Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Sister's Grave

My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni
Amazon Publishing: 11/1/2014
eBook, 410 pages

ISBN-13: 9781477825570

Tracy Crosswhite has spent twenty years questioning the facts surrounding her sister Sarah’s disappearance and the murder trial that followed. She doesn’t believe that Edmund House—a convicted rapist and the man condemned for Sarah’s murder—is the guilty party. Motivated by the opportunity to obtain real justice, Tracy became a homicide detective with the Seattle PD and dedicated her life to tracking down killers.
When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered near their hometown in the northern Cascade mountains of Washington State, Tracy is determined to get the answers she’s been seeking. As she searches for the real killer, she unearths dark, long-kept secrets that will forever change her relationship to her past—and open the door to deadly danger.

My Thoughts:  

My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni is a highly recommended police procedural/legal thriller that will keep you thoroughly entertained.

Twenty years ago Tracy Crosswhite's younger sister Sarah disappeared without a trace in the mountain town of Cedar Grove, Washington. Now her body has been found and Tracy, a Seattle homicide detective, needs some answers. Although there was a man convicted for her murder, Tracy has never been entirely convinced that he was guilty as it appeared that the evidence presented at the trail may have been rigged. With the discovery of the skeleton/body after so many years, Tracy wants some questions answered but it seems that many of the officials involved want her to stop asking the questions.

The story is told through flashbacks twenty years ago set between today's current events. Most of the book focuses on Tracy trying to uncover the truth and get some real answers to her questions. Tracy is a compelling, strong female lead character who is persistent, determined, and intelligent. Certainly she will be welcomed back if Dugoni should start a series featuring her on the investigation.

There were a few times that the plot unnecessarily slowed down, as past events were ruminated over again, and the ending seemed rather predictable to me. That said, I read compulsively to the end to put all the pieces together and reach the conclusion. This is a very satisfying police procedural and should satisfy fans of that genre.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Amazon Publishing via Netgalley for review purposes.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Vineyard

The Vineyard by Michael Hurley
Ragbagger Press: 11/25/2014
eBook, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780976127567

Dory Delano, Charlotte Harris, and Turner Graham have been drifting through life since their days as roommates at Smith College, ten years ago. Dory is resisting taking the reins of her family's legacy and fortune even as she relishes the fabulous lifestyle it affords her in the fashionable seaside resort of Martha's Vineyard. She invites her old friends to join her for a summer on the Vineyard in hopes of rediscovering the innocence of old days and healing new wounds. But hidden in their midst and unknown to all but a few, a reclusive--some say dangerous--fisherman wanders alone, fueling wild speculation about his purpose and his past. None of these women can imagine the events their encounter with the fisherman will set in motion, the shadow he will cast over their destinies, or the transformation that awaits the world they know.

My Thoughts:

The Vineyard by Michael Hurley is a highly recommended novel about friendship and overcoming difficult circumstances.

Three friends in their early 30's gather at Martha's Vineyard for a summer of reconnections but it ultimately becomes a time of healing and reawakening - with some added mysticism and allegorical tie-ins. Dory, Charlotte, and Turner all reunite on Dory's family residents on Martha's Vineyard. For Dory it is a time to keep trying to escape the expectations placed upon her based on her heritage and wealth. Charlotte has accepted her invitation because she is planning to commit suicide as soon as she arrives. Turner is simply at loose ends in her life and has no direction, beyond continuing her blog.

All three women have encounters with the fisherman. "His name was Enoch, which didn’t much matter, because almost no one knew his name or referred to him as anything other than “the fisherman.”  In the turn of events, he changes the lives of all three women.

