Friday, April 18, 2014

Casebook

Casebook by Mona Simpson
Knopf Doubleday: 4/15/2014
Hardcover, 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385351416
monasimpson.com/

From the acclaimed and award-winning author of Anywhere But Here and My Hollywood, a powerful new novel about a young boy’s quest to uncover the mysteries of his unraveling family. What he discovers turns out to be what he least wants to know: the inner workings of his parents’ lives. And even then he can’t stop searching.
Miles Adler-Hart starts eavesdropping to find out what his mother is planning for his life. When he learns instead that his parents are separating, his investigation deepens, and he enlists his best friend, Hector, to help. Both boys are in thrall to Miles’s unsuspecting mother, Irene, who is “pretty for a mathematician.” They rifle through her dresser drawers, bug her telephone lines, and strip-mine her computer, only to find that all clues lead them to her bedroom, and put them on the trail of a mysterious stranger from Washington, D.C.
Their amateur detective work starts innocently but quickly takes them to the far reaches of adult privacy as they acquire knowledge that will affect the family’s well-being, prosperity, and sanity. Burdened with this powerful information, the boys struggle to deal with the existence of evil and concoct modes of revenge on their villains that are both hilarious and na├»ve. Eventually, haltingly, they learn to offer animal comfort to those harmed and to create an imaginative path to their own salvation.
Casebook brilliantly reveals an American family both coming apart at the seams and,  simultaneously, miraculously reconstituting itself to sustain its members through their ultimate trial. Mona Simpson, once again, demonstrates her stunning mastery, giving us a boy hero for our times whose story remains with us long after the novel is over.
My Thoughts:

In Casebook by Mona Simpson a young amateur sleuth hears more than he bargained for which eventually leads to an expanded investigation and results in some hard earned lessons and maturity. Highly Recommended


When Miles Adler-Hart was 12 he originally began eavesdropping on his parents in a vain attempt to discover any plans they might have for his futures. Instead of talking about him, Miles discovers that their relationship is in trouble and they are getting divorced. After the divorce Miles' mother, Irene, introduces him to her boyfriend, Eli. With the help of his friend, Hector, Miles increases his surveillance on his mom and this questionable new man. Miles and Hector eventually befriend a PI to help in their investigation.

Miles says of Eli: "It was odd story. Like the brother. A lot of Eli’s life seemed weird. Sad, too. I felt that even then. But sad in a way that had no poignancy. More like a disease I hoped wasn’t contagious."
 
Simpson follows her teenage protagonist Miles from age 12 to post high school, with most of the novel centered around Miles to about age 15. This novel manages to transcend the usual teenage novel full of angst associated with a broken family and the ensuing financial stress it causes by focusing on the mysterious relationship between Irene and Eli as seen through the eyes and ears of a sometimes clueless, sometimes insightful Miles and Hector. There is also a dose of humor in Miles story through some of his schemes and antics, along with the poignancy of an alienated teen during a tragic time in his life.
 
The novel is set up as an account after the fact, with a present day Miles and Hector as successful comic book authors, with footnotes added later with comments on what is written. This is a coming-of -age novel with a mystery entwined in the story. Simpson does a wonderful job capturing Miles thoughts for his age while allowing Irene's personal struggles to remain somewhat aloof and beyond Miles' ability to comprehend.

In many ways Simpson's account is a somewhat sanitized picture of what divorce means to many women and children. While there is definitely emotional strain, the devastating blow that many experience emotionally and financially isn't pictured quite as insidious here as the reality is for many.

The quality of Simpson's writing and her ability to really allow us to connect with her teenage protagonist help to elevate Casebook up from just-another-coming-of-age-story to a novel with a mystery to unravel while we gain insight into all of the characters.

