Wednesday, June 29, 2011

(55) Memory is often illusive and so is a plot

Title: The False Friend by Myla Goldberg
Publisher: Doubleday
252 pages
Genre: fiction

Synopsis: Celia Durst decides, after 20 years, to come clean. At the age of 10, she was responsible for the disappearance of her unpredictable best friend, Djuna. Traipsing with their girlhood clique through an unfamiliar forest, only Celia saw Djuna fall into a hole in the ground, but hot-headed from the fight the two were having, she decided to tell everyone that Djuna was picked up by a stranger. Now thirtysomething and successful, Celia leaves Chicago to replant herself in her childhood home and confess to her family and the other girls involved. It turns into an agonizing process, however, when no one believes Celia’s “new” story—especially not the other three girls, who all claim to have seen the car Djuna got into. Newly obsessed with knowing what she was like as a child, Celia spends the bulk of the novel imploring her 10-year-old self to manifest at her side, but she first must realize what the younger Celia lost that day in the forest.

Review: I thought this would be good, I hoped to like it even after I was utterly confused and bored with the first 3 chapters.  But it didn't get any better.  I found myself cringing every time this independent, strong willed woman called her mother "mommy" and whined about needing to talk about something that she thinks might have happened when she was 11.  I found Celia didn't really learn anything from the bratty young girl she was to the woman she became.  She was still wrapped in herself even down to her investigation into herself as a young girl.

I never read Bee Season but many people raved about it so I thought this book by the same author would at the very least hold my attention but I found it hard to stay awake.  I did finally plod my way through this this book hoping to find at least one redeeming character but I just couldn't.  They were either terminally dull, in denial, or just hopelessly pathetic.  Even the girl that Celia tortured as an adolescent I wanted to feel something for but just couldn't bolster any care at all.

The plot also was lacking, in fact I still have no idea if what Celia thinks happened was the truth or whether or not Djuna actually did get into a strangers car and the worst part is I really don't care. I hope Myla goes back to the drawing board for her next book and works harder on her characters than her scenery.  Its sad when the scenery is more compelling than the people.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

(54) What would you do if you heard someone screaming?

Title: Good Neighbors: A novel by Ryan David Jahn
Publisher: Penguin Books
280 Pages
Genre: Mystery

Synopsis: At 4:00 A.M. on March 13, 1964, a young woman returning home from her shift at a local bar is attacked in the courtyard of her Queens apartment building. Her neighbors hear her cries; no one calls for help.

Unfolding over the course of two hours,Good Neighbors is the story of the woman's last night. It is also the story of her neighbors, the bystanders who kept to themselves: the anxious Vietnam draftee; the former soldier planning suicide; the woman who thinks she's killed a child and her husband, who will risk everything for her.

Review: Great debut for this author.  Fast paced and suspenseful. I didn't want to put it down, I needed to find out what happened. Reading this book was like sitting on the edge of your seat just watching a car wreck.  As the lives of the neighbors intersect you find yourself totally absorbed and utterly horrified.  The story flips back and forth between Kat who has been stabbed in the courtyard of her building and the stories of the other tenants who live there who have heard and witnessed her attack, yet none come to her rescue.

The self absorption and utter lack of wanting to get involved is troubling yet so realistic.  Everyone thinks someone else will do something so no one does anything.  Its a sad commentary on our lives, but maybe this book will be a wake up call.  

Monday, June 27, 2011

(53) Killing in Amish Country

Title: Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo
Publisher: Minotaur Books
322 Pages
Genre: Mystery

Synopsis: Someone slaughters all seven members of the Amish Plank family at their home in Painters Mill, Ohio. The bodies of the two teenage daughters show signs of torture. At first, it appears the father, Amos, killed his wife and five children, then shot himself. When clues point to a killer outside the family, Kate Burkholder, the local police chief who left the Amish community decades before, zeroes in on 15-year-old Mary, who may have flirted with the idea of living in the English world. Lending a hand is Kate's on-again/off-again boyfriend, John Tomasetti, an agent suspended from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Identification for failing a recent drug test in the wake of his own family's murder about two years earlier.

Review: The grisly murder of an entire Amish family really strikes a cord with Chief of Police Kate.  When she discovers that the daughter Mary may have been the reason the family was targeted Kate starts digging into her life only to find there are many parallels to Kates own past.  Keeping this case at a distance isn't working for Kate and she starts to lose her objectivity.

Kate and John's characters sort of dangle on strings in this book not really knowing what they are doing or why.  I understand that Kate and John are damaged but they are bordering on dysfunctional in this book.  They need to get it together because their issues getting in the way of their work is getting old and its only the 2nd book! Don't get me wrong I zipped through this book and will read the next one but reading about the angst and issues surrounding the two main characters was like circling a drain.  Something has to change for me to continue to be sympathetic to these characters.

