Monday, March 8, 2021

National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States, 9th Edition

National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States, 9th Edition

2/2/21; 528 pages

"There’s simply no better getaway in the United States than a visit to one of the country’s 62 national parks from Alaska to the Virgin Islands, from Maine to America Samoa. Profiled in this all-new ninth edition of National Geographic’s enduring and informative guide, you’ll find expert travel advice, candid tips for hiking and wildlife spotting, and detailed maps to help navigate your way through America’s great outdoors. Updated throughout with the latest information from park rangers and National Geographic’s own acclaimed travel writers, this fully revised and comprehensive guidebook includes the newest additions to the United States park system—Indiana Dunes, White Sands, and Gateway Arch national parks. Whether you’re looking to explore the underground world of Mammoth Caves or make your way through the mangroves of Everglades National Park, you’ll find a destination that suits your needs, and inspiration to plan your next wild adventure. In addition to park details and descriptions, this sparkling new edition features week-long regional road trip itineraries s so you can visit multiple parks in one vacation. Filled with more than 300 dazzling photographs and 80 full-color maps, this inspiring book reveals the best the United States has to offer—right in its own backyard."


National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks
, 2nd Edition
12/15/21; 288 pages

"The iconic landmarks in America's national parks draw hundreds of millions of visitors every year, from Yosemite's famous Half Dome to Yellowstone's Old Faithful. But beyond these well-known wonders lies a world of hidden treasures—if you know where to look. This exceptional guide reveals these lesser-known gems, along with insider knowledge about the parks' main attractions. With vital tips from rangers, experts, and travelers, readers can have Acadia's massively popular Sand Beach and Jordan pond to themselves, or be one of the 10 percent of Grand Canyon visitors who go beyond the rim. Fully updated and redesigned to include the newest national parks and featuring expert advice from rangers, park managers, frequent visitors, and locals, this authoritative book will help you get out of the parking lot and off the beaten path to find interesting outlooks, challenging hikes, wildlife watching, and more. With brand-new entries for Pinnacles National Park, Gateway Arch, Indiana Dunes National Park, and Denali National Park and Preserve, this book will be your go-to guide on road trips, camping getaways, and day hikes, allowing you to enjoy the rich opportunity in the country's vaunted national parks."


Both of these guides are very highly recommended -  very, very get-these-now recommended. When the review copies arrived I literally set aside my normal, logical, methodical approach to reviewing any book and immediately started tearing through them, planning trips and alternate forays and day outings and extended journeys. After 2020 which is known as "the year where all my vacation time was spent at home doing nothing" a vacation consisting of actually leaving home and going to a National Park sounds like a restorative miracle. Since I'm basically centrally located, my travel plans could be pretty wide open in all directions. My approach is likely close to how most people will use both guides, and the great thing is that it works.

Naturally the photographs are spectacular because these are National Geographic guide. Furthermore, there is so much great information provided in the guide that is essential to planning any trip to a national park.

The 9th edition of National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States presents the parks in the Table of Contents by region: East, Midwest, South Central, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. This is followed by a section on using the guide, and after that is a map of the USA with the regions and parks marked. The guide has an index for quick referencing too and there is a map key located in the back of the book after the index. Each regional introduction includes a map of the whole region followed by the individual parks, which are presented in alphabetical order within the regions. Then there are individual maps of each park. Each of the park entries contains a description of the park. There is an information section for each park that offers details on finding the park, best times to visit, entrance fees, the location of the visitors center (a great source for brochures or information is also online), park headquarters, and information on where to stay, campgrounds or lodging. There are phone numbers, addresses, and website addresses provided. Each entry is followed by six suggestions for nearby excursions. After each region section is a wonderful Hit the Road section which helps with planning on visiting more than one park on your trip because many are in close proximity to each other. Also there are notes on special advisories that you need to keep in mind when visiting parks, such as stay away from wild animals, expect RV detours, and, especially important, know that cell phone service may be limited or not available, so don't expect to rely on your cell phone.

Once you have your trip planned, pull out the 2nd edition of National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks: The Experts' Guide to the Best Experiences Beyond the Tourist Trail and look for the secrets and less traveled areas along you planned trip. The guide is organized into the same regions as National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States: East, Midwest, South Central, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. After the Table of Contents, there is a map of the USA with the parks marked in the How to Use this Guide opening section. For each of the parks in the guide, there are lesser known experiences, places to visit that are less crowded, hard-to-find sights, and other secrets known by the local park rangers, outfitters, and guides who know the parks the best. Every national park is not included, but there are enough to make this a valuable companion to the National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of these guides from National Geographic for TLC Book Tours

TLC Tour schedule


Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Night Always Comes

The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin
4/6/21; 224 pages

The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin is a very highly recommended, heartbreaking, working class drama of greed impacting the life of a young woman.

Lynette, 30, has been working three jobs for three years and is exhausted. She is trying to gather the money for a down payment on the dilapidated rental house she lives in with her mother, and her developmentally disabled brother Kenny in Portland, Oregon. The owner wants to sell the house and is going to give them a good deal if they want to buy it. Lynette has a bad credit rating, but if her mother can provide some of the down payment and cosign the loan, the three of them will have the security they have never had before and a chance to fix up the house. That was the plan, but at the last minute her mother backs out, putting money down on a new car instead, setting Lynette out to collect on the money she has loaned others in order to get the whole down payment on her own.

This brief novel is set over just two days and nights and follows Lynette's quest for the money they need. The night is a long, tortuous, violent, and desperate hunt that puts her in contact with greedy men, prostitution, hustlers, cons, abusers, users, and others who prey upon the vulnerable. As she is trying to gather the money she needs, she is also keeping track of how easily her car starts. As the night goes on flashbacks will tell Lynette's backstory which provides even more depth and understanding of what this young woman has endured.

