Saturday, May 18, 2013
Resurrectionist by Matthew Guinn (W.W. Norton, July 8, 2013)
Dr. Jacob Thacker is on probation for abusing Xanax and is working in public relations for the dean at South Carolina State Medical College until he is deemed ready to return to practicing medicine. When renovations begin on campus, a burial ground of bones estimated to be a century old are uncovered taking Jacob and his colleagues on a journey into a darker part of the colleges history and taking Jacob on a journey of self-discovery that will help shape his future. A founder of the school, Dr. Frederick Augustus Johnston purchased a slave, Nemo, who was especially skilled with a knife. Nemo was an unofficial member of the faculty and a resurrenctionist, who was responsible for finding bodies on which the students could practice. The further Jacob delves into Nemo’s story, the more he realizes that he must make decisions that will not be popular with the school, possibly costing the school funding and costing Jacob, perhaps his livelihood. Told in alternating chapters between Jacob’s present day story and Nemo’s story in nineteenth-century South Carolina, Matthew Guinn depicts two memorable characters with a subtle narrative and strong sense of place. Readers watch as Jacob is transformed from a self-absorbed young man into someone with a curiosity about his past & that of his school’s and into someone willing to stand up for what he knows is right. This is a beautifully and subtly written debut novel.
at 3:52 PM
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Close My Eyes by Sophie McKenzie (
Martin’s, July 9, 2013)
Geniver Loxley has been unable to get over the death of her daughter Beth at her birth eight years ago. Once an author with a promising future, Gen has begun teaching writing classes at a local college, though her heart is not in it; her husband Art has been urging Beth to try fertility treatments that will enable them to have another child, but Gen can’t bear the thought of losing another child. A stranger arrives on her doorstep one day telling Gen that she is the sister of the nurse who was in the delivery room the day Beth was born and that Beth did not die, but was stolen from Gen, is still alive and that Art was in on the crime. Gen cannot believe that Art would be involved in such a thing, but as she begins to look into the veracity of the woman’s claims, she realizes that her sister, now dead, may have been telling the truth. Gen tracks down the people who were in the delivery room that day and realizes that Lucy’s sister was telling the truth and that her Beth may in fact still be alive. Filled with twists and turns and a woman on the edge, Close My Eyes begins with a parent’s worst nightmare and ends with a shocking conclusion few will see coming.
at 12:15 PM
The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood (Penguin, July 30 2013)
Engrossing and disturbing, The Wicked Girls explores the lives of two women convicted of murder as eleven-year-olds who appear to have gotten away from the events of their childhood until the day the two meet again as a serial-killer stalks young women in a seaside town. Bel and Jade meet for the first time when they are eleven but become tied together forever when they murder, and attempt to cover it up, the young sister of a friend of one of their older brothers. Convicted, but separated during their time they served at their sentences, new identities were created for the notorious pre-teens and they have tried to put their pasts behind them: Jade has become Kristy, a newspaper reporter who has a loving husband and two children; Bel is now Amber, a night-shift cleaning supervisor at an amusement park with an abusive common-law husband and little hope for her future. Bel stumbles upon a dead woman in the house of horrors and Kristy comes to report on the serial murders, putting the two on a collision course that will force them to remember the past and creates circumstances that will make their futures as uncertain as they once were. The original crime is revealed slowly as flashbacks, leading up to the inevitable meeting of these two women who must resolve their past issues if they hope to move on with the future. While tracking down a serial killer makes this book part mystery, the moodiness of the narrative and the focus on the two women and how their past and choices since have affected their lives takes the book, a hit in the
UK into the
realm of psychological suspense.
at 12:02 PM
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Once Upon a Lie by Maggie Barbieri (Minotaur, December 2013)
Barbieri, known for her cozier novels featuring St. Thomas College professor Alison Bergeron, has written a very different, darker novel, featuring Maeve Conlon, a very tired divorced mother of two who owns a bakery and who keeps secrets from her past close and will stop at nothing to protect those she loves. Even being from a close Irish family, Maeve can’t shed any tears when her cousin Sean is found murdered. Her father Jack, who is showing signs of dementia, is also not saddened when he hears of the death of his nephew, and what’s more, he cannot provide an alibi for himself for the night of Sean’s death. As Maeve slowly confronts the demons of her past, she is relentless in the defense of her father, but as she delves deeper into Sean’s murder she has to face things she is not ready to face, leading to the biggest surprise of all. While it’s never clear why the police focus on Jack as the murder suspect, it doesn’t detract from the suspense and drama as Maeve works to clear her father’s name and hold what is left of her family together while all the while, keeping her sanity; trying to find peace of mind and a truth she can live with when she learns the truth she has been living with all these years was a lie which set into motion events that can never be undone.
