Thursday, July 2, 2015

Among the Ten Thousand Things

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont
Random House: 7/7/15
eBook review copy, 336 pages

My Thoughts:

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont is a highly recommended debut novel about a family in crisis.

Jack Shanley is a well-known artist. He and his wife Deb, a former ballet dancer, and their two children, Simon, 15, and Kay, 11, live in NYC. When Kay  looks inside a package addressed to Deb that she is mistakenly given, she finds hundreds of printed emails and a letter from her father Jack's mistress. Kay understands some of it, but not quite all of it, so she shares the information with her brother, Simon, who does understand the contents.

When the contents of the box is brought to Deb's attention by her children, she realizes that she can no longer pretend that she doesn't know about Jack's (repeated) infidelity. While Jack's actions have hurt her, the fact that their children know hurts even more and Deb knows that she must take action. This wasn't Jack's first affair and won't be his last. Deb decides it would be best for her and the kids to leave NYC for a few weeks.

Among the Ten Thousand Things brought to my mind the quote: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation." Henry David Thoreau (Walden). Everyone can be said to live a life of desperation of some kind or at some point. What Pierpont does is take this family at such a time, during the dissolution of a marriage, and show how each member of the family is affected. 

Pierpont takes a radical approach in the organization of her novel that challenges the usual story-telling sequence. The first part of the novel is set in NYC at the end of May and presents the discovery of the affair and the domestic drama that follows. Then Pierpont tells us in "Part Two, That Year and Those That Followed", what happens in the future to the characters. Part Three resumes the in depth story at the start of June and continues character development right where part one left off. The fourth part is again a concluding "That Year and Those That Followed" that ties up all the loose ends with additional information.

I thought the writing was excellent. The unconventional presentation of the story didn't bother me, but I can see where other readers may have qualms about knowing the end of the story, so to speak, before knowing the characters better. Personally, knowing the outcome so soon was a surprise, but intriguing enough to encourage me to continue reading to see the details and immerse myself in the emotional lives of the family.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Penguin First to Read and Random House for review purposes.


The Captive Condition

The Captive Condition by Kevin P. Keating
Knopf Doubleday: 7/7/2015

eBook review copy, 288 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780804169288

My Thoughts:

The Captive Condition by Kevin P. Keating is a modern Gothic horror novel set in Normandy Falls a small Midwestern college town. Edmund Campion is pursuing a master's degree at the college while also working for the college growns-crew and physical plant. He notices that his professor, Martin Kingsley, is having an affair with his neighbor, Emily Ryan. One drunken night Edmund discovers Emily has drowned in her pool and he begins to obsess on the dead woman. Adding to the creepy mix is his boss called the Gonk; Emily's malicious twin girls (picture the hallway scene in the movie The Shining); Edmund's ex-girlfriend Morgan Fey who works for a chef/drug dealer Xavier D’Avignon (who supplies hallucinogenic carrot juice to the town), and an exotic dancer called Lorelei who has fish tattoos. The whole town is haunted by a strange history and many would say evil spirits who mean to harm the living.

This is a very dark, mysterious novel with an overabundance of drinking or intoxication of some variety. Although, at the beginning, there are glimmers of humor in descriptions, The Captive Condition quickly turns horrific and frightening. Keating writes in a very stylistic manner that is reminiscent of old Gothic horror novels, which adds to the bleak mood he creates. While I can't fault the writing or the plot for any drawbacks, as the novel progressed I wasn't quite as engaged with it as I expected to be and felt disconnected. There were parts where I admired the writing a great deal, but, as the novel descended into horror it left me behind. I would recommend it based on the quality of the writing alone and would highly recommended for anyone who enjoys complex, frightening Gothic horror novels.

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Those Girls

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens
St. Martin's Press: 7/7/2015
eBook Review copy, 384 pages
hardcover ISBN-13:

My Thoughts:

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens is a very highly recommended novel about three sisters trying to escape and survive in a world set against them. Great novel, perfect stay-up-all-night-at-the-airport book (but be by a security guard station), an accomplished thriller that held my rapt attention from beginning to end! 

It's the summer of 1997 and those girls are the Campbell sisters who live in a run-down house on a ranch in Western Canada by the Alberta/British Columbia border. Jess (just turning 15), Courtney (16 1/2) and Dani (almost 18) have had a hard life for years. After their mother died, they were foster care for a while because their father was unemployed and drinking heavily. Then their father regained custody, promising to stay sober. Now he's off working in the Alberta oil fields for three weeks at a time, only coming back, maybe, for one week out of the month to see how the girls are and, sometimes, buy groceries. The girls help out with work on the ranch to help pay the rent. The trouble is their father is drinking again, and when he drinks he is abusive. 