Lynette is a character you will fiercely care about and worry over her safety. I can't remember a character whose story totally consumed me like Lynette's did. Obviously, to care so much about a fictional character clearly shows that this character is very well-developed. This is a novel of the working class and how the American Dream seems unattainable; for many people working two jobs and wearing yourself down is a daily fact of life.

The writing was absolutely flawless. As we follow Lynette in her search, The Night Always Comes seized my attention and evoke all the emotions. The ending was perfect and provided a measure of hope. Even though the plot seems simple, this is one of the best books I have read. It will certainly be on my list of top novels of the year and I will be seeking out and reading other novels by Vlautin.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Dead Air

Dead Air by Michael Bradley
6/9/20; 288 pages
CamCat Publishing

Dead Air by Michael Bradley is a recommended thriller featuring a secret past, a stalker and revenge.

Kaitlyn Ashe is a radio personality in Philadelphia with a popular show and a devoted boyfriend. She is finally settling down and feels comfortable enough to buy a house. Unknown to those who know her, she has been running from a secret since her teens, but now it seems someone who knows her past is stalking her and taunting her with notes referencing her secret past. The anonymous letters, consisting of words cut out from printed material, are arriving at an increased pace and all reference "the shallows". Kaitlyn is hesitant to share them with her boyfriend, let alone the police, but the letters have her hands shaking when they appear. Who could know about Kaitlyn's past, the shallows, and an REO Speedwagon song she will never play.

The narrative is told through three different points of view, the stalker, Kaitlyn, and Rodney, a police detective. The novel also includes a subplot about a serial killer operating in Philadelphia. As a DJ, Bradley has an insider's view and information about Kaitlyn's job, which adds realism to the details in the novel. While I was interested in the plot throughout the story, I did figure out who was the stalker and who was likely the serial killer. This didn't detract from following the story, but it did lessen the tension. I kept reading hoping to get some of the various details presented in the plot that were never fully explained. Some of the details are revealed, some are underwhelming, and some were never really broached again. Character development was adequate - nothing special.

I was put off by the stalker dropping cigarette butts everywhere, even to the point of leaving piles of them. Really? You are trying to be secret and you do that? For all the other care taken that seemed incongruous. While there were a couple other incidences that seemed inconsistent with facts and known procedures, there were also several heart-stopping moments and shocking surprises. In the end Dead Air was an engaging novel with some uneven writing and plot development.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of CamCat Publishing via Edelweiss.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Tell No Lies

Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan
3/30/21; 432 pages
MIRA Books
Quinn & Costa #2 

Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan is a very highly recommended procedural and the second novel featuring detective Kara Quinn and FBI agent Matt Costa.

A young college intern is killed when out looking for a copper refinery's toxic waste dump site that she believes is responsible for a number of dead birds she has found in the area. Her death brings in FBI agent Matt Costa and a team to quietly, undercover, investigate the copper mine and their waste removal company. Included in Costa's team is Detective Kara, who finds an undercover job as a bartender, and Michael Harris, a former Navy SEAL who takes a job at the refinery. The refinery owner's son becomes an informant and Kara becomes friends with him at the bar in order to keep an eye on him.

The undercover case becomes more complicated when another death occurs and suddenly the case may be about more than toxic waste dumping. It becomes evident that there are even more nefarious activities going on in the area that are dark and disturbing. The team must figure out if all the disturbing evidence and clues are tied together with the refinery dumping or if they have even more illegal activity going on in the area.

Tell No Lies is a sequel to The Third to Die, which was on my list of the best procedurals of 2020. Although this is a very different case and the novel has a comparatively slightly slower pace at times, it is still features a wonderfully entangled, intricate plot with timely events happening. Tell No Lies can be read as a stand-alone novel as Brennan provides enough background information while providing more character development. Personally, I could have done without the relationship between Matt and Kara heating up, but on the other hand it worked well as a part of the over all plot. They both continue to be great characters.

The writing is excellent and will hold your complete attention from start to finish. The overall narrative presents a solid, meticulous mystery and the investigation follows the clues in an orderly, logical manner. Because this is a sophisticated novel that demands you closely follow the clues and action in the plot, you have to pay attention while reading. You'll also need to keep track of all the characters and their stories. While you might be able to predict parts of the ending, you won't know all of it and will experience several heart-stopping moments when the action is overwhelming.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Bounty

The Bounty by Janet Evanovich, Steve Hamilton
3/23/21; 320 pages
Atria Books
Fox and O'Hare Series #7

The Bounty by Janet Evanovich and Steve Hamilton is a highly recommended action/adventure thriller.

Special agent Kate O’Hare and international con man Nick Fox work together using their strengths to solve cases. The two have been sent to the Vatican to work with Interpol and the Vatican stop a would be thief, but when the item stolen is not what was expected and is instead a map and, even more shockingly, the thief is identified as Nick's father, Quentin, the hunt is on to find Quentin. When he is found, it becomes clear that more is going than Interpol knows. There is an international organization looking for $30 billion in Nazi gold, and there is a race to find it before they do. Kate and Nick work with Quentin, and Jake, Kate's father, a professor and a retire British officer work together to find the clues and decipher what they mean. At the same time they have a group of bad guys after them at every step. The key is to find clues hidden across Europe, keep them away from the bad guys, and put them together to find where the gold is hidden.

The Bounty is one of those action/adventure thrillers that requires you to totally suspend disbelief and ignore all the impossibilities that occur at every turn in order to enjoy the adventure. The group travels all over, have contacts and the ability to get what ever supplies that they need at every turn, and manage to be talented and knowledgeable do all the impossible things. I easily set aside my disbelief to enjoy the action that ranges from the Eiffel Tower, to the Swiss Alps, to Great Britain, to Austria, to Slovakia, and to the Sahara. This is a movie waiting to be filmed.