Castillo's portrayal of Amish life is fabulous.  Living so close to Lancaster County I have been stuck behind a buggy or two in my time and while I don't agree with all their ways I admire them for living a simpler life. If you are a fan of Amish stories and murder mysteries then this is one to pick up, the series is good and I'm hoping it will only get better.  Beware though Castillo's details can be graphic at times so the squeamish should be wary.    

Sunday, June 26, 2011

(52) What if you didn't know who you were?

Title: Sleeping Angel by Greg Herren
Publisher: Bold Stroke Books
228 pages
Genre: Young Adult

Synopsis: Eric Matthews survives a near-fatal accident only to find his whole life has changed.

Eric Matthews wakes up in the hospital with no memory of how he wound up there—and soon learns that it’s vital that he remember. Apparently, he was in a car accident—and the body of classmate Sean Brody was found in his car, shot to death. But nothing makes sense to Eric. He and Sean weren’t friends. In fact, they disliked each other--Sean was gay and Eric is...well, he's not sure of much right now! Except he is certain he didn’t shoot Sean, even though he can’t remember anything about the day of the accident.

To make matters worse, he starts having psychic flashes about the people around him: his doctor, a nurse, his mother, and other visitors.  As Eric’s memories slowly start to come back to him, he becomes more and more certain that not only is he innocent, but that the real murderer is out there….and wants to shut him up permanently.

Review: As I've said in the past I love Greg Herren, his books are some of the best mind candy but this one surprised me. This book wasn't just mind candy, it had a message, and a very important and timely one.

This is Greg's 2nd young adult book and I have to say I liked it much more than the first one.  The characters seemed more genuine and the story very real. The characters came to life in this one and I found myself pulled along on Eric's journey of self discovery. Unfortunately I also have to say that the subplot of Eric obtaining psychic powers didn't seem very relevant to the story, it didn't add anything to the plot but it didn't take anything away from it either it just seemed unnecessary 

As Eric slowly tries to piece together what happened before his accident he starts to learn things about himself that he doesn't like.  Realizing he was a bully and that his actions may have caused so much harm really effects him and makes him start taking a look at who he was and who he wants to be.  Its interesting to note that before the accident Eric didn't see himself as a bully, to him his actions were funny to him and his friends and he didn't realize the effects they had on the people he was teasing or how others were viewing him.

As a the big man on campus, the football captain and star athlete his words and actions carried weight.  People looked up to him and followed his lead.  If he had stood up for people being bullied instead of being the bully himself he may have created change instead of creating harm. This insight is the strongest message in the book, not all bully's realize that what they are doing is hurting others.  Maybe this book can make them take a look at themselves and their actions and hopefully make a change.

Friday, June 24, 2011

(51) You Can't Outrun Your Past

Title: The Brave by Nicholas Evans
Publisher: Little Brown and Co
353 pages
Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: As a student at the Ashlawn Preparatory School in 1959 England, eight-year-old, cowboy-crazy Tommy Bedford, the hero of Evans's latest outdoor soap opera, is teased for being a bed wetter and gets the shock of his young life when he learns that his sister, glamorous "Next Big Thing" actress Diane Reed, is really his mother. Soon afterwards, she and Tommy move to L.A., where Diane falls for TV cowboy Ray Montane, and their tortured relationship leads to a horrifying act of violence that has lifelong repercussions for Tommy. In a parallel, present-day plot, 50-ish Tom, now a writer and documentary filmmaker who specializes in the American West, lives in Montana, is divorced and estranged from his adult son, Danny, who has been accused of committing an atrocity while serving in Iraq, for which he will be tried in a military court.

Review: I really like Nicolas Evan's other books, but this one just didn't live up to his previous work. The plot advanced and retreated in a jerky style and I often found myself wondering what year I was in. The story line was good but I wish it had been told in a more cohesive manner.

All the main characters had lived or told profound lies at some time in their lifetimes and the book touched on how those deceptions effected their lives over decades. By about half way through the book I started to get the hang of it but it shouldn't take me that long for a book to hold my attention.  The characters also were not as well developed as previous books which left them feeling shallow and not as sympathetic as they could have been.

All in all the plot was there but I felt the delivery failed.  If you want to try a Nicholas Evans book I would suggest one of his previous books like the Horse Whisperer or The Loop.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

(50) Medicine, Mystery, Love, Betrayal, Forgiveness

Title: Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
658 Pages
Genre: General Fiction

Synopsis: Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.

Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles—and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.

