Tuesday, November 30, 2021


Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds by Michael Knowles
6/22/21; 256 pages
Regnery Publishing

Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds by Michael Knowles is a very highly recommended, intelligent, thoughtful, and engrossing examination of how political correctness has distorted our use of language resulting in a change in our culture and how we view the world. This change in language and meaning did not come about through natural linguistic development. It has been a cultural assault planned and carried out by liberal academic and bureaucratic extremists who created the new words, there meaning, and how we should react. Then the new acceptable term and our expected reactions have been repeated verbatim by almost all journalists. Watching this and noticing the repetition of the same exact wording by so called journalists has been eye-opening and frightening. Decades of incompetence on both sides has permitted political correctness to invert our culture. The Culture War is over, and we have all lost.

The right are criticized because they allowed this to happen. All cultures cancel some ideas and things over time. The current problem is with what is canceled and why, along with who establishes the standards. The problem is a very small percentage of the population is radically trying to changing the culture without any sort of cultural agreement on these changes or set agreed upon standards. Conservatives need to summon the courage to speak up for the enforcement of their own standards of speech minus the politically correct standards set by the liberals. 

There is so much more to Knowles discussion which will be appreciated by anyone who is an intellectual, appreciates a dense discussion with a plethora of quotes, footnotes, and sources, and can think for themselves about current cultural changes. Knowles provides in the appendix a glossary of jargon, a list of works cited, a copious section of notes, and a helpful index. This would make a great gift.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Word Wars

Word Wars: How Attack on Meaning Robs You of Free Speech by Morgan Moore
11/3/21: 85 pages
Part of the Life and Liberty Series

Word Wars: How Attack on Meaning Robs You of Free Speech by Morgan Moore is a very highly recommended short booklet on the freedom of speech.

Moore makes the clear and compelling case that freedom of speech and thought is essential for democracy and ensures a life of liberty. It is up to all of us to protect speak up and protect our rights. A very small segment of our society is currently challenging the freedom of speech for everyone. It is obvious at work and in everyday life. We need to lose the idea that a small elite group can be the thought police for everyone believing their moral stance is superior, while the majority of people are simply working, caring for their families and getting through the day.

I appreciated the fact that Moore pointed out negotiating meaning is our human thing and it is what we have always done together as a society until now. The current postmodern fear-infatuated culture, prone to safetyism and emotional reasoning, has taken control. This culture doesn't like debate or discussion, displays bureaucratic controlism, and equates emotional discomfort with actual danger. Also covered is the loss of integrity and honesty in the mainstream media, and he brings up the question I continually ask, which is why my intrinsic biological identity now has to be erased.

The Seventh Disease

The Seventh Disease by David Shobin
12/7/21; 260 pages
Crossroad Press

The Seventh Disease by David Shobin is a recommended thriller.

Opening with two men coming to an agreement on how to proceed in a plan covering a generation to start a new pandemic, but be the ones who have the cure available, The Seventh Disease then slows down to a slow crawl for the first half of the novel where the focus is on Dr. Sean Arrington, a Long Island physician and family man. From the beginning Arrington has been unknowingly used by a biochemist in the development of the virus. As his genetic material is needed again before the virus is unleashed on the world, Arrington is suddenly able to piece together that something isn't right. In this case, though, his knowledge could lead to his death.

It must be said again that after an imagination-catching start, the novel then s-l-o-w-s down. This might have been acceptable if Arrington was a complex, personable, likable character, but he just isn't that appealing even though he thinks he is, which was part of the problem. Almost all the women are caricatures and not real people. Let me just say you can tell a man wrote the book and all the descriptions of women were annoying and based on their appearance. The bad guys are also archetypal characters, which I'll accept in their case.

The novel does jump between the present day and back in time, but it is easy to follow what timeline the chapter is in. Once the plague is unleashed, the action picks up, which redeems some of the first half of the book. At this point in the novel you can easily set all disbelief aside as all you're looking for is the race to stop the outbreak. Recommended just for the thrills.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crossroad Press.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Bright Burning Things

Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding
12/7/21; 336 pages

Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding is a highly recommended and emotional literary fiction about addiction and rehabilitation.