I've read one of the previous Fox and O'Hare novels. With series character development often occurs over several books. At this point those following the series know the characters and those of us who haven't followed every book have to accept that we don't know all the back story. This is easy to do as the action is the main event here and the characters are just the vehicle to get the action done. This is great escapism.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books.

Danger in Numbers

Danger in Numbers by Heather Graham
3/23/21; 336 pages
MIRA Books

Danger in Numbers by Heather Graham is a highly recommended thriller/procedural.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Amy Larson and her experienced partner of two years, John Schultz, are sent to investigate a horrendous ritualistic murder on the edge of the Everglades. The FBI quickly joins the investigation because of a similar ritualistic murder that occurred. FBI special agent Hunter Forrest join the two. Hunter has information and knowledge that will focus the investigation as he specializes in ritualistic killings, extremists, and the occult. When John has a heart attack, Amy joins Hunter in investigating the murder. Amy sketches every crime scene and her sketches helped focus the investigation as she often captures subtle nuances that can be overlooked when viewing crime scene photos. Hunter and Amy work together and quickly determine the direction their investigation will take.

Hunter is a better developed main character, however Amy is not given the same character development. She is known for her proclivity to draw crime scenes, but her artistic ability seems to be a bit over-stated as a sketch wouldn't necessarily capture everything it is purposed to be able to do in the plot. Ask anyone who actually is talented at drawing. Hunter has a whole backstory to shore up his character and give it some depth. Both characters are portrayed as intelligent and insightful, as well as attractive.

While the investigation will hold your attention, there were not the twists or surprises that one expects in a procedural thriller. It is a very familiar plot with no real surprises. The key to enjoyment is simply to read, follow the clues, and reach the conclusion. The fact that a cult is involved does make it more interesting and frightening. The side story set set in 1993 actually raised the rating of the novel for me and added at least something beyond the unremarkable, familiar plot. Honestly, I could do without the partners attraction to each other as I would prefer the investigators to concentrate on the actual investigation. 3.5

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books.

Taking the Fight South

Taking the Fight South: Chronicle of a Jew's Battle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Howard Ball
2/1/21; 280 pages
University of Notre Dame Press

Taking the Fight South: Chronicle of a Jew's Battle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Howard Ball is a highly recommended autobiography from 1976-1982

Howard Ball chronicles the six years, from 1976-1982, that he, his wife Carol, and his three young daughters moved from the Bronx to Starkville, Mississippi. Ball accepted a tenured position in the political science department at Mississippi State University. The move, like most moves across country, was a culture shock for the Jewish family from the Bronx and an awakening to the societal conditions in Mississippi during the civil rights struggles at that time. Ball, a historian and civil rights activist, did not shy away from the task set before him. He and Carol immersed themselves in the community working to make integration a reality rather than just a law. He was active with the Mississippi chapter of the ACLU. The family remained close to their Jewish faith in a heavily Protestant area and received threats for his activism.

This is a riveting historical biography set during a very specific time and place in America. It is important to note that Ball lived in Mississippi from 1976-1982, which means 40 years have passed since his experiences there and much has changed in the world. After finding his notes from his time in Mississippi, Ball set out to share his stories from his time in the deep South. The chapters are written as recollections of events that occurred during the time his family lived there and the struggles and obstacles they experienced.

Ball writes that Judaism asks that they observe and obey the law but also that they vigorously debate, discuss, and disagree with each other as well as take legal of political action to challenge it. This affirmation of justice has shaped both his character and the mission of his work. Taking the Fight South showcases Balls fight for social justice during his six years in Mississippi many year ago. "Distinguished historian and civil rights activist Howard Ball has written dozens of books during his career, including the landmark biography of Thurgood Marshall, A Defiant Life, and the critically acclaimed Murder in Mississippi, chronicling the Mississippi Burning killings."

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the University of Notre Dame Press.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Saving Grace

Saving Grace by Debbie Babitt
3/16/21; 328 pages
Penzler Publishers

Saving Grace by Debbie Babitt is a highly recommended (maybe) debut novel of suspense.

Set in two different time lines in the small town of Repentance, Arkansas, Saving Grace follows Mary Grace Dobbs' search for her salvation from her past. In 2019 Mary Grace is the first female sheriff and the single mother to Felicity. In 1995 Mary Grace was an eleven year old orphan living with her aunt and uncle when two of her sixth grade classmates went missing in an event that rocked the town. Mary Grace still has guilt over the events in 1995. Her long-held guilt could be over her temper, a bully who made her life difficult, her cousin who was sadistic to animals, or her feelings over her parent's death. When a man who was a suspect in 1995 returns in 2019, it brings a host of emotions across the town, especially when a sixth grade girl disappears.

While the story will hold your attention for the most part as you try to figure out why Mary Grace has so much guilt, the actual novel is a bit choppy and uneven. The narrative alternates between the events of 1995 and 2019. The switching back and forth in time as well as the tense, first and third person, was not as successful in this novel as it has been in others. There are enough hints and suggestions in both timelines that imply something awful is coming, which will keep you reading even during certain parts that seem repetitious and rather long-winded and slow.

Mary Grace is a character who is hard to analyze and get a read on why she feels so condemned all the time. In both timelines, Mary Grace constantly bemoans her cursed state and lack of salvation and you won't learn the reason why until the very end. Granted the ending is really a shocking twist and revelation, but getting there was a struggle at time. Part of the issue could be the constant referral to what she did, to her reprobate state, but then nothing, no disclosures, for so long that you begin to doubt that anything of any importance actually did happen to her beyond the typical adolescent traumas. Nothing is really what it seems.

Character development is actually following the same rocky road. Because you don't know why Mary Grace feels cursed and evil and you don't see any indication of her behaving that badly. It seems like she may just need some therapy and perhaps medication. At the same time the townspeople are really reduced to caricatures of a type rather than unique individuals. It also felt like there was a bit of stereotyping the residents of an area of the country. (3.5 rounded up)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penzler Publishers via Netgalley.

