Sunday, January 27, 2019

Remember Me

Remember Me by D. E. White
HarperCollins: 2/6/19
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780008322045

Remember Me by D. E. White is a recommended mystery/thriller.

Ava Cole is currently an LAPD detective but she has returned to the small Welsh village where she grew up, after moving there from the USA as a child.  Her ex-husband, Paul, is dying, and she needs to reconnect with her son, Stephen. Ava returned to the states when Stephan was just a toddler, leaving Paul to raise him. Paul married one of their childhood friends, Penny, and the two raised Stephen as their own. One of the reasons Ava left had to do with the death fifteen years ago of her best friend, Ellen Smith. Ava is not sure exactly what happened, but none of them ever said a word about Ellen's death and as far as Ellen's parents and officials know, Ellen ran away from home and disappeared.

Secrets sometimes have a way of being told. The remaining group of friends knows what happened and the cover-up in which they were all complicit. Now Ava has been receiving text messages from an unknown number taunting her, saying in Welsh, phrases like: "Remember me, Ava Cole?" or "How will you remember me, Ava Cole." There is a private detective in town too, looking into Ellen's disappearance all those years ago.
This is a mystery where all of the characters seem suspect, and you have to figure out whodunit. The cast of characters are introduced as Ava reconnects with her previous group of friends. Then, as they are introduced, the reader needs to start evaluating them as suspects based on the information provided in the narrative.

The chapters alternate between Ava's actions and thoughts told in the third person and the first person thoughts of her stalker. This does set up a nice contrast to increase the tension. The characters are well-developed, even though there are many of them between friends and children and acquaintances from the village. It becomes clear that the person is taunting Ava and is going to actively start targeting the group of old friends, but the question of motive remains.

There are two main issues I had to overcome with Remember Me: the rather slow pace of the action and a sense of incredulity that Ava is a detective. First, if I'm yawning while reading any mystery/thriller then it is a sure sign that the pace is a bit too slow. My interest in what happened compelled me to keep reading, but at times it seemed a slog. Secondly, there were several instances early on when I said aloud, "She's a detective?" It is not a good sign if I'm skeptical and questioning the competence of the detective skills of the main character.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

What We Did

What We Did by Christobel Kent
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2/5/19
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780374288754

What We Did by Christobel Kent is a recommended psychological study with some aspects of a thriller.

Bridget Webster has kept the abuse the occurred in her past a secret from everyone and keeps a tight control over her emotions and reactions. Now she's happily married to Matt and they have a teenage son, Finn. Matt works in IT at Rose Hill University and she owns a women's clothing boutique in town. When her childhood violin teacher, Anthony Carmichael, shows up in her shop with a young teen he wants to buy a dress for, Bridget can barely keep her emotions under control. When Carmichael later returns, having recognized Bridget after all these years, the resulting actions seem inevitable and require even more subterfuge on Bridget's part. Then Bridget's sister Carrie shows up and becomes involved in the situation.

At the same time reporter Gillian "Gill" Lawson has come to town to secretly seek out Carmichael. She has been following him for years with the certainty that he is a long-time pedophile who has somehow escaped being caught and she wants to finally bring an end to his secret reign of terror. She recognizes Bridget as someone who may have been one of his early victims, but having a reporter snooping around is not what Bridget needs right now.

This is a slow-paced novel that creates suspense through Bridget slowly revealing more information and insight about the secrets in her past and why that would lead her to currently do what she did. Although there is a violent reaction which leads to a pro-long period of trying to cover up the results of her action, the incident loses its shocking power due to the extended coverage of the story line. After this point any suspense or tension is created through Gill's investigation and how odd both Bridget and Matt are acting. The ending is a surprise that I didn't see coming.

What We Did, while it has its moments when it is in the territory of a thriller, is at heart more of a character study. As Bridget reveals more information about her past and the inner torment she endures, empathy for her will increase. Based on what is revealed in her backstory, one does wonder why a case as severe and emotionally fraught as hers didn't come to the attention of others earlier. The scenes between her and Matt when they both are leaving a plethora of things unsaid also create tension.