at 2:51 PM
Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft (Putnam, June 2013)
Fina Ludlow is the youngest and only daughter, in a family of high-powered Boston attorneys. After flunking out of law school, Fina got her PIs license and finds she enjoys that part of the law business much more than litigation; she has got the looks to charm men from low level thugs to high level cops but has the nerve, and good shot, to hold her own in any situation. Fina’s sister-in-law Melanie doesn’t come home one night and Rand asks Fina to find where his wife went, thinking she is sulking at a spa or over some designer shopping. When Melanie turns up no traces of the woman, and Melanie’s best friend Risa also hasn’t heard from her in days, Fina becomes concerned: first for Melanie’s safety, and secondly that Rand has done something to his wife. Using some of her less than upstanding contacts, Fina starts asking questions as to the whereabouts of her sister-in-law and quickly finds herself on the receiving end of a beating and accident on the Mass Pike designed to kill. The closer Fina looks, the more she realizes that every family has secrets, but will her family stop at nothing to keep them hidden? Even hurting Fina? Edgy with a feminine side, Fina is a welcomed addition to the growing ranks of female PIs. The complicated plot will keep readers guessing as they untangle the strands that have become the life of Rand Ludlow, and by association, his sister’s life as well. The narrative is well-paced and doesn’t stop until the last page.
at 2:48 PM
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Paper: An Elegy by Ian Sansom (William Morrow, May 2013)
Even in the electronic age, human beings are predisposed to using paper daily; even as our bills, our books and our newspapers go digital, there is still a piece of paper in everyone’s life that they hold near and dear: a card from an old flame, a picture drawn as a child or even the wallpaper that covers our walls. Birth and death certificates are still issued in paper. Even when we type on a typical word processor, the visual effect is often that we are typing on a piece of paper; our ebook reader “pages” are still numbered in the traditional sense. Ian Sansom, who wrote a mystery trilogy featuring a bookmobile traces the history, and usefulness of paper from the obvious (toilet paper) to paper as an art form, both the most intricate Scherenschnitte (German paper cutting) to the ubiquitous paper airplane. Sansom traces paper back to its roots in China over two thousand years ago and estimates that Americans use close to half a ton of paper (each) every year. Sansom’s tone shifts between casual, anecdotal passages to more thoroughly researched and scholarly information and by his own admission is not by any means a comprehensive history of paper, rather an homage to something very few of us would be able to do completely without. A beautifully constructed book jacket brings many of Sansom's arguments full circle. To paraphrase Mark Twain: The rumors of paper’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
at 4:25 PM
Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford (It Books, April 2013)
Kelly Oxford is a stay at home mom who achieved fame when she racked up over half-a-million followers on Twitter; she was named one of Time magazine’s top tweeters two years in a row and has gathered, and expounded upon, her 140 character missives. One of the phenomena that social media and its accessibility has created is instant celebrity: in this case, humorous anecdotes that when stretched beyond the 140 character limit sometimes feel just that, drawn out and not as funny as the short, terse observations from her blog. Hyperbole and self-deprecating humor may not be for everyone, but some of the stories are funny and nothing is sacred from her childhood to the embarrassing teenage stories that everyone has to growing into adulthood and parenthood, albeit she a little slower than some. The story of how Oxford started tweeting and how she became so wildly popular is missing and would probably be an interesting one. Gone are the days when Mom and Dad pull out a childhood photo album to embarrass a teen child’s date: now, in all likelihood, everyone has already read about it on Twitter. Parents, especially moms, will find many of the stories familiar and funny, not to be taken seriously, which is probably the best piece of wisdom to be gleaned from the book: don’t take it all so seriously, enjoy the good times while you have them.