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

 
 

 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chop Chop

Chop Chop by Simon Wroe
Penguin Group: 4/17/2014
Hardcover, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781594205798  

An outrageously funny and original debut set in the fast-paced and treacherous world of a restaurant kitchen
Fresh out of the university with big dreams, our narrator is determined to escape his past and lead the literary life in London. But soon he is two months behind on rent for his depressing Camden Town bed-sit and forced to take a job doing grunt work in the kitchen of The Swan, a formerly grand restaurant that has lost its luster.
Mockingly called “Monocle” by his boisterous co-workers for a useless English lit degree, he is suddenly thrust into the unbelievably brutal, chaotic world of professional cooking and surrounded by a motley cast of co-workers for which no fancy education could have prepared him. There’s the lovably dim pastry chef Dibden, who takes all kinds of grief for his “girly” specialty; combative Ramilov, who spends a fair bit of time locked in the walk-in freezer for pissing people off; Racist Dave, about whom the less said the better; Camp Charles, the officious head waiter; and Harmony, the only woman in a world of raunchy, immature, drug- and rage-fueled men. But worst of all, there’s Bob, the sadistic head chef, who runs the kitchen with an iron fist and a taste for cruelty that surprises and terrifies even these most hardened of characters.
Once initiated and begrudgingly accepted, Monocle enters into a strange camaraderie with his fellow chefs, one based largely on the speed and ingenuity of their insults. In an atmosphere that is more akin to a zoo—or a maximum security prison—than a kitchen he feels oddly at home. But soon an altogether darker tale unfolds as Monocle and his co-workers devise a plot to overthrow Bob and Monocle’s dead-beat father (who has been kicked out of the family home) shows up at his door. Not only does his dad insist on sleeping on the floor of Monocle’s apartment; he starts hanging out at The Swan’s dissolute bar in the evenings. As the plan to oust Bob clicks into motion and the presence of his father causes Monocle to revisit lingering questions from his unhappy childhood, Chop Chop accelerates toward its blackly hilarious, thrilling, and ruthless conclusion.
My Thoughts:


Chop Chop by Simon Wroe is highly recommended for those who can appreciate a humorous (and realistic) look at the inside workings of the food industry.

Monocle, whose nickname is bestowed upon him based on his English Lit degree, is a recent graduate who is in desperate need of a job. He applies at The Swan, a London restaurant that is past its glory days, and is thrust into the world of professional chefs and the inner workings of a professional kitchen. Monocle learns to become a chef under very adverse conditions while also coming to terms with his past and his relationship with his father.

Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant kitchen (or a large-scale professional kitchen anywhere) is going to understand the cast of odd characters that populate this world and know that Wroe knows about which he writes.

I had to laugh about chopping up one onion and then reading:
“I don’t want one onion chopped,” he said. “What am I going to do with one f***ing onion? Do the whole bag.” The whole bag? It was the size of a turkey. I struggled to lift it. No one in their right mind needed so many onions. That day I realized I knew nothing about food or cooking. Also, more worryingly, nothing about people or communication. Months of fiction in that armchair, and years of studying it before that, had left me dealing with life at reading speed. Conversations passed me by while I was still formulating a response. People here dealt with one another so firmly, with no concerns for the nuances of situation.


Boy is that is the truth. You need to work fast and efficiently with little chance to finesse any situation. It is go-go-go until hours have passed and you don't have a clue where the time went.
 

There are so many great examples but I picked out a few more:
“Smoke?” He held out a cigarette. “You will,” he said when I refused. (Location 355)
"That was the first rule I learned at The Swan: Never challenge the person in charge. They could make your life more hellish than you could imagine. This, incidentally, is true of families as well as kitchens."  (Location 436)

I also had to say "Isn't that the truth" when Monocle realizes that his hands are going to be permanently stained from his job, but even more so that it is your feet and legs that take the brunt of the abuse. After standing for hours there is no amount of rest that can make up for the pain.

