Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Red Hunter

The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger
Touchstone: 4/25/17
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501101670

The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger is a very highly recommended thriller that begs the question "What is the difference between justice and revenge?" Two women have been through two violent events and unexpectedly have something in common.

Claudia Bishop was violently attacked and raped in her own apartment. Her daughter Raven was born 9 months later and, eventually, her marriage fell apart. Claudia loves Raven, and her ex-husband, Ayers, considers Raven his daughter, but they don't know if her conception was a result of the rape or not. Claudia has been honest about the violent attack, her anxiety, and her strides toward healing on her blog. Claudia and Raven take a huge step when they move out to a house in the country that she inherited. Her father owned it as an investment and rented it out for years. Claudia is going to blog about their restoration of the old farmhouse as part of her healing and creating a new life for herself through the rape and divorce.

Zoey Drake survived a horrific home invasion that left both of her parents dead. She was supposed to be a victim too, she and her mother were both tortured by the killers, but she miraculously survived. A decade after the attack, Zoey is a strong, tough woman who has been training in the martial arts for years, fueled by the inner rage she feels. She is looking for revenge. She is the watcher, the Red Hunter, and it's time for the men who murdered her parents and tried to kill her to pay for the pain they caused.

Neither Claudia nor Zoey know each other, but the house ties them together. It is where Zoey's parents were murdered. It is also the fuel for rumors flying that there is a million dollars hide somewhere in the house and that is why Zoey's parents were murdered. Zoey has found one of the men, now an old man, and she has eliminated him. Now she is searching for the others. When handyman Josh Beckham is hired by Claudia to assist in some repairs, it sets into motion a collision between the past and present that will bring both women back to the house. 

The two narratives of this complex thriller/mystery are intricate and complex. Unger keeps the plot and the action fast-paced through both storylines until they converge with an explosion of action. The reveals of additional information are also perfectly planned. All the characters in this novel are complex and their stories are equally intriguing. The question of how to handle a violent attack should resonate with many. Like Claudia, do you try to overcome the anxiety and more on to create a positive life while facing full-on what happened to you? Or do you take Zoey's tactical plan and train for years until you know you can defend yourself and extract revenge on those who hurt you and those you loved?

There are other interesting plot points to this complicated novel too. Would you want to know if you are your parent's biological child or the result of a rape? How do you handle a violent traumatic event in your life? What is your responsibility to a sibling?  Lisa Unger has written a tense page-turner here that should engross most readers.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Touchstone.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Watcher

The Watcher by Ross Armstrong
MIRA: 4/25/17
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780778330721

The Watcher by Ross Armstrong is a recommended novel of suspense with an unreliable narrator.

"Lily Gullick lives with her husband, Aiden, in a brand-new apartment opposite a building that has been marked for demolition. A keen bird-watcher, she can't help spying on her neighbors.
Until one day Lily sees something suspicious through her binoculars, and soon her elderly neighbor Jean is found dead. Lily, intrigued by the social divide in her local area as it becomes increasingly gentrified, knows that she has to act. But her interference is not going unnoticed, and as she starts to get close to the truth, her own life comes under threat."

With a nod to Hitchcock's Rear Window, the narrator, Lily, is watching her neighbors and neighborhood out her window with binoculars and giving those she sees names, as well as recording what they are doing. Her husband, Aiden is even writing a book about the famous director. The Watcher is written in the form of a long letter or journal entry to a recipient who is identified much later in the book. As the novel progresses, Lily reveals more about herself and you will begin to realize that something is off with her and her responses. Can she be believed?

This is a satisfying debut novel and has several surprises along the way that you won't see coming - along with some you might. Since Lily is the only character we have any insight into, we have to view the action through her perceptions and conclusions - and they will start to feel skewed after a bit. It is a novel about perception and creates a fair amount of psychological suspense as the action and Lily's conclusions become more intense.

Those who enjoy mysteries and like following the point-of-view of one character should certainly look into
The Watcher.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA.

Anything Is Possible

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Random House: 4/25/17
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812989403

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout is a very highly recommended transcendent postscript to My Name Is Lucy Barton (2016). This is a superb novel.

