Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 BOOKS

 Another great year of reading and it is time to choose my top books of 2017! 

As in years past, my top books are listed in chronological order of when they were read rather than a definitive number one pick. After the book I've included the number of pages and the date I reviewed it on She Treads Softly.  As usual, there were many excellent books to chose from that received my highest rating. (They are marked by an asterisk on the main list.)

Fiction: Top 10  
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker, 384 pages, 1/31/17
Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles, 704 pages, 3/29/17  (Read the whole three part series: Natchez Burning, 8/26/16; The Bone Tree, 9/20/16)
Beartown by Fredrik Backman, 432 pages, 4/24/17 
Nuclear Family: A Tragicomic Novel in Letters by Susanna Fogel, 212 pages, 5/21/17
The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson, 352 pages, 7/31/17
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, 352 pages, 9/7/17
The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter, 528 pages, 9/11/17
Smile by Roddy Doyle, 224, 10/25/17
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich, 288 pages, 11/15/17
The Demon Crown by James Rollins, 464 pages, 11/29/17


Nonfiction: Top 5
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston, 336 pages, 1/1/17
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, 352 pages, 3/2/17
The Perils of "Privilege" by Phoebe Maltz Bovy, 336 pages, 3/17/17
Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris, 528 pages, 6/1/17
Strange Contagion by Lee Daniel Kravetz, 288 pages, 7/6/17 

Short Stories: Top 4
Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages, 240 pages, 5/22/17
Turf: Stories by Elizabeth Crane, 208 pages, 6/24/17
Bad Kansas by Becky Mandelbaum, 176 pages, 9/13/17
First-Person Singularities by Robert Silverberg, 384 pages, 11/5/17

2017 Books

January – 20 books
**1. The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston, 336 pages, 1/1/17,  very highly recommended, nonfiction
2. Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia, 352 pages, 1/2/17, highly recommended
3. The Year of Needy Girls by Patricia A. Smith, 320 pages, 1/3/17, recommended
4. Where I Can See You by Larry D. Sweazy, 255 pages, 1/4/17, highly recommended
5. Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson, 352 pages, 1/6/17, highly recommended
*6. Why Won't You Apologize? by Harriet Lerner, 208 pages, 1/8/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
7. Fungoid by William Meikle, 177 pages, 1/9/17, highly recommended
8. Night of Fire by Colin Thubron, 384, 1/11/17, recommended
**9. The Fireman by Joe Hill, 768 pages, 1/12/17, very highly recommended
10. Phantom Limb by Lucinda Berry, 260 pages, 1/13/17, highly recommended
*11. The Aisles Have Eyes by Joseph Turow, 344 pages, 1/14/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
12. The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty, 288 pages, 1/17/17, recommended
**13. The Dry by Jane Harper, 336 pages, 1/17/17, very highly recommended
14. Depraved Heart by Patricia Cornwell, 496 pages, 1/19/17, highly recommended
15. Armor of Glass by R. M. A. Spears, 232 pages, 1/22/17, so-so
16. Of G-Men and Eggheads by John Rodden, 152 pages, 1/22/17, recommended, nonfiction
17. This Is Not Over by Holly Brown, 400 pages, 1/26/17, recommended
18. Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking, 288 pages, 1/28/17, highly recommended
**19. Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller, 356 pages, 1/29/17, very highly recommended
***20. The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker, 384 pages, 1/31/17, very highly recommended

February -15 books
21. The Evening Road by Laird Hunt, 288 pages, 2/1/17, recommended
22. Unpunished by Lisa Black, 320 pages, 2/1/17, highly recommended
*23. The Book Thieves by Anders Rydell, 368 pages, 2/3/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
*24. Hit Makers by Derek Thompson, 352 pages, 2/7/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
25. Uscolia: Learning without Teaching by Gabriel Lanyi, 192 pages, 2/9/17, recommended
26. The Shimmering Road by Hester Young, 416 pages, 2/11/17, highly recommended
27. The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis, 368 pages, 2/12/17, highly recommended
*28. Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein, 352 pages, 2/16/17, very highly recommended
29. All That's Left to Tell by Daniel Lowe, 304 pages, 2/18/17, so-so
30. Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez, 208 pages, 2/18/17, highly recommended, short stories
31. The Book of Etta by Meg Elison, 314 pages, 2/18/17, highly recommended
32. The Drifter by Christine Lennon, 384 pages, 2/22/17, recommended
*33. Bleaker House by Nell Stevens, 256 pages, 2/23/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
**34. Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens, 416 pages, 2/23/17, very highly recommended
35. All the News I Need by Joan Frank, 168 pages, 2/28/17, highly recommended