The writing is certainly good. As I mentioned, the pro-longed cover-up and the many things left unsaid by all the characters results in depleting much of the immediacy of the tension and suspense. The exception is the ending when an increased pace and sense of urgency amplifies the tension and all the plot elements come together.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

When You Read This

When You Read This by Mary Adkins
HarperCollins: 2/5/19
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062834676 

When You Read This by Mary Adkins is a very highly recommended, heart-breaking epistolary novel set in our current digital-age.

Iris Massey, 33, worked for four years helping clients perfect their brands alongside Smith Simonyi in his PR firm. Once she found out she only had six months to live, she began blogging on Dying to Blog, a blogging platform for the terminally ill. Now, after Iris has died, Smith is surprised to learn about her blog. She also had one final request for Smith: she wants him to get her blog posts published as a book.  Smith looks at fulfilling this request with the help of his new intern Carl, while trying to get approval from Iris's sister, Jade. Jade, however, is adamantly opposed to this, but the two begin a correspondence and relationship while trying to deal with their grief.

The chapters in this novel are all emails, blog posts, online therapy sessions, text messages, legal correspondence, charts and graphs, comments, instant messages, etc., that work together to create a montage of interpersonal communication and relationships in the digital age. I enjoy epistolary novels when they offer insight into characters and situations. This one is an excellent example of the format. The communications are charming, tragic, insightful, hilarious (yes, there are some very funny moments), surprising, empathetic, belligerent, and self-aware. They provide the platform for present day actions and part of the backstory to the flawed characters.

Adkins did a great job keeping all the various correspondence from the characters true to their personalities along with what they are experiencing, feeling, and thinking. Carl is the impetus for much of the humor, along with Smith's patience with him. There were also several heartbreaking things shared, helping to further the development of the characters through this modern format. While the layout of this novel may not appeal to everyone, for those who can appreciate the format When You Read This is a real treat. Oh, and expect to cry. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Forgiving Kind

The Forgiving Kind by Donna Everhart
Kensington: 1/29/19
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781496717009

The Forgiving Kind by Donna Everhart is a very highly recommended family drama set in 1950s North Carolina.
Twelve-year-old Martha “Sonny” Creech and her two older brothers, Ross and Trent, work hard alongside their Dad on their cotton farm. Sonny feels a connection to and loves the land as much as her father does. She also inherited his ability for divining water. When a devastating accident claims her father's life, Sonny and her family are not only grieving, but heading for disaster and poverty if they can't pay for the seed to plant their cotton crop.

When their weird, but wealthy, neighbor, Frank Fowler stops by and suggests a deal to help finance their crop, Sonny's mom, Olivia, accepts the deal even though she and Ross don't trust him. Neither does her best friend, Daniel, who tells Sonny that the man must have ulterior motives. Soon it becomes apparent that Fowler is a cruel, mean-tempered bully who bosses the kids around and calls them names, but acts very different around their mother. Sonny tries to tell her mom that he is no good, but she doesn't see his dark side until it is too late.

This is a riveting, compelling, and emotionally complex story that grips you from the start and doesn't let go. The narrative is spellbinding, heartbreaking, beautiful, and tragic. It will make you cry, feeling furious and impotent, as foreshadowing clearly indicates that a violent disaster is in the making and you are waiting for the tragedy to happen. I found myself raging silently at Sonny's mom, Olivia, finding it hard to believe she couldn't see who Frank Fowler really was through his fake facade.

The writing is absolutely excellent. Everhart decisively captures time and place, placing her well-developed characters firmly in North Carolina in 1955 as they deal with what seems like a situation that will be impossible to escape. The well-paced plot raises the tension and anxiety of the reader and then keeps you there, anticipating, knowing something awful is going to happen. The descriptive prose depicts both the beautiful and sordid in this coming-of-age story of abuse, violence, prejudice, perseverance, endurance, friendship, and family. The juxtaposition of the exceptional writing with the disclosure of the ugliness within the narrative helps make the novel and its themes even more poignant. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Kensington.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Once a Liar

Once a Liar by A.F. Brady
Park Row Books: 1/29/19
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780778369974

Once a Liar by A.F. Brady is a highly recommended thriller.