at 3:57 PM
Friday, April 26, 2013
The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler (Gallery, August 2013)
Esme Garland, a young English woman, has come to
to study Art History and
finds herself pregnant by her handsome boyfriend, Mitchell van Leuven, who is
old money and a bit of a playboy, by his own admission. Completely lost and unsure, Esme finds
herself attracted to an Upper West Side used bookstore, The Owl, and to the
assortment of interesting employees and customers. As Esme works through her relationship with
Mitchell, including a holiday with his family in East Hampton, she realizes,
though her friends she makes at The Owl, that she is self-reliant and is quite
capable and able to make decision for herself and her unborn child. She also finds that true friendship can be
found in some unexpected places, including George the owner, the brooding
guitar player Luke and the homeless men who frequent The Owl and take Sophie
under their wings and protect and encourage her even in their less than ideal
circumstances. Columbia University
at 1:09 PM
Close My Eyes by Sophie McKenzie (
Martin’s, July 2013)
Geniver Loxley’s daughter Beth was stillborn eight years ago and she has never fully recovered, even though her husband Art continues to encourage her to undergo fertility treatments in the hopes she’ll get pregnant again. Her world is upended when a woman arrives on Gen’s doorstep claiming to be the sister of the nurse who was in the delivery room with Gen, who was bribed, along with the doctor, to help Art kidnap Beth and that Beth is most likely still alive. Gen cannot believe that anyone, especially her husband, would have been so cruel, but certain things are not beginning to make sense; Gen, along with one of Art’s former primaries in his company, Lorcan, begins to look into this woman’s claim and soon realizes she is not crazy, but cannot believe how little she knows about her own husband and how truly evil some people can be. Filled with twists and turns, Close My Eyes does not stop until it delivers one last gut-wrenching surprise on the last page.
at 12:56 PM
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Something About Sophie by Mary Kay McComas (William Morrow, March 2013)
Sophie Shepard receives a letter from a stranger summoning her to his deathbed in Clearfield, Virginia, the town from which her parents adopted her many years ago. Sophie has never been interested in finding her birth parents and is reluctant to go to Virginia; Sophie waits too long and finds Arthur Cubeck has died before she arrives. Sophie decides to stay for Arthur’s funeral and is surprised to hear from Arthur’s attorney that she needs to be present at the reading of Arthur’s will as she is mentioned in it. Learning that she has inherited Arthur’s family home, she is beyond surprise and wonder s if she wasn’t Arthur’s daughter. As Sophie stays to sort out Arthur’s affairs and try to make things right for his legitimate children, as well as learn if she was indeed his daughter, she finds herself drawn to Arthur’s doctor, Drew McCarren, and seems to have set off a chain of events as people start to die around her. Not sure where events will take her, Sophie plans on renouncing her claims on Arthur’s estate and returning to her life as a first grade teacher when one final act changes everything for everyone.
More psychological thriller than anything, the twisted plot is belied by a calm cover showing a young woman wading into water. The longer Sophie stays in Clearfield, the more entangled she becomes in the town and its past, and the more she feels compelled to set things right and possibly find her birth parents before she returns to her home. Readers will be caught up in the plot and Sophie’s story before they realize it, rooting for Sophie the entire way. Several unexpected twists provide for more emotional drama, not just for Sophie, but for the new friends she has met in Clearfield. Darker than McComas’s previous novel What Happened to Hannah, Something About Sophie delves into just how far people will go to keep their own secrets.
at 12:38 PM
Friday, April 5, 2013
Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth Silver (Crown, June 2013)
Noa P. Singleton is a young woman on death row in Pennsylvania for killing another young woman, Sara. Six months before she is scheduled to die, Sara’s mother Marlene Dixon arrives at the jail with an attorney from her firm telling Noa that if Noa will tell Marlene why she shot Sara, Marlene will plead Noa’s case for clemency to the governor. Noa doesn’t give Marlene much, telling only part of her story, the rest of which is revealed through her internal monologue, and letters Marlene writes to Sara. As Noa’s story is told, it is clear she is not interested in saving herself, though her motives are not apparent at first; Noa comes off as cocky as times and apathetic at others, a completely unlikeable, but completely engaging character. It becomes clear that Noa never had a shot from the time she was a child, but Sara did and events that Noa, and Marlene, set in motion, took those chances away from her. At first, Marlene might be seen as the savior Noa is looking for, but as her story unfolds, things are revealed that make her as reprehensible and culpable, if not more than Noa. An utterly compelling plot with many hidden secrets and characters that are difficult to like but fascinating nonetheless, make this a first novel that you won’t soon forget.
at 9:00 AM
After best friends Sarah and Jennifer were in a car accident that killed Jennifer’s mother, the two created a “never list”; a list of things to be avoided at all costs. The two plan everything down to the last detail, including their freshman year of college, to ensure their safety. Sometimes, even though the girls don’t believe in it, fate intervenes, and despite their best plans, one night the girls get into a cab, a ride that changes their lives forever. Jennifer and Sarah spend the next three years held captive a cellar with two other girls. Their captor is obsessed with torture and how much the human body-and sprit-can withstand. Sarah escaped and led authorities to rescue the other two girls, but to Sarah’s knowledge, Jennifer did not survive the ordeal.
