Sunday, June 26, 2016

Missing, Presumed

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner
Random House: 6/28/16
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812998320

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner is a highly recommended well plotted character driven police procedural.

Manon Bradshaw, 39, is a Detective Sargent on the Cambridgeshire police force who loves her job, but longs for a more fulfilling personal life, including a baby. She can hear her biological clock ticking and has been trying an internet dating site lately, unsuccessfully. After another dreadful date, Manon, who typically falls asleep to the calls on her police radio, hears a call that sends her out to the crime scene.

Edith Hind, a 24 year-old Cambridge graduate student has been reported missing for 24 hours by her boyfriend. The front door was left ajar, there is blood in the kitchen, and her keys and phone are in the cottage they share. Edith is beautiful, smart, spoiled, and self-centered; she is also the daughter of Sir Ian Hind, physician to the royal family.  Manon and her partner Davy know that the pressure will be on to solve this case quickly, as the media attention and her well-connected parents are going to make it headline news. As they are investigating all leads, another body is found. This time it is a young black man. Could there be a connection.

This is a well written procedural that also focuses on establishing and developing the characters. The story is told through alternating narrators, which Steiner is quite successful at navigating between and keeping the complex plot moving along smoothly through the many directions the investigation takes. Manon is a credible, flawed character who is successful at her job, but struggling personally. The other characters who narrate parts of the story are also uniquely individual voices and characters. Their different viewpoints add an additional potency to the investigation.

Since the novel is character driven, it has a more measured, even pace rather than utilizing many thrill-a-second surprises. There are a few twists. I will admit I wasn't totally surprised by the ending as I had surmised parts of it. This didn't lessen my enjoyment of the novel because it is character driven - and I needed to see if my suspicions were correct. Part of the pleasure in reading Missing, Presumed was found in the characters and the journey. It will be interesting to see if Steiner continues with these characters in another book and this becomes a series.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Friday, June 24, 2016


Atlantis: And Other Lost Worlds by Frank Joseph
Arcturus Publishing: 4/1/14
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781782129097

Atlantis: And Other Lost Worlds by Frank Joseph is a recommended for those interested in speculation about Atlantis and Lemuria (Mu).

After researching and writing a paper about Atlantis many years ago, the sunken city has always fascinated me. Joseph gathers evidence that he claims support the conclusion that Atlantis really existed, where it most likely was located, along with information about their religious beliefs, as well as other thoughts. He does the same for the lost civilization of Lemuria, also known as Mu. This is a book which is clearly for those who already have an interest in the topic.

Obviously, many books about Atlantis are going to have a lot of speculation rather than hard facts, which makes them entertaining, but not necessarily a scholarly work that will be taken seriously by experts. Joseph manages to present a plethora of conjecture along with some discoveries and facts that could be interpreted to potentially be Atlantis - and Lemuria. The most important thing to note is that there are no footnotes or chapter notes, so the reader has no other point of reference to refer to. There are archeological discoveries discussed, but no extensive research into them. There is only a limited bibliography.

I also wanted more pictures. There are some pictures, but certainly not enough to prove and document many things described. It also stretches my credulity when Edgar Cayce is a major source of evidence. Read it for fun if you are interested in the topic, but don't expect a serious scholarly work with well documented information.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

All the Missing Girls

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
Simon & Schuster: 6/28/16
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501107962

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda is a highly recommended novel of suspense told in reverse.

Nicolette "Nic" Farrell, 28, has to return to her hometown of Cooley Ridge, North Carolina. Nic left right after graduation and has stayed away, other than short visits to see her father. Now Daniel, Nic's brother, has called to tell her they are going to have to sell their family home and he needs her help getting it ready as well as trying to persuade their father to sign the papers.  Their father, Patrick, has been in a long term care facility due to his dementia. Daniel's wife, Laura, is 8 months pregnant, so he would like to get things settled as soon as possible.

Nic leaves her fiance, Everett, in Philadelphia and heads to Cooley Ridge. While Nic was planning to leave for college anyway 10 years ago, what really sent her packing was the mysterious disappearance of her best friend, Corrine. She and her friends were questioned by the police at the time, including Tucker, Nic's high school boyfriend, and her brother. Now Patrick is starting to mutter to people at the facility that he saw the girl - which everyone thinks must mean Corrine.

"Corinne was larger than life here. Had become even larger because she disappeared. But she was just a kid, eighteen, and bursting out of her skin. Believing the world would bend to her will. Must’ve torn her up something good the first time she realized it wouldn’t." Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, 24, a neighbor of the Farrells. She was peripherally involved in the investigation of Corrine's disappearance. Then she disappears and people are searching for her.

