is a classic example of Narcissistic personality disorder. The FBI forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Abby Winter, knows about Narcissistic parents and identified Judy Martin as such three years ago when her girls were missing and she became a minor celebrity. She's back on the case with Special Agent Leo Strauss. It seems that Cass may be leaving things unsaid in her many interviews, trusting that Abby will be able to figure it all out, while making sure Mrs. Martin hears every word.


Chapters alternate between the point of view of Cass or Abby. Cass relates privately, to the reader, the story of her family, specifically her mother, and how Mrs. Martin's narcissism has poisoned her relationships and her choices have resulted in unstable parental support and put her daughters in compromising situations. Dr. Abby Winter has her own struggles and understands Narcissistic personalities, she is determined to uncover the clues and hints that she believes Cass is so carefully revealing to her.


The writing is good and Walker slowly reveals the girls background with their mother along with little clues about what may have happened. Cass's story is very compelling, especially because you know she is leaving something unsaid, that she has a plan, but you really don't have a clue what it could be. The character development is well done. Both Cass and Abby are complicated characters and Walker manages to capture this part of their personalities while exposing why they exhibit some of their traits. It all combines into a narrative that will hold your attention.


There were drawbacks. Clues were slow to come in Cass's interviews and the ending wasn't quite worth the wait for me. Additionally, parts of the narrative became too repetitious. This is almost a partial study of Narcissistic personality disorder in all of the background stories of Judy's behavior - the abuse heaped upon the girls because of her personality disorder and the men she married. Second is the girls behavior and reactions to everything. We hear almost too much of their past - what they were putting up with, doing, and fighting about - along with Cass's interviews.  Solid 3.5 rounded up.



Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of St. Martin's Press.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Girl in Snow

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
Simon & Schuster: 8/1/17
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501144370

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka is a recommended murder mystery, highly for the right reader, that focuses on character studies of three individuals.

The body of 15-year-old Lucinda Hayes, a popular high school student, is discovered on a playground in Broomsville, a quiet Colorado town. Girl in Snow follows the investigation through three different characters: Cameron, Jade, and Russ.  Ninth-grader Cameron Whitley was obsessed with Lucinda and stalked her, often watching her house at night. He also did numerous drawings of her. Did Cameron's love for her somehow result in violence? Jade Dixon-Burns, an overweight 16-year-old with acne and an abusive mother, hated Lucinda for stealing her babysitting job and her best friend. Russ Fletcher is a local police officer who is on the case. He promised his former disgraced partner, Cameron's missing dad, that he'd look out for Cameron, but he is unsure if this is possible. Russ's ex-con brother-in-law, Ivan, is the overnight janitor at the school and also a suspect.

Chapters in the novel switch between these three narrators and the bulk of the action is set over a three day period. The murder mystery part of the novel is downplayed in favor of the careful scrutiny of the thoughts, actions, and past events in the lives of Cameron, Jade, and Russ, whether it all relates to the mystery or not. This makes for an interesting character study but becomes tedious as solving the murder mystery is exponentially drawn out for far too long in the plot. It almost felt like the end result was an afterthought.

There is also a slight YA feel to the novel, perhaps because of the focus inside the heads of two teens. Cameron's narrative feels dreamy, unfocused, and there are large section of time where he can't remember what happened. Jade's narrative sections also include scenes from plays she is writing based on real life interactions and conversations. She had some big reason's to hate Lucinda and this is fully explored. The end result of focusing on these two teens is that you get a double-portion of teen angst and anxiety, but less murder investigation.

Kukafka is a writer to watch, however, because of the quality of her writing and the portraits she creates of these three individuals. While the novel did feel a bit overlong and drawn out at times due to the dense prose, the skillful character studies also set it apart. This may not quite be the murder mystery you hoped you were picking up, but it is a fine character study and it does provide an answer to the mystery in the end.  (3.5 rounded up.)


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


Impossible Views of the World

Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives
Penguin Publishing Group: 8/1/17
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735221536

Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives is a so-so novel about a hipper-than-you-or-me art curator.

This is a week in the life of Stella Krakus, a curator at Manhattan's renowned Central Museum of Art. Her friend and colleague, Paul, has gone missing. Her mother, the world renowned glamorous art dealer Caro, wants to have lunch with her. Her soon-to-be ex-husband is stalking her. She's been having an affair/fling with her boss. And she's uncovered several different secrets, including an intriguing map, that she wants to research and solve the mystery.