Search for Her

Search for Her by Rick Mofina
3/9/21; 512 pages
MIRA Books

Search for Her by Rick Mofina is a highly recommended twisty thriller

Grace Jarrett and John Marshall along with her daughter Riley and his son Blake are a blended family who are making a move across the country, from San Diego to Pennsylvania. Grace and John married two years previously after they both lost their first spouses and John a daughter due to tragedies. This move represents a big job advancement for John and a new start for the family, but 14 year-old Riley is upset about the move and being told to break up with her boyfriend, Caleb. Blake, seventeen, seems indifferent. As they start the trip in a rented RV, Grace confiscates Blake and Riley's phones so they will see the scenery rather than being glued to their screens resulting in Riley angrily stomps off to take a nap in the back.

As they enter Nevada, they decide to stop at the Silver Sagebrush, a huge truck stop complex. Grace makes the decision to allow Riley to keep sleeping and leaves her a note as the family goes inside. They return to the RV half-an-hour later and continue the trip. Grace asks Blake to check on Riley, which he pretends to do and then says she's sleeping. When Grace check a bit later, She realizes Riley's gone. John frantically tries to find a place to turn the RV around to return while Grace frantically calls the Silver Sagebrush to start the search for Riley. They are heading back when an accident totals the RV. All of this sets into motion a frantic search for Riley who can't be found at the truck stop as well as the exposure of secrets all the family members have been keeping.

Once the plot has been set into motion, the novel turns to part investigation and part family drama. There is no doubt that the intense drama and heart-stopping twists are all encompassing and will keep you glued to the pages. There are a few instances where you have to set disbelief aside, which you will easily do in order to follow the investigation. As a 14 year old missing from one of the largest truck stops in the country, she could be a prime target for all manner of nefarious deeds, so the main drama is the search for Riley. But you will also want to find out exactly what secrets the family is keeping since the existence of these huge secrets is teased all the way through the novel. The investigators question and look closely at the family members as suspects in Riley's disappearance.

The character development is secondary to the action and suspense. They are developed, but it is all at a measured pace and based on keeping the drama, tension, and suspense moving along at a fast pace. Mofina knows how to deliver the drama and suspense and that is what will keep you frantically reading to the end.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Hummingbird Salamander

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer
4/6/21; 368 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer is a highly recommended biotech speculative conspiracy thriller.

An unnamed security consultant “Jane Smith” is the narrator who states that is telling us the story of how the world ends. Jane receives an envelope with a note and a key to a storage unit. Inside the storage unit is a taxidermied hummingbird and a note from someone named Silvina with the words hummingbird ... salamander. Jane takes the hummingbird and begins to surreptitiously look into who Silvina is. Jane discovers the note was from Silvina Vilcacampa, a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of an Argentine industrialist. Her research, even though it was carefully undertaken, sets into motion a series of events that result in surveillance and danger from unseen and unknown enemies. Jane, though, is a strong, capable woman, physically and mentally, and she continues looking into Silvina's life even as the danger increases.

Hummingbird Salamander is an absolutely unique twisty thriller with a noir vibe. We have antagonists who are destroying the natural world and involved in exotic wildlife smuggling, but they aren't absolutely bad. We have protagonists who mean well, but are also running on the wrong side of the law. There are also endangered species, climate change, the approaching end of the world, a dark global conspiracy, and a host of unseen foes who want to stop anyone looking into any knowledge of whatever it is that Silvina was doing - but why? And the attacks are directed at everyone even remotely connected with Jane.

The thriller is extremely well written and carefully plotted to allow an increase of tension as the action carefully unfolds and the danger is ever present, ever increasing. The world described is certainly similar to the one we live in, although not entirely realistic, but in a future transmutation of the world. It is not a created new world/new reality. It does, at times have a sort of cinematic dream-like feeling. As if we are being shown the reality of what is behind the curtain, what could be a future.

Jane is a well-developed character, although not particularly likeable. She wouldn't care if you liked her either. She was a body builder, she is tall, strong, and already prepared with a go-bag to escape some threat. She is not afraid of defending her self. She does the unexpected in physical fights which put the men attacking her off-balance. She's in many ways a very good role model for women to be physically strong and mentally smart. On the other hand, she continues to call the large bag she carries "shovel pig" after her boss gave it that moniker. That's a little odd. But you will also follow Jane's actions with rapt attention right to the ultimate final revelations.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux via Netgalley

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Falling from Trees

Falling from Trees by Mike Fiorito
2/9/21; 136 pages
Apprentice House

Falling from Trees by Mike Fiorito is a recommended slim collection of short stories which all have science fiction elements.

These very brief speculative stories explore consciousness, identity, climate change, and the human condition. The collection consists of all soft science fiction stories with the focus more on the concept than the actual science. Admittedly, I generally appreciate hard science fiction stories more than the softer conceptual variety. The stories presented are also almost too brief. An interesting idea/concept/setting/character is introduced in a brief narrative, grabs your attention, and then it's over. Smith is the only recurring character who makes an appearance in four stories. The collection is entertaining and a quick read, while the success of the actual content of the stories was rather hit or miss for me.