The Vineyard opens with Charlotte planning to wade out into the ocean with her daughter Meredith's ashes immediately after she arrives. "Only the sea was far and wide enough to cover the grief of losing a daughter, a marriage, and a life that once had seemed to rise continually skyward, like a zephyr." She is still mourning the loss of her daughter and lamenting the refusal of the church to bury Meredith because she died unbaptized. Charlotte has the numbers 1183-2 tattooed on her left forearm as a self-imposed badge of shame. "They comprised the paragraph and section number of a single line of the Code of Canon Laws of the Catholic Church: The local ordinary can permit children whom the parents intended to baptize but who died before baptism to be given ecclesiastical funerals." She buys shrimp from the fisherman, and he later touches her life in an unexpected way.

Dory is a larger than life character who does nothing in half measures. It was all or nothing at all—with everything. The expectations her family's name seem to require of her has placed a restraint on her life from which that she wants to rebel. Her encounter with the fisherman is miraculous and alters her life.

Turner is a skeptic and negative about any help from a fisherman. She does know a good story hook when she sees one, however, so she blogs about the miraculous doings of the fisherman, freely making her posts allegorical as well as exaggerated. Her blog posts go viral and her hit numbers are unprecedented. Suddenly people all over want to know more. "The world was eager and the market was ripe for a new theology of redemption, and Turner’s stories about a strange fisherman on the Vineyard conveniently filled that void." People are all clamoring for a copy of what they think is Turner's soon to be published The Book of Enoch.

After enjoying Hurley's The Prodigal last year, I was pleased to read The Vineyard. The writing is still excellent and the narrative encompasses many of the same features: personal challenges, Catholicism, allegorical tie-ins, and sailing. This time there is a whole lot of sex, however, and not of the romantic variety or even with any care (emotional or practical). It's either a sexual predator, someone using their sexuality for their own purposes, or raw lust.  So, although the quality of the writing is just as good and descriptive, the actual story lost some of the momentum for me because the female characters just seemed off and rather mindless during those scenes. I enjoyed the novel enough to keep reading, though the ending, while it ties up all the storylines, was a bit too pat and sort of fizzled out for me.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the author for review purposes.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Prism by Roland Allnach
All Things That Matter Press: 7/3/2014
eBook, 284 pages
ISBN-13: 9780996041348

Prism presents the best of Roland Allnach's newest stories together with his most acclaimed published short fiction. These selected stories fracture the reader's perceptions among a dazzling array of genres and styles to illuminate the mysterious aspects of the human experience.
Roland Allnach has been described as a "star on the rise" (ForeWord Clarion), "a master storyteller with a powerful pen" (Cynthia Brian, NY Times Bestselling author), with writing that is "smart, elegant, and addicting" (San Francisco Review).

My Thoughts:

Prism by Roland Allnach is a highly recommended collection of 17 short stories that display the author's incredible talent and ability to write in a wide variety of styles. Most of the stories were previously published and several were highly acclaimed.  Allnach displays the wide range of his ability and talent in this very diverse collection. Anyone who enjoys short stories should find several that appeal to them.