March -23 books
**36. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, 352 pages, 3/2/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
37. The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler, 400 pages, 3/3/17, highly recommended
38. The Underworld by Kevin Canty, 256 pages, 3/4/17, highly recommended
*39. The Coming Apostasy by Mark Hitchcock and Jeff Kinley, 224 pages, 3/4/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
*40. Bit Rot: stories + essays by Douglas Coupland, 432 pages, 3/6/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction+
41. Ill Will by Dan Chaon, 480 pages, 3/7/17, highly recommended
42. The Wanderers by Meg Howrey, 384 pages, 3/8/17, highly recommended
43. The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo, 352 pages, 3/11/17, highly recommended
*44. One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel, 176 pages, 3/12/17, very highly recommended
45. Every Wild Heart by Meg Donohue, 304 pages, 3/13/17, recommended
46. The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel, 288 pages, 3/15/17, highly recommended
47. Never Out of Season by Rob Dunn, 336 pages, 3/16/17, highly recommended, nonfiction
*48. The Perils of "Privilege" by Phoebe Maltz Bovy, 336 pages, 3/17/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
49. Asteroid Hunters by Carrie Nugent, 128 pages, 3/19/17, highly recommended, nonfiction
50. A Simple Favor by Darcy Bell, 304 pages, 3/22/17, highly recommended
51. The Midas Legacy by Andy McDermott, 640 pages, 3/24/17, recommended
52. Pirate Women by Laura Sook Duncombe, 264 pages, 3/24/17, highly recommended, nonfiction
53. It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany, 320 pages, 3/25/17, highly recommended
**54. Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles, 704 pages, 3/29/17, very highly recommended
55. A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold, 336 pages, 3/30/17, so-so, nonfiction
56. Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel, 336 pages, 3/30/17, highly recommended
57. Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott, 192 pages, 3/30/17, so-so nonfiction
58. A Welcome Murder by Robin Yocum, 263 pages, 3/30/17, highly recommended

April -15 books
59. Invitation by Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, Bill Myers, Alton Gansky, 352 pages, 4/5/17, highly recommended
60. Feral by James DeMonaco and B. K. Evenson, 320 pages, 4/5/17, recommended
61. Tell Me How This Ends Well by David Samuel Levinson, 416 pages, 4/6/17, highly recommended
62. Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman, 368 pages, 4/10/17, highly recommended, nonfiction
*63. The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day, 432, 4/12/17, very highly recommended
64. The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch, 288 pages, 4/13/17, highly recommended
65. Chasing Coyotes by Debora Martin, 192 pages, 4/17/17, highly recommended, nonfiction
66. Fallout by Sara Paretsky, 448 pages, 4/17/17, highly recommended
67. The Unprotected by Kelly Sokol, 296 pages, 4/18/17, highly recommended
*68. Burntown by Jennifer McMahon, 304 pages, 4/22/17, very highly recommended
*69. I Found You by Lisa Jewell, 352 pages, 4/23/17, very highly recommended
**70. Beartown by Fredrik Backman, 432 pages, 4/24/17, very highly recommended
71. The Watcher by Ross Armstrong, 336 pages, 4/25/17, recommended
**72. Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout, 272 pages, 4/25/17, very highly recommended
*73. The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger, 368 pages, 4/30/17, very highly recommended

May – 19 books
*74. Vacation on Location, Midwest by Joey Green, 240 pages, 5/1/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
75. The Ship by Antonia Honeywell, 336 pages, 5/2/17, recommended, YA
76. The Ridge by John Rector, 284 pages, 5/2/17, recommended
77. One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline, 368 pages, 5/3/17, highly recommended
78. Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee by Wayne Flynt, 240 pages, 5/3/17, recommended, nonfiction
79. It Started with Goodbye by Christina June, 272 pages, 5/3/17, recommended, YA
80. Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic, 416 pages, 5/7/17, so-so
81. The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris, 256 pages, 5/7/17, highly recommended, short stories
**82. Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor, 336 pages, 5/8/17, very highly recommended
83. The Hanging Tree by Rodney Hobson, 168 pages, 5/14/17, highly recommended
*84. The Inkblots by Damion Searls, 405 pages, 5/14/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
85. You Were Here by Gian Sardar, 384 pages, 5/15/17, recommended
*86. The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda, 352 pages, 5/16/17, very highly recommended
87. Sister Sister by Sue Fortin, 384 pages, 5/21/17, recommended
88. What She Saw by Gerard Stembridge, 320 pages, 5/21/17, so-so
**89. Nuclear Family: A Tragicomic Novel in Letters by Susanna Fogel, 212 pages, 5/21/17, very highly recommended
90. Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton, 304 pages, 5/22/17, highly recommended
*91. Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages, 240 pages, 5/22/17, very highly recommended, short stories
92. Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan, 320 pages, 5/25/17, not recommended

June – 16 books
**93. Theft by Finding: Diaries by David Sedaris, 528 pages, 6/1/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
94. Blackout by Marc Elsberg, 320 pages, 6/2/17, recommended
95. Dis Mem Ber by Joyce Carol Oates, 256 pages, 6/3/17, highly recommended, short stories
96. Perdition by R. Jean Reid, 360 pages, 6/5/17, highly recommended
97. You'll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron, 304 pages, 6/11/17, recommended
98. The Party by Robyn Harding, 352 pages, 6/11/17, so-so
*99. The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz, 464 pages, 6/11/17, very highly recommended
100. Small Hours by Jennifer Kitses, 288 pages, 6/12/17, recommended
101. The Accomplished Guest: Stories by Ann Beattie, 288 pages,6/12/17,  highly recommended, short stories
*102. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan, 336 pages, 6/16/17, very highly recommended
103. Wilders by Brenda Cooper, 367 pages, 6/18/17, highly recommended, YA
*104. Turf: Stories by Elizabeth Crane, 208 pages, 6/24/17, very highly recommended, short stories
105. Tell My Dad by Ram Muthiah, 282 pages, 6/24/17, recommended
106. The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan, 399 pages, 6/24/17, highly recommended
107. Girl on the Leeside by Kathleen Anne Kenney, 304 pages, 6/24/17, recommended
108. Eight Is Enough by Tom Braden, 173 pages, 6/25/17, highly recommended, nonfiction