Climbing Time  - Those with Asperger's lead the way when an alien species communicates through them.
The Love of a Dandelion - Colin loves drawing yellow suns.
The Thread - Aliens contact a man and tell him of their plans to save humans.
Twilight - The earth is annihilated with just a few random survivors.
Tiny Blue Oceans - A man is hopeful to overcome problems and find a way home as his capsule drifts between the earth and the moon.
Simulacrum - Roberto visits Lourdes.
Slow Time -  We follow the actions of a half man living with/in nature.
The Unending -  A man who lives by the tracks takes an odd late night ride on a train.
Everybody’s Perfect, Nobody’s Human -  A man attends a week long corporate event. Work will set you free.
The Purest Rain - A crew who left Earth evolves into one consisting of pure thought.
All of The Days - A couple is offered to have their son remain 6 forever.
The Three Bridges - An astrophysicist meets a magician.
The Long Way - Philip stops at the bakery to buy a loaf of bread.
A Star in Time - Willy and Smith talk about what they are going to do.
The Numbers Man -Smith walks into  Monroe's bar.
The Productions of Time - Smith visits the beach on the ocean.
Earth to Earth -Smith visits the Mojave desert.
Pale Leviathan - The heat is unbearable as climate change marches on.
Skies of Hell Flames - A dysfunctional couple drinks and argues.
Tomorrow’s Ghost -Liddy has reoccurring dreams of an alien while his wife is away at a climate conference.
Storytime - Twlf reads a story about earth to her son Pflx.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes from Apprentice House and TLC

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Good Eggs

Good Eggs by Rebecca Hardiman
3/2/21; 336 pages
Atria Books

Good Eggs by Rebecca Hardiman is a highly recommended farcical over-the-top family drama.

The Gogarty family is the manifestation of a real life Irish soap opera. The matriarch, eighty-three -year-old Millie, is a bad driver who has shoplifted one too many times at a local shop. The police are called and Mille is hauled into the station to wait for her fifty-year-old son, Kevin, to come in and talk to the police. The result of her shoplifting is that she must have a caretaker to keep an eye on her. Kevin finds Sylvia, an American, to keep an eye on Millie and take care of her, much to Millie's chagrin.

Kevin has his own issues. Unemployed, he is now the parent in charge of the family of four children, three living at home, while his wife, Grace supports the family and often has to travel for work. Their daughter Aideen, is a moody, recalcitrant teen who is sent off to a boarding school. Once there she befriends the school rebel. Kevin, however, has eyes for the school receptionist and sets out to have an affair. In the meantime, Millie and Sylvia eventually get along enough that Millie lends her a large sum of money.

That is just part of the events that make Good Eggs a campy, slapstick drama of preposterous proportions. This is not a novel to take too seriously. If you do, you will be very disappointed in it. Every event is a dramatic ordeal while the dialogue, especially anything Millie says, is exaggerated and melodramatic. Kevin is whiny and always feels beleaguered upon as he has to be the one to care for the family. You won't actually hear about him doing much caring or cleaning, however, but you will hear him complain, deal with Aideen and Millie, and lust over the young receptionist. Ultimately, Hardiman does demonstrate how much her characters care for one another.

The only characters that really have any development are Millie, Kevin, and Aideen. Millie and Aideen are the best developed of the three, but since the plot is decidedly comedic and even ludicrous at times, I didn't expect a whole lot of serious character development, especially after I started the novel and realized that the characters are presented more as caricatures. Millie's actions and words are often so absurd that they border on the ludicrous. Good Eggs is a comical, entertaining novel with some small serious keen insights, but mostly it is just a diverting lively romp with three generations of an Irish family.  

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books

Monday, February 15, 2021


Maniac by Harold Schechter
3/9/21; 254 pages
Little A

Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer by Harold Schechter is a highly recommended account of a horrendous historical crime.

In 1927 one of the worst mass murders in history occurred in Bath Michigan. On May 18th Andrew P. Kehoe set off a series of planned explosions at the Bath Consolidated School that killed 38 children and 6 adults. He also killed his wife, horses, and set fire to his farm. Then Kehoe loaded his truck with shrapnel and explosives and drove to the school. He called the school superintendent over to his truck and then blew up his truck, killing both of them while the shrapnel caused even more injuries to bystanders. It was clear in hindsight at the inquest, that Kehoe was an angry man. He was especially angry about the new property taxes levied to build the school.

Kehoe was a local farmer and the school board treasurer. He was often called in to look at mechanical problems, so he had access to the school. He had purchased a huge quantity of explosives, dynamite and Pyrotol, to be used in his explosions. At the school he set the clock on his device to explode at 9:45 AM, when the school would be full of children. Shockingly, it was discovered that only part of his explosives actually exploded causing the north wing of the school to collapse rather than the entire building.

Schechter does an excellent job setting the historical context of this account of one of the deadliest school massacres in U.S. history. For example, the explosion happened on the same day Charles Lindbergh took off in The Spirit of St. Louis. He also looks into the background of Kehoe, who was born on February 1, 1872. As the first son following six daughters, he was expected to excel. There were several early incidences that point to early indications of his mental state. Although there isn't much information about his life, Schechter presents what he uncovers leading up to the madness that lead to his abominable actions. This is a book that is sure to attract true crime readers.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Little A via Netgalley.

We Begin at the End

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
3/2/21; 384 pages
Henry Holt & Company

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker is a very highly recommended exceptional, tragic drama/thriller featuring a broken and dysfunctional family. This novel is unforgettable and is sure to be one of the best books of 2021.

Thirty years ago seven-year-old Sissy Radley was accidentally killed by fifteen-year-old Vincent King. Vincent was sent to a men's prison for thirty years and is now being released. His best friend at that time was Walk, who is now Police Chief Walker of Cape Haven, a small tourist town on the California coast. Walk is planning to pick up Vincent and bring him home. He grew up with Vincent and Star Radley, the older sister of Sissy and Vincent's girlfriend at that time. Since that time Walk has tried to look after Star, whose life has taken a downward spiral into self-destruction with drinking and drugs. Star is the negligent mother of 13 year-old Duchess and five-year-old Robin. Walk is medicated, suffering from a progressive medical condition that he has never told anyone about.

Duchess is a self proclaimed outlaw - the outlaw Duchess Day Radley - but also the one who cares for her younger brother Robin and tries to look after her mother, Star. Walk, in turn, tries to watch out for Duchess and Robin, along with Star. Local kids make fun of Duchess and Robin, but Duchess will fight back, hard. She's used to fighting for herself and her family and doesn't feel the need to follow rules. Both Walk and Duchess expect the worst to happen as that is what has always been the case. When Star ends up murdered and it appears Vincent is responsible, both Walk and Duchess begin to look for the truth. Developer Dickie Darke is the prime suspect for both of them. When Duchess and Robin are sent to Montana to live with their grandfather, Hal Radley, a man they never met, Duchess knows Darke will be looking for her.

