Sunday, October 28, 2018


Deranged by T.R. Ragan
Thomas & Mercer: 10/30/18
eBook review copy; 288 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9781503904293
Jessie Cole series 3#

Deranged by T.R. Ragan is the highly recommended third book featuring private investigator Jessie Cole.

Jessie has been trying to help crime reporter Ben Morrison investigate his past. After an accident left him with amnesia, he can't remember who he was before the accident, but from what he does know, he had a troubled childhood. His father is in prison and his sister wants nothing to do with him. He has also been having troubling memories or are they flashbacks of him acting violently. Compounding Ben's emotional turmoil, he has temporarily left his family because he does not trust his daughter's soccer coach. Jessie and her assistant Zee have been trying to help Ben, when they also take on a domestic surveillance case from a man who wants his wife watched.

The action moves quickly in the story and a serial killer on the loose adds a great deal of trepidation since you know he will obviously be continuing his crimes. Jessie's boyfriend Colin Grayson, a local homicide detective, is on the cases along with a rookie he is mentoring. Jessie's niece, Olivia, 15, is also adding some stress to Jessie's life because she is starting to take on babysitting and dog walking jobs in an attempt to earn money for her own car someday. 

The chapters alternate between the various characters point-of-view - including Jessie, Ben, Colin, the killer, as well as others. You can follow along along with the different perspectives and
discoveries as they happen through the eyes of the characters involved. Ultimately, this will allow you to put the pieces together and figure out some of the answers before the end. Many readers will figure out who the killer is, but the real point is cheering on the characters as they uncover clues.

The writing is good and the cases and characters are an interesting mix. I did notice a few instances of repeated phrases ("sooner rather than later" being one) that occurred a bit too close together in the text so the repetition was obvious. Setting that aside, however, the fast paced action and discoveries moved the novel along quickly to a satisfying conclusion. This was my first book in the series and I didn't feel I missed much by not reading the first two.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Thomas & Mercer.

Shell Game

Shell Game by Sara Paretsky
HarperCollins: 10/16/18
review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062435866
V. I. Warshawski Series #19

Shell Game by Sara Paretsky is a highly recommended 19th installment of the continuing crimes series featuring Chicago private investigator V. I. Warshawski.

This time V.I. is trying to solve two complicated mysteries. The first one is the corpse that turned up in Cap Sauer's Holding. The police are looking at Lotty's nephew, Felix, as the prime suspect and Lotty wants V.I. to protect Felix, hopefully by finding clues to the real killer. The second mystery involves Harmony Seale looking for her missing sister, Reno. Harmony and Reno's late mother was the sister of V.I.'s ex-husband, attorney Richard Yarborough. Harmony has flown in from Portland because her sister has disappeared. She wants V.I. to help her find Reno, who would never take off without talking to Harmony.

The investigations are involved and complicated, insuring V.I. gets little sleep and has to deal with multiple lines of inquiry as well as injuries. In the plot expect Slavic thugs attacking her (and her dog), Middle Eastern ties, immigration questions, predatory payday loans, stolen art, wealthy corporate abuse, financial fraud, ICE agents, ISIS backers, and stock scams - and those are not all of the problems V.I. encounters.  These cases are going to challenge V.I. mentally and physically. The good news is that she is up to the task.

Paretsky is an accomplished, seasoned crime writer who knows how to write an intriguing, complicated, and engrossing plot that will hold your attention and that is certainly the case with Shell Game. This is a page-turner that will have most readers saying, "Just one more chapter..." The pace is fast and furious as additional information is uncovered, leading to more questions and new lines of inquiry.

Obviously, V.I. is a well-developed character, as are the other regulars that populate Warshawski's world. The new characters are also generally developed enough to give them depth and keep a measure of interest in their actions. Although this is the 19th novel featuring V.I., it can also be read as a stand-alone since relationships between people and pertinent backstories are explained.There are several hot-topic current social issues at play in the plot, so please take note if that is going to bother you.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Splendor of Birds

The Splendor of Birds: Art and Photographs From National Geographic
Foreword by Jonathan Baillie, Text by Catherine Herbert Howell
National Geographic Society/Penguin Random House: 10/23/18
hardcover review copy; 512 pages
ISBN-13: 9781426219672

The Splendor of Birds: Art and Photographs From National Geographic is a very highly recommended collection of the best artwork and photography from the National Geographic archives featuring birds.