Ten years of careful planning and living later, Sarah has still not dealt with the horror of her captivity and lives her life as a captive of her own making. By mutual agreement, the three surviving women have changed their identities and have never spoken of these events to each other. Now Jack Derber is up for parole and as much as Sarah wants to see him rot in prison, she also wants to learn what happened to Jennifer and her body; Sarah things that the letters she has been receiving from Derber may contain clues to what happened to Jennifer, but also suspects her other counterparts have been receiving the same letters which may contain different clues that together will lead her to her friend. Back in Portland for the first time in ten years, Sarah finds herself drawn into Jack Derber’s world including the secret world of BDSM, cults and ancient torture. As she brings Tracy and Christine back to their worst nightmare, Sarah learns that the three were not in their ordeal together and that the other two still harbor grudges against her.
Fast-paced and disturbing, this multi-layered plot slowly reveals layer upon layer as Sarah thinks she has dealt with what has happened to her, but realizes she hasn’t, that she has just been hiding as she tries to control her environment. As Sarah searches for her friend, she confronts her fears and learns things about herself that surprise her and things she doesn’t necessarily like. Her journey to find Jennifer becomes one of healing and self-actualization. A couple of rescue scenes as the book progresses seem unlikely but the reunite three women in Portland where they need to be to face the horrors of their past, find the answers to give themselves the closure they need to move on with their lives.
at 8:58 AM
Friday, March 8, 2013
No Way Back by Andrew Gross (William Morrow, April 2013)
This latest from sometimes James Patterson co-author puts two disparate women on a collision course after each has been in the wrong place at the wrong time; when their paths collide, they form an unusual alliance as they each try to reclaim and rebuild their lives which are now seemingly manipulated by others. Suburban wife Wendy is an ex-cop who is in
Manhattan to attend to self-publishing
conference; when a friend stands her up at the bar, Wendy does what, until that
very moment, is the unthinkable, accompanies a man she just met back to his
room. Coming to her senses before things
get too much out of hand, Wendy is in the bathroom putting herself back together
for her trip home when someone walks into the room and shoots the man she was
with. Wendy’s cop instincts kick in and
she shoots and kills the assassin only to learn he was with Homeland
Security. Not sure what she has stumbled
on, Wendy flees to her home, bringing more trouble with her. Now her husband is dead and she’s on the lam,
looking for some one to believe and help her.
Lauritzia, the nanny of an attorney’s two children finds herself at the
scene of a bombing that she realizes has connections to her family in Mexico. Wendy
and Lauritzia join forces trying to learn who is behind these deadly acts and
who is at the root of these murders. The
only clue they have are the words uttered before the first execution “This is
for Gillian.” Fast paced with twists and
turns you will never see coming No Way
Back will take your breath away and doesn’t let you catch it until the last
at 3:28 PM
Thursday, February 7, 2013
The Burning Air by Erin Kelly (Pamela Dorman Books, February 2013)
The MacBrides have gathered in their English countryside retreat, a converted barn, for the first time since matriarch, Lydia’s death. Rowan was the headmaster at the prestigious school, allowing his three children to attend tuition free, Lydia a magistrate, the family seemingly leading a charmed life, but there is a stranger who has always been in their midst, convinced that the family is responsible for a life wasted, and more sinisterly, holds Lydia responsible for a death. Plotting and planning for many years, the time has come for vengeance to be wrought on the unsuspecting family. Told effectively through flashbacks, the identity of the stranger is slowly revealed, the plot slowly unfolds as the suspense builds until the final scene that not only threatens the bonds of a family, but the life of the family’s youngest member, baby Edie. Fast paced with a brooding atmosphere, The Burning Air is a chilling story of festering vengeance and the kind of hatred that ruins lives.
at 5:18 PM
Crime of Privilege by Walter Walker (Ballantine, May 2013)
A young woman is raped in Palm Beach after an evening of college students drinking and partying. A young woman is killed on a golf course in Cape Cod and no one is asking too many questions. Except George Beckett, a young attorney working for the Cape Code district attorney’s office. Beckett feels his life since he graduated college is more than one of patronage, he often feels he is a puppet, his movements and decisions controlled by someone else. From a modest family, George became entangled with the rich and privileged in college, not realizing that with the good life, comes consequences, but he is quickly learning he does not like to be beholden or controlled by anyone and starts searching for answers, traveling from the Cape to Idaho to Hawaii to Costa Rica to France and back to New York, tracking down people who should have answers but are now living with the consequences of their silence. With little concern for his safety, reputation or future, George knows the only way he can live with himself is to find and reveal the truths that have escaped him, yet haunted him for most of his adult life.