July - 22 books
109. CONDITION - Book One by Alec Birri, 290 pages, 7/2/17, recommended
*110. UNSUB by Meg Gardiner, 384 pages, 7/2/17, very highly recommended
111. Amatka by Karin Tidbeck, 320 pages, 7/2/17, highly recommended
**112 Strange Contagion by Lee Daniel Kravetz,288 pages,  7/6/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
113. Before Everything by Victoria Redel, 288 pages, 7/7/17, recommended
114. Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells, 320 pages, 7/10/17, highly recommended
*115. The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard, 400 pages, 7/10/17, very highly recommended
*116. The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick, 240 pages, 7/10/17, very highly recommended
117. Out in the Open by Jesus Carrasco, 240 pages, 7/12/17, highly recommended
118. Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas, 352 pages, 7/13/17, recommended
119. Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown, 368 pages, 7/14/17, recommended
**120. My Sister's Bones by Nuala Ellwood, 416 pages, 7/18/17, very highly recommended
121. Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown, 480 pages, 7/19/17, highly recommended
122. Bring Her Home by David Bell, 464 pages, 7/19/17, recommended
123. Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn, 288 pages, 7/20/17, recommended
*124. Last Breath by Karin Slaughter, 176 pages, 7/20/17, very highly recommended
125. Spire by Fiona Snyckers, 262 pages, 7/23/17, recommended
126. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen, 384 pages, 7/23/17, recommended
127. The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond, 432 pages, 7/27/17, recommended
128. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt, 324 pages, 7/27/17, recommended
129. The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson, 320 pages, 7/30/17, highly recommended
**130. The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson, 352 pages, 7/31/17, very highly recommended

August -17 books
131. Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives, 304 pages, 8/3/17, so-so
132. Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka, 368 pages, 8/3/17, highly recommended
133. Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker, 320 pages, 8/6/17, highly recommended
134. Binary System by Eric Brown, 400 pages, 8/6/17, recommended
135. The Great Quake by Henry Fountain, 288 pages, 8/6/17, highly recommended, nonfiction
*136. The Luster of Lost Things by Sophie Chen Keller, 336 pages, 8/13/17, very highly recommended
*137. I Know a Secret by Tess Gerritsen, 336 pages, 8/13/17, very highly recommended
138. New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, 208 pages, 8/13/17, highly recommended
139. The Last Lost Girl by Maria Hoey, 448 pages, 8/17/17, highly recommended
*140. Everything We Lost by Valerie Geary, 480 pages, 8/17/17, very highly recommended
141. The Other Girl by Erica Spindler, 256 pages, 8/20/17, recommended
142. The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter, 496 pages, 8/20/17, recommended
143. The History of Bees by Maja Lunde, 352 pages, 8/24/17, highly recommended
144. If the Creek Don't Rise by Leah Weiss, 320 pages, 8/27/17, highly recommended
145. The Assault: Cycle 2 Harbingers Series by Peretti, Hunt, Myers, Gansky, 368 pages, 8/27/17, highly recommended
**146. Fever by Deon Meyer, 544 pages, 8/31/17, very highly recommended
147. The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker, 464 pages, 8/31/17, highly recommended

September -17 books
148. The Han Agent by Amy Rogers, 260 pages, 9/3/17, so-so
149. The Best of Us by Joyce Maynard, 448 pages, 9/3/17, highly recommended, nonfiction
*150. An Odyssey by Daniel Mendelsohn, 320 pages, 9/3/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
151. Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill, 384 pages, 9/6/17, highly recommended
**152. The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones, 400 pages, 9/6/17, very highly recommended
**153. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, 352 pages, 9/7/17, very highly recommended
154. The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb, 368 pages, 9/10/17, highly recommended
**155. The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter, 528 pages, 9/11/17, very highly recommended
156. The Names of Dead Girls by Eric Rickstad, 448 pages, 9/13/17, highly recommended
157. Unshakeable Trust by Joyce Meyer, 240 pages, 9/13/17, highly recommended
**158. Bad Kansas: Stories by Becky Mandelbaum, 176 pages, 9/13/17, very highly recommended, short stories
159. Keep Her Safe by Sophie Hannah, 352 pages, 9/17/17, recommeded
160. Lightning Men by Thomas Mullen, 384, 9/17/17, highly recommended
161. The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs by Janet Peery, 288 pages, 9/20/17, highly recommended
162. The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti, 352 pages, 9/24/17, highly recommended
*163. The Man from the Train by Bill James, 480 pages, 9/26/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
164. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, 448 pages, 9/30/17, highly recommended

October -15 books
*165. The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash, 384 pages, 10/3/17 very highly recommended
166. George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl, 288 pages, 10/4/17, not recommended
*167. Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land, 304 pages, 10/4/17, very highly recommended
168. The Visitors by Catherine Burns, 304 pages, 10/8/17, recommended
169. Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda, 352 pages, 10/8/17, highly recommended
170. The Blind by A.F. Brady, 416 pages, 10/11/17, highly recommended
171. The Relive Box and Other Stories by T. C. Boyle, 272 pages, 10/11/17, highly recommended, short stories
172. The Genius Plague by David Walton, 400 pages, 10/15/17, highly recommended
173. If You Knew My Sister by Michelle Adams, 384 pages, 10/15/17, highly recommended
**174. A Life Beyond Amazing by David Jeremiah, 256 pages, 10/19/17, very highly recommended, nonfiction
*175. Deep Freeze by John Sandford, 400 pages, 10/19/17, very highly recommended
176. Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak, 368 pages, 10/22/17, so-so
**177. Smile by Roddy Doyle, 224 pages, 10/25/17, very highly recommended
178. Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra, 336 pages, 10/25/17, highly recommended
179. The After War by Brandon Zenner, 444 pages, 10/29/17, recommended