Sonya lives for her son Tommy, rescue dog Herbie, and drinking. Her previous career as a London stage actress is over, as is her relationship with Tommy's father, but she knows her love is all Tommy needs. What she doesn't recognize is her love of alcohol is resulting in blackouts, and she is grossly neglecting her son. After a neighbor informs him about her neglect and a terrifying incident, her father, whom she hasn't seen in years, comes to her home with the choice of going to rehab or risk losing Tommy forever. Sonya enters a 12 week program and Tommy is put into care. Now she faces finishing rehab and staying sober, so she get her son back. 

This is a difficult novel to read, especially at the beginning because Sonya is a mess and completely unlikable, unpredictable, and obviously neglecting Tommy. Even though you know she loves him and is trying to make life fun and magical for Tommy, it is also clear that with her drinking and blackouts, he would be better off with someone who could take care of him. Her thoughts are manic, scattered, and disorganized; she doesn't remember when or if she fed Tommy and Herbie. She relies on Herbie to watch Tommy. It is horrifying. Once Sonya enters rehab and starts detox you hope she sticks with the program for Tommy's sake.

The characters are all complex and flawed, many of them deeply flawed. The narrative is heartbreaking throughout. This is one of those novels that it might be best to prepare yourself for reading because it is so emotionally disturbing and tragic. Even when it seems that there may be hope, it is clear that Sonya will always be struggling and, perhaps, is not a good judge of character. You will hope there is redemption in the end but it is clear that nothing is guaranteed and her current choices might be due to deeper issues from her past. The ending is sudden and resolves nothing. 3.5 rounded up

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

I'll Never Tell

I'll Never Tell by Casey Kelleher
12/3/21; 250 pages

I'll Never Tell by Casey Kelleher is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Alessia has a wonderful life with her husband, Carl, and their young son, Jacob. After her past, which she keeps secret, she never thought she would have this current life of satisfaction and happiness. When a brick with a note tied around it is thrown through a front window, she immediately realizes that her current life is under attack. The note said "Found You" and it is followed quickly by other frightening occurrences that point to Alessia's past coming back to haunt her. She is sure her childhood friend, Sarah, is responsible.

The narrative unfolds through two different timelines in chapters headed as "Now" and "Then" with 20 years separating the action. Emma-Jayne, 12, had a friend named Sarah, 10, and the two played in an abandoned house they called the doll house. Something terrible happened there. Emily-Jayne keeps telling the police that Sarah did it, but they don't believe her. She is the one who was sent to an institution until she was 18. After this, she changed her name and lived a quiet, unassuming life. Meeting Carl was something she never thought would happen in her life.

This is a short, fast-paced novel and Alessia is, in general, a believable character although you will question some of her actions which seem illogical. There is a lot of sympathy for both Alessia and young Emma-Jayne. It becomes clear in both timelines that they are unreliable narrators.  The plot is interesting, but after a few chapter you will be able to figure out what is going on. Soon you will be able to predict who is responsible for the harassment and just need to get to the end to see if you were right. Likely you will be correct. Setting the predictability of the plot aside, there will be a few twists and surprises. You will also have to set aside some disbelief in order to enjoy the novel. 3.5 rounded up.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bookouture.

Nanny Dearest

Nanny Dearest by Flora Collins
11/30/21; 336 pages
MIRA Books

Nanny Dearest by Flora Collins is a highly recommended novel of domestic suspense.

Sue Keller's father has recently died and her mother died years ago when she was just three-years-old. This has left her struggling with depression and nightmares. When Anneliese (Annie) Whittaker meets her on the street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Sue doesn't recognize Annie at first, but later does. Annie was Sue's beloved nanny when she was a young child and they lived in upstate NY. Sue cared for her before her mother died and for awhile afterward. When Annie wants to reconnect with Sue, Sue is eager to have Annie back in her life. At first it is wonderful. Sue's depression has lifted and she is able to sleep, but she is also cutting off old friends and exclusively just seeing Annie. And then a few cracks begin to appear concerning Annie and her life.

After a slow start, Nanny Dearest is going to hold your attention throughout the rest of the novel as the tension increases. The narrative switches between the point of view of Sue in the present and Annie back in 1996, so the reader actually knows more about Annie than Sue does. This narrative choice also helps increase the tension in the plot because you will recognize early on that something is wrong with Annie long before certain facts and history are presented. To some extent, Sue is also not exhibiting completely sound behavior. Although you know she is grieving the loss of her father, there is still some irrational behavior. 