at 5:17 PM
Indiscretion by Charles Dubow (Harper, February 2013)
“Every story has a narrator. Someone who writes it down after it’s all over. Why am I the narrator of this story? I am because it is the story of my life---and of the people I love most….” So begins the story of Harry and Madeleine Winslow, talented, charismatic couple, he a National Book Award winner, she a gracious, beautiful woman of exceptional breeding. Whether they are hosting a formal dinner in their Manhattan brownstone or a weekend at their East Hampton cottage, the pair makes their guests feel comfortable and like part of the family. In their early forties, Harry and Maddy are still admired by their peers but both find themselves attractive to ingénue Claire who easily fits into their lives and becomes a part of their circle. Claire is delighted to be welcomed so warmly by such charming, real people, but soon their friendship isn’t enough and an odyssey begins that will take the trio in various configurations overseas to Rome, to France and back to New York where they all learn the consequences of overreaching and wanting more than is yours to have. Walter, a lifelong friend of Maddy narrates the action, proving to be an unreliable narrator when readers realize he too is in love with Maddy but is too reserved to have ever told her, much as Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway. Debut novelist Dubow writes with the surety and sensuality of a veteran novelist spinning a story that will keep pages turning, exploring relationships, marriages, friends and lovers and all the variants. Subtle in places, overt in others, this is a novel with writing to be savored even as the plot has you racing to an inevitable ending you hope never to reach.
at 5:15 PM
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight (Harper, April 2013)
Single mother and junior partner in a high-powered Manhattan law firm Kate knows she doesn’t spend as much time with her teenage daughter Amelia each day as she would like to. She and Amelia have carved out time each week to spend time together and both seem satisfied with their relationship and smart, bookish Amelia has never given Kate a moment’s trouble. When Kate is called to Amelia’s prestigious Brooklyn school to take Amelia, who has just been suspended for cheating, home, Kate is in shock. She cannot imagine why Amelia would feel the need to cheat and is shocked and devastated when she arrives at the school to learn that Amelia has jumped from the school roof and is dead. The police quickly rule Amelia’s death a suicide, something Kate finds hard to believe but cannot argue with until she receives an anonymous text message that reads “She didn’t jump”. Kate immediately throws herself into learning everything she can about what Amelia did in the last weeks of her life using blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Amelia’s texts and e-mails and realizes she didn’t know her daughter as well as she thought she did. With the help of a sympathetic cop who lets Kate assist in the investigation, a little more than is believable, Kate unravels the last weeks of Amelia’s life and learns that her daughter was not as adjusted as she believed and may have been the victim of bullying. Kate also learns how easy it is to manipulate people using cyberspace and becomes disillusioned as she realizes how little attention she was paying and wonders if this tragedy could have been avoided. A gripping novel, there are certain parts of this novel, which is very busy at times, that are a little unbelievable, but the pace keeps the plot moving and allowing for these uneven parts to be overlooked. As Kate reaches the end of her search, there are many more things at play than she expected, and perhaps are necessary, but Kate and Amelia are such real, characters, Amelia very likable, that hearts will break for their loss and for what could have been.
at 5:14 PM
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Paging the Dead by Brynn Bonner (Gallery, March 2013)
Sophreena McClure is a professional genealogist who not only puts together family trees for her clients, but helps find family secrets, piecing together people’s pasts and then scrapbooking the history as a memento and record; all of this is done with a little help from her business partner Esme whose special gift, receiving messages from long dead relatives and often is able to help Sophreena fill in the gaps. Currently, the pair is tracing the family history for Dorothy Pritchett Porter, one of the descendants of the founding fathers of Morningside. Dorothy plans to display the completed scrapbooks at the upcoming Founders’ Day celebrations, but is found strangled before the memory books can be completed. Now Sophreena and Esme have to turn their investigating skills to a family tree that has roots so deep and tangled that the history of a town may be turned on its ear and someone may be willing to kill in order to keep these secrets hidden. A good blend of genealogy, scrapbooking and local history, Paging the Dead introduces a pair of amateur detectives with a sense of history and curiosity and a lot of heart and compassion for their clients.