November - 16 books
180. Strange Weather by Joe Hill, 448 pages, 11/1/17, highly recommended, short stories
181. Lost Lake: Stories by Mark Slouka, 192 pages, 11/1/17, recommended, short stories
182. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, 512 pages, 11/5/17, highly recommended
*183. First-Person Singularities by Robert Silverberg, 384 pages, 11/5/17, very highly recommended, short stories
184. Millard Salter's Last Day by Jacob M. Appel, 272 pages, 11/5/17, recommended
185. Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner, 144 pages, 11/12/17, so-so
186. The End We Start From by Megan Hunter, 160 pages, 11/12/17, recommended
187. Down and Out in Purgatory: The Collected Stories of Tim Powers, 496 pages, 11/12/17, highly recommended, short stories
**188. Artemis by Andy Weir, 320 pages, 11/12/17, very highly recommended
**189. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich, 288 pages, 11/15/17, very highly recommended
*190. The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg, 240 pages, 11/15/17, very highly recommended
*191. The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz, 528 pages, 11/19/17, very highly recommended
192. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher, 272 pages, 11/19/17, highly recommended, nonfiction
193. Because I Was Lonely by Hayley Mitchell, 304 pages, 11/26/17, recommended
194. Not Safe After Dark: And Other Stories by Peter Robinson, 496 pages, 11/26/17, highly recommended, short stories
**195. The Demon Crown by James Rollins, 464 pages, 11/29/17, very highly recommended

December - 12 books
196. Plague Land by Alex Scarrow, 384 pages, 12/3/17, highly recommended, YA
197. The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen, 288 pages, 12/10/17, highly recommended
198. The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir by Maude Julien, 288 pages, 12/10/17, highly recommended, nonfiction
199. Insidious Intent by Val McDermid, 400 pages, 12/10/17, highly recommended
200. Some Assembly Required by Michael Strelow, 208 pages, 12/10/17, recommended
201. The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall. 448 pages, 12/17/17, highly recommended
201. Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins, 416 pages, 12/17/17, highly recommended
203. The Ice House by Laura Lee Smith, 448 pages, 12/21/17, highly recommended
204. The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson, 320 pages, 12/21/17, highly recommended
205. Dominic by Mark Pryor, 239 pages, 12/28/17, recommended
206. Hap and Hazard and the End of the World by Diane DeSanders, 288 pages, 12/27/17, recommended
*207. Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna, 320 pages, 12/30/17, very highly recommended

Two Girls Down

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna
Doubleday: 1/9/18
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385542494

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna is a very highly recommended mystery/thriller.

Jamie Brandt, a single mother, is running late while on her way to a birthday party where the whole family is invited. When she stops at Kmart to buy a gift, she leaves 10-year-old Kylie and 8-year-old Bailey in the car while she runs into the store. When she returns, the sisters are gone. After 48 hours with no lead, Jamie's Aunt Maggie Shambley, hires California bounty hunter Alice Vega to locate the girls. Vega is a no nonsense enigmatic investigator who has a well-publicized national reputation for finding abducted children.

The Denville, Pennsylvania police chief, in a pique of misplaced pride, immediately refuses to work with Vega to find the girls, despite the fact that after budget cuts, the department can barely keep up with the local oxycodone and meth epidemic. With help from "the Bastard," a computer hacker who assists her, Vega has access to resources and information the police don't. She also hires a local disgraced former cop, Max Caplan. Cap is currently working as a PI. Vega knows that he has inside contacts and a favor he could call in with the local police. Vega and Cap work together to uncover a complicated web of lies, false leads, and inconsistent statements to try and find the girls before it is too late.

I liked Vega and Cap, who are both flawed but well-developed characters. They work very well together. Cap's problems (and strengths) are presented upfront, but Vega's are hidden and very slowly revealed in small increments. Both of them are fully aware of the ticking clock and how every hour, every minute, the girls are not found is one minute closer to what may be their death. They are both keen observers of people and can pick out clues that the police are overlooking.

Luna uses a third-person narrative that allows us access to the main protagonists' thoughts and feelings. Their thoughts and motivations are so different and contrast starkly with each other. She also does a great job describing all of the supporting characters; they are all written as real people.

This is an excellent nail-biting complex thriller that moves at a steady pace, building up the tension incrementally with each new suspect and lead. The writing is exceptional; the plot is complex and carefully reveals each new piece of evidence. I was totally immersed in the drama. The final conclusion was a shocker and took me by surprise.

Well, Done, Louisa Luna! I am hoping that this signals the start of a series featuring Vega and Cap.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Doubleday via Netgalley.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Hap and Hazard and the End of the World

Hap and Hazard and the End of the World by Diane DeSanders
Bellevue Literary Press: 1/9/18
eBook review copy: 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781942658368

Hap and Hazard and the End of the World by Diane DeSanders is about a young girl with a dysfunctional family living in Dallas, Texas, after WWII.

An unnamed child is the narrator of these short interconnected sketches. She misses the time when she was the only child living with her mother while her father was away, in the War. Now her father is always angry, easily provoked into rages, and is in constant pain from his wounded, deformed feet. He likes to have everything a certain way, or he will fly into a violent temper tantrum. Her mother seems preoccupied  and is often sad now. she is no longer the fun, carefree mother she used to be. She is busy with social events. She also cares more about the two new babies now and our narrator is left to deal with her questions on her own. And she has many questions that adults don't seem to want to answer, like is Santa real?