Billed as a mystery, it really isn't, so if you are a fan of mysteries you might want to by-pass this selection. Sure she discovers some answers to the questions she raises about her discoveries/encounters  along the way, but it never has the feeling of a true mystery.  To make following the mysteries more challenging is the fact that Stella's not very likeable, or perhaps I'm just not as cool as she is.

I'll go with a so-so rating, conceding that small glimmers of  hope for the quality of future novels appear in the pages. Honestly, I struggled to finish this one but kept reading for one reason alone - some of the descriptions in the writing. Not all of the writing is worth the struggle, but there are small, subtle gems hidden among the dregs of way-too-much. The problem was in the way-to-much. It isn't always satisfying to read a novel that seemingly strives for pretentiousness. 

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Almost Sisters

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
HarperCollins: 7/11/17
advanced reading copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062105714

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson is a very highly recommended novel about family, aging, privilege, and the South. This incredible novel has it all - memorable, quirky characters, remarkable writing, and an outstanding plot. The Almost Sisters may be my favorite novel by Jackson to date (which is special because I have loved all her novels), and is a contender for my top ten books of the year.

Leia Birch Briggs, 38, is a successful comic book artist who was in the bar at a comics convention when she met Batman and fell hard. "Plus, tequila never was the handmaiden of good decisions. I’d asked him up to my room. We’d started kissing in the elevator..." The result is Leia is pregnant with Batman's child. All she remembers is that he is black so her child, a boy she calls Digby, will be biracial. She wants Digby despite the fact that "I’d walked away from every man I might have married. No, I’d run. The playground song in my head went: First comes love, then comes hideous betrayal, then comes endless regret requiring expensive therapy. It was a terrible song. It didn’t even rhyme. But it was mine, and I hadn’t made a family, even though I’d wanted one. I still did."

Before she has a chance to break the news to her family, her step-sister Rachel's marriage implodes on the same day her 90 year-old grandmother Birchie makes it known in some very public comments while at church that she is slipping into dementia. Leia ends up taking her 13 year-old niece, Lavender, with her as she heads to Birchie's home where she lives with her life-long friend Wattie in a small Alabama town. Leia is now faced with cleaning out the family home and finding some place safe for Birchie and Wattie to live - and they don't want to leave. She also still needs to tell her family she's expecting. But nothing is as simple as a to-do list and even more surprises and complications await her in Alabama than she could imagine.

Jackson always writes funny, quirky, unique characters that are memorable and resonate with you long after the novel is over. The Almost Sisters is no exception. I loved the characters in this novel. I love Leia, Birchie, Wattie, Lavender, Rachel, and Batman. (It helps that we do geek in my home.) I also love how Jackson portrays families here: messy and complicated, but supportive even while shaking their heads at the events that are unfolding and secrets that are revealed. And the humor throughout the novel is integrated perfectly into the characters voices and actions.

The the quality of the writing is phenomenal and the pacing is perfect. I was caught up in the narrative from beginning to end and enjoyed every turn and new revelation that came along. Jackson has an understanding, empathetic way of handling some serious issues, including aging grandparents, blended families, contentions between sisters, the existence of privilege, and racism. She does it so gracefully, with humor and insight, that you won't realize at first how skillfully she has covered some serious topics.

I agree with the Kirkus review that said The Almost Sisters is "A satisfying, entertaining read from an admired writer who deserves to be a household name."

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Clockwork Dynasty

The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson
Penguin Random House: 8/1/17
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385541787


The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson is a highly recommended blended steampunk/sci-fi thriller exposing the secret history of the avtomat, or automats/robots, living among us. A secret race of robots has been living alongside humans for centuries. The Clockwork Dynasty tells the past and present story of these beings through two timelines, the present day and in 1725 Russia.

June Stefanov is an anthropologist who specializes in ancient technology and she travels the world for her employer, the Kunlun Foundation, looking for rare antique automatons. She wears an old artifact around her neck that she inherited from her grandfather. The artifact is reminiscent of an intricate clockwork assembly and her grandfather told her to keep its existence secret. When she figures out how to activate a three-hundred-year-old mechanical doll, she is told the "wolves" are coming for her. She is rescued by Peter Alexeyvich, a robot, from certain death at the mechanical hands of Talus Silferström. Talus serves the avtomat called Leizu, the Worm Mother, who also seeks to kill Peter. Now the two are on the run together as June learns about the secret robots that live among us.