This visually stunning, breath-takingly beautiful collection covers 130 years of the National Geographic collection of photos and artwork celebrating birds. The Splendor of Birds was created to commemorate the Year of the Bird initiative, which is a year-long effort dedicated to protecting and celebrating birds.. The gorgeous large hardcover book is arranged chronologically so readers can witness the tremendous growth in our knowledge of birds: Chapter 1 covers 1888-1939; Chapter 2 1940-1969; Chapter 3 1970-1999; and Chapter 4 covers 2000-2018. At the end of the book is a list of all the contributors with a short biography of each of them. There is also a species index.

Since being founded in 1880, the National Geographic Society has a long-standing tradition of supporting increased knowledge, including about birds. They have funded nearly 1,000 scientific grants which focused on birds and have invested nearly 2 million dollars over the last two years on projects to protect and understand birds.

The gorgeous photography and lovely artwork from National Geographic are depicted together to honor the history and wonder of birds. There are also then and now comparisons throughout  the book as well as short featured pictures of individual topics, for example babies, nests, and feathers. The diversity of the photos of birds from around the world is amazing, moving from vintage black and white photos to the current day state-of-the-art camera shots. All the pictures are magnificent and some are stunning. Some of the photos are so incredible they seem unbelievable or even surrealistic. The sheer beauty of some of the photos may move you to tears, as they did me.

Ever since my father, a dedicated nature lover and bird watcher, took all of us to the Platte River in Nebraska every year in the 60's and 70's to watch the migrations of the Sand Hill cranes and the whooping cranes, I have loved watching birds. The picture of the sand hill cranes on pages 482-483 brought all those many viewings back to life for me and I wish my father was still here so I could share this book with him.

This volume is truly a keepsake that will be cherished for years. I would also keep this in mind for the upcoming holiday season since The Splendor of Birds would make an excellent gift.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from National Geographic and TLC

TLC Book Tour Schedule


Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Resistant by Rachael Sparks
SparkPress: 10/16/18
eBook review copy; 216 pages
ISBN-13: 9781943006731

Resistant by Rachael Sparks is a so-so dystopian novel.

In Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Rory Stevigson and her father, Byron, are basically off-the-grid survivalists in the climate changed land of 2041. The prevalence of bacterial diseases that were sparked by climate change have all become drug-resistant after the over use of antibiotics. Rory's deceased mother was a scientist looking for a cure until she succumb to a bacterial infection. At the same time, the people her mother used to work for are still looking for a cure and using whatever unethical methods they choose.

When a young veteran, Navy, shows up and begins to work for them, Rory finds herself attracted to him. Soon it becomes apparent that he is more than just a hired hand. Rory herself may hold the cure to the health crisis, and now she and her father need to flee, with help from Navy and his friend. They are headed to the headquarters of the resistance and hope to spread a cure to the world.

The journey, that in any heroic adventure novel needs to have the protagonists facing almost insurmountable struggles to get to the desired place, went by with a few obstacles, but nothing that wasn't easily handled. Scenes that had plenty of heart-stopping potential were breezed through. Portions of the journey were just skipped over. I really stopped and went back to see if I had somehow skipped a few chapters, but no. Rory and Navy went from, let's say point B right to V, at which point I was bitterly disappointed in this mitigated action. Come on - give me a struggle, give me a quest, give me onerous striving toward the climax. The plot is interesting, but the journey, pursuit, and adventure are attenuated and simplified. 

Rory is a likeable heroine. It was refreshing that she could state her own opinions and stand up to the men around her. She is smart, but, alas, she is also immature. I found it hard to believe she was a 23 year old in this situation, as she seemed too sheltered and naive about the world in which she is living. I also think the almost immediate romance angle should have been dialed back, a lot, and given more time to develop. The bad guys are bad, but come across as caricatures of bad guys.

The writing is decent but the actual novel and plot would have benefited from more descriptions, more action, more depth to the plot.  This really reads like a YA novel, although it is described as a new adult novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of SparkPress.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Library Book

The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Simon & Schuster: 10/16/18
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476740188

The Library Book by Susan Orlean is a very highly recommended account of the history of the LA Public Library and the devastating 1986 fire.

Staff and patrons alike were surprised and shocked when the fire alarm that sounded on April 28, 1986 at the Los Angeles Public Library was not a false alarm. Once the fire started, it was a monstrous blaze that burned for more than seven hours. It took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. In the final tally it destroyed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Once investigators could examine the scene, there was an intense arson investigation and it was believed that a young actor, Harry Peak, started the fire.