Both Sue and Annie are fully realized characters. It is clear early on that Annie has some problems and had a dysfunctional family, but Sue, as a young child, would never have recognized this. It is Sue's own present day issues that allow Annie to insert herself into Sue's life while encouraging the exclusion of others. You will definitely have to set aside some disbelief while reading, but the suspense and tension does propel the plot forward to a stunning conclusion.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA Books.

Saturday, November 20, 2021


Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell
11/30/21; 416 pages
Kay Scarpetta Series #25

Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell is a highly recommended procedural featuring Dr. Kay Scarpetta.

Forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta has accepted the position of chief medical examiner in Virginia. She is back where she began her career and once again needs to clean up the corruption that has infected the department. Pete Marino is back and hired by Scarpetta to assist her. In the current case a body of a woman, soon identified as that of Gwen Hainey, is found dumped by the railroad tracks with her throat cut and her hands missing. As she investigates, Scarpetta learns of a woman who was murdered a few months earlier in the same area, Cammie Ramada, and is suspicious that the two cases may be connected. Adding to the drama is a case of poisoning, an emergency call to the White House to look at some secret information, and ongoing drama with a secretary who believes she is in charge of the office, not Scarpetta.

Autopsy is described as a relaunch of the Dr. Kay Scarpetta thriller series. As the 25th book in a series that I am very familiar with, it is hard to judge whether a new reader could jump right into Autopsy or not. Cornwell provides brief explanations of the connections between people and their history so I would imagine it is possible. I will say that for long time readers the plot is much better than the last Scarpetta book I read before giving up on the series for awhile.

There is no question that Cornwell is an excellent writer technically. She provides the information and expects the reader to follow the clues along with the investigation without a lot of repetition. The narrative will unconditionally hold your complete attention to the end. The pace of the plot is deliberate and balanced. While there are some surprises along the way, nothing ever feels precarious because Scarpetta is always compose, observant, capable, and in charge. There is perhaps too much time spent on descriptions of the trip to Washington DC when what readers want to know is why were Scarpetta and Wesley called to the White House, but the one real shortcoming in the narrative is that the final denouement felt incomplete and abrupt.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult
11/30/21; 336 pages
Random House

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult is a highly recommended novel of two alternate realities set during the pandemic.

Diana O’Toole is an associate specialist at Sotheby’s and knows she and her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, will soon be engaged. They have planned to leave NYC for a two week vacation to the Galápagos in March of 2020. Just before they are scheduled to leave, Finn breaks the news that he can't take the time off from the hospital due to the pandemic. He encourages Diana to go without him, so she does and is subsequently locked down on an island with little to no WiFi access. She ends up having a woman offer her a place to stay. Diana proceeds to make friends with the locals and even manages to see and experience the local sites. While there some of Finn's email messages get through and she reads about how overwhelming and trying his experiences are while working at the hospital in NYC during the increase of hospitalized Covid patients. Then something happens and Diana's perception and reality completely change.

There is no question that Picoult can write novels that will hold your attention from beginning to end and introduce some contemporary penitent on-topic subject in them. It's what she does best and she is known for her issue-driven plots. This time out it is Covid. Wish You Were Here is an emotionally complex, perceptive, and though provoking novel as it covers several issues. The first half of the novel is a stark contrast from the second half, and is also a very different narrative although some of the issues occur in both the first and second half. Characters are well developed, flawed individuals but sympathetic and vulnerable in both halves of the novel.

The twist in the middle of the novel changes everything and makes it a vastly different novel from the first half of the book. Variations of the big twist in the novel have been done numerous times before this in TV shows, books, and movies. Certainly it was a shocking surprise, but also an eye-rolling experience as it has always been in every other time it has used. The new variation on this well used plot device was setting the story during the pandemic and lock down. (It was too soon for this novel and quite frankly most of the novel read like pandemic porn to me, someone who was working throughout the whole lock down.) 

Most fans will love it, and it would make for lively book club discussions, but for others this may not resonate as much as some of Picoult's other novels.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Ballantine Books.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Last Redemption

Last Redemption by Matt Coy
11/30/21; 320 pages
Oceanview Publishing
Rick Cahill #8

Last Redemption by Matt Coyle is a very highly recommended classic PI novel and the 8th in the Rick Cahill.