The contents include:
“After the Empire”: a soldier visits the ruins of his home town; previously published in the Summer 2008 issue of The Armchair Aesthete.
“11”: A man lives in fear of his stalker; previously published in the Fall 2008 (Vol. 7/34) issue of Allegory.
“Icon”: A critic scouts the artistic fringe and writes obsessively about a self-destructive singer; previously published in the January 2009 issue of Midnight Times.
“Creep”: A young boy is afraid of the dark; previously published in the Spring 2009 issue of The Storyteller; a 2010 Pushcart Prize nominee.
“Return”: A man is recovering from injuries after a car accident: previously published in the Fall 2009 issue of Lullwater Review.
“Flowers for Colleen”: Two amoral predators find each other; previously published in the April 2010 issue of Absent Willow Review.
“Memento”: A Body reclamation driver reflects on his actions; previously a web publication, 2010 issue of Reed Magazine.
“The Great Hunter”: A boy's imagination runs wild; previously in the September 2010 issue of Foliate Oak.
“Apogee”: An astrophysics grad student visits his professor with a great discovery: previously published in the Fall 2010 issue of Rose & Thorn Journal.
“The City of Never”: A futuristic constructor builds environments/cities in a day; previously in the October 2011 issue of Aphelion and recipient of the Aphelion Editors’ ‘Best of 2011’.
“Conquest’s End”: A war of wars culminates in a Lord laying siege to the Ladies bastion: previously in issues 477-481 of Bewildering Stories and recipient, ‘Editor’s Choice’, and ‘Mariner Award’, Bewildering Stories, 2012.
“Turn the Wheel”: A man recalls an event earlier in his life that put him to the test: previously in the ‘Garden Nettles’ issue of Midwest Literary Magazine, 2012.
“Beheld”: "In the Beginning, the Deity pondered." ; previously published in the Summer 2012, Raphael’s Village.
 "Titalis": A long tale of the city of Eurimedon and the quest/challenge for the hand of She of the Plains, told in 5 Acts.
"Of Typhon and Aerina": a long epic poem
"Tumbleweed: or An Ode to a Well Endowed Gunslinger”: A humorous poem in rhyming couplets about the wild west.
"Dissociated": "She says what she said before in that story, which is really this story."

With such diversity, the only real drawback to the collection is that every story/poem might not appeal to the reader as much as a collection with a similar theme or with stories written in the same genre. I basically liked most of the selections but had a few I enjoyed a bit less. Many of the stories are dark or tragic. There is some real and implied horror.  I would imagine that those who enjoy short story collections will likely notice Allnach's talent and ability while appreciating this divergent collection.

TLC Tour

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of All Things That Matter Press for review purposes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Blue Labyrinth

Blue Labyrinth by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Grand Central Publishing: 11/11/2014
eBook, 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9781455525898
Special Agent Pendergast Series #14

A long-buried family secret has come back to haunt Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast.
It begins with murder. One of Pendergast's most implacable, most feared enemies is found on his doorstep, dead. Pendergast has no idea who is responsible for the killing, or why the body was brought to his home. The mystery has all the hallmarks of the perfect crime, save for an enigmatic clue: a piece of turquoise lodged in the stomach of the deceased.
The gem leads Pendergast to an abandoned mine on the shore of California's Salton Sea, which in turn propels him on a journey of discovery deep into his own family's sinister past. But Pendergast learns there is more at work than a ghastly episode of family history: he is being stalked by a subtle killer bent on vengeance over an ancient transgression. And he soon becomes caught in a wickedly clever plot, which leaves him stricken in mind and body, and propels him toward a reckoning beyond anything he could ever have imagined....

My Thoughts:

Blue Labyrinth by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child is the very highly recommended 14th book to feature Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. Fans of the series are going to love this latest adventure that brings Pendergast back as a main character and this time he actually shows a fallible, mortal side.

Blue Labyrinth opens with the body of Pendergast's estranged son, Alban, left dead on the doorstep of his Manhattan mansion. As detached as Pendergast acts, he closely follows the investigation and jumps into action when the autopsy reveals a gemstone, a rare type of turquoise, in Alban's stomach. Pendergast traces the gemstone to the mine of origin and looks for clues and traps while trying to decipher Alban's movements to find his murderer.

In the meantime Lt. Vincent D'Agosta has been called in to investigate a murder at the New York Museum of Natural history. Fans of the series will be thrilled to see Margot back and those new to the series will appreciate her just as much in this outing. Constance Greene is also back and plays an intricate part in this novel. We also learn more about the Pendergast family history - this time a black sheep of sorts whose actions are affecting current events.

Blue Labyrinth is an utterly engrossing thriller that held my rapt attention to the end. Admittedly it is not my absolute favorite of the Pendergast books, but that would be based on all 14 books. Alone, this latest Preston and Child novel is thoroughly enjoyable and a wonderful addition to the series. Usually Pendergast is always a step ahead of everyone; this time he may have actually met a foe who can actually challenge even his mental acuity.