There are several heart breaking, poignant moments when you read this, as an adult, and see how the anger and complexities of her parent's relationship is deeply affecting this young girl. It also captures a time in history, America after WWII. The questions the girl has are question most children have. She struggles with school and making friends. She's trying to make sense of her world and some of the problems she has that she can't talk to anyone about. Her father, due to his injuries, is constantly described as clump-CLUMPing here and there, knocking things over or off tables, in an angry reaction, while her mother is tense, waiting for the next explosion.

This well-written series of vignettes works on some levels, but not completely for me. The sketches are presented in a nonlinear story line, although they do eventually culminate in a story and a more complete picture of a traumatic event. Our narrator often repeats the same concerns and questions, reflects on the same things, which makes sense for a child, but I'm not sure that I want to read the same thing repeatedly as an adult, especially with run-on sentences in a stream-of-consciousness style.

DeSanders does capture the questions and innocence of childhood in a dysfunctional family, but misses the mark not naming her narrator. Names are very important to children, especially their own names, even when all they are thinking about is are the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus real? Or why do you like the babies more than me? Or why do boys play the way they do? Certainly a parent would call out her full name at least once or twice. Sometimes an unnamed character is representative of an every-man, a common character, but our narrator is a specific child, and a child curious enough to want to know why she was named the name she was and to let us know who she is.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bellevue Literary Press.


Dominic by Mark Pryor
Prometheus Books: 1/2/18
eBook review copy; 239 pages
ISBN-13:  9781633883659
Hollow Man #2

Dominic by Mark Pryor is a recommended novel featuring a psychopathic antihero.

Dominic is a charming Englishman, prosecutor in juvenile court, and musician living in Austin, Texas. He is also a psychopath who got away with murder a year ago. Dominic has known since he was in school in England that he is a psychopath. He has no natural sense of empathy, guilt, or fear, so he has studied other people to learn how to imitate appropriate responses. But he can also recognize other psychopaths, which is how he recognized that Bobby, the teenage brother of the young woman he is seeing, is also a psychopath. For his nameless girlfriend, Dominic has been trying to protect Bobby from incarceration and steer him in the right direction, but, as he well knows, psychopaths think they are too clever to get caught and aren't good at impulse control or following directions.

When Brian McNulty, Dominic's annoying fellow juvenile prosecutor, expresses interest in a judicial position that Dominic is also interested in, Dominic knows he's going to have to orchestrate a plan. Adding to the problems is Detective Megan Ledsome, an officer who is still keeping an eye on Dominic and suspects he was involved in the unsolved murder from a year ago. Dominic needs to come up with a complicated plan to keep himself safe and get what he wants.

You can easily follow the plot in this second novel featuring Dominic without having read the first novel, 2015's Hollow Man. The chapters alternate between the voices of Dominic, Brian, and Dominic's girlfriend. Dominic plans out his dark, evil scheme while maintaining his charming facade, although readers are privy to his darker thoughts.

Dominic is well-written and certainly has some surprising plot twists. It held my attention throughout. The biggest hurdle Pryor has to clear is helping readers find, if not sympathy, at least some rapport with his psychopathic antihero who lacks normal human emotions. It's kind of a hard sell that, while it has worked for other readers, didn't really work for me. I began to hope that Brian McNulty was not the schlub he seemed to be and was secretly planning his own long-con behind Dominic's back. I guess it doesn't bode well for your antihero protagonist when the reader is hoping he gets taken down.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Prometheus Books.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Wolves of Winter

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson
Simon & Schuster: 1/2/18
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501155673

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson is a highly recommended post-apocalyptic novel set in the frozen Canadian Yukon.

After the nuclear war and the pandemic flu, Lynn McBride is simply lucky to be a survivor living in isolated log cabins in the Yukon with her mother, brother, uncle, and his friend's son. It's been seven years since they saw another person, not counting the looser Conrad, who lives nearby. The family was originally from Chicago, where her father was a university biologist. Then they fled north to a small town in Alaska when she was 12.  At 16, after her father died from the flu and it was clear they had to leave again, they slipped across the Canadian border into the Yukon. Now they live a harsh existence trying to keep fed and warm.

When Lynn happens to meet a stranger named Jax with a dog he calls Wolf in the woods, she rashly invites him to their camp for a meal. Jax seems to be hiding something, but he also tries hard to be non-threatening to the small isolated group, who question him and clean up his wounded leg. When a group of men who call themselves traders show up and they are a threat, Jax clearly knows much more than he has told them, and he also makes it clear that he must leave. This sets into motion a chain of events that will affect them all.

The Wolves of Winter is an excellent debut novel and a great addition to the post-apocalyptic genre. Lynn is a well-developed main character and strong female lead - the rest of the family are less developed, but fine supporting characters. The story is told in Lynn's voice and she explains what brought them to this place. Jax is an enigma for most of the novel, although readers will learn more of his story by the end.

Johnson does an admirable job integrating what they currently do to survive with the story of what happened in the past that led the family to their isolated existence in the Yukon. The weather and the landscape are a harsh setting. The end of the modern world makes their existence in this environment feel even more precarious. While they are surviving, every day holds risks. Add to this the adversaries beyond the harsh location and you have an overwhelming feeling of impending danger. There is an element of science fiction to the plot that I thought worked. Additionally, Johnson does have a few surprises to reveal along the way.

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

The Ice House

The Ice House by Laura Lee Smith
Grove/Atlantic: 12/5/17
eBook review copy; 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802127082

The Ice House by Laura Lee Smith is a highly recommended family drama ultimately about forgiveness in spite of differences.