at 2:06 PM
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Farewell, Dorothy Parker by Ellen Meister (Putnam, February 2013)
Violet Epps holds nothing back when it comes to her movie reviews, but in her personal life she tends to be a, well, shrinking Violet. Violet, after a traumatic incident as a child with her now deceased older sister Ivy has a had a social anxiety and is afraid to speak up in her personal and professional life. Writing allows Violet to channel her hero, early twentieth century wit, Dorothy Parker, but she is unable to capture the woman’s sharp tongue without pen and paper (or computer monitor and keyboard) in hand. Needing a little extra courage when it comes time to dump her clingy boyfriend Carl, Violet plans to do it in the dining room of Parker’s hallowed Algonquin Hotel. Something strange happens in the dining room and violet is certain Mrs. Parker’s spirit has appeared to give her an added push, but when the cantankerous, no-nonsense spirit follows Violet home and pushes Violet to face her fears and foes, Violet finds her life turned upside down, but ultimately finds a way to let her inner voice shine and thinks that Mrs. Parker’s spirit may just need Violet as much as Violet needs her.
Ellen Meister has captured both Dorothy’s Parker spirit and voice, brining the legend to life, in a manner of speaking, and has reimagined her wonderfully, acerbic, charming and oddly human all at once. It is a treat to witness Violet’s metamorphosis, cheering her on when she makes progress and being frustrated, angry and sad for her when she holds back, possibly missing the chance at something wonderful. Though parts of the plot are predictable, this book is full of warmth and wit. Dorothy Parker’s resurrection is done with authenticity and feeling making this book hard to put down.
at 3:55 PM
Saturday, January 5, 2013
The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley’s Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo (William Morrow, February 2013)
The name Frankenstein conjures up, for most people, a huge green monster with bolts coming out of his neck when, in reality, Frankenstein was the name of the doctor who created the monster in Mary Shelley’s gothic horror novel. During the nineteenth century, not only were scientists and doctors fascinated by the human body, its life and death, and the possibility of life after death, not in the spiritual sense, but reviving the body using artificial, electrical means. Many philosophers, artists, writers and everyday people could not look away as they became intrigued by the possibilities, elevating grave robbing and experimenting on the newly dead to almost a cottage industry. Rosanne Montillo recreates this world in which Shelley was living, introduces the characters in her life and puts into context the scientific curiosities of the time that contributed to her writing Frankenstein. Mary’s personal and familial lives are also woven into the narrative, giving a portrait of not only the times, but of the woman who created the masterpiece we know today.
at 12:23 PM
The House Girl by Tara Conklin (William Morrow, February 2013)
The assignment given to a first-year associate at a high-powered Manhattan law firm leads a young woman into a labyrinth of art, history and humanity, in the search for a woman whose fate has wide-reaching effects and makes Lina Sparrow question her own life and the true meaning of justice. When Lina Sparrow is tasked with finding a plaintiff for a class-action lawsuit worth an astronomical amount in reparations for the families of American slaves, her father, artist Oscar Sparrow points her in the direction of Lu Anne Bell, a pre-Civil war artist known for her portrayals of plantation slaves. The current thinking is that Lu Anne was not the artist of this collection of portraits, but her house slave Josephine. Lina decides to research Josephine, as one of her defendants would be the perfect public face for her firm’s suit. As Lina tries to trace Josephine’s family, she loses the trail shortly after Lu Anne’s death in 1852; Lina searches through papers, letters and records hoping to find something, but surprised to find things that bring to the surface Lina’s own mother’s death twenty years before. The story alternates between Josephine’s story in antebellum Virginia, and Lina’s search for answers, not only for her job but herself. Told with brutal honesty and without apology, The House Girl reminds readers that there are some secrets that are better off not kept. The stories of two women, living over a century apart parallel each other in ways that no one could guess. Art and history collide, making each of us examine the truths we tell each other and ourselves.