The Library Book is a compelling and fascinating book. This isn't just a book about the arson investigation; it is actually a history of the library. Orlean covers the engrossing history of the numerous interesting characters in the history of the LAPL and its role in the city since 1872.  The construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926 is detailed and how views about the building changed. It is clear that Orlean appreciates the crucial role libraries play in the community as she covers the myriad of ways the public library has changed and evolved in order to serve the community. And, yes, Orlean also looks into the life of Harry Peak, the suspected arsonist, and the investigation of the fire.

Orlean is, simply put, an extraordinary writer. She has a way of presenting all of her well-researched facts that makes the whole an intriguing and captivating account. The historical details and narratives of various characters in the history of the LAPL create a total picture that is better than many novels. The text is not linear; it does jump between time periods, from the history to the fire and subsequent arson investigation and attempt to save what books they could. The flow of the narrative is pitch-perfect. A book about a library might seem like a boring choice, but this account is full of intrigue, and interesting characters. I found myself engaged from beginning to end. This will surely make my top ten nonfiction books for the year as I really loved The Library Book.

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


Gaslighting by Stephanie Moulton Sarkis
Da Capo Press: 10/2/18
eBook review copy; 272 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9780738284668

Gaslighting by Stephanie Moulton Sarkis is a highly recommended examination of the titular technique that is used, often by those with personality disorder, to manipulate others to gain control.

Gaslighting is a term that has been used more frequently lately and it would benefit everyone to know what it means and how a gaslighter operates. "The word frenemy was probably invented for gaslighters." Gaslighters are masters of exerting control and psychological manipulation in others. Their manipulation is often slow as they begin to have you questioning your memories,  sense of reality, self-worth, and perception. The name comes from the 1938 stage play Gaslight, and became more common after the 1944 movie starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotton. According to Sarkis, some gaslighters meet the American Psychiatric Association's DMS criteria for several Cluster B Personality Disorders (including Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder).

Sarkis organizes her well-written and informative book in a logical fashion. There are many examples and quotes from people who have experienced gaslighting first hand and Sarkis provides examples of warning signs along with practical tips and strategies for those who have or are experiencing this behavior from others. (And perhaps will help some identify some of the traits of a gaslighter in their own life.) Ultimately, the goal is to help people break free and heal from their experiences with this toxic behavior.

Chapters are organized to cover: 1) A look at the various ways gaslighters manipulate people. 2) Help you identify if you are in a gaslighting relationship. 3) A look at the red flags to look for on a first date. 4) Gaslighting in the workplace. 5) An examination of different types of abuse and if they apply to your relationships. 6) Gaslighting in politicians and dictators. 7) Gaslighting in cults and extremist groups. 8) How to deal with a parent who is a gaslighter. 9) Gaslighters in friendships (or emotional vampires.) 10) Copeing with a gaslighting ex or ex's new partner. 11) Guidance for anyone who thinks they have been gaslighting others. 12) Counseling and treatment for protecting yourself and healing from a gaslighter’s behavior. At the back of the book are numerous resources to provide further help to anyone who is interested.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Da Capo Press.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
HarperCollins: 10/16/18
eBook review copy; 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062684561

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver is a so-so novel with chapters that alternate between two centuries.

"Unsheltered is the story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum, as they navigate the challenges of surviving a world in the throes of major cultural shifts."
Due to circumstances, Willa Knox and her husband Iano are in their fifties with nothing to show for their life-long hard work but unpaid bills and an inherited brick home in Vineland, New Jersey, that is literally falling apart. The magazine she worked for went broke as did the college where her husband had tenure. Now, in an effort to try and get some kind of grant to pay for repairs to their home, Willa is researching the past residents, all while dealing with an increasingly stressful present day circumstances.

In the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood lived in the home with his wife, and sister and mother-in-law. Even then it was falling apart but Thatcher was unable to repair it. While he is excited about the  theory of evolution recently published by Charles Darwin, his employer forbids him to speak to the students about it. Thatcher befriends his neighbor, naturalist Mary Treat (a real-life 19th-century biologist) but his support of Darwin threatens his job and marriage.

There is no doubt that Kingsolver is technically an excellent writer. I have been a fan of her novels for years. In Unsheltered the alternating chapters highlight the two stories and nicely compared and contrasted the two time periods. Both characters and settings in each time period have a distinctive voice and are firmly set in their historical context. So, from a writing standpoint, it is a well-written novel with a good flow to both storylines.