The hook in the case of All the Missing Girls is telling the story in a reverse chronology. We get a current day set up of the story so we know why Nic's leaving and have the bare minimum of background. Then the story jumps to 15 days in the future and counts down to day one, after which we get to go back to real time and figure out who done what. It does make the reading compulsory so you do read as fast as you can to try to figure out what the heck happened. Miranda manages to do this and not give away the big reveals until the end, which is laudable.

Lots of people loved All the Missing Girls. While I really liked it and thought the reverse story telling was an interesting concept, it didn't manage to hide some of the flaws for me. The characters aren't as well developed as I would expect and there are places where the plot isn't quite as tight as I would like. The big question is how much can you overlook for a unique plot device? I discovered I could overlook quite a bit because Miranda managed to surprise me with some major information being disclosed later in the novel, while earlier chapter are more reactionary based on that information that we don't have yet. In the end, a worthy debut novel into the adult market. (However, I would like to note that these are missing women, not girls.)

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Vinegar Girl

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
Hogarth: 6/21/16
advanced reader's edition; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9780804141260
Hogarth Shakespeare Series

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a highly recommended adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew done for Hogarth Press's Shakespeare project where authors are required to modernize one of the Bard's works. Tackling a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew is a major feat in itself and Tyler does an admirable job despite the limitations placed on her due to the very nature of the project.

Kate Battista, 29, is the vinegar girl. She has firm opinions, is outspoken, and values her individuality, but has little opportunity to really exercise this trait. Kate is stuck running the house for her eccentric and needy scientist father, trying to enforce his rules with her 15 year old sister, Bunny, and working as an aide at a preschool, even though she doesn't really like children. Kate is stuck in a routine, but even she couldn't envision the plan her father has cooked up for her.

It seems that Dr. Battista's lab assistant, Pyotr Shcherbakov,is here on an O-1 visa that is about to expire and he is not sure how his research can go on without his brilliant young assistant. Dr. Battista has decided that if he can get Kate to marry Pyotr, then Pyotr won't be deported and his research will certainly be able to make some breakthroughs. After all, Kate doesn't have any suitors or real plans, and at least she can be helping him out (even more) if she'll just cooperate. Kate wishes he could just marry Pyotr himself and leave her out of it.

This is The Taming of the Shrew transformed into a tale of a marriage of convenience for a green card via Tyler's inimitable style. She uses satirical humor and a keen understanding of human nature to create characters that are memorable in their own right. Tyler notes that this is her attempt to tell the other side of the story, the part that will help make the illogical or inconceivable story in of The Taming of the Shrew make more sense today.

She does deftly retell the story in a new, compassionate way and creates some memorable characters. Really, how could anything Anne Tyler writes be bad? She has a gift. Personally, I think if Tyler were allowed to use The Taming of the Shrew
simply an inspiration to plot her own story in her own way, this could have been even more successful for me. She could have done so much more with her characters if she had free reign to change the plot or add some more complexities.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Mandibles

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver
HarperCollins: 6/21/16
eBook review copy; 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062328243

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver is a very highly recommended economic dystopian novel set in a future USA.

In 2029 President Alvarado addresses the nation and declares that rather than accept the new global currency, the bancor, the USA will default on all its loans. Oh, and citizens are required to turn in all of their gold to the US government. Members of the Mandible family were all counting on a large inheritance from the family patriarch, but that is wiped out and members of the family must do whatever they can to survive living with each other during a time of absurdly high inflation and few jobs.

Florence is the one family member who has a job (at a homeless shelter) and a home not in foreclosure, so the many diverse members of the family descend upon her and rely on her. Willing, Florence's son is the one family member who really understands what is going on and what they should be preparing for in the future. Florence's upper class sister, Avery, descends upon their house with her economics professor husband and three children, while their Aunt Nollie, returns after living for years in France. Their brother Carter and his wife are forced to care for their demented stepmother when she and their father were forced out of a care facility. Yup, it's a family in decline and the drop is steep.

It's almost refreshing that Shriver's end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it dystopian is based on economic policy and accrued national debt rather than zombies or viruses. Even though there is a claim that this isn't science fiction in the description, it is speculative fiction about the future based on current economic policies, and economics could be considered a science... At the same time it is a satire where economic policies are held up for ridicule and criticism.

Because of the nature of The Mandibles, there is a lot of information and discussion about economic policies and complicated financial terms. If these discussions bother a reader, they could be skimmed over, but that would also mean missing some of the overarching point of the novel. Sure, it's all economics, but it will make sense in the end, should you decide to follow the information. If not, you could follow the question of how these people who are so ill-equipped to survive could possible manage to do just that. Can they change to survive the upheaval and make the necessary sacrifices?

Admittedly, I am a fan of Shriver's writing; it's intelligent, well-reasoned and impeccably written. Shriver has a masterful skill with her use of language and I am always in awe of it. She also likes to tackle a specific topic in her books, so I was expecting this. I seem to be in the minority here, but I enjoyed The Mandibles from start to finish and was already recommending it before I even  started writing this review.