A nail-biting-stay-up-all-night at the airport book, Blue Labyrinth is definitely a must read for fans but those unfamiliar with the series should get enough background information with the story to appreciate it just as much. I've said it more than once and Blue Labyrinth confirms it: it is seemingly impossible for Preston and Child (or Preston OR Child) to write a novel I won't enjoy.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Grand Central Publishing for review purposes.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Demon who Peddled Longing

The Demon who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha
Underground Voices: 11/21/2014
eBook, 298 pages
ISBN-13: 9780990433118

Set in post-war Vietnam, The Demon Who Peddled Longing tells the terrible journey of a nineteen-year-old boy in search of the two brothers who are drifters and who raped and killed his cousin also his girl. It brings together the damned, the unfit, the brave, who succumb by their own doing to the call of fate. Yet their desire to survive and to face life again never dies, so that when someone like the boy who is psychologically damaged by his family tragedy, who no sooner gets his life together after being rescued by a fisherwoman than falls in love with an untouchable girl and finds his life in peril, takes his leave in the end, there is nothing left but a longing in the heart that goes with him.

My Thoughts:

The Demon who Peddled Longing by Khanh Ha is a very highly recommended, atmospheric novel that follows the journey of Nam, a nineteen year old young man who is is out looking to avenge his cousin's brutal rape and murder.

"It all starts with the eyes that see, and what’s seen then feeds the thought with longing." Location 1132

Throughout the The Demon who Peddled Longing Nam is usually just referred to as the boy. Set in post-war Vietnam, the narrative opens with a badly wounded boy being pulled from the river by a mysterious woman, who tends his wounds and puts him to work. Soon he realizes that she is wounded too, although not physically.  As his journey continues, Nam meets a series of people, all trying to overcome complicated circumstances, all wounded and longing for something. 

He tells people that he is from up north, heading south to find work on a fishing boat, but his quest takes several unexpected turns along the way.  A small handful of people learn the real story of what Nam is searching for in his journey. He learns of another girl who was raped by two young men, brothers, and their description. He is certain that these two men are the ones who raped and murdered his cousin, Ni, and his suspicions are confirmed when he meets one of them, by chance, and sees the boy wearing tiger’s-claw-shaped jade pendant that his cousin always wore - until she was killed. The heirloom was supposed to keep demons away.

This is another exquisitely written novel with poetic prose and descriptions. Just as in Flesh, Khanh Ha will overload your senses with his sensually rich descriptions. Yet again he manages to capture beauty and longing as well as an ominous sense of foreboding. There is an almost dream-like quality to Nam's search and in his relationships to the people he encounters along the way. The Demon who Peddled Longing is such a beautifully written, descriptive novel that it's difficult to reconcile the elegance of the writing with the equally present determination Nam has to find and kill the men who murdered his cousin. Bravo, Khanh Ha; it's this juxtaposition and the dexterity in which it is presented that elevates The Demon who Peddled Longing to my highest recommendation.

(It must be noted that even though there is "Demon" in the title, this is not a supernatural novel about malignant spirits beyond the human kind.)

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of  Khanh Ha for review purposes.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Family Furnishings

Family Furnishings  by Alice Munro
Knopf Doubleday: 11/11/2014
eBook, 640 pages

ISBN-13: 9781101874103
From the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature—and one of our most beloved writers—a new selection of her peerless short fiction, gathered from the collections of the last two decades, a companion volume to Selected Stories (1968-1994).
Family Furnishings brings us twenty-four of Alice Munro’s most accomplished, most powerfully affecting stories, many of them set in the territory she has so brilliantly made her own: the small towns and flatlands of southwestern Ontario. Subtly honed with her hallmark precision, grace, and compassion, these stories illuminate the quotidian yet extraordinary particularity in the lives of men and women, parents and children, friends and lovers as they discover sex, fall in love, part, quarrel, suffer defeat, set off into the unknown, or find a way to be in the world.