Kind of Kin by Rilla Askew (Ecco, January 2013)
A law has just been passed in Oklahoma making harboring an undocumented illegal immigrant a felony. The small town of Cedar is shocked when Robert John Brown, a life-long community member and churchgoer, is arrested for hiding a barn full of immigrants. The events that follows shakes the town, the state and rocks Brown’s family to their very core. Brown has been raising his ten-year old grandson Dustin since Dustin’s mother died and Dustin must now go and live with his aunt Sweet and her son Carl Albert. Sweet finds herself coming apart as she worries about her father in jail, her son who is fighting with, and injuring, Dustin any chance he gets, and the usual worries about money and her husband Terry who works long hours for a utility company. She is almost at her wits end when her niece, Dustin’s sister, Misty Dawn shows up on her doorstep with her three-year-old daughter and the husband who had recently been deported seeking refuge and Dustin goes missing, trying to help the one immigrant who wasn't caught in the raid on his grandfather’s barn be reunited with his sons. Sweet’s story is punctuated by the story of an ambitious legislator, Monica Moorehouse, the author of the bill that set these events in motion. Rilla Askew’s novel reminds us that while we are not all kin, we are all akin and all must live in this world together. She faces several difficult and emotional issues, gives her characters choices that people do not have to make every day and never once passes judgment on their decisions, but holds nothing back in revealing what these decisions have wrought. A community comes together as a family comes apart and the question “for whose good is this being done” is asked time and time again. A wonderfully nuanced story with characters that won’t soon be forgotten.
Friday, December 28, 2012
The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon (William Morrow, January 2013)
In 1985, the residents of Brighton Falls, Connecticut were living in fear of Neptune, a serial killer who delivered the hands of his most recent kidnapped victim to the police station only to pose the dead woman’s body in a public place a few days later. Thirteen-year-old Reggie is having a hard enough time between being the child of a single mother who has more interest in drinking and men than her daughter, dealing with being an outcast in school and navigating her friendship with Charlie, a detective’s son and Tara, a goth who never really lets Reggie in. Now her mother Vera has been kidnapped and her hand has turned up at the police station, but her body is never found and Neptune stops kidnapping women. As soon as she was able, Reggie left her home town and is now living in Vermont, a successful architect who specializes in sustainable structures. She has lost touch almost completely with anyone from her home town, including her aunt, and has a hard time forming close relationships. She couldn't be more surprised when she gets a call from her aunt that Vera has been found in a homeless shelter and is in a hospital in Connecticut. Knowing it’s the right thing to do, even though she does not want to revisit her past, Reggie travels to Connecticut where she takes her mother out of the hospital and back to the house where Vera and her sister grew up. Before she is able to sort things through, Reggie is confronted with her past head on the many ghosts and secrets she kept hidden for so long. She knows that Neptune is still alive and watching everything and knows that she must put aside her fears to uncover his secrets before he kills again. Jennifer McMahon deftly weaves a story that flashes back to 1985 with Reggie and Vera’s reunion and recovery. She slowly reveals things, allowing glimpses of the truth, keeping readers off balance until the very end. This novel easily combines a suspenseful story line with characters that readers will come to sympathize and empathize with as they face past and present demons.
at 2:12 PM
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Truth in Advertising by John Kenney (Touchstone, January 2013)
Finbar Dolan looks to have it all: he has left his blue-collared life in Boston behind, landed a job with a Madison Avenue ad agency and has a big account with a diaper company. As he approaches 40, he realizes his life is a mess: he is all but estranged from his large Irish family, he recently called off his wedding, he really doesn’t love his job and can’t get himself to take a vacation, and he doesn't want the stress over Christmas of creating, producing and editing a multi-million dollar Super Bowl commercial. A call from his older brother Ed telling Fin their father, an abusive man who left their family when Fin was a young teenager, is dying and neither Ed, nor Fin’s sister or other brother, plan on visiting him. Not sure why, Fin finds himself heading to New England to see his father one last time, and in doing so, finds the time and peace of mind to reevaluate where his life is, where he has been and where it is going and where he would want it to be going (with co-worker Phoebe if he’s honest with himself). Fin is a character to empathize with, at times be angry at, but cheer for the entire way. Told with a certain amount of self-deprecating humor and honesty, Truth in Advertising introduces a new, welcomed voice in fiction.
at 1:45 PM
Evie Ferrante is working on an exhibit for the Five- Boroughs Historical Society, Seared in Memory, which will include the engine of the plane that crashed into the Empire State Building on a Saturday in 1945, when she receives a message from her sister Ginger about their mother. Evie and Ginger’s mother, a heavy drinker for most of their lives, lives in a small community in the Bronx, Higgs Point, and, they are not surprised to learn, has been living in squalor. Ginger flatly refuses to deal with their mother and demands Evie take her turn. Evie reluctantly turns the finishing up of her exhibit to her assistant and travels to the Bronx where she finds her mother’s home in deplorable condition. The neighborhood has not change a lot from when Evie grew up there, and she runs into Finn Ryan, running his father’s neighborhood store, who is now working with a group to preserve the Soundview Watershed. As Evie begins to clean her mother’s home, she learns that there have been some disturbing events in the neighborhood recently, and that her mother’s last words to her neighbor before the EMTs took her away were “Don’t let him in until I’m gone.” something that makes any sense to neither woman. The more time Evie spends in Higgs Point, the more she realizes there is something sinister occurring, something that brings back memories from her childhood that she has pushed deep down and something from which she is afraid she will not be able to escape. There Was an Old Woman draws readers into Evie’s story little by little until they are caught up in the suspense and deception found in quiet Higgs Point.