Rick Cahill, the hard boiled PI from La Jolla, CA, finally has his life heading toward a quiet, satisfying life. He and his fiancée, Leah Landingham are thrilled that she is pregnant with their first child and he is doing background checks for companies rather than field work, which pays well and keeps him out of danger. When he is then informed that he his current headaches are due to CTE, he keeps it a secret for the time being. It still seems like a safe job when his best friend, PI Moira MacFarlane, asks him to watch her son, Luke, from a distance to make sure he doesn't violate a restraining order against him. But this very simple surveillance job changes rapidly when Luke disappears, his boss is found murdered, and the trail of information is becomes increasingly complicated very quickly.

Last Redemption is an excellent PI novel. The writing is exceptional, the case is compelling and complicated, and the danger increases with every page. The plot moves at a fast pace and the action picks up along with the tension. Rick ends up putting his safety at risk again as the danger increases as each new piece of information is questioned and uncovered. Once you start reading Last Redemption it will be hard to put it down.

Rick Cahill is a great character and with each novel he continues to experience more growth and advancement as an individual. The great news is that you can appreciate this novel without reading previous books in the series, but once you do read it, you will want to read the other books in the series. If you enjoy hard boiled PI novel, then you have to start reading Matt Coy's Rick Cahill novels.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Oceanview Publishing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021


Parabellum by Greg Hickey
10/10/21; 356 pages

Parabellum by Greg Hickey is a highly recommended literary crime novel.

In the opening, we know the crime that will happen. There has been a mass shooting at a beach in Chicago and after we are observers to some of the aftermath, Parabellum then follows four different characters who are potentially suspects for a year leading up to the tragic incident. The four characters who could be the suspect are not named, but are identified by a general description. They include: an apathetic computer programmer; an ex-college athlete with a history of hits to the head;  an Army veteran turned Chicago cop; and a despondent high school student. The narrative switches between the lives of these four characters as each chapter counts down to the future shooting.

Reducing the characters to descriptions of their inner battles and anxieties with their mental health rather than providing them name somehow dehumanized them, even while we learned about their most personal struggles and why they could potentially be the shooter at the beach. Most of these characters will generally elicit your sympathy as you understand that their inner turmoil and struggles are real. The inner psyche of each person is exposed as are their concerns and anxieties. They are developed as characters, which helped with the felt lack of not knowing their names.

The writing is excellent, which sets the novel apart. The characters and the plot are all presented in a realistic, factual manner. Although there was some uncertainty at the beginning, ultimately the structure of the novel did provide compelling interest in the characters and what would ultimately be revealed. Admittedly, the unique approach to keeping the characters nameless until the end didn't completely work for me, but I appreciated the approach more once I continued reading and the pages began to fly by as I wanted to know what would happen to these injured people. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the author.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021


Glimmer by Marjorie B Kellogg
10/19/21; 496 pages

Glimmer by Marjorie B Kellogg is a recommended character driven climate science fiction novel set in NYC in 2110.

Rising sea levels, superstorms, and a changing climate have left much of the city  wrecked and/or flooded. Those who could fled the city. The survivors left behind have banded into their own social support structures called dens. Members of the dens live on the upper floors of buildings and work together to find supplies and food, while protecting each other. Glimmer, a name she gave herself after she lost her memory, is a young woman living in this dystopian future. She is part of one of the oldest dens, Unca Joe, and has her friends and support system there. It is an unpredictable life, but every now and then Glimmer senses that she recognizes something from before. But when it seems that another group is planning some attack against her den perhaps she does need to consider a change.

This is a character driven novel above all else and it succeeds in that regard as the characters are fully realized and placed into this dystopian future. They are not, however, relatable or very engaging. The world building is very good also. However, it is also a very slow, tedious, even paced novel that takes a certain amount of determination to continue reading. I started and stopped this novel three times before I made myself finish it. In the end it is okay, but there have been better cli-sci-fi novels with quicker paces that will provide the same message. 3.5

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of DAW.

Monday, November 15, 2021

National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, 3rd Edition

National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, 3rd Edition
11/2/21; 752 pages
National Geographic

National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, 3rd Edition: Featuring More Than 1,000 Species With the Most Detailed Information Found in a Single Volume edited by Jonathan Alderfer, Jon Dunn is a very highly recommended desk reference guide to every bird species found in the continental USA, Canada, and Greenland. Think of this guide as an encyclopedia of birds. The guide opens with the Table of Contents listing the page number of the birds by families. The introduction follows and provides an overview of the additional information provided in this updated guide by ornithologists and artists. This includes updated range maps. The contents follow the latest taxonomic sequencing and naming conventions adopted by the American Ornithological Society as of July 2018. The introduction also includes information on plumage variation, feather topography, and abundance terms and codes.