When he comes back drunk for the final night, he has heard some rumors around town about Courtney. To punish her, he burns Courtney with a hot pan and then tries to drown her in a toilet.  Dani and Jess are watching and trying to stop him. Dani gets the shot gun out, but Jess is the one who uses it to save Courtney's life. Now the girls are on the run, headed to Vancouver, where they are sure they can blend into the city and make a new life for themselves.

Along the way their truck breaks down near the small town of Cash Creek. When two brothers, Brian and Gaven Luxton, stop and offer to help, all three of the girls sense that something isn't right, but they are desperate. The brothers tell them that they can work on the ranch to earn the money to pay for the repairs needed on their truck. Feeling trapped and hoping they are just being alarmists, they decide to trust the brothers. And then things get really bad.... 

The sisters do finally make it to Vancouver with the help of a few good men, where they change their names (to Jamie, Crystal, and Dallas Caldwell) and make a life for themselves. But the past is not quite through with them yet and now they have even more to lose. They have all done an excellent job avoiding sharing information about their past and trying to get on with their lives, but the truth is always with them, and there are events that will always haunt them.

As I was reading Those Girls I had two quotes running through my head: "Women have got to make the world safe for men since men have made it so darned unsafe for women." (Nancy Astor) and "A girl child ain't safe in a family of mens..." (Sofia from The Color Purple by Alice Walker). Most women will understand that, even today, the world is not safe for women in so many ways.

The novel is divided into three parts. The first part of the story opens in July 1997 and is narrated by Jess. The second part jumps ahead to July 2015 and is narrated by a new character. The third part is narrated by Jess/Jamie, with an epilogue by Dani/Dallas.

I was absolutely, totally engaged with Those Girls from beginning to end. The writing is superb, the story is fast-paced and emotional, and the suspense is taut and nerve wracking. Chevy Stevens has done it again. This is a book that should be on everyone's list as a best book of the summer. Look for it's release on July 7th. (Although men may not quite respond to it as much as women - that whole unsafe reality women have to deal with while even walking to their cars at the grocery store.)

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of St. Martin's Press for review purposes.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Love May Fail

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick
HarperCollins: 6/16/2015
Review copy, 416 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780062285560

"Love may fail, but courtesy will prevail." Kurt Vonnegut

My Thoughts:

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick is a very highly recommended novel about redemption, relationships, and interconnected lives. It's also, in part, about goodness, broken people, adultery, unconventional families, English teachers, religion, 80's metal bands, fate, coincidence, hoarders, drinking, paper airplanes, and closure. I loved it.

After witnessing her wealthy pornographer and serial-cheating husband Ron's latest affair with a teenager, instead of shooting them, Portia Kane jumps on a plane, drunk, headed for South Jersey and her hoarder mother's house. On the plane Portia sits next to and profanely over-shares her woes with an elderly plucky nun before passing out. Sister Maeve wisely leaves Portia her contact information. Once in NJ, Portia is back at her mom's house, trying to avoid the piles of stuff, and drinking the diet Coke with Lime her mom has obsessively purchased just in case Portia ever visits.

While trying to get her mom out of the house, they go to a diner where Portia meets an old high school friend, which leads to meeting her little boy, Tommy, and her brother, Chuck Bass, who secretly always had a crush on Portia. (All of them love 80's metal bands, especially Motley Crue.) When Portia tells them she wants to find their old English Teacher, Mr. Vernon, and tell him how much he meant to her, she learns that he gave up teaching and left town after a student attacked him. She plans to help/rescue Mr. Vernon because he believed in her. Although it may appear I've retold the whole plot, this is only a taste of Love May Fail.  There is so much more.

All the characters embody the Albert Camus quote Quick includes: "Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal."

I thought Love May Fail was a delight to read. Yes, sometimes it is sad and heartbreaking, but it is also quirky and funny. These are all very real characters, broken in some ways, trying to redeem themselves. They all have lots of faults and are trying to do what they think they are supposed to do in order to become the person they are supposed to be. They are also all strangely interconnected, be it a master plan or fate, and need each other in some capacity. The novel unfolds through three characters and the letters of a fourth. Portia, Mr. Vernon, and Chuck all take up the narrative and tell us what is going on, while Sister Maeve has one short section comprised of letters she has written.

Love May Fail is most assuredly very well written. Quick does a superb job with dialogue and the plot moves along quickly. I can concede that
some readers may struggle with Portia's swearing and rants, especially at the beginning, but give the woman a chance. Think about how you would feel in her situation. And, again, all of these characters have faults, just like real people, and they are trying to do the best they can. I just love it when a novel comes together perfectly and hits all the right marks for me!

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

TLC Tour Schedule

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Little Beasts

Little Beasts by Matthew McGevna
Akashic Books: 7/7/2015
eBook review copy, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781617753473

My Thoughts:

Little Beasts by Matthew McGevna is a highly recommended novel loosely based on a real story.