Anything Is Possible
returns us to Amgash, Illinois, and explores the stories found in the lives of others who lived there and the connections they have to each other and Lucy. This exquisite novel is told through a series of chapters that are individual stories which capture the fundamental essence of people's lives (the same approach she took in Olive Kitteridge). Strout manages to capture the whole spectrum of human emotions across the years in these perfect individual but interconnected vignettes.

The themes are timeless, including: the search for love and happiness; self-respect; faith; the bonds of families; divorce and infidelity; the gulf between poverty and privilege; violence and abuse; The individual stories together to create a portrait of a community and those who had ties to it. Not all the stories are completely sad, but they all have a melancholy undertone as the characters have faced the complexities of life and grown from their experiences (or not).

The writing is extraordinary, impeccable, and... just perfect. The characters and setting in each story are finely drawn and eloquently described, even when the lives are damaged and struggling.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Beartown

Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Atria Books: 4/25/17
eBook review copy; 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501160769

Beartown by Fredrik Backman is a very highly recommended novel that follows a wildly varied group of citizens from a small Swedish town obsessed with hockey - but it is about so much more than that. Beartown is a must-read exceptional novel that I predict will resonate with readers for a long time.

This incredible, profound book is sure to be a contender for my list of top ten novels for 2017. I'll totally admit that, during the first part of Beartown, I wasn't so thrilled with the novel, thinking it was going to be exclusively a hockey story about a down-on-their luck small town with a winning team in the big tournament. I love Backman's writing, though, so I continued reading. Then it became about so much more than hockey and stole my heart and mind. So my first piece of advice is to keep reading even if you aren't a hockey fan. 

"Beartown's real traditional sports: shame and silence."

Beartown is a small dying town slowly being taken over by the surrounding forest. The whole town is consumed by hockey and the junior ice hockey team that is about to compete in the national semi-finals. These boys actually have a chance at winning, which could change the luck of the whole town. The team has several great players, but is lead by an exceptional player, Kevin, and his best friend, Benji, who is fearless in assisting him. After winning the semi-final, the teenage boys have a party and an incident at the party changes everything. Soon the town is tearing itself apart, taking sides, and making moral choices.

Bachman has a rich cast of characters that populate Beartown - and the town itself is a character. His characters are distinct individuals with strengths and weaknesses - all of his characters. When you are done reading you will know these people. While many are influenced by the outspoken opinion of others, there are a few who have the character to stand up for their own opinions and for themselves. If you've ever grown up in a small town (likely obsessed by football or basketball in the USA) you have lived in this town and you know these people. And, of course, there is hockey too, which becomes a character.

The writing is rich, masterful, and admirable. There are moments of great failure and overwhelming compassion, scenes of desperate cruelty and sly humor, and people with a malicious bent and others with a quiet wisdom. The empathetic narrative explores love, personal sacrifice, and the vital importance of family and friendships. This exceptional novel is part character study, part morality tale, part coming-of-age story, part family drama, part redemptive tale and totally wonderful. Just read this novel asap.


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

I Found You

I Found You by Lisa Jewell
Atria Books: 4/25/17
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501154591

I Found You by Lisa Jewell is a very highly recommended novel of suspense. This page-turner held my rapt attention from the mysterious beginning to the satisfying conclusion.

For much of the novel the story follows three different narratives. The first part of the book follows Alice and Lily.
Single mom Alice Lake lives in a seaside town, Ridinghouse Bay in East Yorkshire. She sees a man just sitting on the beach in the rain. He's been there for over a day and is soaking wet so she offers him a coat her former tenant left. She ends up inviting him to stay in her studio room/guesthouse for the night when it looks like he's simply going to stay on the beach. The man can't remember who he is or why he'd be at the beach. Alice's children give him the name Frank.

Twenty-one-year-old Ukrainian Lily Monrose has only been married for three weeks to Carl, her British husband when he fails to come home from work one night. She has no idea where he is or how to find him in England. When she contacts the police and gives them his passport, she learns from them that his passport is a fake and officially her husband, Carl Monrose, never existed. Lily was sure her much older husband was devoted to her and loved her, so where is he? But maybe more importantly, who is he?

The second part of the book opens in 1993 when Gray, seventeen, and Kirsty, fifteen, are on a summer holiday with their parents. In town and later on the beach nineteen-year-old Mark makes it clear that he likes Kirsty, while Gray doesn't quite trust Mark and his intentions toward his sister.

