Thursday, April 30, 2020

All Adults Here

All Adults Here by Emma Straub
Penguin Random House: 5/4/20
eBook review copy; 368 pages 

All Adults Here by Emma Straub is a so-so family drama.

After 68-year-old Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus accident in the center of Clapham, N.Y., she realizes that life is uncertain so she decides to share with her family her big secret. She is bi-sexual and for the last two years she has been in a romantic relationship with her hairdresser, Birdie. But her three grown children and her granddaughter have plenty of secrets of their own.  Her daughter, thirty-seven-year-old Porter, is pregnant via a sperm bank but has started a affair with an old boyfriend. Elliott, the oldest son, has some secret business deal in the works and he and his wife are trying to cope with hyperactive toddler twins. Nicky, the youngest son, and his wife have sent their only child, 13-year-old Cecilia, up to live with Astrid after an incident at her Brooklyn school involving online pedophilia. And Cecilia's new friend in town, August, wants to be known as Robin, but middle school is tough enough without coming out as a transsexual.

Straub throws just about every social issue she can into this novel, much to the detriment of the actual narrative and character development. Issues touched upon include: aging, sexuality, gender identity, abortion, bullying, in vetro fertilization, sexual predators, adultery, and parenting issues - to name a few. The characters are dealing with so many issues that they are all one-dimensional characters. This approach left this reader wondering if the whole point of the novel was to have a cursory introduction of every possible issue Straub could add in lieu of an actual well-developed plot and fully developed characters.

The novel starts out strong and the writing had moment of great clarity, but then yet another social issue was added. The story began to meander. I wish Straub had focused on a few of her characters in depth and fully developed them while examining the effect their secrets had on their relationships and the family. I struggled to finish this one. I felt that Astrid's revelation about her and Birdie's relationship along with the stories of Cecilia and August would have been enough. It might have made a nice comparison between grandmother and granddaughter dealing with their feelings and relationships and allowed more development of their characters along with plot advancement.

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Perfect Daughter

The Perfect Daughter by Joseph Souza
Kensington; 4/28/20
eBook review copy; 368 pages 

The Perfect Daughter by Joseph Souza is a recommended mystery set in Shepherd’s Bay, Maine.

High school juniors Katie Eaves and her friend Willow Briggs fail to come home after a night out. When Katie still doesn't come home and Willow's parents haven't seen the girls, Katie's mother Isla is very worried, especially since another teen is still missing after several months. Isla contacts officer Karl Bjornson and search parties are organized. When Katie is found battered and with no memory of what happened. Isla is thankful her daughter is okay, but hopeful that she will remember something to help her friend Willow.

A huge division is already present in the town where long-time residents are resentful of the affluent newcomers who have bought up all the waterfront property, and, well, puttin' on airs because of their wealth. Katie is a townie, her mother is a hairdresser and her father is a loser/entrepreneur/mostly absent. Willow's family are wealthy transplants from L.A.. Rumors are swirling now about the wild parties held at the Briggs' house. Katie still doesn't remember anything and Isla already has her hands full with her son, husband, and father.

The story is told through multiple points-of-view, with each chapter narrated by Isla, Karl, or Katie. The characters are well developed, although not entirely believable as real people. Isla's plate is full with her family and job, but I was more than annoyed with her obsequious behavior toward the wealth newcomers because they brought her in some new business. I would think you could be polite and courteous to all of your clients rather than setting one group aside as more important based on their income. Additionally Katie didn't come across as a junior in high school in her inner dialogue. Included in the narrative is plenty of information about Isla's and Karl's past. 

The novel does have plenty of secrets, but it moves along quickly. The question of who-dun-it is not a huge nail biter since they can likely be pointed out by many readers almost right away. This is a novel to sit down and read quickly in one sitting just to past the time. It's interesting enough to pass the time but ultimately will be forgettable to many readers. Those with a tie to Maine and the coastal areas being developed by wealthy outsiders might find more to relate to. Another 3.5 rounded down.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Kensington.

Have You Seen Me?

Have You Seen Me? by Kate White
HarperCollins: 4/28/20
eBook review copy; 384 pages

Have You Seen Me? by Kate White is a recommended novel of suspense.