Peter's history begins in 1725 Moscow where Giacomo Favorini, the last mechanic of Czar Peter the Great, brings Pyotr/Peter Alexeyvich to life along with his sister Elena Petrova. Peter resembles a tall man, while Elena looks like a girl of around 12. Circumstances force them to flee Russia (when we are introduced to Talus) and travel to London where they struggle to blend into the world of humans. Peter becomes a soldier of fortune while Elena chaffs under the requirement that she stay hidden from humans - and Leizu.

Chapters alternate between Peter's story set in the past and the present day with June. I'm not convinced that the alternating chapters worked well here. It might have been good to develop June's character more while condensing the backstory of Peter and Elena. Currently June is undeveloped for a main character; however the novel is certainly set up for a continuation of the story so perhaps the next book will give us more insight into June and her amazing mechanical skills.

The writing is very good and there is a lot of fast-paced action to keep both stories moving along quickly.  The battles all seem to have a violent, Terminator feel to them and, admittedly, sometimes it became just a bit too violent for me. It is an entertaining novel that shows an influence from other stories/movies, but still should please fans of robot/steampunk fiction.

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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

See What I Have Done

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Grove Atlantic: 8/1/17
eBook review copy; 324 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802126597

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is a recommended retelling of the story of Lizzie Borden during a limited time span.

On the morning of August 4, 1892 Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally murdered in their home located in Fall River, Massachusetts. This historical fiction novel retells that story through four different characters: Lizzie Borden; Bridget, the housemaid; Emma Borden, the older sister; and Benjamin, an acquaintance of the sisters’ maternal uncle, John Morse. Schmidt tells a story that highlights what the respectable Borden household was really like. Andrew was abusive and had an explosive temper. Abby, Andrew's second wife and stepmother to the girls, was a needy, spiteful woman. Emma wants to escape from the household and live an artistic life. Lizzie is portrayed as child-like, unreliable, clinging, angry, and manipulative. Bridget sees all and wants to leave but Abby has recently taken her tin with all her savings inside it. Benjamin is a violent thug and unpredictable.

The novel attempts to bring to life these characters and the events surrounding the murders. Lizzie is depicted as so child-like and, well, odd, that you will wonder if she was mentally unstable. You may also be wondering this about Andrew and Abby. Bridget is trapped in a household she wants to leave. The same could be said of Emma. She wants out but is stopped at every attempt.
The murders are more just discovering the bodies and the reactions to the state they were in rather than extended gruesome descriptions.

The writing is very good and Schmidt succeeds in creating a tension-filled atmosphere in the novel making it a psychological historical thriller. Each character has an individual voice and you will know who is talking in the chapter. I will have to admit that I didn't necessarily find this a compelling or insightful novel. Schmidt has chosen in this account to focus on what happened the day before and the day of the murders rather than Lizzie's subsequent arrest, trial, and acquittal. It takes the focus of See What I Have Done and places it on the actual dysfunctional family dynamics. It might have helped my review if Schmidt had provided an epilogue stating what was based on fact and any liberties she took for fiction. I knew what I imagine was an average amount about the historical case and actually had to look up the information. She does provide a timeline of historical events at the end of the novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove Atlantic.

The Marriage Pact

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond
Penguin Random House: 7/25/17
eBook review copy; 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385343299

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond is a recommended novel of suspense.

Alice, a lawyer who used to be a singer in a well-known regional rock group, and Jake, a partner and therapist in a psychology practice, are newlyweds living in San Francisco who have been given an odd wedding gift that requires some explanation from the giver. Alice impulsively invited Liam Finnegan, a client who is a famous Irish musician, and his wife to her wedding. They not only attend the wedding, but he sent the gift, a special wooden box that can only be opened with a key. Inside is an offer to join The Pact, a secret group that enforces rules to keep marriages intact and partners committed for life. Jake and Alice decide to join the group, after all its goal is to keep marriages happy and intact, and sign the contract without carefully reading it or the huge manual of rules.

They are instructed to memorize the rules and are not allowed to talk about The Pact. At first it doesn't seem too bad, They are invited to glamorous parties hosted by members who live in the area, but Alice mistakenly talks about her long days at work, which gets her into trouble with The Pact, resulting in reconditioning, and monitoring. Soon it is apparent that enforcement of The Pacts rules results in greater consequences than one would expect, including incarceration and torture in a private prison. The rub is the contract is for life and there is no backing out or changing your mind.