But the truisms of working in a restaurant are just a part of the story. The cast of characters is an even more enticing component of this novel. They are weird and wonderful, including: "Racist Dave," chef Ramilov,  Dibden the pastry chef, and a girl named Harmony, and the cruel head chef Bob. The story takes a dark turn and, although it is humorous, it is also gritty and not for the faint of heart.


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

Under a Silent Moon

Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes
HarperCollins : 4/15/2014
Hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062276025
www.elizabeth-haynes.com
 
This first novel in an exciting British crime series from suspense talent Elizabeth Haynes, is a blend of literary suspense and page-turning thriller that introduces formidable Detective Chief Inspector Louisa Smith.

In the crisp, early hours of an autumn morning, the police are called to investigate two deaths. The first is a suspected murder at a farm on the outskirts of a small village. A beautiful young woman has been found dead, her cottage drenched with blood. The second is a reported suicide at a nearby quarry. A car with a woman’s body inside was found at the bottom of the pit.

As DI Louisa Smith and her team gather evidence, they discover a shocking link between the two cases and the two deaths—a bond that sealed their terrible fates one cold night, under a silent moon.

In Under a Silent Moon, Elizabeth Haynes interweaves fictional primary source materials—police reports, phone messages, interviews—and multiple character viewpoints to create a sexy, edgy, and compulsively readable tale of murder, mystery, and unsettling suspense.
My Thoughts:


Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes is a highly recommended British police procedural that marks the start of a new series.

The day after Halloween two different women are found dead in a small village.  Polly Leuchars, who was working as a stable hand for Felicity Maitland, is found bludgeoned to death in her cottage. Clearly she was murdered. A second woman, Barbara Fletcher-Norman, is found in  a car that went into quarry. Once he hears of her death, her husband collapses and is sent to the hospital. Things are not quite as simple as they originally seem for Detective Chief Inspector Louisa (Lou) Smith of the major crimes unit, who takes the lead in the investigation.  Andy Hamiltion is also on the case to assist Lou. Matters are even further complicated because Barbara is a neighbor to the Maitlands. It seems that Polly may have been having an affair with Barbara's husband - as well as many others - but there is also some suspicious illegal business going on that could tie into the cases. 

For those who really love their police procedurals Under a Silent Moon  includes official reports, interviews, emails, and documents from the case. These documents help to propel the story forward while uncovering clues to solve the crime, which results in an authenticity to the novel. It's one thing to tell us what the police heard from a witness. It's another thing to read the report or interview of the witness. I think the inclusion of the "official" documents is clearly an addition that you will either like or dislike - I happened to be on the like side. I also rather enjoyed the case diagrams provided in the appendix. Haynes is a police intelligence analyst so the materials she includes look like the real deal. 

While the plot of the novel is well thought out and carefully devised, some of the characters are less well developed. I wasn't too bothered by this because clearly some characters will be better developed over time in the new series. For those who like closure, the ending is clearly written with a sequel in mind so every issue in the story isn't completely resolved.


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

Monday, April 14, 2014

Until You're Mine

Until You're Mine by Samantha Hayes
Crown Publishing: 4/15/2014

Hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780804136891
www.samanthahayes.co.uk


You're alone. You're vulnerable. And you have something that someone else wants. At any cost.
 
Claudia Morgan-Brown finally has it all. Pregnant with a much-wanted first baby of her own, she has a happily established family of two small step-sons and a loving husband with a great career. But she is also committed to her full-time job as a social worker, and her husband travels often. So when Claudia hires Zoe to help her around the house in anticipation of the baby’s arrival, it seems like the answer to her prayers. But despite Zoe's glowing recommendations and instant rapport with the children, there's something about her that Claudia cannot trust.
 
Moreover, there has been a series of violent attacks on pregnant women in the area, and Claudia becomes acutely aware of her vulnerability. With her husband out of town for work and her family far away, who will be there to protect her? And why does she feel unsettled about Zoe? Realizing appearances can be deceiving even in her seemingly perfect world, Claudia digs deeper into Zoe’s blurry past and begins to wonder – how far would someone go to have a child of her own?
 