This is a captivating novel where the tension increases with each new chapter. Who is Frank? Where/who is Lily's husband? What are Mark's intentions? But the overriding question is how well do you really know other people? Alice tries to help Frank figure out who he is while Lily tries to figure out where her husband is. The story of Gray and Kirsty eventually ties into the other two, but it all happens in a rather surprising way.

Jewell's writing is admirable, both poetic and descriptive. I Found You is a well-paced novel that slowly becomes more and more unputdownable with each chapter. I can honestly say that I was equally interested in each character and every revelation or question that each new chapter divulged. The desire to just read one more chapter was almost addictive. She deftly moves her characters through their chapters and allows the questions and intrigue to build up while she develops her characters into believable people. Jewell combines impressive writing with great character development and wraps it all into a novel where the psychological suspense and mysteries keep building for a winning combination. 


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Burntown

Burntown by Jennifer McMahon
Knopf Doubleday: 4/25/17
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385541367

"Up top, where the college was, where people went to work every day at the paper mill, that was Ashford. But down here under the bridge where the women did the snuff, saw visions, and ate fire, this was Burntown."
 
In 1975, Miles Sandeski saw a man wearing a chicken mask cut his mother's throat as she lounged in the backyard. Although Miles knew it wasn't him, his father was accused of the murder and hung himself. Now Miles has a family, his wife, Lily, and son and daughter, Errol and Eva. Miles also has the secret plans of an invention design by Thomas Edison that were given to him by his father. It is for a machine that will allow people to communication with the dead. Miles builds the machine, uses it once, and then keeps it covered up in his shop.

Years later the machine warns them of danger. A flood destroys their home, Miles and Errol are dead, and Lily and Eva (now known as Necco) have run away to safety, living with a group of homeless women. These women are where Lily joins a mystical group of women who call themselves "fire eaters" and snort a red powder they call "the devil's snuff" which is supposed to give them visions. When Lily later throws herself off a bridge, Necco (Eva) leaves the group and lives in an abandoned car with Hermes, her boyfriend.  When another murder happens, Necco realizes that she is being pursued and targeted by an evil man her mom called "Snake Eyes."

Along with Necco and the Sandeski's story, Burntown follows the narrative of two others women: Theo, a high school senior and Pru, the cafeteria lady with a secret life. The lives of these three characters eventually unite into one storyline.

In Burntown, McMahon presents a satisfying story with a substantial plot. The story is intriguing with several mysteries/questions that need answers along with a sense of danger that follows all of our characters as they try to find the answers. But there is also an underlying sense of wonder and fascination in several scenes of the novel that are almost magical. Adding to the narrative are the many secrets - things aren't always what they seem in the plot and people - and mystical elements.

The characters are well-defined and developed. Several of the characters brought to life on the pages are memorable and made reading even more imperative. Once I started, I simply could not stop reading Burntown. McMahon is one of my go-to authors for exceptional writing combined with a compelling plot. I was totally engrossed from beginning to end. Burntown by Jennifer McMahon is a very highly recommended supernatural mystery/thriller.
 


Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday.



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Unprotected

The Unprotected by Kelly Sokol
Skyhorse Publishing:4/25/17
eBook review copy; 296 pages
ISBN-13: 9781510718326

The Unprotected by Kelly Sokol is highly recommended women's literary fiction.

Lara James is a ad executive with a thriving career and a husband she adores. After her father's death she devotes herself even more fully to her career and marries her husband, Will, a college professor her father knew. The two are immediately attracted to each other. They both devote themselves to their careers and each other for several years, until Lara surprises them both by wanting a child. Getting pregnant doesn't come easy, though, and Lara and Will have to endure years of treatments and miscarriages until she finally becomes pregnant. When their daughter Auden is born, though, being a mother isn't as tranquil and calm as Lara thought it would be.

The Unprotected is well written and will draw you into the story right away. The novel is also well-paced; I read the book in one sitting and was engaged through the whole book. Sokol does a nice job developing Lara's character. She's obnoxious in many ways, but you will see her behavior patterns as being consistent with her personality. The infertility problems and miscarriages had me feeling desperately sorry for her pain. When her daughter is born and she spirals into postpartum depression, again, I felt her pain.