Now, I wasn't sure I would address my issues with the novel or not. I thought I'd wait and see if my feelings softened over time. They didn't. First, it is a slow moving novel and the plots in both time periods should have been tightened up. Considerably. At times it was hard to keep reading. I kept at it just because it was a Kingsolver novel.  Also, a lecturing tone is entirely too prolific in this novel. It is one thing to give your characters a wide variety of views, some of which you personally take a firm stance on, but it is never a good idea to alienate your readers, your fans even, and write a book lecturing us about what we have to believe. Even if I support every word she has written, I am disappointed in the tone in which it is presented. Please give your readers the benefit of believing they are thinking rational human beings who can and will have their own unique points-of-view on various topics.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

The Forbidden Door

The Forbidden Door by Dean Koontz
Random House: 9/11/18
eBook review copy; 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525483700
Jane Hawk Series #4

The Forbidden Door by Dean Koontz is the very highly recommended fourth thriller in the Jane Hawk series.

Jane Hawk is still on the run from the Techno Arcadians, a secret widespread secret group whose nefarious plans include enslavement of most of society through mind-controlling nanotechnology. They have killed her husband and others. They have enslaved even more. Jane is using all her skills to escape capture by them. Now her son Travis is in danger of being captured by them and she has to save him.

For those reading the series, it is a given that you will want to continue it to find out what happens next. Jane herself is not quite in the forefront as much in this novel, but we are introduced to some new characters. The bad guys are terrifyingly evil and their reach is widespread. Those Jane can trust and the people who are fighting for the truth are wonderfully heroic. The crossing into the forbidden door is a ghastly and horrifying event. The heart-pounding action is non-stop and relentless, ensuring that you will read this at a fast pace since it will be difficult to set it down.

The series now includes: The Silent Corner; The Whispering Room; The Crooked Staircase; The Forbidden Door. While this fourth book in the series isn't quite as strong as the previous three, it is an essential bridge novel that is likely setting up the series for an explosive fifth installment, The Night Window. The Jane Hawk series is a winner!

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House.

Open Your Eyes

Open Your Eyes by Paula Daly
Grove/Atlantic: 10/9/18
eBook review copy: 304 pages
ISBN-13: 978080212845

Open Your Eyes by Paula Daly is a highly recommended domestic thriller.

Leon and Jane Campbell live in Liverpool where Leon is a published crime fiction writer and Jane is a want-to-be published writer and a teacher of writing. The couple have two children and are by all accounts happy when the unexpected happens. While sitting in the car, arguing with a truculent neighbor, a horrible accident happens and Leon is rushed to the hospital. Thankfully Jane and the children are okay, but when Jane discovers what caused Leon's accident, and subsequent coma and brain damage, she needs to take care of her family and try to figure out who and why someone would want to harm Leon.

Jane is a likeable character and readers will be hoping she finds the answers she seeks and can manage to keep her whole family safe and together through the whole traumatic event. There are no easy answers for Jane as she begins to ask some uncomfortable questions and uncover some information Leon has hidden from her. Although Jane has to figure out who would attack her husband, her circumstances allow readers to bestow her character with understanding and sympathy as she slowly uncovers more information.

The writing is great and Daly keeps the novel moving along at an even pace. She slowly allows more information to be uncovered while Jane goes through the overwhelming struggle to keep it all together. Some of the twists in Jane's discovery are surprising and frightening while others are puzzling. The even pacing of the new information and twists allow your interest in the story to remain without flagging or feeling like the story is slowing down. I'm not a fan of the ending, but in totality, this is an entertaining novel. 

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Witch Elm

The Witch Elm by Tana French
Penguin Random House: 10/9/18
eBook review copy; 528 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735224629

The Witch Elm by Tana French is a very highly recommended crime novel of privilege, healing after a trauma, family, and, incidentally, a murder.

Toby Hennessy knows he is an attractive, lucky guy - things just seem to always work out for him or he can charm his way out of the problem. After a night out with his friends, he awakens to find two burglars in his home. They don't run when Toby confronts them, instead they beat him senseless and leave him for dead. Toby would have died too, but with his luck he is found and taken to the hospital just in the nick of time. Now, as Toby is recovering, he is beginning to understand that this crime has changed his life drastically. Physically, he has a bad arm and leg, a droopy eye, and may be subject to seizures and the trauma has left him unable to remember events and words; he can't work and has difficulty sleeping or relaxing in his home.