For anyone interested in ornithology, National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, 3rd Edition is a wonderful reference guide. As expected the artwork is impeccable and finely detailed. The entry for each bird family provides points of identification based on structure, behavior, plumage, distribution, taxonomy, and conservation. Then the individual genus and species are presented covering identification and plumage distinctions based on gender and age, feather topography, as well as the bird in flight. Similar species are presented, as are the voice calls and songs. There is a status and distribution map and a note on the population. Included at the back are two pages on birds found in Greenland and Bermuda that are not from Canada or the USA. Following that is the list of contributors with a brief biography of each, the credits for illustrations, art and photographs and a detailed index.

After receiving the guide, I immediately put it to work identifying a hawk who decided to eat a lunch of raccoon on a deck post at my house. (It was a Krinder's Red Tail Hawk, sometimes treated by some as a subspecies, kriderii.) The illustrations were perfect and helped me enormously. And yes, the voice was a husky scream, shee-eeee-arrr. Then I was off identifying another bird from a photo (Golden-Crowned Kinglet). The National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, 3rd Edition was an ease to use.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of National Geographic for TLC Book Tours.


Saturday, November 13, 2021

The Mark

The Mark by Matt Brolly
11/23/21; 332 pages
Thomas & Mercer
Detective Louise Blackwell #4

The Mark by Matt Brolly is a highly recommended police procedural and the 4th novel in the Detective Inspector Louise Blackwell series.

DI Louise Blackwell of the Weston-super-Mare police force is called to investigate a man who is found unconscious with a symbol branded on his arm. The victim, Sam Carrington, who is unconscious at the hospital, was staying at a local drug rehab house. The next night a second victim, Poppy Westfield, is found branded on her thigh with the same symbol. Then Andrew Thorpe is found dead, branded on his forehead, and Louise knows she has someone who is targeting people to brand them for some reason and she must find the connection and stop the perpetrator.

While Louise is giving her whole attention to the case, she is also dealing with several other personal issues. After the death of her brother, she is caring for her niece along with her parents. Also returning is her nemesis the corrupt and scheming DCI Finch, whose ongoing bad behavior may be catching up to him, unless he can bring Louise and others down first.

Even though this is the 4th novel featuring Louise Blackwell, The Mark can be enjoyed as a stand alone police procedural. There is enough back story given to easily follow the pertinent facts that matter in this current novel, and this is a compelling and engaging investigation. The opening scene will immediately horrify you and grab your attention. The pace continues to move quickly throughout the novel, as clues are provided along with several twists.

Louise is a determined, intelligent and interesting character. Her flaws are also presented in the plot, which makes her a realistic and sympathetic character who will elicit your support as she handles the investigation.  Along the way there is further character development as the novel progresses. There is a surprising twist at the end that will put the next novel by Brolly featuring Louise Blackwell on your reading list.

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

Friday, November 12, 2021

She Never Left

She Never Left by CM Harris
11/25/21; 400 pages

She Never Left by CM Harris is a so-so supernatural tale.

Jane and TJ are cousins who return to their hometown for a 20th reunion. By this town are dense woods called "the thicket" filled with a fungus that glows and can actively effect and infect humans. There is also a stalker named Lincoln who has had a crush on Jane since high school. The novel is filled with the two facing trauma and addictions from their past and the cause of their problems, something that might still be operating today and getting worse. 

Chapters alternate between present day and twenty plus years earlier. There really never is any good reason produced for attending a 20th high school reunion in a creepy small town that you were happy to leave and where people seem to disappear on a regular basis, unless it is the psychedelic mushrooms. One of the most glaring problems with the whole novel is that all the characters talk as if they are still in high school in both time lines. This is more a science fiction tale and a drug trip rather than a mystery about disappearing people from a small town. Normally I can enjoy science fiction, but this wasn't quite it.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins via NetGalley.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The New Family

The New Family by Victoria Jenkins
11/16/21; 352 pages

The New Family by Victoria Jenkins is a very highly recommended psychological thriller.

When Oliver and his three-year-old son, Fin, decide to rent Brooke's family home along the coast in south Wales for several months, she is thankful to have the income of a longer term rental during the off season, especially after Brooke's studio is burned in an act of arson. The Father and son were staying at an area B and B so they can easily move in quickly. It doesn't hurt that Oliver is a handsome young man who seems to have had a sad past, much like Brooke herself.