Riveting from its very first pages, Until You’re Mine is a multilayered masterwork of twisted, psychological suspense. Readers of Before I Go to Sleep and Turn of Mind will be enthralled by this multilayered novel, featuring a twisted plot that ends in a breathtaking and shocking finale.

My Thoughts:


Until You're Mine by Samantha Hayes is a highly recommended novel of suspense, terror, and some surprising twists and turns.

A very pregnant Claudia Morgan-Brown is married to James, a Royal Navy officer and is mother to his two twin sons by his first wife. Because he is gone for long periods of time they decide to hire a nanny, Zoe, to help Claudia care for the twins and the soon-to-arrive new baby. At the same time Lorraine, a police detective, is investigating along with Adam, her cheating police detective husband, recent attacks on pregnant woman.

Set in Birmingham, England, the narrative in Until You're Mine is told through the viewpoints of the three women in alternating chapters. We know right from the start that Zoe, the nanny, is suspicious and that everything may not be as she says it is as she takes the job of nanny for social worker, Claudia. Zoe has some kind of relationship with a mentally unbalanced woman who longs to have a baby. Claudia is somewhat suspicious of Zoe but also needs her help with James gone. The twins are a handful and Claudia is still working until her baby is born. Lorraine's marriage is going through a tough time and investigating the brutal attacks against pregnant women is adding to her stress.

I'd have to say that while the writing was adequate, the twists at the end improved my rating of the book. The ending came as a total surprise which redeemed Until You're Mine for me. Up to the ending I was finding the way the voices of Zoe and Claudia were written to be almost indistinguishable from each other - with the only difference simply what they were thinking about. It might have been nice to imbibe them with their own personalities and make the difference between the two a bit more obvious. Lorraine's chapters were easily distinguished from the other two, although some of the side story with Lorraine and her family didn't add to the novel. I did like how the sense of foreboding and dread grew as the novel progressed.

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

Sunday, April 13, 2014

All the Birds, Singing

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
Knopf Doubleday: 4/15/2014
Hardcover, 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307907769
www.eviewyld.com


From one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists, a stunningly insightful, emotionally powerful new novel about an outsider haunted by an inescapable past: a story of loneliness and survival, guilt and loss, and the power of forgiveness.
 
Jake Whyte is living on her own in an old farmhouse on a craggy British island, a place of ceaseless rain and battering wind. Her disobedient collie, Dog, and a flock of sheep are her sole companions, which is how she wants it to be. But every few nights something—or someone—picks off one of the sheep and sounds a new deep pulse of terror. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, and rumors of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is also Jake’s past, hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, held in the silences about her family and the scars that stripe her back—a past that threatens to break into the present. With exceptional artistry and empathy, All the Birds, Singing reveals an isolated life in all its struggles and stubborn hopes, unexpected beauty, and hard-won redemption.

My Thoughts:


All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld is a highly recommended darkly atmospheric character study.

Jake Whyte is a taciturn young woman who is currently living as a sheep farmer on an island off the coast of England. She wants nothing more than to live a quiet life away from everyone else but she is also haunted by a unacknowledged past in Australia from which she is actively hiding. Her current troubles ate much more real. Something or someone is killing her sheep and she's hearing unsettling noises at night that may be related to the slaughter. She thinks it might be that starnge man she's seen around or perhaps some local teens looking for a dark thrill. The violent attacks on her sheep may force her to meet some neighbors, make some allies, and find some answers.

The chapters alternate between present day Jake in England and her problems and the story of what happened in her past in Australia that has made her so secretive. Wyld manages to keep the tension high as Jake's story slowly unfolds. As events churn into an inescapable storm cloud of woe and despair, this is an unrelentingly dark novel. The quality of the prose and the emotional angst Wyld so skillfully captures is what kept me riveted to the story even when the gloom seemed too heavy.