Johnny MacKinnon, 53, and his second wife Pauline, 50, are the owners of the Bold City Ice Plant, an inherited ice house business, located in Jacksonville, Florida. Johnny, originally from Scotland, has a 30 year old son, Corran, still living in Scotland. Although Corran has visited Johnny in Florida for years, after his last visit, Johnny made it clear he was done with Corran, a heroin addict, after he stole from Johnny and Pauline. The estranged relationship between father and son isn't the only problem facing the MacKinnons. The ice house is facing astronomical OSHA fines following a leak of ammonia gas. While they are sure it was no accident and probably due to drug dealers in the neighborhood stealing the ammonia, they have no proof of this yet and have to find some ground for their appeal. The final straw is when Johnny is discovered to have a brain tumor that has to be removed. Johnny is put on medication and told to rest for two weeks before the tumor is removed.

Johnny, never very good at taking it easy, decides that he needs to visit Corran and try to mend their relationship because his tumor may mean this is his last chance to do so. It seems that Corran is now clean, according to Johnny's ex-wife, Sharon. Corran is also taking care of his nine-month old daughter by himself after his wife was sent to prison for smuggling heroin. Johnny returns to Scotland to see Corran, Sharon, and his granddaughter.  And because he can't drive, Johnny takes teenager neighbor, Chemal, with him to act as his driver. This leaves Pauline alone to handle the upcoming OSHA trial, while worrying over Johnny's approaching surgery.

Smith has written an excellent feel-good novel in The Ice House. The writing really is quite good.  There is a keen insight into all of the well-developed characters, making them real people with flaws and weaknesses along with strengths. She has managed to capture the shared feeling that time is slipping by for Johnny, Pauline, and Sharon, as well as with the rest of the cast of characters. Smith has chapters from the perspective of several characters, which helps create a complete picture of everyone involved in the various dilemmas facing the main protagonists and their personal problems. Life can be messy and complicated, and Smith captures this. At the same time, readers will care what happens to the motley group. While placing her characters in some dire situations, she also has several  comedic moments along with the tender, heart breaking scenes.

But make no mistake about it, this is a novel with a message - relationships are vital and forgiveness of others (and yourself) is essential. This would be an excellent choice to read for escapism, especially when you want everything resolved. For me, there are a few flaws. The novel does tend to meander a bit too much and, for me at least, everything is too-tidily resolved at the end (which, after we've seen how messy life can be in the bulk of the novel, seems to be overly optimistic and unrealistic.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove/Atlantic via Netgalley.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Now That You Mention It

Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins
Harlequin: 12/26/17
eBook review copy; 416 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781335903358

Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins is highly recommended escapism with drama, reconnecting with family, facing past and present issues, and a bit of romance.

Dr. Nora Stuart is practicing gastroenterology in Boston, but after the incident (the Big Bad Event) that changed her, she feels like she's just surviving. The spark with her boyfriend, Bobby, an ER doctor, seems to be lacking. When she is hit by a van when leaving the hospital and then sees Bobby flirting with another ER doctor while she is lying there, dying, she knows it time to move on. She needs to heal, both mentally and physically, from her accident. Nora decides to go back to the place she couldn't wait to escape from: Scupper Island, Maine.

Nora arrives on the ferry with Boomer, the dog of dogs, and her bags and is met by her mother, Sharon. While healing physically from her accident, Nora is hopeful she can finally make some kind of emotional connection with her taciturn mother, Sharon, establish a relationship with her teenage niece, Poe, hopefully reconcile with her sister, Lily (after she gets out of jail for drug dealing), and, maybe, finally find out what happened to her dad when he left them all years ago. Nora originally left the island without looking back. She was an over-weight, unpopular, but overachieving teen who won a full scholarship to Tufts. The town resented her for this, feeling that she stole it from the popular golden boy, Luke. Now there are still some who resent her, some who don't recognize or remember her, and a few who will give her a chance.

Now That You Mention It is one of those feel-good novels that sometimes you just need to read for escapism. In this case, though, it's not a simplistic, mindless novel. Higgins has it all - complex relationships, a complicated family saga, light romance, humor, and obstacles to overcome. Nora has a complex past and Higgins takes the time to explore it all while current events are equally compelling. The writing is excellent, the characters finely drawn, the drama feels real, and the dialogue is extremely well done. Higgins' creates a likeable, sympathetic character in Nora and supporting characters. Readers will be cheering her on and hoping she finds answers and closure for everything.

While the ending ties up all loose ends perfectly, it doesn't arrive without plenty of laughter, struggles, memories, and questions. But, even when tackling serious concerns, this is a novel with a positive, upbeat feeling and an underlying lightness to it. There are several hilarious scenes that you will remember. This would be an excellent stress-reliving choice to read over the upcoming holidays.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Harlequin.

The Best Kind of People

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
Random House Publishing Group: 9/19/17
advanced reading copy: 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399182211

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall is a highly recommended examination of a family after their husband/father is accused of multiple incidents of sexual misconduct with a minor.

The police showed up at midnight on Sadie Woodbury's 17th birthday to arrest her father, George, and charged him with multiple cases of sexual misconduct. George teaches science at the local prep school and has been named Teacher of the Year every year since he stopped a gun man from hurting anyone at the school.  Joan, his wife, is a well-respected ER nurse. Their oldest son, Andrew is a lawyer in NYC with a boyhood history of being bullied at Avalon. The charges seem inconceivable. How could the man they love and trust be guilty of the charges?