Set in 2005, this is a breathtaking, heartbreaking literary novel, vast in scope and emotional depth. The plot is intricate, authentic, and perfectly plotted and paced. In We Begin at the End Whitaker has written a thriller, murder mystery, family drama, and love story. It is a quest for retribution, friendship, a tale of personal sacrifice, and, ultimately, allows a sense of hope. This is the kind of memorable novel that will leave an indelible mark and stay with you long after it is over. The writing and descriptions are

Part of the enduring nature of the narrative is due to the character development. It is absolutely impeccable and all of these characters will make a mark on you and will be remembered for a long time. Duchess, the angry teen, is the main character whose fierceness and fury is justified, yet dangerous. She is the one protecting what remains of her family and clutches hard to her moniker of an outlaw. Her care for Robin is heartbreaking, as she tries to protect him from all the bitter truths in their lives. Walk is also and incredible character and you will feel his emotional struggle, his desire to make everything alright, his need for a happy ending, for closure while he is facing a future struggle he won't divulge. The ending is perfect, heartbreaking, yet hopeful.

(There was one odd flaw in an otherwise masterful novel that most will overlook. When Whitaker mentioned the "priest" at Hal's Baptist church several times, I was taken aback and wondered how a writer could make an error like this - until I saw Whitaker is from the UK and it all made perfect sense. FYI: a minister at a Baptist church is normally called a reverend or pastor. Since I read an advanced readers copy, this could have been corrected but it also made me respect even more how he captured the specific settings in the novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Henry Holt & Company.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Oslo, Maine

Oslo, Maine by Marcia Butler
3/2/21; 288 pages
Central Avenue Publishing

Oslo, Maine by Marcia Butler is a recommended quirky character-driven novel set in a small Maine town.

This is a story that involves a moose, a twelve-year-old boy, and three families in a small town in rural Maine named Oslo. The story begins when a female moose enters the rural area of Oslo and is caught in a trap. This event sets into motion a heartbreaking chain of events that result in an accident where twelve-year-old Pierre Roy loses his memory. His parents, Claude and Celine are struggling to cope with their son's memory loss. Claude grapples with acknowledging his son's injury and the cause of it. Celine takes pills to cope. Pierre loves reading and his life changing violin lessons with neighbor Sandra Kimbrough. She and her husband, Jim, are both musicians and live next door. Edna Sibley, is a wealthy widow whose has asked Claude to take her grandson Luc on as a mentor. Luc is a bit slow, perhaps on the spectrum, and Edna thinks he needs a male role model. Edna also advises the Roy's on appropriate books for Pierre to read.

The plot is quite simple as the focus of the narrative is the characters. Their relationships and interactions with one another highlight how very different and disparate these characters are from each other. They are all dealing with to some extent duplicity, trauma, marriage problems, trust, secrets, and health issues. Pierre is the one character that readers will roundly care about and wish the best for him and his recovery. The accident he experienced was unfortunate, but the reactions to it are heartbreaking. Edna is also a sympathetic character, but she is not as present in the story as Pierre. Beyond Pierre, the character that is the most maligned and sympathetic is the moose, but be forewarned this isn't a gentle giant quietly watching the foibles of the humans. This moose, or her calf, is abused or at risk at every turn and it is disturbing, which must be set aside in order to follow the plot.

The desire to see what happens to Pierre is what kept me reading after the first incident of animal abuse occurred. While I appreciated the conclusion of the novel, there were many head-shaking moments of people behaving badly that I had to overcome to get there. Yeah, I think it all turned out better for the characters at the end (not the moose) but I'm not sure I completely enjoyed the journey getting to there. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Central Avenue Publishing 

Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not by Alexandra Oliva
3/2/21; 352 pages
Random House Publishing Group

Forget Me Not by Alexandra Oliva is a highly recommended unique thriller set in the near future.

In a secluded walled-off twenty acre property in rural Washington Linda Russell's mother, Lorelei Niequist, artificially conceived Linda in an attempt to replace her deceased daughter, Madeline. It became clear that Linda was not a replica of Madeline, and from the point of that realization, Linda was basically abandoned and left to raise herself. Linda often thinks of her twin, Emmer, who disappeared when they were young. She doesn't know what happened but thinks Linda may have killer her. If Lorelei was present, she made her disdain clear and often told Linda to make herself scarce. Eventually she all but disappeared while still having food delivered for Linda. Then at age twelve, something scared Linda enough that she climbed the fence and made her way to town. From that point on, she was known as the Clone Girl and was brutally introduced to the modern world via social media. Her wealthy father, Arthur Niequist, who knew nothing of the artificial conception, is trying to do what he thinks is best for this daughter he never knew existed.

Now Linda is twenty-four and known as Linda Russell. She lives a quiet, withdrawn, controlled existence in Seattle, trying to go out at times crowds are fewer to draw no attention to herself. When/if she is identified, photographed, and it goes out on social media, she receives threats and will have to move again for her safety. In the world now people wear arm-wrapping "sheaths" that act as phones, fitbits, cameras, trackers, etc., and the only social media is SocialHub. When she has a new neighbor move in next door, Anvi Hendrickson, Linda is extremely reluctant to respond to her friendly overtures, but Anvi has a dog, Nibbler, that Linda wants desperately to pet. Linda's burgeoning friendship with Anvi becomes life changing, especially in light of what happens to her next, after her childhood home catches fire and she is thrust back into the news.