The writing is exceptional; the plot is well researched, clearly presented, and believable. The characters, likeable or not, are all well developed. I especially liked the last part, where the novel jumped ahead fifteen years in the future to show the results of the economic disaster. 

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

The Joy of Less

The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify by Francine Jay
Chronicle Books, Updated and Revised edition: 4/26/16

eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781452155180

The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify by Francine Jay is a recommended inspirational guide to living with less.

Also known as Miss Minimalist, Francine Jay has updated and revised her original The Joy of Less published in 2010. I've been curious about the minimalist movement for several years. After spending years moving approximately every 4-5 years,  I am naturally inclined to declutter and reduce the sheer volume of stuff I own. This book seemed like it would be a great match to inspire me to do more of what I already do naturally. The Joy of Less accomplished the goal of inspiring me to greater minimize my belongings, to cull what is not needed, but it wasn't a perfect fit for me as an individual.

The Joy of Less is "about decreasing the amount of stuff you have to deal with in the first place. Furthermore, you won’t have to answer quizzes, make checklists, or fill out charts - who has time for that? And there won’t be dozens of case studies about other people’s junk; the focus here is on you." According to Jay our stuff can be divided into three categories: useful stuff, beautiful stuff, and emotional stuff. We need to decide what category our things belong in and deal with them accordingly.

Jay Streamline method is the highlight of the book and could be adapted to many different households and lifestyles. She shows how to use this method and them takes you through a room by room tour on how to use it
STREAMLINE consists of:
Start over
Trash, treasure, or transfer
Reason for every item
Everything in its place
All surfaces clear
If one comes in, one goes out
Narrow it down
Everyday maintenance

I think most of us have heard the phrase, "A place for everything, and everything in its place." This is one of the most important minimalist principles and it works alongside the "One In-One Out" rule. This is a strong point of Jay's book - she breaks down the concept into steps that will help anyone interested in decluttering succeed at it. Jay does get repetitious in sharing her thoughts, which might bother some readers, although it is helpful for those who are simply flipping to the chapters they are interested in reading. Jay does maintain a positive, chipper, up-beat attitude throughout the book.

While Jay has some great points, she also made a few nonsensical statements that puzzled me and left me scratching my head. To support her premise that all of our stuff may be draining us of time, she asked: "How many precious hours have we wasted running to the dry cleaners, how many Saturdays have been sacrificed to oil changes or car repairs, how many days off have been spent fixing or maintaining our things (or waiting for a technician to make a service call)? How often have we agonized (or scolded our children) over a broken vase, chipped plate, or mud stains on our area rugs?"

Routine car maintenance to ensure your vehicle is in good working condition is just a given for many people. Or if your job requires a wardrobe where clothes need to be dry cleaned, that doesn't preclude having a well-planned minimal wardrobe of quality items. What, rather than repair items we replace them (and wait for delivery)? And we have no vases, plates, or rugs so we won't need to tell children to not track in mud or play ball in the house? (Basic family rules shouldn't be thrown out like they are clutter.)

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Follow the River Home

Follow the River Home by Corran Harrington
Arbor Farm Press: 4/28/16
advanced reading copy; 220 pages
ISBN-13: 9780985520021

Follow the River Home by Corran Harrington is a touching, melancholic collection told in a poetic and lyrical manner. It is highly recommended. The first part of Follow the River Home is a novella, while the second part contains supporting short pieces. The setting is in New Mexico along the Rio Grande.

In the novella, we are introduced to Daniel Arroyo. Daniel has guilt, a lifetime of guilt. First he feels he is somehow responsible for the death of his baby sister, Carmen, when he was eight. We don't know what happened, but we know Daniel feels guilty and culpable. The tragedy altered his family as well. When, later, he is drafted and sent to Vietnam, he comes home with PTSD, while a childhood friend dies over there. Now, thirty years later, he is still tormented by nightmares from the war and his sister's death. His wife and children are tired of it and he is searching for some redemption from his anguish.

The stories in the second part of the collection provide additional glimpses of Daniel's life and of others who lived in the home. Some of the stories are told through certain pieces of furniture in the house in relationship to the families who have owned them and their surroundings. Taken as a whole, these supporting pieces create a scaffolding to show a more complete accounting of Daniel's life. Daniel's fear and guilt is overwhelming; the answers to his questions may be found in his old neighborhood.

The quality of the writing sets this collection apart. Even when dealing with dark themes, like PTSD and flashbacks, Harrington describes what Daniel is experiencing and the anguish it is causing him and his family. The sudden, abrupt shift to the supporting stories in the second half of the book may be a bit disconcerting to some readers who are expecting a smooth continuation of Daniel's story.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes.