Monday, October 5, 2015

Atlas of Cursed Places

Atlas of Cursed Places by Olivier Le Carrer
Black Dog & Leventhal: 10/6/15
eBook review copy, 144 pages
ISBN-13: 9781631910005

Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations by Olivier Le Carrer is a compelling, engaging volume that shares the history and insight into 40 different cursed locations across the world.

Le Carrer points out in the introduction that not all places are cursed in the same way. Obviously, the first meaning is close to the original meaning of the word and based on the mystical, paranormal, or supernatural. The second group of cursed places is based on natural reasons that make the area blighted and present a danger. The third category consists of places that have been rendered inhabitable by human activity. All of the 40 cursed places discussed are organized into 8 different regions. This attractive and entertaining atlas includes vintage maps and illustrations.

Much to my surprise and chagrin, one of the cursed places is relatively near where I currently live and is reputed to be the gateway to hell.

The contents include:

At The Heart of Old Europe
Chateau De Montsegur - Satan's Synagogue
Rocca-Sparviera - The Phantom Village
Nuremberg - The Sinister Reverberation of Marching Boots

Between the Mediterranean World and Southern Africa
The Tophet of Carthage - Children Burned for the Gods
Oumaradi - Shipwrecked by Sands
Poveglia - The Island of Death
Charybdis and Scylla - A High-Risk Cruise
Kasanka National Park - The Invasion of the Bats
Valley of the Kings - The Curse of Aten
Gaza - A Territory Adrift
Beirut - Destruction and Construction
Moriah and Golgotha - Spiritual Nightmares
Kibera - An Uncharted Cesspool

From the Barents Sea to the Indian Ocean
Zapadnaya Litsa - The Antechamber of Hell
Gulf of Aden - Hunting Ground of Pirates
Gur-Emir - The Malevolent Mausoleum
Thilafushi - The Toxic Lagoon

Around the Bay of Bengal
Jharia - Underground Inferno
Jatinga - A Plague of Birds
Sunda Strait - The Monster of Krakatoa

Between the Orient and Oceania
Houtman Abrolhos - Massacre of the Shipwrecked
Aokigahara - The Suicide Forest
Cape York - In the Land of the Killer Crocodiles
Takuu - An Atoll Living on Borrowed Time
Nauru - Blighted by Phosphate

America From Coast to Coast
Mavericks: The Big Wave - A Cold-Blooded Monster
Nevada Triangle - A Danger in the Sky
Stull, Kansas - The Forbidden Cemetery
Tonina - The Mystery of the Mayas
Adams, Tennessee - The Bell Witch Lives On
Pine Barrens - The Devil's Offspring
Amityville - the Devil's Lair

Among the Islands of the New World
Cite Soleil - All the Misfortune on Earth
Cape Horn - Sailor's Nightmare
Bermuda Triangle - Empire of Enigmas
Sable Island - A Ship Trap in the Atlantic

Beneath the Atlantic Breeze
Cumbre Vieja - Birthplace of the Tsunami
Eilean Mor - Lighthouse Mystery
Yeun Ellez - The Marsh of the Damned
Tiffauges - Castle of a Killer

Disclosure: My digital edition was courtesy of Black Dog & Leventhal for review purposes.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell
W. W. Norton & Co.: 10/5/15
eBook review copy, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780393248456

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell is a highly recommended well written collection of 16 short stories featuring tough, marginalized, deeply flawed working-class women who are in unbalanced and unhealthy relationships. Most of these stories are heart breaking and the characters acceptance of abuse is disturbing, albeit realistic.

Stories in the collection include:

Sleepover: Two teenage girls and their boyfriends
Playhouse:  A young woman, who doesn't quite remember the previous night, hurts her arm when helping her brother fix a playhouse for her niece
Tell Yourself: A mother worries about her daughter
The Greatest Show on Earth: What There Was, 1982: Buckeye and Mike are in a relationship and in the circus.
My Dog Roscoe: Pregnant Sarah believes Roscoe, the stray dog she took in, is her deceased boyfriend Oscar.
Mothers, Tell Your Daughters: An inner monologue directed to the daughter of a dying woman who has had a stroke and is unable to speak.
My Sister Is in Pain: a sister in pain "Stabbing pain sixty hours a week as she bathes and medicates and tends to the needs and the pain of others for minimum wage, throbbing pain when she has a day off..."
A Multitude of Sins: An abused wife is caring for her dying husband in their home.
To You, as a Woman: What a woman might have to do to survive.
Daughters of the Animal Kingdom: A beleaguered woman biologists talks about her life.
Somewhere Warm: A woman wants to create a place of love for her family
My Bliss: things she married
Blood Work, 1999: A woman spends her life and inheritance giving to others.
Children of Transylvania, 1983: A woman and her sisters take a bicycle trip in Romania.
Natural Disasters: A baby shower takes place during a tornado warning
The Fruit of the Pawpaw Tree: a hot summer on the farm where work never ends

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
W. W. Norton & Co for review purposes.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pretty Girls

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
HarperCollins: 9/29/15
eBook review copy, 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062429056

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter is a very highly recommended thriller. This nail-biter is tense, gritty, and very disturbing. Oh, and just when you think you know what is going to happen, trust me, you don't.