The Marriage Pact starts off strong. The quality of the writing is good. The concept of a secret group that enforces rules to keep marriages strong and the partners committed for life is intriguing. Most of the rules make perfect sense: always answer your partner's phone calls, take a trip or vacation once every three months, give your partner a gift chosen specifically for them monthly, don't keep secrets from your partner, and, naturally, no adultery.

Soon, however, the story becomes increasingly implausible. It was difficult to believe that a lawyer and a therapist would enter into the cult-like Pact without carefully examining the contract and the rules manual. No matter how secret membership in the group is, people aren't going to passively tolerate many of the enforcement policies. You can't always ignore work expectations just because some overtime or staying late to finish up a big project is required.  Admittedly, one of my first thoughts when Pact enforcement officers broke in to take someone to the prison was it was a home invasion - first arm yourself, then call the police.  Also an organization like this is not going to be kept a secret. (Look at other cults/organizations that expect secrecy.)

In the end, I enjoyed The Marriage Pact as a pleasant diversion. The narration is through Jake's point of view, so that is how we are introduced to all the characters. Although he is a trained observer, character development is lacking. This can be overlooked because Richmond keeps the action moving along at a fast pace (or it can be read quickly). I found myself able to suspend the majority of my disbelief and scoffing at the character's reactions as I anxiously read what happened next to Alice and Jake. Great choice for an airplane book. It is an engaging book that will hold your attention but you won't cry if you lose it or misplace it.

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


Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen
Hester Velmans (Translator)

Grand Central Publishing: 7/11/17
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781455542178

"I made the decision to give the world a little taste of the real Hendrik Groen. I hereby declare that in this diary I am going to give the world an uncensored exposé: a year in the life of the inmates of a care home in North Amsterdam." As quoted from The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, a recommended novel, highly for the right reader.

There are some funny lines: "Of the five senses, my nose still works best. Which is not always a blessing in here. It smells of old people." There are some sad, poignant moments, and some very realistic scenes, but much of the book has an optimistic feel, sort of shenanigans among the elderly, even as the people around him struggle with their health and other issues. Along with the retelling of the daily events, there is commentary about care for the elderly.

Henry has his list of complaints and topics he discusses with his doctor, but he is still alive so he has decided to write a dairy exposing all the daily occurrences and happenings at the retirement home where he lives with an assortment of other "inmates." He discusses (quite a bit) his dribbles and move to wearing an adult diaper, the outings of the Old-But-Not-Dead Club, his mobility scooter, his friends amputations due to diabetes, another friends worsening dementia, and the on-going questioning of the director about the policies of the home.

It is written in the diary format, so the plot is the daily events in the care home as seen through Hendrik's musings, thoughts, or stories. Although it is being compared to A Man Called Ove, the comparison didn't hold up for me. It's not necessarily bad, it's just not as well written. While I initially enjoyed it, I soon tired of the format along with the novel. Additionally, serious health problems and facing death can also come to those who are much younger than these residents. (I will concede that perhaps this wasn't a good week for me to read this one. I don't regret reading it, but I was glad when it was over.)

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


Spire

Spire by Fiona Snyckers
Clockwork Books: 3/23/17
eBook review copy; 262 pages
ISBN-13: 9780620753449

Spire by Fiona Snyckers is a recommended thriller set in Antarctica.

Dr. Caroline Burchell is a surgeon and virologist who has been chosen to join the team of SPIRE and spend the winter in Antarctica doing research. SPIRE stands for the South Pole International Research Establishment. Caroline has brought vials of cryogenically frozen viruses that she plans to study over the 8-9 months she will be there. Before she can even begin her research though, the whole team there is coming down with a wide ranging number of diseases that are represented in her vials. The only problem is that the seals on her vials are all still intact which means someone else has brought the same deadly diseases to the station and released them. Soon Caroline is the only survivor with no hope of rescue in sight; however soon mysterious occurrences in the station make her suspect that there may be another survivor hiding from her.

The set up to Spire is intriguing as I am always up for virus-outbreak stories. Then it changed into potentially an exciting lone-woman-against-the-elements story. For a brief, shining moment I thought it was going to be sort of a twist on The Martian, or Endurance, only with a female doctor trapped at an Antarctica research station, but it soon lost some of its initial momentum and morphed into something else. The quality of the writing is adequate, no glaring problems and written in a simple, easy to follow style reminiscent of a YA novel.

Once the story changed, it lost its energy. The viruses were introduced to eliminate everyone and add a twist that was, quite frankly, not very believable. Add to this Caroline's finding a cat at the station, and her ability to use the internet, contact people, including colleagues and her family, Skype, etc., made the disorienting sense of isolation and solitude vanish. The horrible sense of isolation and potential for death, etc., was really only fully utilized during one part of the plot. FYI, it's also not a very tech-savvy novel for those of you who care about such things.

Now, it is still an interesting story. It was easy to set all my misgivings aside and just enjoy the novel as is. Don't expect any great use of the viruses, though, beyond a plot element to isolate Caroline. This is an airplane book. It will hold your attention and help pass the time but you won't worry if you never finish it. Apparently it is a sequel to the novel Now Following You, but you won't need to read that before
Spire.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Clockwork Books.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Last Breath

Last Breath by Karin Slaughter
Witness Impulse: 7/11/17
eBook review copy; 176 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062742155

Last Breath by Karin Slaughter is a very highly recommended short novel that is a prequel to her upcoming novel, The Good Daughter. It also stands alone as an excellent story.

Charlie Quinn is a lawyer visiting a group of Girl Scouts for career night when she suddenly feels ill and runs to the bathroom where fifteen year-old honor student Flora Faulkner assists her. Afterwards, Flora asks for Charlie's help to become an emancipated minor. It seems that Flora's grandparents are spending all her trust money on themselves and there won't be anything left for Flora to attend college. How could Charlie refuse to help a girl who lost her mother, just as Charlie did. Soon it is clear that the case is much more complicated than it originally appeared.

What a wonderfully written, outstanding twisty tale. Charlie is a great character and Slaughter proves how accomplished she is at character development and setting the location, and doing so in an abbreviated number of pages. It was a pleasure to read Last Breath and only makes me more anxious to read The Good Daughter (released on 8/8/17). This prequel is set thirteen years before events in
The Good Daughter.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Witness Impulse.

Bannerless

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 7/11/17
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0544947306

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn is a recommended murder mystery set in an agrarian post-apocalyptic society.

The world collapsed decades earlier and survivors of California have regressed into small towns along the Coast Road where enclaves of people are organized into households. The new society controls population growth and has strict guidelines that must be followed for farming the land. If a household proves that can take care of themselves they may be awarded a banner. The banner represents a child that the household can have because having children is a privilege in this society.

Bannerless follows two different stories set in two different timelines. Both feature Enid, either as a twenty-seven-year-old investigator or when she was a teen. In the present day Enid is an Investigator. She and Tomas, another Investigator, have to travel from their home in Haven to Pasadan in order to investigate the possible murder of a man named Sero. This is Enid's first murder case and she is determined to do a good job at discovering what really happened. In the end her investigation leads to even more questions about what happened and why it occurred. In the timeline from the past a teenage Enid travels with Dak, an itinerant musician who travels up and down the Coast Road, singing and playing his guitar.

The plot is set far enough in the future that details about the collapse aren't really well known. The narrative is interesting, but the world building feels like it is lacking.  The focus is really more on small, limited aspects of this new society and the investigation. The Investigators carry notebooks, which seemed very odd and felt out of place to me. There are also some things from the past that they have carried into the future, like intradermal birth control implants and some solar powered cars around, that just felt like anomalies.

The travels of teenage Enid actually detract from the story rather than explain her current choices or aspects of her personality. It might have been better to just briefly explain how she knew Dak from the past rather than spend so much time on their travels. It didn't add to the story.

While I liked this novel, I didn't love it as much as I thought I would. This is a quick read, perfect for escapism or a beach read. You won't need to concentrate on the story in order to follow it.


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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Bring Her Home

Bring Her Home by David Bell
Penguin Publishing Group: 7/11/17
eBook review copy; 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399584442

Bring Her Home by David Bell is a recommended thriller, highly for the right reader.

Bill Price's fifteen-year-old daughter, Summer, and her best friend Haley, have been found dumped in a park after they had disappeared days earlier. Haley is declared dead at the scene while Summer is in the hospital with severe life threatening injuries. This is just a year and a half after his wife and her mother died, so Bill is over-the-top distraught. As he talks to detectives at the hospital about Summer, hoping they can find out who did this, he is waiting to see if his daughter regains consciousness. Bill is a man on the edge.

This is a well-written novel told in quick, short chapters. The narrative is told from Bill's point-of-view. Bell provides several twists in Bring Her Home, but most of them were predictable and I didn't find myself surprised by any of them. Let me just say the plot twists are all ripped-from-the-headlines reveals and not entirely believable. I was still interested in the story, but I had guessed correctly what was going to happen at every turn. There was no suspense here for me. It is entertaining, though, and would make a good vacation read, especially with the short chapters and quick pace. I did finish Bring Her Home and generally liked it.