Early in the morning Ally Linden arrived at her office disheveled and rain soaked only to discover she didn't have her keycard. Once her boss arrives, she is shocked to learn that she hasn't work there in five years and she faints. At the hospital Ally discovers that she is suffering from a dissociative episode and she can't remember the events of the last two days. She also doesn't have her handbag or cell phone. She does remember that she is married to Hugh, is a finance journalist, and other facts are readily available, but she cannot recall a single event from the last two days.

After finding a wad of bloody tissues in her coat pocket, Ally wonders if she saw some traumatic accident or if a past experience could have triggered this event. Ally decides that she needs to hire a private detective to try and uncover her actions over the last two days. She knows there was tension in her marriage because she is not ready for children, but could a fight over this trigger the dissociative event? Her husband seems caring, but distant and her best friend is not available, so she turns to her brother and therapist for support. She also feels, at times, like she's being watched.

Admittedly when the story started out with Ally not remembering where she was for the last two days I rolled my eyes, but I went along with it. Most of this uneven suspense novel consists of Ally trying to recall events and tracking down clues. While the writing is very descriptive, the pace is slow at times which made the novel drag a bit for me. I also tired of some of the descriptions of clothing, food, and homes. If you enjoy all of these details all the time, then it is very likely you'll enjoy this novel more. Frankly, I almost set this novel aside more than once due to the uneven pace.

On the plus side the characters were well developed and realistic. White throws in plenty of red herrings to keep you guessing and there are enough twists to keep you reading. The ending though.... rushed and unbelievable. 3.5, but I'm rounding down.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Sweeney Sisters

The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan
HarperCollins; 4/28/20
eBook review copy; 304 pages

The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan is a recommended novel about sisters, a recently deceased famous father, and family secrets.

When Maggie, Eliza, and Tricia Sweeney receive the news that their father and famous author Bill Sweeney has unexpectedly died, the three sisters all return to Southport, Connecticut to plan the funeral, wake, and press release.  Their poet mother, Maeve, passed away fifteen years earlier, leaving the girls with just their father. While he wasn't a perfect father, he is all they had. Liza. the oldest, is married with two children, still lives in Southport, and runs an art gallery. Maggie is an artist and free spirit who struggles with responsibilities. Tricia is a fierce, pragmatic lawyer in New York City.

After the wake, when Bill's best friend and lawyer, Cap, talks to the sisters about the estate he has two immediate concerns: the whereabouts of the memoir Bill has written and an even more shocking secret concerning the half-sister they didn't know about. There are numerous personal and legal ramifications involved with both of these concerns. It seems that six months earlier Washington, DC based journalist Serena Tucker had her DNA tested and the results said she was a 50% genetic match to Maggie Sweeney. The shocking revelation means that Serena, who grew up as a next door neighbor in Southport, was Bill's child too. Can the three Sweeney sisters add a fourth to their ranks and how will this new sister fit in?

The sisters are all depicted as very different individuals who have worked out their interpersonal relationships and the roles they all play when dealing with each other. They all have their own challenges to face, but they also seem to follow and perpetuate their assigned roles and their position in the family. The sisters are all developed characters and eventually experience some growth but still remain in their assigned family roles. This includes Serena, who views their roles while finding what could be her niche in the dynamics between the sisters.

This is a slow paced, predictable, breezy, sometimes provocative novel that is the epitome of a summer beach read - or perhaps currently on a porch or by an open window. The writing is descriptive and Dolan moves her plot along at an even pace. The story is told through alternating points-of-view, so you are privy to what each sister is thinking. There is not a lot of drama in the narrative, but there is an oscillating loyalty and some cunning schemes between the sisters. In the end, The Sweeney Sisters is a very enjoyable novel, but perhaps not remarkable or unforgettable.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Dead Land

Dead Land by Sara Paretsky
HarperCollins: 4/21/20
eBook review copy; 416 pages
V. I. Warshawski Series #20

Dead Land by Sara Paretsky is a highly recommended twentieth outing for hard-boiled private investigator V. I. Warshawsk.

V.I. Warshawski tries to help and support her goddaughter, Bernie (Bernadine) Fouchard, which pulls her into a complicated investigation with multiple strands that tie into other events. First, Bernie asks Vic to attend a meeting of SLICK, the South Lakefront Improvement Council. On the agenda is the Chicago Parks District’s plan to create a lake front beach. The meeting is interrupted by protests led by the mysterious man who calls himself Coop. The infamous Coop reappears when Bernie and V.I. attempt to help Lydia Zamir, a famed singer-songwriter who is now living on the streets of Chicago. Coop, and his dog Bear, are Zamir’s protectors. Vic learns that Zamir's life was shattered when her lover, Hector Palurdo, was murdered at a mass murder during an outdoor fundraising concert four years earlier.