The novel does not focus on George, who is in prison awaiting trial during the novel, but on his family and how they are handling the accusations and recriminations. Joan vacillates between denial and rage. Her sister, Clara, comes in to support her and condemns George. She finds a support group and attempts to work through her emotions. Sadie, who was a popular student body leader is now an outcast and becomes reclusive, using marijuana to escape. Andrew rallies to support his family and father, but returning home brings unpleasant memories of abuse as a gay teen in a small town back to haunt him. They all are experiencing shock, various degrees of denial, and confusion. Along with the community scrutiny, judgement, and gossip, a writer decides to pen a lurid novel based on the story and a men's rights activist group rallies to George's defense.

The Woodburys were viewed as successful pillars of the community before the charges. Whittall focuses on the fact that once accusations of a crime of this magnitude are given voice it is impossible for her characters to ignore or not consider the validity of the charges, which completely changes how they view the person they thought they knew. Additionally, the charges against one family member affect all the family members. After an eventful opening when the arrest happens, the novel slows down the pace and covers how the emotions of the family members shift and change over the months leading up to the trial. Really, we are viewing the loss of trust and the psychological destruction of the Woodbury family.

While well-written and engrossing, there are a few missteps. The addition of the writer detracted from the novel's strengths while muddied the focus of the plot and wasn't really necessary. How Joan, Sadie, and Andrew were handling the crisis and their emotions, along with all the social ramifications they were experiencing should have remained the focus. Personally, I liked the ending, even though it did seem a wee bit rushed and just sort of wound down. While it might seem muddled to some readers, it did capture the idea that some events change a person forever and never really have a perfect resolution. (Probably a 3.5)

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Some Assembly Required

Some Assembly Required by Michael Strelow  
Roundfire Books: 12/8/17
eBook review copy; 208 pages
ISBN-13: 9781785356278

Some Assembly Required by Michael Strelow is a recommended humorous science fiction novel.

Jake James is a writer. He also has always heard voices and has learned to not tell people about it after that disastrous initial disclosure in grade school. His voices aren't bad. They don't tell him what to do. They might poetically describe a scene, or just say his name, and he's learned to co-exist with them. He doesn't talk about them to anyone, including his girlfriend, and life is good.

When Jake is on an assignment covering an A.I. convention he listens to the presentation of Dr. Sewall. While the presentation is without fanfare and barely audible, when Jake actually reads the paper presented, his interest is piqued. Jake sets off to visit Sewall at his office, located at the back of the Ag department at the university. It is there that Jake sees Rex. Rex is a sentient being that resembles a blob of gray-green oatmeal. Dr. Sewell apparently created Rex by inserting a form of AI he created using a mathematical algorithm into a bowl of oatmeal. Now the Dr. feeds him and Rex, while ravenous and growing, excretes a dust.

When Rex, or Rex II, reveals he has a voice, Jake begins to hear Rex's voice along with the other voices he already hears. Suddenly everything changes, including Jake's perception of the world. Or is Rex a symptom of Jake's undisclosed mental illness.

Some Assembly Required is a well-written sci-fi romp through the absurd. Jake is a likeable protagonist, with a quirky sense of humor and a self-effacing attitude. He's really an everyman - except for the voices. Once he starts talking to Rex, or Rex is altering reality, the story takes a turn. There were sections and descriptions in this novel that I liked very much and the writing is excellent. I loved it at the beginning and then, ultimately, the direction the plot took lost me. Other readers might enjoy it in entirety more than I did.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Roundfire Books.

Insidious Intent

Insidious Intent by Val McDermid  
Grove/Atlantic: 12/5/17
eBook review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802127167
Tony Hill & Carol Jordan #10

Insidious Intent by Val McDermid is a highly recommended tenth installment to the series featuring psychologist Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan.
There are dual plotlines in this fast-paced, intense procedural. Carol Jordan has been asked to return to head the newly formed Regional Major Incident Team (ReMIT) and she has handpicked her colleagues. All of Carol's skills and Tony's insight are needed and tested with the Wedding Killer. They must find a serial killer who finds his victims at wedding receptions. The killer seeks out a woman who seems to be alone, courts her, and eventually kills her. Then he sets fire to their lifeless bodies in their cars, not only destroying the bodies, but destroying any evidence that would connect him to the crime.

While trying to catch the killer, crime reporter Penny Burgess has made it her goal to end Carol's career. At the same time DS Paula McIntyre is being urged by Carol to take her inspector's exam so she can take over for Carol - if she has to step down. To add to the complications, Paula and her partner Dr. Elinor Blessing must figure out why their teenage ward, Torin McAndrew, is suddenly acting moody and secretive. DC Stacey Chen is back and using her mad IT/computer skills to help solve the cases.

This is a great long-running series with well-developed, well-established characters. The writing is excellent and the dialogue is well-done. McDermid keeps the action fast and the tension building in this outing. The team is seriously stumped and there are so many peripheral things happening that could distract them from the case. All the various plot-thread keep moving along as the stress levels of the team rise along with the pressure. There is a reason McDermid is such a successful crime writer.  The ending on this one  is a shocker.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove/Atlantic.

The Only Girl in the World

The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir by Maude Julien
Adriana Hunter (Translator)
Little, Brown and Company: 12/12/17
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316466622

The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien is a highly recommended memoir about a woman's abusive childhood - and her escape.

This is not an easy memoir to read because of the abuse and the family situation is so bizarre. Maude Julien's parents were fanatics and the torture she experienced under their supervision was supposedly done to strengthen her. Her father got her mother at around age 6 from her parents, promising to educate her. He then raised and groomed her mother to eventually be his wife and help him raise a superior being. Maude was born from this odd union in 1957.