The narrative is told through Linda's point-of-view, drafts of messages Lorelei sent to Arthur, and Anvi's thoughts. It is clear that Lorelei is mentally ill and her unraveling is evident in her treatment of Linda and her messages to Arthur. We slowly learn why Linda is the way she is, what her childhood experiences were and how she is living now. Her anxiety comes through the pages and you can feel her tension, her nervousness, her anxiety, her fear. When Linda meets Anvi, you will feel wary along with Linda, cautious about this friendly stranger. Oliva's character development mimics Linda's watchful, circumspect approach to life and it serves the novel well. While we meet the characters we are judicious when considering their character and intentions.

The plot held my attention throughout and the novel is well-paced. Linda's suspicion and caution is clearly reflected in the novel and your reaction to the events going on will mirror this reaction. Oliva's ability to manipulate the readers emotions to approach the plot with this same caution through her use of a present-tense narrative is incredibly intuitive. I didn't realize this until after I was finished, and applaud the intelligence and skill involved in the choice of this presentation. I loved Oliva's previous novel, The Last One, and while I loved many aspects of Forget Me Not, I did think the sub-plot featuring GH could have been left out, even though the end of this thread was noteworthy. 

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

Sunday, February 7, 2021

The Truth About Melody Browne

The Truth About Melody Browne by Lisa Jewell
1/26/21; 352 pages
Pocket Books

The Truth About Melody Browne by Lisa Jewell is a highly recommended novel about a woman recovering past memories. 

Melody Browne's house burned down when she was nine years old and at that point the trauma of the experience erased all of her previous memories. Now, at age thirty three, Melody has a son, Ed, who is about to turn eighteen and she hasn't seen or spoken to her parents since she was fifteen and pregnant. At this time she also met her best friend, Stacey, who was also a teen about to become a mother. Stacey and her family became sort of an extended family to Melody and Ed since Melody doesn't know of any other family members.

Then, unexpectedly, Melody accepts a date to a hypnotist's show where she is chosen to participate on the stage. When she is put back to sleep after one segment, she ends up fainting and is out cold. When she recovers, she unexpectedly begins to remember memories and pieces of her past and people, none of which seem to have a tie to her life after the fire. These recovered flashes of memories start her on a journey to discover her life before age nine and how these recollections reflect on her forgotten childhood.

The narrative switches back and forth in time, telling Melody's present day story and the story of her lost childhood. In the present, she slowly begins to recover memories and put together clues from the increasing number of memories coming back to her. The flashes from her past combine with her intuition when she sees something familiar which helps Melody slowly reclaim past memories. The narrative from her childhood highlights the instability and trauma in her childhood that may have led to her amnesia, but the memories also highlight those who cared about her at that time. Jewell keeps the pace moving along at an even pace and the plot is interesting in both time periods. FYI: This is a re-release from an earlier published novel.

The character of Melody is well-developed and interesting both as an adult and a child. Although it's not overly stressed, it is clear why trauma in her childhood might also have resulted in her reticence as an adult to expand her circle of friends, but it is also clear that as a child she had a number of people who cared about her and her well being. One thing didn't necessarily ring true for me. Most teenage boys aren't going to allow all the hugging and face touching from their mothers, no matter how close they are, that Ed was fine receiving from Melody. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Wednesday, February 3, 2021


Foregone by Russell Banks
3/2/21; 320 pages

Foregone by Russell Banks is a highly recommended novel where a dying man shares memories from the early part of his life.

"Except for his memories, all living traces of his past, all the witnesses and evidence, have been erased by years of betrayal, abandonment, divorce, annulment, flight, and exile, eaten by time the way his body is being eaten by cancer."

Canadian American Leonard Fife is dying from cancer in Montreal. Now in his late seventies, he fled American and went to Canada many years earlier to avoid serving in Vietnam. He became a lauded documentary filmmaker in Canada. Now one of his former students, Malcolm MacLeod, is going to film Fife in a last interview about his famous films and how they were made. Fife has another plan. He is going to confess all his secrets and tell the real story of his life to the camera, while speaking to his wife, Emma. In a room of his apartment prepared for the interview, Fife sits under a focused light in his wheelchair while on a morphine drip with his nurse nearby.

Rather than answering questions posed to him by Malcolm, he insists his wife Emma be present so he can confess the true story of his life before they met. "[H]e’s telling his tale to his wife, Emma, because he wants to be known by her, the one person who has said many times over that she loves him for who he is, regardless of who he is. Perhaps most importantly, for the same reason, he’s telling it to himself- because before he dies he wants to be known to himself, regardless of who he is." Then Fife begins his story before he cam to Canada, when he was married, had a son, and wanted to be an author.

As Fife shares his story in the narrative it becomes clear that his memories may not be quite as coherent or cohesive as he thinks they are to his audience and readers will ultimately wonder what memories are just in his mind and what he is actually sharing. At the beginning the memories Fife shares seem realistic and trustworthy to the reader, through Fife's point-of-view, but then his memories begin to flicker to other events at different times and the realism of his recollections is not so straightforward. Fife is dying. We know this from the start and Fife knows that death is imminent. The thoughts in his head that we learn through the confession he wants to share make him a sympathetic character. As the narrative continues it becomes clear that that his illness and medication may result in the fact that Fife is an unreliable narrator.

This is a compelling story of a dying man sharing his memories. In between his story are interjections from his wife, nurse and others in the room. Their discussions make is clear that what they are hearing is not necessarily what we are reading. Can our memories of our past be trusted or are we our best editors? This is a character study of a man that may not be entirely trustworthy, but these are the stories he wanted to share before he died.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Silent Speak

The Silent Speak by Val Collins
2/23/21; 276 pages
Val Collins Books

The Silent Speak by Val Collins is a recommended mystery/whodunit.

Aoife Walsh is in a relationship with Detective Conor Moloney. His teenage son Blaine enjoys her young daughter Amy, but is still withdrawn and sullen around Aoife. Conor and Aoife plan to marry after her divorce from her manipulative husband Jason is finalized, but she doesn't want to announce any engagement. She hopes she can have some kind of good, or at least cordial relationship with Blaine, but it currently seems doubtful.