My Thoughts:

Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014  by Alice Munro is a very highly recommended collection of 24 short stories with an introduction by Jane Smiley.

All these short stories have been previously published and are now brought together for this collection. The title stories, which are all novella length, from all six of her most recent collections have been included. As one of the great short story writers of our time, Monro has a clear insight into her characters and setting. She can capture a slice of an ordinary person's life and present it so it is reflecting the universal human condition. This is a great way to follow ongoing themes in her work and see them develop over time.

Family Furnishings is a wonderful edition to have, especially as a companion to her Selected Stories, which covers work from 1968-1994. Monro is a Nobel Prize winner and one of the most accomplished short story writers of our time. This would be an excellent way to acquaint yourself with Monro's writing, perhaps savoring it slowly, one story at a time, especially since the collection is 640 pages. Let's face it: she is an exceptional writer and this is an tremendous addition to any collection of short stories.

The Love of a Good Woman; Jakarta; The Children Stay; My Mother’s Dream; Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage; Family Furnishings; Post and Beam; The Bear Came Over the Mountain; The View from Castle Rock; Working for a Living; Hired Girl; Home; Runaway; Soon; Passion; Dimensions; Wood; Child’s Play; Too Much Happiness; To Reach Japan; Amundsen; Train; The Eye; Dear Life.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hello From the Gillespies

Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney
Penguin Group: 11/4/2014
eBook, 624 pages

ISBN-13: 9780451466723

For the past thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has sent to friends and family around the world an end-of-the-year letter titled “Hello from the Gillespies.” It’s always been cheery and full of good news. This year, Angela surprises herself—she tells the truth....
The Gillespies are far from the perfect family that Angela has made them out to be. Her husband is coping badly with retirement. Her thirty-two-year-old twins are having career meltdowns. Her third daughter, badly in debt, can’t stop crying. And her ten-year-old son spends more time talking to his imaginary friend than to real ones.
Without Angela, the family would fall apart. But when Angela is taken away from them in a most unexpected manner, the Gillespies pull together—and pull themselves together—in wonderfully surprising ways….

My Thoughts:

Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney is a highly recommended novel about a family that isn't perfect. After the annual Christmas letter reveals their secrets and then a greater tragedy happens they are forced to deal with reality and each other.

We've probaby all received those Christmas letters from some families that are full of unnatural cheer and bragging. Wouldn't it be nice to for once receive a letter that tells it like it is, all the unvarnished truth as well as some speculation about what may really be going on. Angela Gillespie, frustrated while trying to write her annual cheerful Christmas letter, decided to take it as a cathartic writing challenge to write down exactly what she thinks about what her children are really doing, how her husband is acting and how their marriage may be in trouble, and her fantasy about how her life should have been.  After Angela unloads all her angst in the letter, which she has no intention of sending, an emergency has her leaving it as is, not deleted, and her husband, thinking he is doing her a favor, sends it off to the 100 people on their Christmas email list.

Now, along with her distant husband, her grown daughters are upset (and all moving home) and her 10 year-old son is discussing it all with his imaginary friend. They all have to decide how they are going to handle the fact that everyone knows the unvarnished truth. Later, when a real emergency happens, they all need to pull together. The first half of the novel deals with the infamous Christmas letter and the aftermath, while the second half of the novel really focuses on the family and their unity. It must be said that even though the older daughters are supposedly 32, they come across as much younger and it can be a struggle to deal with their immaturity, along with their sister's whining.

Even with a predictable ending, Hello From the Gillespies is the kind of thick novel that you want to curl up with on a cold evening. The pages fly by quickly in this family saga and McInerney does a great job alternating between each character's story. The writing is excellent, with lots of wonderful descriptions along with insights into the Gillespie family.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of The Penguin Group via Netgalley for review purposes.