Wlyd also managed to artfully include in her novel the reality of how woman can even today be treated as hysterical when something is wrong, as if our sex somehow determines our intelligence or ability to see that something is intrinsically wrong or evil. And perhaps how women still need to struggle to be viewed as equals - or perhaps we never will.

Beyond that, though, Wyld has given us a wonderfully bleak, somber tale full of shadowy despondency as we explore Jake's character while Jake struggles to overcome what is haunting her past and present. (The only downside, for me, is the ending...)


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

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Saucer: Savage Planet

Saucer: Savage Planet by Stephen Coonts
St. Martin's Press: 4/1/2014
Trade Paperback, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1250042002
www.coonts.com
Saucer Series #3


Aliens are coming! 
A year after young engineering student Rip Cantrell discovered the first flying saucer buried deep in the sands of the Sahara, another saucer is brought up from the bottom of the Atlantic.  The recovery is funded by a pharmaceutical executive who believes that the saucer holds the key to an anti-aging drug formula that space travelers would need to voyage between galaxies.  But one of his technicians, Adam Solo, an alien marooned on Earth for a thousand years, steals the saucer, hoping to summon a starship to rescue him.  Unfortunately, the stolen saucer has damaged communications gear.
Solo goes to Rip Cantrell and his partner, ex-Air Force test pilot Charlotte “Charley” Pine, and Rip's uncle Egg, for help in summoning a starship.  Meanwhile, as a terrified world fearful of space invaders approaches meltdown, big pharma moguls and their thugs are hot on the trail of the foursome.
In a world turned upside down, it may be the arriving aliens who offer limitless possibilities.  Rip and Charley face an incredible decision: Do they dare leave the safety of earth to travel into the great wilderness of the universe?  Full of UFO’s, futuristic technology, edge-of-your-seat flying scenes and unforgettable characters, human and otherwise, Stephen Coonts' Savage Planet is classic storytelling at its best . . . and pure, unadulterated fun.

My Thoughts:

Saucer: Savage Planet by Stephen Coonts concludes the series originally began with Saucer (2003) and Saucer: The Conquest (2006) and is recommended for those who need closure.


Rip Cantrell,  discovers a flying saucer buried in the Sahara desert with help from Charlotte Pine and his uncle Arthur “Egg” Cantrell. Only a year later a second saucer is discovered buried in the Great Barrier Reef. Pharmaceutical baron Harrison Douglas is behind the funding for the recovery efforts because he believes he can reap financial gain from products made based on the alien science. Douglas gets a hold of the Roswell saucer which was originally at Area 51. Then Adam Solo, a technician who is actually an alien-in hiding and working for Douglas, steals the saucer.
 

Solo hopes to find a way to call for help but with the communications device damaged, he connects with Rip and the gang hoping the saucer he found can help him get home. In the meantime everyone is after them.

Those who read and enjoyed the previous two books may want to pick up this third installment just for the conclusion of the series.  It's an easy read and the pace is fast enough to keep you entertained. While this final book was the weakest of the three, it is fun escapism. For me this is an airplane book - certainly worth reading but I wouldn't pull my hair out in grief if I misplaced my copy in my travels. I do like the closure, though it was a long time coming...


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

A Letter for My Mother


A Letter for My Mother by Nina Foxx (Editor)
Strebor Books: 4/8/2014
Trade Paperback, 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781593095321

Thirty-three female writers share their essays and letters—hilarious, heart wrenching, and everything in between—in this wise and poignant collection about mother-daughter relationships.
Whether they’re from the US, Caribbean, India, or the UK, all of the contributors to A Letter for My Mother share one thing in common: thoughts that have been left unsaid to their mothers and mother figures—until now. In this moving book, thirty-three women reveal the stories, reflections, confessions, and revelations they’ve kept to themselves for years and have finally put into words. Written through tears and pain, as well as joy and laughter, each offering presents the mother-daughter bond in a different light.
Heartfelt and deeply meaningful, A Letter for My Mother will inspire you to admire and cherish that special relationship that shapes every woman.