I guess the biggest issue I had with Bring Her Home is the character of Bill. His quick temper was very off-putting because it seems he is angry, very angry, all-the-time. You also know that he wants to hit/punch/blame someone almost all-the-time. It's not only that he comes across as a rather unsympathetic, unlikable fellow (and you want to like a grieving husband and father) it's that the violence is always so close to the surface that I never felt I could trust the man's emotions. He also repeats himself again and again and again. There are also a few other problems that I had that might not bother anyone reading causally for escapism and sheer entertainment.

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





Tropic of Kansas

Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown
HarperCollins: 7/11/17
eBook review; 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062563811

Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown is a highly recommended dystopian/political satire set in the alternate reality of a future, fractured USA.

Sig was an illegal from the USA hiding in Canada, until he was caught and sent back over the border wall into the area that was once Minnesota. Now the Midwest is just part of a wasteland of warring factions and provincial militia groups. This area has been dubbed The Tropic of Kansas and is known for the third world lawlessness that thrives there and the various greedy leaders who control parts of it. Sig, the son of political dissidents, is a survivor and escape artist. He essentially trusts no one. He's difficult to keep as a prisoner because he will find a way to escape. He will also find a way to survive.

Tania was once Sig's foster sister. Sig's mother dropped him off at her house for Tania's mother to care for when her arrest was imminent. Tania is now a government investigator. She got into a little trouble in Washington D.C. and is now looking for Sig to rectify her mistake and to try to get her own mother free from imprisonment. When Tanis goes searching for Sig, she comes to terms with her own past and perhaps the direction of her future.

Chapters alternate between Tania and Sig. You'll be rooting for Sig as he manages to escape from one predicament, betrayal, and impressionist after another. You'll also be hoping Tania sees the light, and the corruption of the government, and finds Sig along with a new goal for herself.

Brown takes present ideological differences, technology, factions, and widely different beliefs among citizens in the USA today and escalates all of it into a dystopian setting while setting his characters into this action packed satire. It's a wild ride through politics, drones, guns, and bullies. It's also an easy to read novel, with short chapters that avoid much detailed descriptions of settings or other characters. This is entertaining - certainly a good airplane book. It is worth noting that you should anticipate that Brown will hit you over the head with pc politics along with the expectation that you will naturally believe all that he believes. But, since this is also set in an alternate reality USA, it is much easier to just go with the flow and accept any precautionary statements that might be leached out of the adventure.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My Sister's Bones

My Sister's Bones by Nuala Ellwood
HarperCollins: 7/11/17
Advanced reading copy; 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062661968


My Sister's Bones by Nuala Ellwood is a very highly recommended psychological thriller. This is an excellent, compelling, unforgettable novel that will keep you guessing.

Kate Rafter, who has been a war correspondent for fifteen years, has returned back to the U. K. from coverage in Aleppo, Syria. While she was out of the country her beloved mother died and Kate was unable to attend her funeral thanks to her alcoholic sister, Sally, who did not contacting her in time. Now Kate has returned to her childhood home in Herne Bay, Kent, to sign some documents and view her mother's will. But after covering wars for years, Kate is also suffering from nightmares and hallucinations. She hears the cries for help and voices of those people she encountered.

Feeling under siege is not a new feeling for Kate, though, as her father was an abusive alcoholic who regularly beat her mother. As she stays in her childhood home, all the memories of abuse come rushing back along with Kate's regular visions and nightmares from the wars she has covered. But this time Kate is convinced that she is not seeing things when she hears a boy crying for his mother and sees him in her garden. She is convinced that the woman next door, an Iraqi refugee, is hiding abuse by her husband and that the boy in in danger. The woman claims, however, that she has no son and that her husband is away.

In between chapters of Kate's experiences in part one of My Sister's Bones are excerpts of a psychiatrist interviewing Kate. We know Kate has been arrested for something, possible related to her hallucinations and hearing voices, and she is being held while her mental health is evaluated. How reliable of a narrator is Kate? Is she imagining things?

Kate is a fully realized character draw with skill and depth. Yes, she is flawed and we know she is suffering from her years of war coverage, but she still inspires empathy and support while you are reading. Her sister, Sally, is an unsympathetic character who is vividly described and desperately flawed. It seems that both sisters are so damaged from their dysfunctional childhood that normalcy or recovery may not be an option.