In 1991 nineteen year old Julia Carroll vanished and her disappearance changed the dynamics of her surviving family members. Sam, her father and a veterinarian, writes journal entries addressing his missing daughter and the lengths he takes to search for her. Helen, her mother and a librarian, divorces Sam, and starts drinking. Her two sisters, Claire and Lydia, have been estranged for years and still miss their older sister.

Claire is married to Atlanta architect and millionaire Paul Scott. Because of Paul's influence and connections, Claire has gotten off with a light punishment for an incident on the tennis court. When the couple meets for a night out after her ankle bracelet is removed, the couple is robbed and Paul is fatally stabbed. Then, right after the funeral, Claire returns home to a yard full of police because her home was broken into. Then, while trying to find the computer files Paul's partner needs for a meeting, Claire stumbles onto some horrific videos. And then some meticulous files that Paul has kept.

Lydia Delgado was the bad girl years ago, when Julia was live, and her life continued to spiral downward until she was going to have her child and had to clean up her act. Now clean and sober, she is the single mother to a teenage daughter, Dee, and in a relationship with Rick, her neighbor, mechanic, and also now clean, sober and law-abiding. Before she had Dee, Paul, Claire's husband tried to rape her. Claire chose to believe Paul, which caused the estrangement.

The two meet again when current circumstances have sent Claire to try and find her remaining sister. She now believes that Lydia may have been telling the truth. The two still share a bond between them, but don't totally trust each other. They are also forced to face some very chilling, horrific facts that may lead them to finding the answer to the question of what happened to Julia, as well as other missing girls.

Slaughter alternates each chapter between the sister's point of view and Sam's journal entries. She keeps the pace very steady and the tension ratchets up with each new piece of information. I thought I had the plot all figured out just before the half way point in this novel. I was totally wrong. Suddenly I was left  with my mouth hanging open and my heart racing. Then the novel really took off and the tension was intense.

The writing is excellent and the characters are all well developed. There are a few details that you will likely have to stretch you incredulity over, but I thought it was easy to accept the information as fact and get on with the story. This novel is not for the meek. It is at times gruesome, horrific, maddening, and disturbing. There is language. But it is also a very, very good thriller that will keep you up late at nights reading - with the lights on and the windows and doors all locked.

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Complete Works of Primo Levi

The Complete Works of Primo Levi
Liveright Publishing: 9/28/15
eBook review copy, 3002 pages
ISBN-13: 9780871404565

The Complete Works of Primo Levi  is a very highly recommended three volume set of the works of Primo Levy. Years in the making, this set represents a monumental endeavor and fitting tribute to Primo Levy. This is the definitive English translation collection.

Known to English-speaking readers mainly for his writings on the Holocaust, Primo Levy "did not want to be characterized only as a Holocaust writer, and the label does him a regrettable injustice, for he was also a prolific writer of stories, essays, novels, and poems, on a wide range of scientific, literary, and autobiographical subjects."

As the introduction from the editor says, "These new volumes, by presenting Levi in all his facets, will enable English-speaking readers to encounter for the first time the entire range of his versatile, inventive, curious, crystalline intelligence, will enable English-speaking readers to enrich their knowledge of Levi. In doing so, they will discover a writer they may not have known, one whom Italo Calvino called among 'the most important and gifted writers of our time.'" The volumes are arrange chronologically and contain many works that were hard to find or previously left untranslated into English. There are notes from the translators after many of the selections.

The three volumes include:

Editor's Introduction
Ann Goldstein Chronology
Ernesto Ferrero Editor's Acknowledgments
1. IF THIS IS A MAN Translated by Stuart Woolf
2. THE TRUCE Translated by Ann Goldstein
3. NATURAL HISTORIES Translated by Jenny McPhee
4. FLAW OF FORM Translated by Jenny McPhee

1. THE PERIODIC TABLE Translated by Ann Goldstein
2. THE WRENCH Translated by Nathaniel Rich
3. UNCOLLECTED STORIES AND ESSAYS: 1949-1980  Translated by Alessandra Bastagli and Francesco Bastagli
4. LILITH Translated by Ann Goldstein
5. IF NOT NOW, WHEN? Translated by Antony Shugaar

1. COMPLETE POEMS Translated by Jonathan Galassi
2. OTHER PEOPLE'S TRADES Translated by Antony Shugaar
3. STORIES AND ESSAYS Translated by Anne M. Appel
4. THE DROWNED AND THE SAVED Translated by Michael Moore
5. UNCOLLECTED STORIES AND ESSAYS: 1981-1987 Translated by Alessandra Bastagli and Francesco Bastagli
Primo Levi in America
Robert Weil Notes on the Texts
Domenico Scarpa About the Translators

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

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Knopf Doubleday: 9/29/15
eBook review copy, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385540353

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood is very highly recommended, brilliant surrealistic dystopian novel which will likely be banned somewhere in the future for any number of hot topics it contains. I can't help but think that the release was purposefully planned to be during this week, banned book week.