So, basically, I like The Unprotected, but there are two glaring problems with it. First Lara is not always a very sympathetic character. It's difficult to feel compassion for her over her infertility and then postpartum depression because she is portrayed as being so uncharitable to other women not on her career path and so incredibly perfect. The only way you can manage this is to draw on personal experiences, your own experience or ones shared with you from your own circle of family and friends. Since so many women have experienced both of these, gathering up empathy for her was relatively easy, despite her difficult personality.

The second flaw overwhelms what the theme of the novel was supposed to be, postpartum depression, according to the synopsis, in my opinion. The Unprotected portrays Lara as a career-minded woman who doesn't want children, but changes her mind in her late thirties. This is easily understood by many women. Then we go through her miscarriages and subsequent infertility treatments. I'm assuming that Sokol wanted to show how much Lara wanted a child before she actually had one. So many women endure the pain and loss from miscarriages and fertility problems that Lara's struggles with this seemed like it could easily carry the narrative of the book. When she finally gets pregnant, we rush through the pregnancy to her postpartum depression. Then we endure her suffering with a colicky baby and no relief. Again, many women have suffered from postpartum depression and didn't have the ability or foresight to ask for help. In my opinion, the book would have been stronger had it focused on one overriding problem - either the infertility and miscarriages, which devastate many woman but are rarely talked about, or her postpartum depression, which many woman also suffer through silently.

The Unprotected still deserves a good rating but could have benefited from a tighter focus. (Also, ignore the comparison to We Need to Talk About Kevin.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Skyhorse Publishing.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Fallout

Fallout by Sara Paretsky
HarperCollins: 4/18/17
eBook review copy; 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062435842
V. I. Warshawski Series #18

Fallout by Sara Paretsky is the highly recommended 18th book in her long-running V. I. Warshawski series. This time the case takes V. I. out of Chicago to Lawrence, Kansas.

Angela Creedy and Bernadine Fouchard (Brush Back, 2015) want  Warshawski to find Angela's cousin, August Veriden. The aspiring film maker is missing and the police want to question him over the ransacking the Six-Points Gym, where he works as a personal trainer. It appears that August left Chicago with aging black actress, Emerald Ferring. The two were headed to Kansas to film a documentary about her origins. The trail leads to Lawrence, KS, where the University of Kansas is located and the story evolves into more than simply a search for missing persons.

In Kansas Warshawski becomes enmeshed with events that happened in 1983 involving a protest at a missile silo outside of the town and plenty of small town gossip and politics. In response to posters she put up downtown, Sonia Kiel, the mentally -ll daughter of imminent retired KU professor Nathan Kiel, contacts Warshawski to tell her where she saw Emerald and August, but the call ends abruptly. When Warshawski goes to the bar Sonia called from she finds the woman drugged and unconscious. Warshawski calls 911, but this marks the first of several calls she will have to make while unraveling the events of 1983 and how they relate to her present case.

The plot on this outing does meander a bit off track and loses sight of the original case for a good chunk of the novel. Paretsky does pull it all together in the end and solves her case. There are several bad guys in this novel along with several ill-informed citizens. Warshawski continues to have an amazing ability to follow the least of clues and ingratiate herself with the right people while antagonizing the bad guys.

In the opening "Thanks" Paretsky explains that she grew up in Lawrence and her father was a professor and researcher at the University of Kansas. Lawrence is home to KU (1866), but also to Haskell Indian Nations University (1884). The population is probably around 90,000, not huge, but the city is an easy commute to nearby cities, including Topeka and the KC metro area. There are numerous colleges and universities nearby. I'm going to have to take this review a bit personal because of the location Paretsky choose. I totally get taking a place you knew growing up, and switching things up to suit your story by using the real location but with a new layout and altered terrain. I guess what I found rather troubling was her dislike of Lawrence. It became rather obvious that she harbors some latent animosity toward the city. I've live in Lawrence for about six years, but I have yet to encounter the cliquish behavior, city-wide gossip, or the prejudice she implies still exists. I actually lived in this area of the country many years ago. After moving several times to cities in other states across the country, I chose to move back to this area. So, if you were ever thinking of relocating to the area don't base your decision on what how this fictional novel portrays Lawrence.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Chasing Coyotes

Chasing Coyotes: Accounts of Urban Crises by Debora Martin
Atlas: 12/12/16
eBook: 192 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9781945033247

Chasing Coyotes: Accounts of Urban Crises by Debora Martin is a highly recommended informative guide on the presence and problems of coyotes in the urban landscape of Orange County, CA, but it can pertain to coyote populations in other urban areas. The main purpose of the book is informational and educational, along with being easily accessible to lay people.