Review: I almost didn't read this because the synopsis made it seem boring and not very intriguing, boy am I glad I didn't judge a book by its blurb!  This book grabbed my attention from page 1 and didn't stop.  I couldn't put it down and didn't want to do anything but read.  Verghese has created an amazing extremely readable but complex book, two things that don't usually go together.  I've read books that are extremely readable and some that are complex but never have I read one that was both until now.

Set in Ethiopia it tells the story of family secrets, betrayals, political unrest and among all of that Verghese manages to make medicine come alive as if it is a character all its own.  The story begins at the beginning with the meeting of Marian and Shiva's mother and father to their birth, their childhood, their family drama, eventual forgiveness and everything in between. I forgot several times that these weren't real people but just characters in a story.  Verghese's story is so rich in detail and flavor I felt like I was there. I really can't say enough about what a wonderful surprise this book was to read.  Every character came to life on the page and I felt like I knew them.  Verghese is a fabulous story teller I can't recommend this book enough.

Monday, June 13, 2011

(49) Adoption Corruption

Title: The Baby Thief: The untold story of Georgia Tann, the baby seller who corrupted adoption by Barbara Bisantz Raymond
Publisher: Union Square
252 pages
Genre: Biography

Synopsis: The harrowing story of Georgia Tann, who from 1924 to 1950 stole or otherwise separated more than 5,000 children from their families. Whether abducting children outright or tricking new mothers still groggy from anesthesia into relinquishing their babies, Tann covered her tracks by replacing the names of birth parents on "amended" birth certificates. Her ploy was legitimized by officials who legalized closed adoption, claiming this would spare adoptees the taint of illegitimacy.

Review: A fascinating, fast paced account of Georgia Tann and how she manipulated the system of adoption.  One of the only good things I can see that came from Georgia Tann's legacy was that she was responsible for removing the stigma that had been attached to children in foster care.  Adoption was rare when Georgia began her life work but she made adoption common and changed the perception of children in foster care from being broken, retarded and mentally ill to children who needed a home and could be molded by their adoptive families.

Georgia Tann was a ruthless, driven woman whose goal was to place children in families that she deemed fit.  She kidnapped children from their biological families, conned women into signing over custody of their children, and took children from foster care and orphanages across the state of Tennessee.  She preyed on single mothers, poor families and widows. She falsified records, changed birth dates, separated siblings and sold children to families that often abused them, treated them like slaves, and some that genuinely loved and cared for them.

During Georgia's rein of power the infant mortality rate of Tennessee skyrocketed, she took children from hospitals before medically safe, she refused medical treatment for her wards and children were often placed severely malnourished, or on the verge of death.  Despite many attempts from physicians and ethical social workers to stop her Georgia had political clout that helped her remain immune from prosecution and helped her get away with her illegal activity for a long time.

Some of what was fascinating about this book is how so much of Georgia's influence still effects adoption laws in the US today.  In most countries adoptees are provided open access to their records once they turn 18 but in the US adoption is closed and held secret mostly due to Georgia's fight to keep records closed to hide her illegal activities.  The issuing of amended birth certificates (replacing the birth parents names with those of the adoptive parents) which is still done today started with Georgia.  Adoptees are still fighting to gain access to their original birth certificates and some states have changed their laws but its a slow process.

She pioneered the advertisement of children to find homes for them and while Georgia's ads were often vile and suggestive there are many organizations today who send out photos of children with short descriptions of their background and personalities in order to try to find homes.  Photo listing of children is common place and segments on the news such as Thursday's Child can trace its roots back to Georgia Tann.

This book was disturbing, but a fascinating look into the history of adoption practices and the impact that one woman had on the adoption laws even today.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

(48) Murder at Prep School

Title: The Twisted Thread by Charlotte Bacon
Publisher: Voice
384 Pages
Genre: Mystery/thriller

This title is due to be release 6/14/11.  I received an advanced electronic copy through

Synopsis: When beautiful but aloof Claire Harkness is found dead in her dorm room one spring morning, prestigious Armitage Academy is shaken to its core. Everyone connected to school, and to Claire, finds their lives upended, from the local police detective who has a personal history with the academy, to the various faculty and staff whose lives are immersed in the daily rituals associated with it. Everyone wants to know how Claire died, at whose hands, and more importantly, where the baby that she recently gave birth to is--a baby that almost no one, except her small innermost circle, knew she was carrying.

At the center of the investigation is Madeline Christopher, an intern in the English department who is forced to examine the nature of the relationship between the school's students and the adults meant to guide them.

Review: Armitage Academy is a place of privilege and money.  No matter what happens there it seems that the kids only ever get a slap on the wrist.  It is a private world where few outsiders ever venture.  The towns people seem to harbor resentment of the school and the people who go there.  When Claire is found dead in her room at Armitage this world of privilege and secrets gets turned upside down.