at 1:44 PM
Always Watching by Chevy Stevens (St. Martin’s Press, June 2013)
Dr. Nadine Lavoie helped Annie O’Sullivan after she was kidnapped, raped and tortured (in Still Missing); she guided Sara Gallagher as she came to terms with the fact that her biological father was a serial killer who had hunted women for more than thirty years and might be coming after Sara (in Never Knowing). Now, Nadine has to face the demons of not only her past, but her present, as she attends to Heather, a young woman who has attempted suicide several times, and has found herself in the Vancouver hospital where Nadine now practices. Heather and her husband Daniel mention that once they left the commune they were living in after Heather miscarried, Heather started on a downward slide. Nadine realizes that the community in which Daniel and Heather were living had its roots in a commune Nadine lived in as a pre-teenager with her mother and older brother, one of which Nadine has few memories, but suspects may have contributed to her claustrophobia and feelings of terror each time she hears the name Aaron Quinn. Nadine begins searching not only for answers for Heather, but for herself, hoping to finally heal her demons. At the same time, Nadine, a recent widow, is searching the streets of Vancouver for her daughter Lisa who is fighting demons of her own, including a drug problem, some of which Nadine is not even aware of. Coming to terms with your past is hard enough, but when Nadine realizes the mistakes she made that are costing her present with Lisa, she becomes even more determined to learn what happened at the camp and stop the members from ever doing these things again. A tightly written novel, Chevy Stevens explores the story behind Dr. Nadine Lavoie and shifts it to the fore front bringing to it the same suspense she captured telling the stories of Nadine’s patients.
All You Could Ask For by Mike Greenberg (William Morrow, April 2013)
Mike Greenberg, the ESPN King of Guy Talk and host of Mike and Mike, has written his first novel from the point of view of not one woman, but three, and has done remarkably well capturing the sensibilities of a woman. Samantha tends towards being an extreme athlete and is a very independent woman until she falls in love and has a whirlwind courtship with the man Daddy tells her is the wrong guy. Guess what? Daddy is always right. Brooke is the happily married mother of twins, is wildly in love with her husband and has plans to rock his world with the gift she has chosen for his fortieth birthday; instead, he turns the tables on her making a request that rocks her world in a much different way. Katherine appears to have everything: a corner office, Upper East Side apartment, South Hampton home, an assistant, a driver, but there is one thing always out of her reach: the companionship and friendship of another human. These seemingly disparate women share two things in common: Greenwich, Connecticut and something that proves to be life altering for all of them and brings them together to form uncommon bonds. A very well written first novel with three characters to care about and root for, to laugh with and to cry with.
Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman (Crown, January 2013)
at 1:41 PM
The Truth About Love and Lightning by Susan McBride (William Morrow, February 2013)
Gretchen Brink’s mother was honest to a fault when Gretchen was growing up. Gretchen, who saw the results of such honesty first hand has told a few lies in her life to save the feelings of others, but there was one lie in particular that she has kept telling for almost forty years that is about to come back and make her confront it head on. Gretchen, who was a single mother, is living in the house that belonged to the family of her daughter Abby’s father, Sam, with her twin sisters who are blind. Sam never met Abby, going on a missionary trip to Africa just after Gretchen learned she was pregnant and never returning. Now, after a devastating tornado, a man with amnesia falls back into Gretchen’s life, a man she is sure is her long-lost Sam. At the same time, Abby shows up on Gretchen’s doorstep, running away from her boyfriend Nate in Chicago, announcing that she is pregnant. As Gretchen and Abby get to know each other again, and as Gretchen tries to help the strange man discover who he is, without projecting too much Sam on to him just in case, secrets from the past begin to emerge, secrets that have roots before Gretchen and Sam, secrets that will either bind the three together or tear them apart forever. With an eye toward detail, Susan McBride writes a story that you won’t want to end with characters you won’t want to leave. It is a story about family, loving them and forgiving them, and ourselves, loving ourselves and forgiving ourselves, how we live with the truth and how we live with the lies we tell, and where reality is found between the two.
at 1:36 PM