In Chasing Coyotes Martin discusses the history of coyotes in cities, coyote habitats, and points out ways to coyote "proof" an area. She also shares stories of coyote attacks on pets and people, especially children.  The stated purpose of Chasing Coyotes is fourfold: "(1) to document the plight of urban coyotes in North America, (2) to reduce the amount of misinformation presently circulating about urban coyotes, (3) to remove or reduce any fear the reader may have of coyotes, and (4) to encourage readers to haze coyotes every time they see them." Currently there is misinformation and untruths being spread about urban coyotes by animal rights groups, such as the belief that urban coyotes control rats. It has been shown that urban coyotes only control mice and vole rodent populations, not rodent populations such as rats.

Included are ways to discourage coyotes from making your neighborhood part of their hunting grounds, including "ammonia and white vinegar to reduce pet odor, picking up pet compost, and keeping pet food and water dishes inside." You can also "make sure that all fruit is picked up, secure your trash can lid so coyotes cannot knock them over and get to their contents, remove bird feeders, install motion-activated lighting and sprinkler systems, and increase the amount of outdoor lighting.... Low-lying bushes should be removed, and bushes and trees should be cut back, in order to reduce the number of potential coyote hiding places. Your objective is to create a hostile environment for the coyote by making your home and neighborhood coyote-unfriendly."

Martin discusses pets she has personally lost to coyotes in her neighborhood. She makes it clear that you should never show fear to, turn your back on, or run from a coyote because they might view you as prey. You should never feed a coyote or take pictures of it. This encourages them to not fear humans, creating a potential dangerous situation. If possible haze any coyote you see. Martin explains how to haze a coyote: Raise your arms and wave them while approaching the coyote - be loud and large! Use noisemakers (your voice, whistles, air horns, bells, and soda cans filled with pennies or dead batteries. (Be sure to familiarize your dog to this noise.) Use projectiles (e.g., sticks, small rocks, cans, tennis balls, rubber balls). Try other repellents (such as hoses, water guns with vinegar water, spray bottles with vinegar water, pepper spray, bear repellent, and walking sticks). Sometimes coyotes will test you by pausing in their tracks and standing their ground, but continue hazing and chasing them until they leave the area and are out of sight.

Included in the book are a list of Coyote Preparedness References. There are several urban areas that record and track coyote sightings in their areas and compile a database of information. Be sure to see if your city has a website with coyote information and a place to report sightings of coyotes. If you have ever lived in a city or urban area where there are populations of coyotes preying on pets you will appreciate this book and the information it contains. While some of the text is repetitive when discussing actions to take, in this case it might help the casual reader remember what to do when a coyote is sighted.


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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Book of Joan

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
HarperCollins: 4/18/17
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062383273

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch is a highly recommended literary post-apocalyptic reimagined  Joan of Arc story.

It is 2049. The Earth is a burned-out, lifeless husk due to world wars, global geological catastrophes, and solar flares. Wealthy humans, or what they have evolved into, are living on CIEL, a suborbital complex hovering above the Earth. Human are currently all sexless, hairless, and completely white. Christine Pizan, 49, remembers life on earth before CIEL, but now she resembles the other inhabitants. The residents of CIEL are not allowed to live past age 50, to save resources. They also practice body modification and cover themselves in scars and skin grafts. Christine specializes in skin stories, an electrosurgical branding of words on skin grafts. On her body, Christine is telling the story of Joan of Dark, a child and echo-terrorist who had a mysterious power and communicated directly with the Earth. When Christine dies, Joan's story, as branded/written on her skin, will continue

Joan fought against Jean de Men for the Earth. He is a charismatic and bloodthirsty cult leader who waged war against Joan and currently rules CIEL as a quasi-corporate police state. De Men turned Joan into a martyr, putting her execution on display - but her story is not over. Christine is planning a rebellion with others to seize control from de Men and she also learns that Joan is still alive on Earth. She is also hoping she can save her beloved friend, Trinculo.