Peter Caine is an eminent, successful Manhattan defense attorney. He is handsome and charming to those he meets, those who could be some use to him, but Peter is, in reality, a sociopath with no remorse, guilt, or shame for any of his actions. His life and career have been carefully constructed on a foundation of lies and the certainty that he deserves more. 

When his ex-wife, Julianne, dies, Jamie, the estranged son Peter gave up custody of and has no relationship with, comes to live with Peter and Claire, his current girlfriend. Peter has been living with Claire for eight years while simultaneously having an on-going affair with Charlie (Charlotte), the step-daughter of his arch nemesis, New York County DA Harrison Doyle. In fact, it was his on and off affair with Charlie that broke up his marriage. When Charlie is found murdered, the evidence increasingly seems to point to Peter's guilt.

As the narrator of Once a Liar, Peter Caine is an intensely dislikeable character. The story, through Peter's eyes, follows events from the past and present and offers insight into his character, or lack thereof. Peter is a very well-developed character, even as his integrity is increasingly in question and his sociopathy becomes progressively clear as the plot advances. He is an unreliable narrator, but an honest one based on his point-of-view.

Once a Liar is a well-written novel, especially in terms of the character development of Peter. Initially Brady doles out interesting insight into Peter's back story and character, which grips your attention, but then the pace of the novel slows for a bit in the middle. Keep reading, however, because all the little insights will matter and the pace quickly picks up again. The ending twist is great. Some readers might guess parts of it, but probably not the complete picture. This is a very satisfying thriller.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Golden Tresses of the Dead

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley
Penguin Random House: 1/22/19
eBook review copy; 352 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780345540027
Flavia de Luce Series #10 

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley is the very highly recommended 10th Flavia de Luce novel. Twelve-year-old Flavia has formed a private detective agency with Dogger and the two take on their first case and client.

Arthur W. Dogger & Associates, Discreet Investigations, is now in business at Buckshaw. Flavia and Dogger discover their first case at her sister Ophelia's wedding in the chapel at Bishop’s Lacey. How did a severed finger end up in the wedding cake and who does it belong to? Then they take on their first client when Anastasia Prill asks them to find some stolen letters belonging to her father. The case deepens when something happens to Miss Prill and two missionaries, Doris Pursemaker and Ardella Stonebrook, end up staying at Buckshaw. While Flavia and Dogger are applying their detective skills to the cases, Flavia's cousin, Undine, seems intent to be in the way.

Flavia is well established as a chemistry prodigy in the series set in 1950s England. It's always nice to see a strong female character with a gift for science featured in a novel. At this point she is a well-developed character and it is entertaining to follow along the plot as she deduces clues, works in her lab, and follows leads to solve the case. Flavia and Dogger work great together and it's nice to see him gently helping Flavia. I would predict that Undine is going to begin to play a much larger role in the books and will take over Flavia's former bratty persona, as in this outing Flavia is definitely maturing and growing up. It almost seems that she is older now and might need another birthday soon.
These are all well-written novels and are Bradley inserts a fair amount of humor in the narrative that makes these novels even more enjoyable than simply a who-done-it.  While not YA, all of the Flavia novels are suitable for teens to adults. They should be read in order so you have Flavia's whole backstory and family history.  The word is the Bradley will be continuing the series, so expect more cases for Arthur W. Dogger & Associates, Discreet Investigations in the future.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

I Invited Her In

I Invited Her In by Adele Parks
MIRA Books: 2/5/19
eBook review copy; 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9780778369219

I Invited Her In by Adele Parks is a recommended thriller.