Matt is a police officer who left his job in Philadelphia to come back to his home town.  When they are notified of the murder at Armitage he is the one who gets the case.  He is the most qualified to handle this type of case and he was once a student there so he has some knowledge of the inner workings of the school.

Underneath its glossy exterior Armitage hides, secret societies, kids who raise themselves because their parents are too busy, and children who were raised with so much money and privilege they think the rules don't apply to them.

Bacon takes the reader inside this world and uncovers it slowly a layer at a time.  Madeline, the teacher intern guides you through the maze of politics, and secrets and as she uncovers the mystery of what happened to Clair so does the reader.  The illusion that is Armitage slowly crumbles to reveal a glass house where the wrong move could bring the whole thing tumbling down.  Well done.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

(47) Secret Lives, Murder, and Mystery

Title: Who Dat Whodunnit by Greg Herren
Publisher: Bold Stroke Books
288 Pages
Genre: LGBT

Synopsis: The Saints’ victory to get into the Super Bowl just prior to the start of Carnival season has everyone in New Orleans floating on Cloud Nine. But for Scotty Bradley, Carnival looks like it’s going to be grim yet again when his estranged cousin Jared—who plays for the Saints—becomes the number one suspect in the murder of his girlfriend, dethroned former Miss Louisiana Tara Bourgeouis. Scotty’s not entirely convinced his cousin isn’t the killer, but when he starts digging around into the homophobic beauty queen’s sordid life, he finds that any number of people wanted her dead. With the help of his friends and family, he plunges deeper and deeper into Tara’s tawdry world of sex tapes, fundamentalist fascists, and mind-boggling secrets—secrets some are willing to kill to keep!

Review: I needed something new after reading so many ya romance novels - I guess this is as far away from that as you can get!

I love Greg Herren's Scotty series and in this one we get to meet more of Scotty's wacky family. When Scotty's cousin Jared shows up to a family get together with the country's most celebrated homophobic bigot Tara, Scotty's free thinking mother loses it and punches her in the face. The next morning Tara is found dead and it seems Scotty's mother's gun is the murder weapon.  As the search for who murdered Tara ensues the skeletons in everyone's closet start to be revealed.  There seem to be secrets behind every door and everyone seems to have a motive to kill her, although no one seems to have a motive to frame Scotty's mother.

Scotty's family is from the upper class Garden District but his parents are hippy free spirits who live in the Quarter.  Needless to say they don't always get along.  I love Scotty's parents, his outspoken mother who flies into tirades over injustice, has parties filled with all types of people, booze and pot.  I want them to adopt me.

Fast paced full of wit, humor and colorful New Orleans flavor, Greg scores another thumbs up from me on this one!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

(46) Haunted Bridges and Ghostly Love

Title: Hereafter by Tara Hudson
Publisher: Harper Teen
419 Pages
Genre: YA

I received this book as an electronic advanced copy from it is set to be released June 7, 2011.

Synopsis: Can there truly be love after death?

Drifting in the dark waters of a mysterious river, the only thing Amelia knows for sure is that she's dead. With no recollection of her past life—or her actual death—she's trapped alone in a nightmarish existence. All of this changes when she tries to rescue a boy, Joshua, from drowning in her river. As a ghost, she can do nothing but will him to live. Yet in an unforgettable moment of connection, she helps him survive.

Amelia and Joshua grow ever closer as they begin to uncover the strange circumstances of her death and the secrets of the dark river that held her captive for so long. But even while they struggle to keep their bond hidden from the living world, a frightening spirit named Eli is doing everything in his power to destroy their newfound happiness and drag Amelia back into the ghost world . . . forever.

Review: I was drawn into this book immediately. Amelia's plight as a ghost trying to figure out what her purpose is grabbed me from the very beginning.  After she saves Joshua from drowning life become very interesting for her since his near death experience has triggered Joshua's "Seer" abilities.  While his family believes that Amelia is out to hurt him Joshua believes different and its a race as Joshua's family try to excise Amelia's existence and another ghost Eli tries to claim her to help him with his evil plan to steal souls.

I found Joshua a little too accepting of Amelia and her ghostly being but I guess if you almost died you might be more open to something like that. Watching him struggle with having a relationship with a ghost was amusing, since Amelia can't open doors or turn pages in a book not to mention no one else can see her.  Amelia's struggle to adjust to death and figure out where she came from and how she died were written very well.  I really felt a connection with her.  Eli was also well done, and I felt very ambiguous about him.  I didn't really hate him but I didn't like him either.

I found that I really wanted to find out what would happen at the end and was routing for Amelia and Joshua throughout the whole book. Great debut for this author.
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