At first Toby bulks at his cousin's suggestion that he goes to stay at the Ivy House with his Uncle Hugo, who is in the last stages of brain cancer and needs someone to look after him, but then he acquiesces and he and his girlfriend Melissa move in. It seems that staying there helping Hugo may be helping Toby slowly recover. But when a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden, it looks like there is now going to be a murder investigation along with the investigation into his attackers.

The Witch Elm is an excellent novel. The writing is impeccable. The plot, along with multiple subplots, is perfectly presented and arranged, with an insight and astuteness for detail, character development, a sense of place, and the advancement of the action. The character development is detailed, intricate, and manages to capture the strengths and flaws of human nature as a matter of course. This is truly a character-driven novel, with Toby the focus, but all the characters have an essential depth and complexity to them.

Admittedly, Toby can be kind of a privileged jerk. He never really thought about the bad side of human nature before because he has always been lucky or able to charm his way through problems. What might turn out bad for others never has been that way for Toby until now - and it is a dramatic wake-up call for him. Now he is open to judgement on his slurred speech, awkward gait, loss of memory, and altered facial structure. A large part of the novel is wondering if it is possible for Toby to recover from his trauma.

Fans of French's Dublin Murder Squad novels may need to set aside their expectations and enjoy The Witch Elm as a marvelous stand-alone novel from an admirable writer. 

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Under My Skin

Under My Skin by Lisa Unger
Park Row Books: 10/2/18
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780778369783

Under My Skin by Lisa Unger is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Poppy's husband Jack was murdered a year ago during a morning run in Manhattan’s Riverside Park and she is still grieving. The case is still open; Jack's killer hasn't been found. Poppy is also wondering what exactly happened to her after his death. She was missing for days and can't recall what happened to her. All she knows is that she showed up at her best friend's house, disoriented, wearing a tight red dress she didn't recognize. She was hospitalized after this nervous breakdown. Jack's murder still haunts her, as well as the missing days. Now Poppy feels like someone wearing a hoodie is following her, watching her. The thing is, she's abusing prescription drugs and drinking too much. She's having nightmares and blackouts. She's imagining things while awake. Is Poppy imagining her stalker?

This is one of those thrillers that is disorienting and disconcerting because of Poppy's drug abuse combined with her lack of sleep. She's hallucinating, dreaming, while awake. She knows she's drinking too much and mixing alcohol with pills. She's obviously a mess, grieving for her dead husband and seeing a stalker. We also know she was hospitalized for a breakdown. So, the real question is how much of what Poppy thinks is real? She doubts her own judgement. Is she reliable? Can she be trusted?

The character development of Poppy is exceptional. She's a fully realized character, but also, obviously, unreliable and struggling. You will want to support Poppy in her attempt to find out who murdered Jack and figure out if she is hallucinating, if someone is following her, and if her subconscious is trying to tell her what is going on.

The writing is excellent, but the actual unfolding of the plot happened a little slowly for me. Poppy's ruminations about her life with Jack, the man following her, her drinking, her pills, and her nightmares, etc, become a bit repetitious. While it does establish that Poppy is an unreliable narrator, it moves a tad bit too slowly to new revelations. The ending is very fast paced and dynamic, which kind of makes up for the bulk of the middle. I liked this quite a bit, but I have liked other novels by Unger better. Even so, it is a very good novel, just not one of my favorites.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Park Row Books.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Virgil Wander

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
Grove/Atlantic: 10/2/18
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802128782

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger is a very highly recommended, charming portrait of a man and a town.

Virgil Wander was just released from the hospital where he landed when he accidentally drove his car off a cliff into icy Lake Superior. Rumors of his demise are flying around the small town of Greenstone, MN, but Virgil is very much alive. He sustained a concussion, has short-term memory loss and a feeling that the life he is stepping back into, his life, isn't really his after all. He also may be having hallucinations. For twenty-five years, Virgil has been the owner of the Empress Theater and a part-time city clerk. Now, as he recovers, he also needs to try and put the pieces of his life back together.

Virgil ends up taking on a kite-flying roommate, Rune Eliassen, who is looking for information on his missing son, Alec Sandstrom. Additionally, the novel contains a cast of memorable, perfectly captured characters: Nadine and Bjorn, Tom, the Pea family, Jerry Fandeen, and Adam Leer, to name a few, as well as the town of Greenstone. This is a wonderful portrait of a town and its quirky residents.