The writing in My Sister's Bones is exceptional and the plot is compelling and clever. This novel was impossible to put down. I devoured this book almost effortlessly - the pages just flew by -  and was surprised at the twists the novel took. Ellwood has several shocking surprises that I never saw coming. She also skillfully covers domestic violence and the violence in a war-torn country, with insight and sensitivity as she draws comparisons in her narrative between the effects of both violent situations on the victims. 
 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Watch Me Disappear

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown
Penguin Random House Group: 7/11/17
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812989465

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown is a recommended mystery about a missing woman and the family she left behind.

A year ago Billie (Sybilla) Flanagan went on a solo hike in the wilderness and never came back. Her shattered cell phone and a boot were discovered, but a body was never found. Now the family she has left behind are looking for closure and maybe some answers. Jonathan, her husband, is close to getting a declaration of death in absentia so he can collect the life insurance on Billie. They desperately need the money. At the same time he is writing a memoir about his love for Billie and their life together. Olive, their daughter, begins to have strange visions of her mother in which Billie is still alive. Olive is seeing her in different situations where Billie is talking to her daughter, telling Olive to find her.

As the two try to come to terms with Billie's death and absence from their lives, Jonathan begins to uncover secrets from Billie's past and lies she told him. Suddenly their lives together don't seem as clear as he once though they were, and maybe Billie was having an affair. Jonathan's stories about Billie become darker. Adding to the tension is Harmony, Billie's best friend and an old friend. What does she know about Billie's past and why is she always around. And then there is a coming-of-age moment for Olive.

This is a well-written but rather slow paced novel that keeps turning the same questions over again and again, with a few new details each time and little advancement of the plot until you are well into it. Alternating between the chapters detailing Jonathan and Olive's lives are excerpts from Jonathan's memoir about Billie. The excerpts aren't quite as successful in Watch Me Disappear as they have been in other novels.

Admittedly, I didn't find any of these characters that appealing, especially Billie. She's supposed to be independent and a force unto herself while also being whimsical and unique, but I can't believe that Jonathan didn't notice some of the discrepancies in her travels along with her darker nature.  I also think that when authorities were looking into Billie's disappearance while hiking, they would have likely look into her background much more closely and talk to some of the people that later Jonathan and Olive talked to. Olive's visions were presented as supernatural at first and it might have been a better choice to leave them at that and not present an explanation that never provided any true clarification.

The ending is satisfying, but, no matter how good the writing is, for me it felt like it took too long to get there. This is a much more subtle mystery that explores how well we know family members than a tension filled drama.

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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Local Girl Missing

Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas
HarperCollins: 7/4/17
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062661159

Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas is a recommended mystery about the past catching up with the present.

Sophie Collier disappeared in 1997, eighteen years ago, off the old, decaying pier at Oldcliffe-on-Sea. Her body was never found, but she did leave one of her shoes behind. Her best friend Frankie Howe (now Francesca Bloom) and her brother Daniel talked to the police at the time but no one could piece together what happened and why Sophie was on the pier that night. Now a foot that survived intact covered by a shoe has washed up on shore and is thought to be Sophie's remains. Daniel calls Frankie, who is now living in London, to come back to Oldcliffe while the remains are identified and to help him try to piece together again what happened that night. He believes this will give them both closure.

Daniel arranges a rental apartment that overlooks the pier, which Frankie finds disturbing. He wants Frankie to go with him to talk to some of the people who were at the nightclub the night Sophie disappeared. Did Sophie have a fight with her boyfriend or was she meeting someone else? He is hoping that someone saw something or is willing to provide new information after all these years. 

Frankie is unsettled by the rental where it seems that someone is entering it when she is gone and she is losing sleep because a baby is crying in one of the units nightly. The rental is always cold; the fire is hard-pressed to stay lit and it is the middle of winter. Even more disturbing is that Frankie seems to be seeing Sophie's ghost and someone is leaving threatening notes at her doorstep.

The narrative alternates from Frankie's point of view in the present to Sophie's from the past, in 1997. The information in the two narratives don't always correspond to each other. The two share a big secret, but Sophie has many things she hasn't shared with Frankie, and Frankie has also kept some things secret from Sophie. It is apparent that there is more going on than we realize and that Frankie might not be the most reliable narrator.