Melanie Harrison is surprised to receive an email from her university friend Abigail Curtiz. They haven't been in contact with each other since 1999 when Mel became pregnant with her son after a one-night-stand and dropped out of school. Seventeen years have passed and now Mel is happily married to Ben, and living in Wolvney, England, with their three children. Abi sends her an email explaining that she is in the midst of a contentious divorce and is returning to the UK after living in America. Abi is a minor TV personality who interviews celebrities for a living, so Mel is surprised that she doesn't have other friends to contact.

Mel ends up inviting Abi to come and stay indefinitely with her family and is shocked and surprised when Abi accepts. Once Abi arrives, Mel is consumed and infatuated with her every whim. Soon it becomes quite clear to everyone but Mel that Abi does not mean well to Mel or her family. Abi's stay is without an end point and the family is beginning to crack under the strain of hosting this  demanding guest.

First, the opening premise requires that the reader set aside a healthy dose of disbelief. For me it remained ludicrous throughout the novel and required a conscious effort to believe that anyone would invite a famous someone they hadn't seen for years to come and stay indefinitely in their modest home just because she showed some support for her years ago. Sure, I'd exchange emails, maybe meet them somewhere for coffee, but I would never invite them to stay for however long. That is stupid. Mel's instant devotion to someone she really was never that close to is odd.

Now, after you manage to set that huge MacGuffin aside, Parks does get kudos for creating tension and suspense as the narrative switched perspectives between Mel, Abi, and Ben. The narrative is a bit padded, but the plot is intriguing. Neither Mel nor Abi are likeable characters, but if you read thrillers and enjoy predicting plot developments, you'll keep reading to see if your predictions are right. (You will be correct, btw.) Continuing to read the story will be based on how engaged you are in seeing lives disintegrate and plans for revenge take place.

There are some nice details and emotional insights about raising children and marriage. This isn't an awful book, but it is predictable. In spite of my lack of surprises over any plot twists, I was engaged with the plot, even if it was just to see the train wreck I knew had to be coming at the end and I wasn't disappointed.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books


Crucible by James Rollins
HarperCollins: 1/22/19
eBook review copy; 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062381781
Sigma Force Series #13 

Crucible by James Rollins is a very highly recommended action/adventure thriller and the 13th addition to the Sigma Force Series. Rollins never lets you down!

On Christmas Eve Sigma Force commander Gray Pierce and his best friend, Monk Kokkalis, return to Monk’s house in Silver Spring, Md., where they discover the house has been broken into and is a wreck. Monk’s wife, Kat, is lying unconscious on the kitchen floor. Even more alarming is that Monk's two daughters, six-year-old Penny and five-year-old Harriet, are gone, along with Gray's pregnant wife, Seichan. Kat is the only witness to what happened, but she is in a semi-comatose state and cannot speak - until a way is found to communicate with her.

What they find out, along with other events, sends the team to the site of a massacre in Portugal. The lives of five women who led an international network of female scientists have been murdered and 21 year-old Mara Silviera, whose AI research they were funding, is missing. Somehow the current cutting edge AI research is tied to a group that dates back to the Spanish Inquisition, but the ultimate stakes are even more dire. 

Crucible is another exciting addition to the Sigma Force Series. Rollins always delivers pulse-pounding, nail-biting action and bases his story on historical facts and current scientific research resulting in a great mix of action, history, and science. The story itself is full of twists and surprise along with the trade-mark action you expect. As usual, do not skip Rollins author's notes at the end about his research for the novel. I've said it before, and I'm going to repeat myself here, but I appreciate the fact that Rollins treats his readers with respect and a nod to their intelligence and ability to comprehend a complex plot.

As expected the writing is impressive as the various plot threads move along and are all equally captivating. This was a novel that will result in the "just one more chapter" mantra. Although I have read almost all the Sigma Force novels in order, I think you could enjoy this one as a stand-alone as Rollins provides enough background information on the characters. There is, however, a greater depth to the story if you know the characters, their backgrounds, their struggles, and their relationships. I will always take the time to read anything Rollins writes. He always delivers a fast-paced interesting thriller.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Women Rowing North

Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher
Bloomsbury: 1/15/19
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781632869609 

Women Rowing North: Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing As We Age by Mary Pipher is a highly recommended examination of the issues facing aging women.

Pipher tackles the cultural, personal, social, and developmental issues and challenges women face as they age and explores ways women can cultivate happiness through their responses. She shares stories from women in a variety of circumstances, backgrounds, and economic circumstances, and demonstrates how their struggles result in them becoming  authentic, empathetic, and wise people. The summary of her encouraging advice is that happiness is a choice and skill set you can develop as you live a life of authenticity, gratitude, and adapting

In Women Rowing North Pipher doesn't shy away from the problems older women face, including health issues, ageism, loneliness, misogyny, lookism, caregiving, and loss. She notes that: "Old women in America suffer a social disease. For us, ageism may be an even more serious challenge than aging." She offers practical advice and suggestions as she shares the stories of the various women interviewed and featured along with her own personal journey in the book. She purposes that: "One of the great gifts of our later years is the possibility of authenticity....which comes from growing out of fears into wholeness."

She divides the book into three sections. The first section deals with the challenges that may face aging women. The second discusses the skills women need to navigate aging, with the ability to adapt being pivotal. The third section discusses the importance of relationships. Pipher realistically points out that, "We do not need to like all of our family members. Who does? Especially as we get older, we can select the people who we want to consider as family....No matter what our families are like or how difficult people are to get along with, we can almost always find at least one person to love."

Pipher has a calm, affirming writing style and this book should have a wide appeal to women approaching or in their sixties and beyond.  While her advice won't apply to every aging woman, it does provide a platform for individuals to chart their own course, set boundaries, confront obstacles, and make their way through this time of life. "We can set priorities and separate the essential from the nonessential. We can ask, 'Am I spending my time in accordance with my values?'... Each of us has the freedom to decide what is essential."

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Dreamers

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Penguin Random House: 1/15/19
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812994162

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker is a very highly recommended unique, light science-fiction novel about a mysterious epidemic and a town placed under quarantine.

The mysterious sleeping illness began on a college campus in Santa Lora, an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California. A freshman girl returns early to her dorm room and stumbles right into bed. When she is still asleep the next morning, her roommate, Mei, thinks nothing of it and leaves for the day. When she is still asleep that evening, the paramedics are called and she is hospitalized. Then another victim falls into a deep sleep and can't be woken up. At first the remaining students from that floor at the residents' hall are quarantined. Then as the disease begins to spread more rapidly, the whole town is placed under an enforced quarantine.

The number of sleepers requiring care reaches 500 by 18th day. Most victims simply stay asleep, although some die. The dreamers must be cared for, which requires many medical professionals and volunteers. The victims seem to be actively dreaming, with increased brain activity, but why? From a few Dreamers who have woken up, we know they have vivid dreams that seem real. Some have lived whole lives, some feel no time has passed, others re-live memories, and some believe they have had premonitions of the future.

The narrative changes perspective from one character to the next as the story unfolds. The characters are handled with compassion and a nuance that ties them all together while they experience the fear of an unfathomable epidemic and have no way to escape. Some of the characters include: Mei, a college student who was an outsider; a survivalist father and his 12 and 11 year-old daughters; a couple with a newborn baby; a biology professor; a college student dreamer who is pregnant; and a neuropsychiatrist trapped in town. Their emotions and fears are handled realistically with empathy and mercy.

The Dreamers is simply exquisite. This is a skillfully written, breathtakingly beautiful novel that is also a page-turner, full of tension and uncertainty. I was glued to the pages and compulsively reading just one more chapter. The pacing is perfect and the transition between the diverse points-of-views keeps the suspense and tension rising as the narrative unfolds. Walker displays compassion to her characters as she follows their thoughts and actions while the unfathomable epidemic rages around them. I especially loved the details of the life beginning and developing in sleeping, but pregnant, Rebecca, and the resolution of this narrative thread.

I read and loved Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles and I think I love The Dreamers even more. This is a novel that could provide book clubs with an abundance of discussion topics.