The story is told with intelligence, humor, affection, and just a touch of melancholy. It is the portrait of a small town and the residents, but it is also about rebuilding your life, defining friendship and family, taking chances on change, finding delight in things like flying a kite, and living your life as it happens. While the plot meanders slowly through the novel, the narrative is simply charming - and needs more adjectives - delicious, engaging, appealing and refreshing. Enger's writing is absolutely superb. Virgil Wander really is a lovely, delightful novel that captivated me entirely.

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Spark of Light

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult
Penguin Random House: 10/2/18
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345544988

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult is a highly recommended timely novel that tackles both sides of the abortion issue.

During one fall day at the Center, a women’s reproductive health services clinic, a gunman enters, opens fire, and takes everyone inside hostage. A Spark of Light follows what happens in the clinic during this one day - starting with events from 5 PM and then moving back in time to 8 AM. Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, has his 15 year-old daughter, Wren, and sister Bex,  inside. Also inside are a Dr. Louie, nurse Izzy,  Olive, Joy, Janine, and several other women.  As the events of the day move backwards in time, the backstory of the characters involved in the hostage situation are told.

First, this is a Jodi Picoult novel so there is no doubt that it is well-written and the character development is phenomenal. Along with exceptional writing, Picoult is known for tackling controversial issues in her novels and this is no exception. She is also known for doing research on her topics and trying to present both sides of the heated topics. This results in creating characters that are portrayed as real people with reasons for why they believe what they do and why they act the way they do.  A Spark of Light should result in many heated book club arguments. Picoult includes an author's note with additional information from her research. She also adds her own personal thoughts, which I appreciated.

My issue with A Spark of Light is the choice to start with the end of the day, with the heart-stopping explosive situation, and then... poof, back an hour in time. While I appreciate the fact the Picoult is willing to try something new and take some risks by employing the backwards-in-time format, I really didn't like it. Learning about the backstory of the characters kept me reading while anticipating getting back to the end of the day and what happened. For me, the book’s reverse chronological structure took away from the actual story.

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

Broken Field

Broken Field by Jeff Hull
Skyhorse/Arcade Publishing: 10/2/18
eBook review copy; 360 pages
ISBN-13: 9781628729825

Broken Field by Jeff Hull is a very highly recommended look through the eyes of a teen girl and the coach of a high school football hazing incident in a small Montana town.

The Dumont Wolfpack is looking at a winning season. Tom Warner is the coach who is leading the team to the playoffs. After the last win, Tom gives his assistant coach permission to make the five hour drive home with his wife. He then sits up front in the bus, near the driver, and doses during the drive home. Obviously he didn't know that while he was dozing an underclassman was taped to a luggage rack, striped, and tormented. During a rest stop, cheerleaders got on the bus and captured the disturbing hazing on the school's yearbook camera. When they get home, a mother of one of the cheerleaders finds the pictures and calls Tom.

Sixteen-year-old Josie Frehse is a teen who is outgoing and friendly to everyone. She tries to meet the expectations of her family and the community. She is the sister of the football team’s star runner and girlfriend of the quarterback, Matt, one of the ringleaders of the hazing. Josie and Matt are at the top of the high school social hierarchy, but Josie is beginning to question what she wants. Matt is moody, has a sense of entitlement from sports, and is self-important, and Josie is not sure she actually wants to stay with him after high school.

Tom and the school principal question the players involved and Tom offers up his resignation as football coach. When word of the incident gets out, the town is polarized. Is this a case of "boys will be boys" and a "tradition" that almost all the male members of town have gone through or is this abuse? Then the incident attracts the attention of the media and cannot be ignored. The story is told through the point-of-view of Tom and Josie.

Broken Field is beautifully written novel and captured my attention immediately. Hull has crafted his well-developed his characters with such empathy and understanding that you will care about these people and have compassion for them. There are heartbreaking moments, actions that angered and polarized my feelings, and other actions that left me shaking my head. In the end I felt like I knew this town, for better or worse, and these people.

The ending was not quite what I expected after the adept, skillful, quiet, and psychological insight found in the rest of the novel, but that doesn't mean it was bad. Upon reflection, sending the novel in that direction was an astute choice. This is truly a memorable novel that touches on idolizing sports, racism, bullying, and violence against women. Hull has an intuitiveness for character development that made it a compelling, engrossing novel that held my attention throughout. (There are, obviously, several sports scenes described in the novel that non-sports fans can skim.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Skyhorse/Arcade Publishing.