When she hears the horrific news that an entire family has been violently murdered, she is shocked to hear that the two parents were in her book club. The police believe it was a murder-suicide, but the sister of the husband/father is sure that he would never do such a horrendous act. The sister, Lisa, is not getting information or answers from the police so she wants Aoife to investigate. Lisa knows that Aoife is still a part time freelance journalist, so she will give her an exclusive story if Aoife can uncover what really happened. It is an offer that Aoife can't turn down, so she begins to look into the murders.

The Silent Speak is a fast-paced whodunit that can be read as a standalone novel even though there is apparently a previous book featuring Aoife. There are plenty of twists and you will certainly keep reading to see what happens next. There are plenty of suspects as Aoife conducts her investigation and keeps uncovering more and more information that the police apparently may have missed. It becomes even more serious when another death occurs and it is clear that it wasn't a murder-suicide and the murderer is still at large.

This is an enjoyable novel, although there are numerous times you will also have to set your disbelief aside. This would include that a young part-time freelance journalist with a very young daughter would, quite frankly, have the time to do this, uncover new information so quickly, and that she would manage to get people to talk to her so freely. Character development is also light, but that could be due to previous books featuring the characters. It does have twists in the plot and plenty of suspects, though, so it is enjoyable escapism.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Val Collins Books

Missing and Endangered

Missing and Endangered by J. A. Jance
2/16/21; 384 pages
Joanna Brady Series #19

Missing and Endangered by J. A. Jance is a highly recommended procedural and the nineteenth installment of the series featuring Joanna Brady.

Joanna Brady, the sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona, has one of her officers, Deputy Armando Ruiz, shot while he was trying to serve a no-contact order to Leon Hogan. Hogan is shot so an investigation into the shooting begins even while Ruiz is rushed into surgery. Joanna has a feeling that more is involved in the case than what is initially evident, and she fears for the two young children who were on the scene along with Hogan's soon-to-be ex-wife. At the same time Joanna's daughter, Jennifer is at Northern Arizona University for her sophomore year. She is going to bring home for Christmas vacation her roommate Beth Rankin, who has a relationship with her parents. Joanna and her husband Butch Dixon also have two younger children.

While Joanna is closely following the Hogan case as much as she can, Jennifer is increasingly concerned about Beth, who is involved with her first boyfriend via late-night phone calls. She met him online and is clearly besot with him. The problem is that she was sheltered from real life and is incredibly naive. It becomes clear that Beth is in trouble, which opens up a whole other set of concerns.

This is actually my first Joanna Brady novel and I liked it. It is a comfortable procedural that follows a predictable formula. That isn't implying that it is not compelling, it is. The plot is well paced and the two different story lines will hold your attention throughout the novel. Joanna juggles a busy home life with a busy career and does her best to do everything she can to manage both. It must also be said that she has some help to handle her home life.

Obviously, character development has occurred over many previous novels, so, although it was adequate here, those who are following the series won't need more and will like the new developments. There was enough background provided to easily understand the character's backstory and history. I'm certain fans of the series will love this latest novel and for those new to the series it can be read as a stand-alone novel. (I wasn't particularity thrilled with yet another negative portrayal of homeschooling. Get over your prejudice. It works - and surely we've moved past this now, especially in light of the many options currently available and the many parents being thrust into the role of teacher without a lot of preparation in 2020.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

The Burning Girls

The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor
2/9/21; 352 pages
Random House Publishing Group 

The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor is a highly recommended psychological thriller packed with plenty of bait and switch clues.

Reverend Jack Brooks, a widow with a fourteen-year-old daughter, Flo, has been ordered to leave Nottingham and go to to fill a sudden vacancy in the village of Chapel Croft as an interim vicar. The Sussex village has a dark history as the site where Protestant martyrs were betrayed and burned five hundred years ago. There is a local tradition of making dolls out of twigs, which are called burning girls, and leaving them on the church grounds. The ominous atmosphere in the village continues as thirty years ago two teenage girls disappeared and the previous vicar hanged himself in the church. When Jack arrives she is left a welcome package of an exorcism kit with a warning note.

The village is as glum and the atmosphere is as foreboding as the history portends. The cottage they move into is dilapidated, dark, and dank. The town is hardly a relaxing village vicarage post. It is full of strange sometimes hostile characters, horrible secrets covering centuries, odd occurrences, and it becomes increasingly menacing. As Jack begins to meet people and learn more about the village, Flo also meets the locals while out taking photographs, including Lucas Wrigley, a teen with dystonia who's bullied by the others, and two of the teens who bully him.

The plot is perfectly paced in this taut nerve-racking suspense. Tudor does an excellent job slowly upping the suspense, introducing one more clue, another odd occurrence, a further piece of history, a new twist, all while moving her characters through the plot as the tone of the narrative becomes increasingly strained, uneasy, and ultimately dangerous. The increasing tension will keep you glued to the pages trying to follow the clues to figure out who is trustworthy and what is really happening in this creepy village. The threat is real, but where is it coming from? Once you hit the last third of the novel you will not be able to put it down and the scenes leading up to the final denouement will actually surprise you.

The narrative alternates between the point of view of Jack and Flo, which works very well in this novel. The two keep many incidents and information they come across to themselves rather than telling each other everything, or at least some of the more egregious events that occur. This helps increase the tension and sense of foreboding as the novel progresses.

While this is a remarkable psychological thriller, for me the enjoyment of the suspense was marred by the fact that I didn't enjoy the character of Jack and this never really slackened throughout the novel. Flo is a perfectly developed teenager and I liked her character, but Jack kept saying things that were off-putting to me. The two have a believable relationship, although there were some things that seemed unlikely, like Jack not telling Flo about her family background.

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