This is a secret-laden novel where more is going on and has happened than meets the eye. The writing was good. There are some twists you will easily guess or suspect and perhaps one you won't. For a successful business woman, Frankie seems a little too easily rattled, needy, and over emotional. She's also missing the effervescent sparkling personality she is reputed to have and comes across as whiny.  Douglas gives us the creepy feeling that everyone in town knows that Frankie is back, but never makes excellent use of this feeling once she establishes it. This is a satisfying novel and the ending is good, if not totally believable. This is a good choice for a summer beach read by an old pier, especially if there are plenty of drunk twenty-somethings hanging out on it.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.




Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Out in the Open

Out in the Open by Jesus Carrasco
Penguin Random House: 7/4/17
eBook review copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781594634369

Out in the Open by Jesus Carrasco is a highly recommended stark story of violence, escape, and survival. It was translated from the original Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa.

In this bleak novel of drought-stricken landscapes and violence, a young boy escapes, runs away, from what he feels will be death. He is pursued by a man called the bailiff and his henchmen. In order to escape he must cross an arid plan where a source of water and food is uncertain, while keeping hidden from the men who are looking for him. When the young boy meets an elderly goatherd, he is offered food and water, and eventually he understands protection as the old man tries to keep the boy safe and help him escape, traveling at night, even as the violent, evil men who are pursuing him draw closer.

In this austere narrative names and dates don't matter and one day/night blends into another. The details explaining what caused the boy to flee his family are never explained. The old man and the boy are either on the move, trying to avoid the bailiff, or tending to the most basic of needs - water, food, bodily elimination, and sleeping - for them and the donkey, dog, and goats they are traveling with. The landscape is harsh, reflecting a dystopian world, but no explanation for that state of their drought-blighted land is given. The dialogue is meager, subdued. The threat of violence is always present, lurking nearby.

In the end this novel has an almost parable-like feel to it, if you ignore the violence, based on the boy's potential to escape and not perpetuate the threatening behavior he has been exposed to his whole life. The old man exhibits the traits of an adherent to Christian principles (goatherd/shepherd), and Carrasco has some Christian imagery included in the novel. The boy is almost like a disciple of the old man, who is protecting and instructing him, in his minimalist way, on survival and, ultimately, on becoming a man.

The writing is descriptive and elegant, even as the story is violent and bleak. The climax of Out in the Open is grim and devastating, but also gives a slight measure of hope and redemption. This novel may not be a ideal choice for a general audience, but if you liked The Road and lean toward literary fiction, Out in the Open might be a fully satisfying selection.
  

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Reason You're Alive

The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick  
HarperCollins: 7/4/17
eBook review copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062424303

The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick is a very highly recommended novel about a 68 year-old opinionated Vietnam vet who unflinchingly says exactly what's on his mind in his own way.

After David Granger wraps his BMW around a tree, tests reveal a brain tumor that is subsequently removed. David blames the war and his exposure to Agent Orange for the tumor. He also strangely kept repeating a name while in recovery - Clayton Fire Bear. Fire Bear was a Native American soldier who was his nemesis. Granger is telling us about his life while writing this report, the book, and he will eventually get to what happened between him and Clayton Fire Bear, but first, during his report, we get to learn a whole lot about his life, his pride in serving his country, and his beliefs.

He loves his granddaughter, Ella. He doesn't understand or respect his ultra-PC son, Hank. He detests his Dutch daughter-in-law. He loved his wife. He likes his gay friends, Gay Timmy and Gay Johnny. His best friend is Sue, a Vietnamese American. As Granger tells us about his life, in his own way and using his own word choice that some may find offensive, actually he is surprisingly open and supportive to other people. While reading, pay attention to his actions, not his words and you'll discover that Granger is a much more well-rounded, accepting, and compassionate person than perhaps his PC son and daughter-in-law, and others of their ilk, have ever been.

Yeah, he's opinionated, but in the end I liked this old vet quite a bit. It made me think that if we paid more attention to the good in others right now instead of seeking out the worst behavior, we could bypass much of the polarization of ideological camps that is currently happening. Sure, Granger says cringe-worthy things all the time, but his friends see beyond the words and his irascible behavior, and adore the man.

The Reason You're Alive is a fast-paced, clever, engrossing story about a man's life experiences. It is extremely well-written and, in some ways, an insightful, rewarding novel. I can guarantee you that if there is an offensive way to say something, Granger will say it. You will have to keep reading past the beginning and initial impressions, look beyond what Granger says and start noticing his actions. The David Granger you will know in the end is a much more complete picture of the man you see in the beginning.  All the characters are well developed and unique individuals, but David Granger is singularly one of the most unique, honest characters I've come across in a long time.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.