The tangle story continues when the young man Bernie was dating turns up dead and Bernie becomes a person of interest. He was working for SLICK, and it appears to Vic, keeping in mind the city's history of  "pay to play" politics, that his murder might be politically motivated and related to the Chicago Park District's development plans. It also seems that an international law firm based in Chicago might be involved. Since the mysterious Coop seems to have more information, V.I. keeps looking for him, hoping he has some answers, especially because the body count is rising.

This is a very well-written intricately plotted investigation that follows a tangled rabbit trail of clues and leads. V.I. follows the multiple leads trying to piece together the complete picture and find out how it is all connected. The action ranges from Chicago to the prairies of Kansas. Naturally she becomes a target too. Again, naturally, she makes sure Kansas is depicted as a backward place (getting tired of this habitual plot element). There also seemed to be a bit more repetitive action and a few unbelievable plot elements this time around, but that hardly detracts from the overall novel. The bad guys are all very nefarious and the focus of the novel is showing their far-reaching malevolence. Vic ensures that justice is found in the end.

Obviously after twenty novels V.I. is a well-developed character. She's a tough, hard-boiled detective - who loves dogs - and that shines through. We are missing as much interaction between Vic, Lottie, and Max in Dead Land, which some readers are going to miss. You can read Dead Land as a stand-alone novel, though, which could be beneficial to anyone not acquainted with V.I. Warshawski at this point. I'd probably suggest going back to the beginning, although all nineteen previous novels probably aren't necessary.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

The Silence

The Silence by Susan Allott
HarperCollins; 4/30/20
eBook review copy; 304 pages 

The Silence by Susan Allott is a highly recommended mystery set in Australia.

Isla Green who is living in London returns to Sydney after a phone call from her father, Joe. Apparently Mandy, the neighbor who lived next door and sometimes cared for Isla, disappeared thirty years ago, in 1967. Her father always said the couple who lived there moved away, but now Mandy is believed to have been murdered. Now, in 1997, Isla's father is the main suspect because he was the last one to see Mandy alive and he had a brief affair with Mandy just before she left.

Now Isla is returning home for the first time in a decade to support her father. This is not a happy visit. Her mother, Louisa, is an angry, bitter woman. Her father, Joe, is an alcoholic and has a history of domestic violence. Once Isla arrives she begins to remember more about her childhood, Mandy and her husband Steve, and 1967.

The narrative alternates between the present day action in 1997 and thirty years previously in 1967. Secrets from both couples are slowly revealed from the past and set against the current investigation. Isla mines her memory and begins to ask those around at that time questions. Obviously more was going on back then than people will admit and Isla begins to make some connections and expose some of the secrets.

This is a character driven mystery, so Allott spends time and care while developing her characters and establishing their pasts and present. She does a good job placing her characters in a specific historical time and place. The plot is a slow reveal as more information is exposed. It is not always an easy read, as domestic violence is part of the plot, along with other atrocities of the past, but it is a well written and intricately plotted novel. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Biography of Resistance

Biography of Resistance by Muhammad H. Zaman
HarperCollins: 4/21/20
eBook review copy; 320 pages

Biography of Resistance: The Epic Battle Between People and Pathogens by Muhammad H. Zaman is a very highly recommended biography and history of the scientists involved in the discovery and research of bacteria, bacteriological diseases, antibiotics, and the increasing resistance to antibiotics.

"In September 2016, a woman in Nevada became the first known case in the U.S. of a person who died of an infection resistant to every antibiotic available. Her death is the worst nightmare of infectious disease doctors and public health professionals. While bacteria live within us and are essential for our health, some strains can kill us. As bacteria continue to mutate, becoming increasingly resistant to known antibiotics, we are likely to face a public health crisis of unimaginable proportions. 'It will be like the great plague of the middle ages, the influenza pandemic of 1918, the AIDS crisis of the 1990s, and the Ebola epidemic of 2014 all combined into a single threat,' Muhammad H. Zaman warns."

In this well researched account, Zaman covers the biography and history of the scientists involved in microbiological discoveries and explorations. At this point we should have all heard the warnings concerning the overuse and over prescription of antibiotics and how it is resulting in superbugs. Understanding how bacteria and antibiotics work will hopefully allow more people to understand the seriousness of the current situation.

Harmful bacteria have always plagued humans and threatened us with death. The discovery of their existence and our understanding of it have increased our chances to survive the attacks. The problem is that bacteria have a multilayered defense mechanism that is continuously evolving, mutating, and staying one step ahead of our attempts to control it. Antibiotics were thought to be the cure-all remedy because they target the disease-causing bacteria rather than other cells in the body. "Antibiotics occur naturally, and scientists have further enhanced these sophisticated weapons with two goals in mind: to kill the harmful bacteria or to stop it from replicating." Zaman warns readers that at the current rate in which our antibiotics are becoming impotent, we need to be concerned that the day is arriving when routine procedures could lead to untreatable infections.

This is a fascinating history, call to action, and definitely worth reading.

Take note during this time of COVID 19: "While the world remembers the Spanish flu as the killer, most people didn’t actually die of the viral disease. They died of complications due to pneumonia, a bacterial infection. The flu virus weakened the immune system, providing an opportunity for the pneumonia bacteria to enter and thrive. In the absence of antibiotics to kill the bacteria, pneumonia proved to be a death sentence." "The basic symptoms which occur in pneumonia and which are never lacking are as follows: acute fever, sticking [pleuritic] pain in the side, short rapid breaths, serrated pulse and cough, mostly [associated] with sputum."

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

The Book of Longings

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Penguin Random House; 4/21/20
review copy; 432 pages

Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd is a recommended historical fiction novel about Ana, the wife of Jesus.

Ana is the only daughter of Matthias, chief scribe to Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee. She wants to be a writer, a scribe, and tell the untold stories of the women. He father has indulged her by providing a tutor and writing supplies, but that changes when, at fifteen, she is betroth to a much older widower. When meeting him for the first time she sees for the first time and is attracted to eighteen-year-old Jesus. Circumstances lead to her arranged marriage falling through and her eventual marriage to Jesus. Ana makes her home with him in Nazareth. Oh, and she is related to Judas.

The novel is divided into sections based on Ana's location at that time. While the quality of the writing is excellent, I was expecting much more from this novel. It starts out slow, but it does get better after this. The history of the region is covered. The most essential fact to note is that this is first and foremost Ana's story and it follows her thoughts, plans, and dreams for her life.

More importantly for me, it embraces a fatal flaw. A flaw that is a pet peeve of mine and the reason I try to avoid most historical fiction is highlighted in The Book of Longings. I cringe whenever characters in a historical time period are accredited with modern perspectives and sensibilities. We are all a product of our time period and even the most innovative and progressive thinker still reflects the society and era in which they live.

In the end, having Ana being the wife of Jesus (which should have been Yeshua or Joshua) felt more like an attention grabbing ploy to sell the book. As I was reading I thought some readers will love this based on the audacity of Ana being the wife of Jesus and on the author's name. Ana could have just as easily married one of the future apostles - or any other random person during this period of history. Characters are either good or bad, with no real subtlety or complexity in their depictions.

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2020


Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang, Ken Liu (Translator)
Gallery/Saga Press: 4/14/20
eBook review copy; 640 pages

Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang (translated by Ken Liu) is a recommended science fiction novel set on Mars which explores contrasting societal values between Earth and Mars.

A century after the Martian War of Independence, a group of teenagers who were born and raised on Mars are sent to Earth as delegates. Called the Mercury Group, when they return home with a delegation of Terran representatives, the group begins to feel separate from the rest of Martian society and caught between the societal differences of the two worlds. After spending five of their formative teenage years on earth, members of the Mercury Group now have a fractured sense of identity and question how they fit into their community and their roles.

It is clear that there are still tensions between the two different systems of Earth and Mars. The novel closely follows Luoying, one of the returning students who is a dancer. She explored many aspects of Earth's society when she visited and now struggles to rectify the rigidity of Martian society with the materialistic, individualistic society of Western civilization. Luoying is the granddaughter of Hans Sloan, the consul of Mars. After her return from Earth, she is questioning her grandfather's role in being chosen as one of the teens to visit, as well as his role in the death of her parents.