Charmaine and Stan are a young couple who have lost their jobs and their house. They are lucky they have a car to live in and escape from those who aren't so fortunate and might have larceny or worse on their minds. Charmaine is working as a bartender to make a little money for the two. When Charlene sees an ad by Positron for Consilience, a city with jobs and security, she and Stan decide to check it out. The deal is it is a closed system and you sign up for life.

The set up for  Consilience/Positron is based on a contained population/workforce that shares prison/town duties. "Medium-size towns with large penitentiaries could maintain themselves, and the people inside such towns could live in middle-class comfort. And if every citizen were either a guard or a prisoner, the result would be full employment: half would be prisoners, the other half would be engaged in the business of tending the prisoners in some way or other. Or tending those who tended them. And since it was unrealistic to expect certified criminality from 50 percent of the population, the fair thing would be for everyone to take turns: one month in, one month out. Think of the savings, with every dwelling serving two sets of residents! It was time-share taken to its logical conclusion. Hence the twin town of Consilience/Positron."

There is no homelessness, everyone is employed, and the profits go to keeping the system running and everyone happy. Charmaine and Stan are satisfied, for a while, but soon they seem to be feeling some discontent with their carefully planned lives, especially when they become obsessed with the couple who live in their house on alternate months. Their separate sexual involvement with this couple sets them up as pawns to be involved in a complex scheme.

Atwood's writing is astute, exceptional, and clever. The story is innovative and absurd. Above all else, The Heart Goes Last is entertaining, even as it incorporates and questions many societal controversies in the plot. And I am talking about the kind of controversies that keep talk shows on the air and set blogs burning. There is adult language and sex, which seems to bother many, but perceptive readers are going to see the social commentary underneath the farce-like situations and satire.

My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Not on Fire, but Burning

Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek
Melville House: 9/8/15
eBook review copy, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781612194530

Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek is a highly recommended genre twisting novel. It is part sci-fi, part thriller, part speculative dystopia and opens with a bang that should capture every reader's attention.

Skylar, a 20 year old college student, is babysitting when the incident happens. When she looks out of the picture window she sees a bright metallic object hit the Golden Gate Bridge. A mushroom cloud forms above San Francisco and radioactive fallout is everywhere. Skylar starts walking to try and get out and to her parents where she knows her beloved little brother, Dorian, is safe. No one knows what the object was, but some say the words "Air Arabia" could be seen on the object.

Years later Dorian is 12 and knows two things: he misses his sister and hates all Muslims. He is having dreams about a sister that seemingly never existed. She is not in photos. His parents say she didn't exist. Dorian knows she did because his dreams/visions about her are so real. He also dreams about killing Muslims.

In this future America, the country is divided into territories and all Muslims have been interned in the Dakotas, where the former inhabitants have been relocated. When the neighbor, a veteran from Gulf War III adopts Karim, a Muslim orphan from the internment camps and brings him to the neighborhood, introducing him to the neighborhood boys, trouble is bound to happen. Racial slurs slip out and prejudices are revealed, on both sides. Fear and grievances continue to multiply and build up between the Arab and Americans. Is the hatred and fear the two groups hold for each other real or the result of prejudices or incomplete information?

In Not on Fire, but Burning Hrbek has penned a well-written, thoughtful novel with a social conscious. The prose and insight into the psyche of each character is carefully crafted as each of them struggle with societal expectations, their own emotions, and the reality. The result is a multilayered novel that transcends genre. The one drawback for me is the switch between first and third person in the narrative. I found it disconcerting and this threw me off kilter for a good portion of the book. Since I had an advanced reading copy the transitions may be better noted or delineated in the final version.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Melville House for review purposes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Leaving Montana

Leaving Montana by Thomas Whaley
Sakura Publishing: 7/7/14
eBook review copy, 226 pages
ISBN-13: 9780991180776

Leaving Montana by Thomas Whaley is a highly recommended novel about an adult child who survived a highly dysfunctional childhood.

Benjamin Sean Quinn is a forty year old man who, from all outward appearances, has a perfect life. He and his partner of 14 years have 2 daughters. They live in a well-appointed home in a prestigious neighborhood. But Ben is "as angry as hell. Angry to the core." In Leaving Montana he has chosen to confront once and for all the messiness that was his childhood and the hidden secrets it holds in an attempt to rid his life of the anger.

Ben tells the story of his childhood with battling parents Carmella and Sean while going on his current day trip to Montana. His parents are always referred to by their surnames, never an affectionate mom and dad.  Most certainly we know that his childhood is the root of his anger, but there are more secrets to be uncovered. The story of his parents' marriage is heart breaking, but so is the anger that Ben has held on to for far too long. Ben is an arrogant man, but freely admits his flaws and is able to laugh at them.

This is a well written novel written in first person about dysfunctional, embattled families and secrets. The big secret here was one I suspected almost immediately, but the enjoyment was in the journey.

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