In London over a year earlier, Christina, a new mother of twins is trying to cope with being a mother. She loves being a physiotherapist, but feels she is losing herself. Adding to this is the fact that she feels sick all the time, is having difficulty sleeping, and is struggling with in her marriage to Matthew. She starts a brief affair with Joel, but ends it with determination to work on her marriage. After she ends the affair, Joel begins sending her messages threatening her that it's not over.

Both Brooke and Christina are well developed characters. They are very different women and are depicted as such. Each of them has a distinct individual personality and are struggling with different problems in their lives. They both are unable to control events happening around them, or experiences from their past, and this makes them both realistic but flawed people.

This well written novel follows these two completely different narrative threads with mysteries set in two timelines. Both women have had struggles in their past and are trying to the best they can under trying circumstances. Throughout almost all of the novel these two stories are separate, but both narratives are fraught with tension and the foreboding feeling that something nefarious is going to happen. The dual plots both move at a quick pace and are equally engaging and compelling. Beyond the two mysteries in these dual story lines, is the underlying mystery of how these two stories are going to merge. They do merge and in a manner that is unpredictable until it is about to happen.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bookouture via NetGalley.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Termination Shock

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson
11/16/21; 720 pages

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson is a recommended speculative climate science fiction novel set sometime in the future.

A change of climate in the future has resulted in rising temperatures, heat waves, superstorms, flooding, and rising sea levels. Billionaire T. R. Schmidt has a plan and has invited a selected small group of representatives from across the world to Houston. He has a plan to reverse global warming and is about to set it into action for his guests. The guests include the Queen of the Netherlands, who asks to be called Saskia, and her entourage, who, due to a storm, were forced to make an emergency landing in Waco. Their landing resulted in meeting Rufus during a scene involving wild boars, alligators, and a crashed plane. Rufus helps them get to Houston and becomes a part of T.R.'s team.

In another narrative thread we are introduced to Laks, a Canadian Sikh who travels to the Punjab to help assist at oxygen centers there. He stays there to learn more stick fighting techniques and eventually meets others and they all make their way to the Line of Actual Control. There Laks and the others engage in fighting the Chinese with sticks and rocks to defend their homeland from the Chinese.

Chapters switch between story lines and characters set in different parts of the world until they eventually merge at the end. The beginning of this massive novel will grab your attention and propel you forward. The geoengineering solution that T.R. comes up with and begins to undertake is very interesting. Right up to learning T.R.'s plan and seeing it in action, I was engrossed in the novel. Then it slowed down and became a chore to read.

In any cli-sci novel you want to see the solution along with the complications intelligently presented and follow the execution of the plan, which Stephenson does. However, after introducing many of the players and setting events into motion the story itself slows to a crawl and feels bloated and long-winded. The actual plot could have been presented and reached a resolution much quicker. Additionally, the characters are certainly all very well developed, but there are also a lot of them and not all deserve or need the level of attention that they are given.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Insecure Mind of Sergei Kraev

The Insecure Mind of Sergei Kraev by Eric Silberstein
8/5/21; 392 pages
Lui Book Group

The Insecure Mind of Sergei Kraev by Eric Silberstein is a highly recommended speculative/science fiction novel set in 2100.

Neural Implants are now a normal part of life and people are connected all the time with each other, and the media. The Board of Reality Overseers blocks false information from spreading through the implants. In this future world, graduate student Sergei Kraev, along with two other students, Karima and Daniel, are given the task of writing  code that will work with neural implants to provide an olfactory experience. When Karima turns down Sergei's advances and starts a relationship with and later marries Daniel, Sergei leaves the program early for the private sector. At the same time Sunny Kim (think K-pop star) is a spoiled, self centered, evil dancer whose family pays for her acceptance into a popular dance troupe. She is later forced to leave and starts her own group/cult, which Sergei is tricked into joining.

Good news and bad news: The Insecure Mind of Sergei Kraev opens with a horrifying, shocking event called the 4-17 apocalypse. This event, which is actually foreshadows the climax of the book, will keep you reading to discover the backstory of what happened and why. The bad news is that the opening event might have had an even greater impact had it followed the backstory leading up to the terrifying event. The plot is set mainly in Israel, Korea, and Singapore. The narrative is told through the point of view of several different characters and there are several twists along the way.

The cast of characters is truly diverse and international. All the characters are well developed and portrayed as individuals with distinct voices and personalities. Their actions and reactions tell the story of the events that lead up to 4-17, which means well developed characters are essential for the story.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of NetGalley.

We Live Next Door

We Live Next Door by Laura Wolfe
11/5/21; 288 pages

We Live Next Door by Laura Wolfe is a recommended domestic mystery.

Jessica and Mark Millstone have bought the house Jessica grew up in from her mother and now the couple and their daughter Isabelle are comfortably living in the Detroit suburb of Ridgeview Pines. The neighborhood has a private park nearby with a play ground. It is a safe place to live and walk their dog Roo. That is why it is so shocking when neighbor Barbara Draper is found dead. Jessica saw the woman when walking Roo the night before and thought Barbara was shouting something from her window.

Jessica has know her since she was a child and Barbara was considered a neighborhood grouch who often complained and yelled at neighbors out walking dogs. The neighborhood message board app is filled with condolences after Barbara's death, but if you look back in time you can also see many of Barbara's complaints. The death is ruled accidental, but Jessica can't help but think that something is amiss and she begins to look into it. Then she begins receiving threatening messages targeting her family on the neighborhood app and wonders if her neighborhood is as safe as she believes.

Jessica is the narrator of the novel. For the most part following her thoughts works very well, but sometimes her repetition slows down the advancement of the plot. Personally, I felt no connection with Jessica or any of the characters. The other characters seem to be uneven and often resemble caricatures rather than real people. Since many of the characters could be interchangeable with any of a number of characters in other books, the mystery needs to shine as the main focus.

We Live Next Door is a satisfying light-weight mystery and does provide a twist at the end that is not predictable until late in the novel, which makes up for some of the shortcomings. Honestly, this is a commonplace plot - a death in the neighborhood that could be a murder and ongoing threats being made toward the main character and her family. What this means is that the writing and the complexity of the plot need to work together and soar in order to elevate the novel above the ordinary. In that task it falls a little short.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bookouture.

Friday, November 5, 2021

The Secret Next Door

The Secret Next Door by Rebecca Taylor
11/9/21; 352 pages

The Secret Next Door by Rebecca Taylor is a highly recommended domestic drama.

Alyson Tinsdale knows she and her husband Justin can't really afford the starter home in the upscale Enclave neighborhood, but she talks him into it knowing that their son Andrew will be starting kindergarten in their highly rated schools. Alyson, who is hesitant to try and make friends in this new community, has made one, Gabby. When Gabby gets her invited to the neighborhood book club, she accepts the invitation with hopes of meeting people. She meets people but also drinks so much that she has to be driven home.

One of the women Alyson meets is Bonnie Sloan. Bonnie is one of the leading members of the community who by all outward appearances is wealthy and successful. She has three children. Her oldest son is headed to Yale, and her youngest daughter is in Andrew's kindergarten class. Now Bonnie is running for the Senate, while her husband has no business sense and is quickly losing the family fortune. Their one financial hope is the Extreme Golf Facility her husband is planning to develop by The Enclave.

Alyson's sense of safety changes when Bonnie's thirteen-year-old son is found dead beside the lake. Adding to her conflicted feelings are Andrew's behavioral problems at school. While Alyson is just learning about the plethora of gossip in the community, Bonnie knows it well.

What makes The Secret Next Door a compelling novel is the excellent writing and the fast-paced plot. The real focus is the murder mystery, but swirling around it is the neighborhood full of people feigning outward perfection with no struggles.

The key to enjoying The Secret Next Door is to know from the start that it is a group of people behaving badly and trying to hide their flaws, as revealed by the question "How well do you know your neighbors?" The first hurdle to jump in this quest to appreciate this novel is accepting Alyson's deep and abiding insecurity and lack of self esteem coupled with her desperate desire to fit in. She was not a very sympathetic character during most of the novel. You will want to yell at her to grow up and snap out of it. Alyson does become more sympathetic. Bonnie is equally annoying at the start. She has the self esteem, but she's hiding her struggles. Once her son dies, she is a much more sympathetic character.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Sourcebooks.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Everything We Didn't Say

Everything We Didn't Say by Nicole Baart
11/2/21; 368 pages
Atria Books

Everything We Didn't Say by Nicole Baart is a highly recommended novel of suspense and a family drama.

Juniper (June) Baker is returning to Jericho, Iowa, the small town where she grew up. Currently she is a special collections and archives librarian for a college in Colorado. She has taken a leave of absence and is returning to help Cora, the librarian in Jericho, who has stage 4 breast cancer, but she has other more complicated reasons for returning. Fifteen years ago Cal and Beth Murphy, who lived on a neighboring farm, were murdered on the night of July 4th. Fourteen years ago she left her infant daughter, Willa, in the care of her mother and stepfather. Now Juniper is hoping to bring thirteen-year-old Willa home with her to Colorado. She also plans to finally look for the truth behind the murder of the Murphys. Her brother, Jonathan, was the prime suspect, but never charged. Juniper has a secret about that night that she has never shared and now may be the time to reveal what she knows.

The writing is excellent and the plot unfolds in alternating narratives set in the past and present. In the present day someone has taken a new interest in the Murphy case and is seemingly determined to get Jonathan charged for the murders. Juniper knows he is not guilty and wants to find out who is behind the push to charge him. The narrative set in the past occurs during the summer of the murders, right after Juniper graduated from high school, and follows events leading up to the crime. The difference between a teenager experiencing the events and an adult reexamining them is the crux of the plot. When present day events begin to point to someone taking action against Jonathan, Juniper feels like Willa's life may be in danger. While readers won't know Juniper's secret until the end of the book, the suspense is still palpable in Everything We Didn't Say due to the duel timelines.

Adult Juniper is a complex, relatable character. She is trying to figure out exactly what happened that summer night while knowing that Jonathan was not responsible for the murders. Teenage "June" is, well, a teenager who as a group are usually more self-centered and aren't normally known for always exhibiting good judgment or being observant about what is going on around them. As an adult it is easy to see what Juniper may have been missing as a teen so it is satisfying to follow her investigation into present day actions while knowing information about the past. When Jonathan is suddenly incapacitated and Juniper is unable to talk with him about the past, it makes current events even more fraught with peril at every turn.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

National Geographic The 21st Century

National Geographic The 21st Century: Photographs From the Image Collection
11/2/21; 400 pages
National Geographic

National Geographic The 21st Century: Photographs From the Image Collection is a very highly recommended diverse collection of the best National Geographic photos from 2000-2021. The 21 years of photos are organized into four chapters by years. Chapter 1 covers 2000-2005; Chapter 2 covers 2006-2010; Chapter 3 covers 2011-2015; and Chapter 4 covers 2016-2021. The photos from this time span also represent new advancements in photography, including innovations in digital, drone, and smartphone photography. National Geographic has always represented the absolute best in photography from across the world, showcasing natural wonders, animals, and humans.

Over the years I still recall many National Geographic photos that depicted scenes of incredible beauty and wonder, global sites, and people from around the world which all captured my heart and imagination. National Geographic The 21st Century: Photographs From the Image Collection is a wonderful continuation of this long tradition of excellence. The photos presented all include the name of the photographer, the year of the photo and a brief description or information about the photo.

Some photos of natural wonders that are noteworthy for me include: Diane Cook and Len Jenshel, students standing in front of a Montezuma cypress (with a circumference of 119 feet); Jim Richardson, the Isle of Staffa, Scotland, basalt pillars in Fingal's Cave; Michael Melford, Alaska, the Gates of the Arctic National Park; Joel Santore, Sofala Province, Mozambique, a pair of blue waxbills; Carsten Peter, New South Wales, Australia, ferns in Claustral Canyon; Andrea Marshall, Mozambique, jellyfish and brittle stars; Nick Upton, a harvest mouse on a hogweed flower; Randy Olson, sandhill cranes on the Platte River; Brent Stirton, Democratic Republic of the Congo, part of a herd of 600 elephants.

Photos capturing the human condition include: Lynn Johnson's 2001 photo of first responders on September 11th; Jody Cobb, female slaves in Bihar, India, balancing dozens of bricks on their heads; Mike Hettwer, exhibition workers finishing a replica of a 50 foot long Spinosaurus aegyptiacus; Dave Yoder, archaeologist at the Lost City of the Monkey God; Andrea Frazzetta, three generations of women preparing culurgiones.

Obviously I do tend to gravitate more to the natural and animal photos. At the end of the book is an index of the contributors, acknowledgements, and illustration credits. This is an amazing collection of photos. Although every single photo may not resonate for everyone, the wide variety of photos will surely please most people. This would make a wonderful gift.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher/author and TLC Book Tours.