Vagabonds is beautifully written, poetic, thoughtful and contemplative. Certainly it is clear why Hao Jingfang is a Hugo Award–winning author. In many ways it could have been set on future Earth, comparing and contrasting two different societies, and is more of a veiled comparison of an evolved socialism versus Western capitalism. While it explores the difference, it doesn't openly berate one over the other. It is also coming-of-age novel. The most notable fact is, however, very slow-paced novel and how you have to make a monumental choice to keep reading. This would be highly recommended, but it moves way-too-slowly.

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


Queen: A Chronicle of the Sibyl's War by Timothy Zahn
Tom Doherty Associates; 4/14/20
eBook review copy; 384 pages
Sibyl's War #3 

Queen: A Chronicle of the Sibyl's War by Timothy Zahn is a highly recommended conclusion to the Sibyl's War science fiction three book series.

Nicole Hammond is a Sibyl, a special human that has the ability to communicate with a strange alien ship called the Fyrantha. In previous books the ship teleported Nicole Hammond on board to help repair its machinery. Nicole was a former member of a Philadelphia street gang and now she must use her street smarts to help the ship. The ship has now appointed her the Protector of the ship and its inhabitants. When Queen starts we are right in the middle of a war that started in Pawn and Knight, the two earlier books in the series. Nicole works with a variety of alien races to fight for control of the ship from the Shipmasters who have taken it over and their strong arm enforcers, the Koffren, as they battle for the freedom of everyone living on it.

My first recommendation is that you read Pawn and Knight before starting Queen. Trust me on this as it will make reading it much more enjoyable right from the start. Those who have will not have to work as hard as I did in order to piece together the backstory and keep sorted out the various aliens who help her or who live on the ship. It would also, I imagine, help you to envision the layout of the ship as the battle rages between areas and decks.   I truly wish I had read the first two books first before jumping right into the battle for control in Queen.

Once I got the backstory and current situation basically sorted out in my head, I enjoyed the complicated plans, strategy, and tactics Nicole and cohorts used in the conflict. And make no mistake, there is a whole lot going on in this space opera. Complications and set backs are overcome as Nicole works with her wide variety of allies. As the Protector of the ship, she has an inside to help evade trouble and plan her strategic actions. Nicole is a very well developed character. We are privy to her thoughts as she coordinates everything and evades the Shipmasters, so readers can see her growth as a character.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Macmillian

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Good Detective

The Good Detective by John McMahon
Penguin Random House; 3/19/19
hardcover; 320 pages
Detective P. T. Marsh #1

The Good Detective by John McMahon is a very highly recommended procedural and the un-put-downable first book in the P.T. Marsh series. The two P.T. Marsh books are some of the best novels I've read this year.

In Mason Falls, Georgia, Detective P.T. Marsh is struggling, making poor decisions, and drinking too much after his wife and young son died in an accident. It wasn't a good decision to help out an abused stripper named "Crimson" by having a little late night discussion with her boyfriend. The decision seemed even worse when the boyfriend, Virgil Rowe, is found dead the next day and Marsh can't remember if he did it or not. He knows his fingerprints are all over the crime scene. Things get worse when the investigation into Virgil's death sends Marsh and his partner Remy Morgan to a burned-out field where they discover the burned body of a black teenager, Kendrick Webster. His death appears to be raced related. Marsh realizes that he may have killed the number-one suspect in the teen's death. As Marsh and Remy investigate, the trail leads them to a decades old conspiracy.

After reading and loving the second book in the series, The Evil Men Do, I was thrilled to receive a copy of The Good Detective, the first book. I loved it, and, although I would very highly recommend reading both novels, don't follow my example - read them in order. They are both excellent, skillfully written procedurals where the clues are carefully followed. I was riveted to the pages and enjoyed following along as new developments are revealed in the intricate plot. The plot is complex and layered in both novels.

Having already met Marsh through The Evil Men Do, this first book fully develops his character. Readers are privy to Marsh's thoughts and insights. His emotional wounds are fresher in this novel; he is closer to the original pain. His personal demons are closer to the surface here. (Thankfully, I already knew where he would be in the future and didn't have to wait.) I'm going to be anxiously awaiting the next investigation P.T. Marsh undertakes.  (I have to say this reminds me a bit of Greg Iles, whom I also love. It is part Southern fiction and part complicated, nuanced characters struggling with their own personal issues.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of John McMahon.