Eight year olds James Illworth, Dallas Darwin, and Felix Cassidy are doing what any kids would do in the summer of 1983 in Turnbull, a working-class Long Island town. They watch an eviction. They assign themselves characters to play Star Wars. They find a stray dog as a mascot. They play in the woods by their houses. They plan to steal fort building materials from another gang of kids (and get into a fight). They try to appease the adults in their lives, answer if their mothers yell for them, and avoid the sullen, angry teens that always seem to be hanging out. They are busy children, serious about their friendship and playing with each other.

David Westwood is hanging out with his friends, other 15 year old teens. David is a budding artist, but finds himself at odds with others at his high school. Other students have given him the nickname "Red" and have accused him of hating America and being a Communist. David doesn't agree with their assessment, but he plays the role. Although he has a group of friends, he is really a loner, trying to fit in, looking for acceptance. He pines for Julia, who may or may not be his girlfriend.

While our group of eight year olds has a horrible fight with other kids, the teens are struggling with their own social issues. The next day the two groups meet with fatal results.

McGevna does a great job describing the feelings of the kids out and about, trying to stay out of the way of trouble and doing their own busy work of being children in the summer. When the view switches to the teens, he also manages to capture the bullying and teen angst David is experiencing. Although it is well written and the inner workings and pitfalls that must be avoided in both the lives of the kids and the teens is clearly portrayed, I wasn't sure exactly where the novel was heading. There is a lot of lead up to the tragedy, which doesn't happen until you are well into the second half of the book.

In the end this is a fine summer novel or a great airplane book. It will keep you reading, the writing and descriptions are great, and, although you have to wait a bit too long for the horrible turn of events to happen, McGevna skillfully handles the subsequent aftermath.

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Bones of You

The Bones of You by Debbie Howells
Kensington: 6/30/2015
eBook review copy, 320 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781617737664

My Thoughts:

The Bones of You by Debbie Howells is a highly recommended psychological thriller that is somewhat reminiscent of The Lovely Bones. The novel opens with 18 year old  Rosie Anderson telling us about her death by stabbing and how her life begins to flash before her eyes.

Kate McKay is a friend of the family whose daughter Grace is the same age as Rosie. Kate knows Rosie very well because the teen often stopped by to see her horses and help her in the stables. She knows Rosie as a quiet, pretty good girl who kept to herself. She is quite naturally shocked when she learns of Rosie's disappearance and, later, her horrible death. Kate reaches out to Rosie's mother, Jo, and wants to be supportive to her and to Rosie's younger sister Delphine. Rosie's father Neal, is a successful journalist and he seems to have it all under control. Jo, on the other hand, seems odd - either intense or scattered. Delphine is very quiet and always alert and watchful. It will be obvious to readers that all is not how it seems to be in the Anderson family.

While the search for the killer is underway, Howell's uses Rosie and Kate in a dual narrative to tell the story (with a third point of view included intermittently). Rosie's parts are short and provide flashbacks that provide insight and delve into the history of her family's dynamics. Kate, who genuinely liked Rosie, is concerned with finding out who the killer is and trying to be a friend to Jo, but she is also struggling along in her daily life and that of her own family.

The Bones of You is not a fast paced thriller, but it is very well written which should capture the attention of most readers, as it did mine. Howells is great at character development. On the downside, in many ways Kate is rather naive, which was somewhat distracting and unrealistic. It was also hard to believe that the presence of the police was so absent in the novel, considering a murder investigation was underway, but I can also see this as a choice made by Howells for the format of her novel. Many astute readers are going to guess what happened long before the big reveal.

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

Friday, June 19, 2015

Fixed in Blood

Fixed in Blood by T. E. Woods
Random House: 6/16/2015
eBook review copy, 310 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101886564

My Thoughts:

Fixed in Blood by T. E. Woods is a very highly recommended 4th book in the Justice series.

Mort Grant, Chief of Detectives, is on the case when a young woman is found dead in Seattle and discovered to be the victim of a sick individual making a snuff film. When a second young woman is found dead and it is determined that her murder was also filmed, there is an obvious connection between the two women. The two victims are connected to a chain of payday loan shops called Rite Now.

Psychologist Lydia Corriger, the Fixer, has seen two patients with connections to Rite Now loans, so, naturally, her path crosses Mort's during his investigation. Mort and Lydia still have unresolved issues from when she tried to protect Allie, Mort's daughter. Can they set their issues aside and work together to solve the brutal murders? And is it time for The Fixer to return to work and make things right? What about Mort's daughter, Allie? Could she be involved?

Fixed in Blood continues the well written, fast-paced series by
T. E. Woods. Woods keeps the tension high as she slowly reveals more clues uncovered by the investigation. I was going to rate this fourth book four stars, because I think readers new to the series and the characters really need to read the previous books for more background, but
Fixed in Blood is just too good to dock it a star. The investigation has plenty of false leads and the twist in this one is a huge surprise. The Fixer/Mort Grant series is one of my favorites. This would be a stuck over night at the airport book.

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