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

Talk to Me

Talk to Me by John Kenney
Penguin Random House: 1/15/19
eBook review copy: 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735214378

Talk to Me by John Kenney is a very highly recommended, brilliant, wry commentary on news in the current age of social media and the fall-out which results from a public thrashing.

The narrative opens with Ted Grayson contemplating suicide by not opening his parachute while skydiving. What would lead a man to this? Ted is a fifty-nine-year-old beloved news anchor at the peak of his career when an ill-advised profanity-laced outburst directed toward a young hairstylist is recorded. She puts it on social media and the video goes viral. As public opinion is created through sound bites in this age of immediate gratification and most people seem to obtain their news through social media and memes, the fall-out is instantaneous.

Unknown to most people is that Ted's personal life is already in shambles. His wife of 30 years, Claire, has fallen in love with another man and is planning to divorce him. He has been estranged for years from his adult daughter, Frances, a writer for a popular sensational fake news website. He has some health concerns that he has kept secret from everyone. All Ted really had was his career and onscreen news persona. Any question of actually listening to Ted about what happened and why he had the tirade is dismissed. Now he has nothing and Ted's reputation and career are destroyed as the sound bites take over, the press attacks continue, and protests begin.

Talk to Me is outstanding. This is the novel that I have been waiting to see written and Kenney does an excellent job capturing the public outcry following a ripped-from-the-headlines situation that has gone viral and is out of control. In this age of news via assumptions, memes, quick judgements, and instantly taking offense, Talk to Me demonstrates how reporting the news has been replaced with people looking for the sensational and the worst in all situations based on their viewpoints. Stories are based on what is trending, with the number of comments ruling. People are quick to form an opinion, be offended, and take a stance based on incomplete or incorrect facts. Yeah, Ted seriously messed up in a career-ending move and needed the wake-up call, but the continued media onslaught was excessive.

The development of the characters is exceptional. They are all flawed, selfish, damaged people, but Kenney's memorable portrayal makes them sympathetic even when you question their judgement. The video of this one mistake Ted makes has gone viral, but a life consists of many mistakes. How many of us could endure the media scrutiny of every nuance of our lives and come out flawless. They have all made a shambles of their lives and the very public downfall of Ted's career and the subsequent media feeding frenzy is amplifying their flaws. There is a moment when a small glimmer of hope enters the narrative toward the end that offers some hope.

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

Sunday, January 6, 2019

She Lies in Wait

She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge
Penguin Random House: 1/8/19
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781984817358
DCI Jonah Sheens #1

She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge is a highly recommended police procedural and the start of a new series.

A body is found in Brinken Wood in England’s New Forest and it is identified as Aurora Jackson. Aurora went missing thirty years ago, on July 22, 1983, when she was out camping with a group of six other teens. At fourteen she was the youngest and really an outsider in the group that consisted of her sister, Topaz, and Topaz's friends. There was a lengthy search for her, or her body, but the case went cold.  Jonah Sheens, who was new to the police force at that time, also knew the teens in question and was involved in the original search. Now Jonah is the DCI in charge and he remembers the original investigation and the tight-knit group of friends. He is determined to solve the case this time around.

She Lies in Wait is an engaging and interesting British police procedural and it held my attention throughout. The writing is great and the novel is well-paced and well-constructed. I appreciated the chapters alternating between the current day investigation and from Aurora's point-of-view during the day of her disappearance in 1983. It was compelling to follow the present day interviews and what the suspects, now in their 40s, remember from that night. The accounts of their actions contrasted or were confirmed by Aurora's narrative, and slowly a picture of the night begins to emerge. As in any investigation, there are a few false leads and twists to hold your attention. There is plenty of back story between these six adults who are now suspects again after thirty years.

The members of Sheen's investigative team are introduced in She Lies in Wait and they all are interesting characters. Lodge delves into some of the personal lives of her detectives while leaving plenty of room to develop them more fully in future additions to the series. She even had a few intriguing loose ends that will likely come into play in further stories, especially one involving DC Juliette Hanson.