This speculative fiction novel is told in three books, the first narrative is through Christine's point-of-view, the second is Joan's story, and the third concludes the story. The writing is incredible - literary, poetic. Yuknavitch is a wordsmith who delights in language and the passion and horror words can communicate. The Book of Joan is firmly a feminist point-of-view and confronts the questions of sexuality, love, and the fluidity of genders, along with the need to rebel against tyrannical leaders with no compassion or humanity. It begs the question: What does it mean to be human? To love?

I delighted in some of the wording Yuknavitch used in The Book of Joan.  While the poetic, literary, and lyrical wording was extraordinary, and is its own literary achievement, the actual plot needed a little bit of clarification, additional explanation, more story.  No one will question the quality of the writing; it is the context that became perplexing at times. In some ways this novel is almost too ambitious for the goals set before it. In the end I took great delight in the writing but felt dissatisfied by the actual flow of the narrative. While the characters are developed and there is change and growth, the notion of character development doesn't seem to directly apply to The Book of Joan - except for Joan.

The Book of Joan is highly recommended, but for a specific audience. If you like literary novels with a science fiction setting and take delight in words and their usage, it's  a good choice. If you like a good epic, post-apocalyptic science fiction story, you might feel let down by the lack of a fluid, well-appointed plot.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Day I Died

The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day
HarperCollins: 4/11/17
trade Paperback: 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062560292

The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day is a very highly recommended compelling mystery/novel psychological suspense. I found it compulsively readable and unputdownable.

Anna Winger is a handwriting analyst who sometimes works with the FBI and law enforcement as well as for private citizens. Anna can look at original samples of handwriting and deduce more about a person than they may want to reveal. She has also been constantly on the move for the last thirteen years in an attempt to hide from her former violent, abusive boyfriend. This time she and Joshua, her thirteen-year-old son, have ended up in a small town in Parks, Indiana. She avoids friendships and any ties with the community she's living in so she can pack up Josh and leave the moment something seems threatening. 

Then her FBI contact refers her to Parks Sheriff Russ Keller to assist in the investigation and search for a missing toddler by looking at some written material left behind. The sheriff is reluctant to trust her analysis and she is reluctant to get involved in this small town case. Anna agrees to help, but it places her in close contact with the community and the ghosts of her past. The mother of the toddler is also missing and it seems like the father might be abusive, all of which strikes too close to home for Anna. Did the mother of the boy stage their disappearance to escape abuse?

To complicate matters even more, Josh is starting to rebel, by talking back, hiding his activities, and acting out. Is it because he is a teen or is his behavior linked to the friends he has made in Parks? When Josh disappears too, Anna must disclose parts of her personal life to try and find her son. Her biggest fear is that he went to look for a man he never met, his father, and Anna will have to return to her hometown to find him and confront her past.

Although Anna is very guarded with details into her past, we slowly learn more about her as we also learn more about the case the sheriff is trying to solve - and as she tries to find her son. While the buildup is slow to start, the narrative picked up the pace rather dramatically and then took off at a gallop. Anna is a great character, fully developed and interesting. She has amazing powers of observation and notices many small clues and details along the way.

The writing is excellent and kept my attention throughout, especially as it opens with the titular "On the day I died..." The unraveling of the clues in the intricate cases are interlaced with the slow reveal of Anna's past and what she has been running from for all these years. It all makes for a masterful novel of mystery and suspense along with a powerful statement about abuse.
There is a twist that, upon reflection, seems too convenient, but I overlooked it as the action was pretty intense at that point.  Once you get through the slow-ish set up, the action and information increase exponentially to the satisfying conclusion.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins
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Monday, April 10, 2017

Letterman

Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman
HarperCollins: 4/11/17
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062377210

Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman is a highly recommended biography for anyone who was a fan of Letterman. Zinoman looks at the legacy left by Letterman's career which spanned more than thirty years, beginning with his college broadcasting career, to Late Night with David Letterman, the Late Show with David Letterman, and up to his retirement in 2015. Rather than focusing extensively on his personal life, which is mentioned as it relates to his career, this account concentrates on his career and how he redefined talk shows.