My Thoughts:

A Letter for My Mother by Nina Foxx (Editor) is a very highly recommended collection of letters women have written to their mothers. I simply can't recommend this amazing collection enough.

In A Letter for My Mother Nina Foxx has collected letters from 33 daughters to their mothers. While the letters differ as vastly as the individuals who wrote them, they all have the common thread of things daughters have left unsaid to their mothers (or stepmother, or mother-in-law, or mother-like mentor)  The mother-daughter relationship is always complicated. It can be fraught with tension and difficulties or exuberant with love and support - and cover the gamut of every emotion in-between.

Foxx writes:
"I invited other women to write a letter to a mother in their lives, someone who guided them when they didn’t want to be guided and perhaps someone they’d never thanked. In the letter, they were to tell them what they wanted them to know. The recipient of the letter needn’t be alive or biologically related, just someone to whom they had things to say to but lacked courage or foresight to be able to say those things, a thank you."


Some of the authors invited to write a letter were unable to do so because their relationships to their mothers were still full of complications or unresolved issues.  Some of those who participated found that "Writing these letters, love letters to our mothers, forced us to let go of the anger that had hung around our necks for years and let it float away from us. We had to give the bad memories to the universe and embrace the good and how that had shaped us into adulthood." Before each letter the author explains some of the background regarding her relationship with her mother.

Some of the letters are heart-warming, loving tributes to mothers who sacrificed all they had to give to help their children. Some mothers died young, leaving their daughters to face different kinds of trials. Some mothers are neglectful, or hurtful, or cruel. Some lived their life as a testimony and in service to God as well as their family. Some are beautiful. Some are strong while others are weak. Some left their daughters knowing with absolute certainty that they are loved by their mother. Some forced their daughters into an early adulthood and responsibilities beyond their years. Some gave their daughter a strong set of values and self-confidence. Some loved and accepted their daughters just as they are, while others set their expectations so high no one could hope to reach them. Some are heart breaking and some are humorous. They are all unique.


The contents include:

Introduction Nina Foxx
A Letter to My Once Mother-in-Law Nina Foxx
Missing Mom Carmen Green
Mamaji Elisheba Haaq-Stevens
Marian of Memphis Pamela Walker-Williams
Family Matters Most Berta Platas
Taming The Beast Shia Shabazz Smith
There is a Time Gabrielle Cox
Gloria Gillian Hubbard
Just Enough Arlene L. Walker
Mother Envy Pamela Samuels Young
You’ll Never Be Doris Day Jelen Hunter
Dear Mable Lori Bryant-Woolridge
A Saint in Everyday Clothes Joanne C. Hillhouse
I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You Lynda Sandoval
A Mother Sent by Providence Pat G’Orge Walker
The Collector Sheila J. Williams
Playing Favorites Sofia Quintero
Once I Had a Mother Deepa Agarwal
Get Your Own Dungeon! And Other Francesisms That Used to Work My Last Nerve Tracy Price-Thompson
Mama Carol Taylor 151 Battling Love Dominique Jackson
What I Thank You For Pat Tucker
Naomi to Your Ruth Victoria Christopher Murray
The Epitome of a Woman ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Thank You Letter Trisha R. Thomas
Disappointing You Denise Nguyen
Let it Start with the Mothers Heather Rae
Reflections of You Donna Hill
No Mama Drama Danita Carter
My Mother’s Daughter Valerie Wilson Wesley
My First Heroine Tananarive Due
Couldn’t Have Asked for More Zane
A Golden Heart Charmaine R. Parker
Beyond the Corner of My Eye Nina Foxx



Excerpt

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Strebor Books via Netgalley for review purposes.