The Book of Koli

The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey
Orbit; 4/14/20
eBook review copy; 416 pages
Rampart Trilogy #1 

The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey is a highly recommended dystopian coming-of-age tale and the start of a new trilogy.

Teenage Koli Woodsmith lives in the small village of Mythen Rood in a postapocalyptic place called Ingland (U.K.) during a time when murderous, genetically modified trees, plants, and creatures or shunned men outside the protected city walls will kill you. Mythen Rood is governed and protected by the Ramparts, which one family controls. They also control the old tech that is used to protect the village. Koli learns a secret that results in his banishment from the village, which normally means certain death in the hostile wilderness. But Koli has a secret helper and an ally in Ursala, a traveling doctor.
This is Koli's story and he is the narrator. The dialect he uses may be a problem for some readers. I had times when it annoyed me quite a bit while reading; much of my annoyance was due to the poor grammar and syntax. You will have to ascertain your ability to overlook a whole lot of word usage like, "Of course I knowed it." or I could of brung I recently learned in real life that my tolerance is low for this over time. Overlooking this and the slow start to the action will pay off later. The world building is interesting and the characters are unique. Old tech (tech we'd understand) needs to be figured out by someone who doesn't have a clue.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Hachette Book Group.

The Good Family Fitzgerald

The Good Family Fitzgerald by Joseph Di Prisco
Rare Bird Books; 4/14/20
eBook review copy; 480 pages

The Good Family Fitzgerald by Joseph Di Prisco is a highly recommended family saga of money, ambition, crime, and the Catholic Church. 

The Fitzgerald family is one of wealth and privilege. Paddy (Padraic) is the patriarch of the family who built up the family wealth through his dubious business interests. Currently he has a young mistress ensconced in a penthouse apartment and has complicated relationships with his children. His oldest beloved son, Anthony, left his wife Francesca a heart-broken widow. Philip is a Catholic priest who is struggling with his ideals versus his human nature. Matty is a teacher who has struggled to find his place, but who also seems to instigate trouble. The youngest, Colleen is a seeker who styles herself the outsider and the conscience of the clan. The whole Fitzgerald family experience one crisis and catastrophe after another. Many of their problems are direct results from their own actions and leave them battling others and each other.

This is a well-written, sprawling family saga that takes patience to get through but readers sticking to it will be rewarded. The language in The Good Family Fitzgerald certainly points to Joseph Di Prisco being a poet, as well as a novelist and memoirist. Themes hearken back to Di Prisco's own life and family experiences, including organized crime, the Catholic Church, and teaching. The characters are finely crafted and well-developed fleshed out characters with definite personalities and reactions to events.

While at the end it was worth the struggle, the novel is slow to start, moves slowly, and sometimes seems a chore to read. Rarely do I bring real life into reviews, but during this stressful time when I am essential, I will admit that I read a chapter and then set it aside for another book and did this over several days. I rarely do this as I like to start a book and finish it before starting another. I read for escapism and relaxation and the slow pace wasn't always what I was craving as far as reading. That said, if I had the spare time this would have been a good book to sink into and immerse myself in the story as it unfolded.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Rare Bird Books.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Strike Me Down

Strike Me Down by Mindy Mejia
Simon & Schuster; 4/7/20
review copy; 352 pages

Strike Me Down by Mindy Mejia is a highly recommended thriller featuring two strong female leads - a forensic accountant and legendary kickboxer.

As a forensic accountant and partner at Parrish Forensics in Minneapolis, Nora Trier is very good at catching thieves. She began her career as a CPA whistle blower who took down a powerful CEO who also happened to be a family friend. She lost her job and her family over this, but it began the start of her 15 year career. Now, 65 convictions later, Nora is known for her tenacity and independence. Her reputation is why the business Strike came to Parrish Forensics.

Strike is a fitness/athletic company owned by legendary kickboxer Logan Russo and her husband Gregg Abbott. They have an empire built on fitness clubs and supplements. It is a week before their major kickboxing tournament named Strike Down where fighters will be competing for twenty million dollars in prize money and the chance to be the new face of the company. They have come to Parrish Forensics because they have discovered that the prize money is missing. Nora is unsure if she should work on the case because she has connections to both Logan and Gregg, but ends up in charge of the investigation.

The narrative alternates between the first person point-of-view of Nora and Gregg. There is plenty of backstory explained and we come to know the characters quite well, or actually what they chose to expose. Are they likeable or trustworthy characters? No, not really, but once they start telling their stories and the investigation unfolds, you will be glued to the pages to find out what happens next. This does seem surprising with a forensic accountant investigation, but it clearly becomes much more dangerous that you would expect.

Mejia brings it home in the quality of the writing. She makes the investigation interesting and compelling as it is full of twists and turns. The descriptions are admirable and the plot is perfectly planned out. It is a complicated investigation with plenty of machinations going on behind the scenes between controlling and strong characters. The strong ending was surprising and well done.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Something She's Not Telling Us

Something She's Not Telling Us by Darcey Bell HarperCollins; 4/7/20
review copy; 320 pages

Something She's Not Telling Us by Darcey Bell is a recommended psychological thriller. "Is anyone ever really who they say they are…?"

Charlotte is a floral designer who lives in Manhattan’s East Village with her husband, Eli, and their five-year-old daughter, Daisy. Charlotte is close to her younger brother, Rocco, and tolerates being introduced to his numerous bad girlfriends. Now Rocco's latest girlfriend is Ruth. Ruth seems better than the previous girlfriends, but her almost immediate obsession with Daisy makes Charlotte uneasy. Daisy is a shy child with asthma, however she seems to like Ruth too. The novel opens with Charlotte and Eli's daughter being kidnapped from her after school program by Ruth.

After the opening, the novel jumps back in time to when Rocco first introduces Ruth to Charlotte, Eli, and Daisy. The chapters in the narrative then alternate between being narrated by Charlotte or Ruth. The timeline of their relationship progresses forward from the time they met to the current day kidnapping. It is clear that Charlotte is increasingly concerned about Ruth as her obsession with Daisy grows and she doesn't trust her. Ruth, on the other hand, is concerned about Charlotte's protectiveness over Daisy. She also knows instinctively that Charlotte has a secret. The question is what is real, who is telling the truth, and what is really happening?

The opening immediately captures your attention as Daisy is kidnapped by Ruth and Charlotte is frantic to find her. Then the story is reduced to alternating perspectives of Charlotte and Ruth. When the narrative next jumps back in time and requires the reader to work our way forward to find out what just happened and why, it loses steam and becomes a pedestrian she said/she said plot device. Sometimes this plot structure works well, but I didn't feel it was as successful this time. It might have pulled ahead if the ending was a clincher for me, but, alas, it wasn't.

Setting the structure of the novel, Bell's writing is quite good and she captures these two different women and their personalities well. The characters are well-developed, but soon you will be questioning them as neither one feels like a reliable narrator. And, again, the characters just don't work as well at the ending. This isn't an awful novel and those who like having a dramatic start and then jumping back in time to learn about events leading up the the event will enjoy Something She's Not Telling Us.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.


Coffeeland by Augustine Sedgewick
Penguin Random House; 4/7/20
eBook review copy; 448 pages

Coffeeland: One Man's Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug by Augustine Sedgewick is a very highly recommended discourse on the history of coffee working from the perspective of the Hill family plantation in El Salvador.

Like many people in the world my day revolves around coffee, so I understand existentially why coffee is one of the most valuable commodities in the history of global capitalism. The fact that it is the leading source of the world's most popular drug, caffeine, is simply a bonus. In Coffeeland, Augustine Sedgewick traces the history of coffee consumption and its spread across the world.

The story is told through the life of a prominent planter in El Salvador,  James Hill. Hill, a British ex-patriot, founded a coffee dynasty by shifting the focus from communal subsistence farming to growing a staple crop, coffee. "Adapting the innovations of the Industrial Revolution to plantation agriculture, Hill helped to turn El Salvador into perhaps the most intensive monoculture in modern history, a place of extraordinary productivity, inequality, and violence." The USA is the world's biggest coffee market, thanks in part to Hill's distribution plans and the invention of vacuum-sealed tin cans.

But this fascinating history is not only focused on Hill and El Salvador, it also covers a myriad of other topics that all tangentially relate back to coffee. Sedgewick covers the wide reaching world economic impact and political machinations of coffee. There are so many aspects of history that involves coffee, areas that I never really considered before reading this interesting narrative. The interplay of various aspects of history is really brought alive in Coffeeland.

This is a well-written and meticulously researched book.  Sedgewick provides a copious amount of notes for each chapter, as well as a large selected biography. This is an excellent choice for those who enjoy history, especially if you also like coffee.

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