 It has never been in doubt that Letterman shaped the humor and the format of current talk shows. Although much has been said or speculated about Letterman's personal life and reclusive nature, Letterman is the quintessential originator of the current talk show model. Pulling no punches, Zinoman covers the difficulties between Letterman and the show's employees and writers, especially Merrill Markoe, who shared a long professional and personal connection with Letterman. He mentions the recurring characters written into (especially) the early shows. Letterman also does not shy away from noting the personal toll fame extracted on the iconic talk show host.

During the beginning of his national broadcasting career I was in college and a perfect audience for his irreverent, mocking, sarcastic humor. After watching some of his morning show in 1980, I started watching Late Night with David Letterman (1982-92) almost nightly during the beginning of his career and through his switch in 1993 from NBC to CBS, although my viewing began to taper off toward the later years. I vividly remember many of the early shows or stunts shared in Letterman, and how I laughed uncontrollably over a stunt or sarcastic comment/joke, which was the talk of all the (dare I say) hip, young crowd the next day. In fact, David Letterman is an integral part of popular culture over several generations.

Zinoman did plenty of research and interviews for the book and has notes for each chapter. He includes quotes in the text from many inside sources and personalities associated with Letterman's career.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Tell Me How This Ends Well

Tell Me How This Ends Well by David Samuel Levinson
Hogarth: 4/4/17
eBook review copy; 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780451496881

Tell Me How This Ends Well by David Samuel Levinson is a highly recommended novel featuring black humor, a dysfunctional family, and an anti-Semitic America.

It's 2022 and the Jacobson family is gathering for Passover in Los Angeles. Jacobson siblings Mo, Edith, and Jacob are also plotting to kill their father, the despicable, abusive Julian who has made their lives and their mother Roz's life miserable. Now Roz only has a few months left to live and the siblings are sure Julian is trying to hurry her death along so he can have complete control of her inherited fortune. After putting up with his emotional, verbal, and sometimes physical abuse for years and watching their mother's plight, it is time to end Julian's reign of terror while the whole family is together to celebrate Passover. This is assuming, naturally, that the three can work together and put old grudges aside.

The novel is told in four large sections by each of the siblings and Roz. Then there is a final word by Jacob.
Jacob Jacobson is the gay son who is currently a playwright living in Berlin with his German lover, Dietrich. Jacob and Dietrich have traveled together for what Jacob is sure will be the last time he sees his mother alive.
Edith Jacobson Plunkett, or Thistle, is currently a divorced college ethics professor who has a sexual harassment suit filed against her.
Moses Orenstein-Jacobson, or Mo, is an actor married to Pandora. They have triplets and twins, all boys, and starred in their own reality TV show called The JacobSONS! The family is meeting at their home, where the Passover Seder will be filmed as a special episode of The JacobSONS!
Rosalyn Jacobson, or Roz, the mother of the three, has a surprising chapter of revelations and insights.

Along with the back stories of the four and the current murder plot of the three siblings, there is also plenty of insight into all the abuse Julian heaped upon his family. Julian is a truly evil character with no redeeming qualities at all and continues in the novel to verbally and physically abuse his family. You will want to see him get what he deserves and appreciate the black humor as his demise is debated. The siblings are not lovable characters either, but even with all of their flaws they are definitely better than Julian.

Added to the whole grim atmosphere is the less humorous and more insidious anti-Semitism running rampant in this not-to-distant-future America. In 2022 Israel is no more, after a war during which the United States did nothing. Now 4 million Jewish refugees have relocated to the U.S., which has resulted in a violent xenophobic reaction and constant domestic terrorism.

Tell Me How This Ends Well is very well written and I liked the chapters narrated from the point-of-view of an individual sibling. The characters are extremely well-developed. While some of the action is a bit farcical, it is entertaining - and disturbing. The best part of the novel is the inept plotting of the three siblings. Some of their actions and reactions are humorous and make the novel a pleasure to read. The increasing and ever present anti-Semitism is just disturbing and upsetting; it is perhaps a bit too realistic in this particular setting.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Hogarth.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Feral

Feral by James DeMonaco and B. K. Evenson
Anchor Books: 4/4/17
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101972700

Feral by James DeMonaco and B. K. Evenson is a recommended take on a zombie-like apocalypse.