Her father was many things. He had a megalomaniac personality. He was paranoid, narcissistic, cruel, abusive, and a conspiracy theorist. He believed he was "a Grand Master of Freemasonry and a great knight of a secret order." He designed the education and cruel tasks Maude had to do and his wife helped him carry his plans out. Their duty, mother and daughter, was to do his bidding. He was controlling and a master of psychological indoctrination.

Maude is never shown any love or tenderness. The abusive things Maude was forced to do in order to strengthen her character are painful to read about. She has to sit still in a dark rat-infested cellar overnight. She had to hold on to an electric fence without flinching. She had to bathe in cold, dirty bath water. The amount of sleep she had was strictly limited. The animals, the only ones who gave Maude affection and that she loved, were all abused. Both Maude and her horse were forced to drink alcohol. Maude was forced to eat food in huge chunks and only given stale bread to eat. They ignored her being sexually abused by their handyman. Maude finally escapes when she is allowed to take a train to Dunkirk to study music and she realizes she can escape.

The recounting of the abuse is relentless and matter-of-fact as she recounts her daily existence and the abuse she was experiencing at the hands of her parents, although it was her father who was in charge. There isn't a lot of reflection or analysis by Maude as she relates what she had to endure and at times it feels just too unflinching in the recounting of the horror. Although it might have been nice to read about her childhood from the viewpoint of the adult and psychotherapist that she is today, it is at least gratifying to know that she did escape. It is also satisfying to know  that an outsider, a music teacher, assessed what was going on and put a plan into action that would eventually help Maude escape her insane, controlling father. While this is a dark story that she needed to tell, it is not really inspirational, except in the fact that she does survive and overcomes her abusive background.
Be forewarned that there are triggers in this book for those who have experienced physical or sexual abuse and self-harming. There is animal abuse.

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

The Vanishing Season

The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen
St. Martin's Press: 12/5/17
eBook review copy. 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250126047

The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen is a highly recommended debut mystery/police procedural.

Ellery Hathaway knows a thing or two about serial killers.  On her 14th birthday, Ellery, whose first name is actually Abigail, became the 17th young woman abducted by the notorious serial killer Frances Coben. Abigail was the only survivor and under an intense media spotlight. She decided to go by her middle name, Ellery, to avoid anyone recognizing her name, she hides her scars, and she no longer celebrates her birthday.

Now, fourteen years later, Ellery is police officer in a small town, Woodbury, MA, and she's concerned that there is a serial killer in her small town. Three people have disappeared in July over the past three years. Ellery sees a pattern and would like the disappearances to be further investigated, but her chief thinks otherwise. No one in the community actually knows Ellery's past history, so her concerns are easily dismissed.

As the date approaches for the vanishing season when another citizen will disappear, Ellery calls the one man she knows who may be able to help her solve the question of who is taking these people, FBI Agent Reed Markham. Markham solved the case of her abduction and rescued her from Coben just in time. He may have insight into the three missing persons cases. He may also be able to help Ellery solve another question, one closer to home, because it appears that someone knows her true identity and they have been sending her a birthday card since she moved to Woodbury.

The Vanishing Season is a well written mystery/procedural. Schffhausen builds up the suspense and suspense while slowly revealing new clues and suspects. The plot is complex and there are a full cast of characters. Ellery's dog, Speed Bump, or Bump for short, is a great scene stealing. Ellery's back story is told in chilling detail and it is clear how wounded she still is from her experiences, as well as why the current cases of missing persons concerns her.

The main characters are all well developed, although readers will question the wisdom of some of their decisions. Ellery doesn't share any of her history with her current colleagues and so they have little reason to take her concerns seriously, which, while you can see her reasoning, it also seems to be a mistake on her part. I will say that the perpetrator was easy to spot early on, making the ending feel a bit contrived, but the conclusion is satisfying. All in all this is a satisfying debut and an author to watch for in the future.

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

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Plague Land

Plague Land by Alex Scarrow
Sourcebooks: 12/5/17
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13:  9781492652106
ReMade YA Series #1

Plague Land by Alex Scarrow is a highly recommended YA horror thriller that was previously published under the title ReMade.

Leon and his younger sister Grace have recently moved to London, England, from NYC after their parent's divorce. Leon is struggling to fit in at his new school when he begins to notice short news blurbs about a plague spreading in Africa. No one seems to worried, but Leon is becoming alarmed. The plague is unlike any other seen and seems to be spreading at an unbelievable rate, killing everything in its path. Leon's decision to answer a phone call from his father is fortuitous, as his father tells them all to leave London, ASAP. This advice may have saved them because it got Leon, Grace, and their mother out of London, just as the plague was hitting there. However, once they witness up close victims of the plague liquefying, they realize that there might not be a safe place anywhere anymore.

Plague Land is, without a doubt, the start of a new YA series. It is an engrossing, basically fast-paced horror novel that should capture the attention of the YA crowd, although it's probably best suited for older/mature teens. There are a few slower parts to the story, but they tend to be developing the structure of the post-plague society. Interspersed in the novel are short chapters told from the point of view of the virus/plague, that hint at further developments along that line in future installments. This is a plague that works as a collective and can formulate a plan.

The writing is good, but I suspect that won't matter to most of the readers of this sci-fi-horror-thriller. The characters are nicely developed for the first book in the series. Scarrow has left readers several scenes that point to many different directions that the story can take in future installments - and I imagine that there will likely be more than one or two. Mature YA readers of horror will likely embrace this new series. (It did hold my attention, but as a decidedly adult reader perhaps not enough to read the next installment.)

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