This is a great start to a new series and I'm going to keep an eye out for the next book(s) in the series.

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

The Lost Puzzler

The Lost Puzzler by Eyal Kless
HarperCollins: 1/8/19
eBook review copy; 528 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062792433
The Tarakan Chronicles #1

The Lost Puzzler by Eyal Klessis a highly recommended YA post-dystopian yarn which excels in world building.

Over a century has passed since the Catastrophe that caused the fall of the Tarakan empire. Whatever caused the disaster was, it left humans almost extinct, and changed.  Survivors have either returned to rural, agrarian, orthodox lifestyles or live in destroyed cities full of warring guilds, and mercenaries, City people live in slum-like environments while trying to adapt to using technology they don't understand while scavenging for more old tech. The Guild of Historians has sent a scribe out in search of the story of Rafik. Rafik is a boy who was born marked and is one of a rare kind- a puzzler. A puzzler is a person who is used as a key to open doors that can only be accessed by quickly solving a puzzle.

The Lost Puzzler will hold your attention and is descriptive and exciting without vividly describing the more gruesome aspects of the grim under-belly that would certainly be present in this society. Klessis provides plenty of details about the inner workings of the current society, including depictions of the remains of tech and weapons they use, but don't totally understand. This is a very different civilization and Klessis does an excellent job creating a picture of this world and how the current survivors are living in this world. The care taken with this world building will pay off in future stories. The characters are well-developed and fully fleshed out. They all have distinct personalities, including strengths and weaknesses.

The main problem with The Lost Puzzler is its protracted length. Several aspects of the search for Rafik and his backstory could have been edited down. The narrative does begin to drag in the middle. This is a debut novel and the length may be indicative of that as I am guessing Klessis wanted to get as many of the descriptions, twists, discoveries, fights, and people he could into this novel. In the end it is a captivating and entertaining novel, albeit a bit over-long. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Hollow Middle

The Hollow Middle by John Popielaski
Unsolicited Press: 12/4/18
Trade paperback: 382 pages
ISBN-13: 9781947021402

The Hollow Middle by John Popielaski is a so-so meandering discourse on a wide variety of topics via a brain-damaged man.

Albert Lesiak is a hard drinking English teacher at a parochial school in Connecticut. Mary, his long-suffering wife, is used to his benders and wandering ways, yet she still questions why she is stays with him. She also wants to foster parent or adopt autistic twin boys and is trying to talk Albert into this course of action. Albert, who in a round-about-way inherits a large sum of money from his father's death, decides to live a different life off the grid on land he owns in Maine.

The Hollow Middle covers a wide range of very random topics and Albert's opinion on them all, either at length or briefly, as they flit through his brain. The majority of the novel consists of Albert's random thoughts about everything and anything. A few topics include: drinking until you pass out, bird watching, environmental concerns, materialism, the media, politics, life lessons martyrs provide, mice, porcupines, fishing, measurements when building, and bodily elimination. Basically, some topics are absurd, some reactionary, some conjectural, some existential, some ordinary, and some transcendental.
I can't fault the technical quality of the writing, but I can point out that it is verbose. Those of you who have a friend or acquaintance who happens to be, say an English teacher, who knows all the words, and insists on using all of them, will recognize Albert. If this same individual holds and insists on sharing strong opinions about various and sundry topics, you will further recognize the character of Albert. If you are like me, and know many, many of the words and also hold strong opinions of your own, but with purpose and intent do not use all the words or proclaim all your opinions all the time to everyone, well, you may, like me be annoyed almost from the start with this character. This may be Popielaski's intent, but it made the novel a long slog during certain points. We are living in Albert's thoughts for most of the novel, with a few forays into Mary's thoughts, and by the end of the novel I was unequivocally weary of this character. Finishing this novel was an onerous task.

Although The Hollow Middle was not a good choice for me, I know that there are readers who will appreciate Albert's discourse.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Unsolicited Press for TLC Book Tours.