"The world, as it turned out, didn’t end in either a bang or a whimper, but in pus and sweat and infected men emitting unearthly cries as they destroyed woman after woman." This change to the genetic makeup of men happened after a fire at Arcon Pharmaceutical, a research company that was work with living viruses and genetic splicing, released a dangerous virus that only infects men. Now men have been reduced to feral, savage beasts who sniff out women to kill them.

Allie Hilts was sixteen when the change happened. Now, three years after the accident, Allie has found a safe place for her and her little sister Kim. They are living with other female survivors in a walled off compound surrounded by land mines and protected by guard towers to kill any feral that approaches. Allie, though, has changed. She is now a killing machine. Rather than staying safe behind the walls, she masks her scent by covering her body with feral blood and goes out to scavenge for needed supplies or to capture a feral. She brings the captured ferals back for Dr. Zeman to experiment on in her attempt to find a cure to save the human race. But something odd is happening and Allie needs to figure out what it is so she can protect Kim.

Feral starts out quickly and gallops off at a break-neck pace full of narrow escapes and action. It is a quick read and you'll finish it in no time at all. Feral reads like a zombie novel, where men are zombies and women survivors. Allie is a clever, resourceful character and it is easy to support her. The narrative is told through multiple points-of-view, with Allie being the dominate character. While some of the other voices make sense (Dr. Zeman, Kim), there are narratives told through secondary characters that muddy the plot and their interactions could have been written into one of the main character's chapters.

I did have a couple of concerns about Feral. Because I was reading a review copy, which I am sure was still an uncorrected proof, I will refrain commenting on the actual quality of the writing. There were multiple problems that were probably corrected for print. The other issue I had while reading was a vague this-is-being-written-to-propose-a-series feeling that I couldn't shake. It would come out in random scenes that were unnecessary, certain characters and actions, and the direction the story took, which was disconcerting and beyond belief even for a men-have-become-zombies novel. This is probably due to a director working with a writer to create the book. Feral is a solid airplane book for me. It is an engaging book that will hold your attention but you won't cry if you lose it or misplace it while traveling.

Disclosure: My
review copy was courtesy of Anchor Books.

Invitation

Invitation by Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, Bill Myers, Alton Gansky
Baker Publishing group: 4/4/17
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780764219740
Cycle One of the Harbingers Series

Invitation is a collection of four interconnected stories by authors Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, Bill Myers, and Alton Gansky. This volume contains the first four stories in the Harbingers Series,  an ongoing series with additional stories already available that was created by these Christian authors. In the series a team of four widely diverse people join together to use their individual skills to solve a mystery or help someone.

The author's set up two rules for their collaboration:
Rule #1 Each author would write as one of the characters in the series: Bill Myers's character is Brenda, the street-hustling tattoo artist who sees images of the future. Frank Peretti's character is the professor, the atheist ex-priest ruled by logic. Angela Hunt's character is Andi, the professor’s brilliant but geeky assistant who sees inexplicable patterns. Alton Gansky's character is Tank, the na├»ve, big-hearted jock with a surprising connection to a healing power.
Rule #2 They would write the stories like a TV series with an overarching storyline. The series part would be their individual stories, novellas, written from their character’s point of view.

The first four stories in this volume include:
"The Call" by Bill Myers: We are introduced to the characters and their first team effort to help a student at the Institute for Advanced Psychic Studies.
"The Haunted" by Frank Peretti: The four try to solve a murder mystery centered around a mysterious house.
"The Sentinels" by Angela Hunt: Animals are mysteriously dying and discovered with their eyes missing.
"The Girl" by  Alton Gansky: A young barefoot girl is found holding a scroll after walking for miles in the snowy countryside.

There is no doubt that the writing is excellent and the individual stories are compelling; however, there are some pros and cons to the series. The premise that the stories are written like a TV series, with each story/author focusing on one character, is unique. This makes it easy to quickly read one story and know the next one will be a new adventure from a different character's point-of-view. This is also the downfall of the series - or at least this first volume. Because it is written as an ongoing series and this volume is just the first four stories, there is no concluding resolution and the character growth is limited.  Invitation is only the first four of the sixteen individual stories already written for the series.  In the end the real questions for readers are: Do you like episodic ongoing stories? How much time are you willing to invest in an ongoing series?

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