Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Update on THE BANKS OF CERTAIN RIVERS (2014)



 I originally reviewed The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison in May of 2013 when it was only available as an e-book. Since then it has been picked up and released in paperback format.

Paperback: 366 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (September 23, 2014)
Genre: Fiction
ISBN-10: 1477825231

The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am leery about original E-books. I was encouraged to review this one  by a colleague, realized I could use my Prime membership at Amazon to 'borrow' it, and reluctantly started to read.

There is nothing more magical than discovering a new author with the gift of memorable storytelling.  The Banks of Certain Rivers, Jon Harrison's debut novel, is well-written, plotted, and edited! The characters that Harrison has carefully drawn for us are our friends, family and neighbors.

Read the introduction that sets up the story and you will be hooked. Immediately you become vested in this very special family.

Bottom Line: Highly Recommended

After his wife Wendy suffers a tragic accident and is institutionalized, Neil Kazenzakis is left alone to raise his son Christopher. Neil is a respected and well-loved high school teacher, but his world goes spiraling out of control when he is accused of attacking a student. Complicating matters is his secret relationship with girlfriend, Lauren, that he has hidden from Chris for two years.

With great humor and a sure hand, Jon Harrison attempts to answer these questions: What do you do when your beloved wife is in a nursing home and will never recover? How do you hold your life together when you are falsely accused? How do secrets impact relationships with those you love?

Written in the first person, we take the journey with Neil. The author uses an interesting technique to allow Neil to communicate with his wife.

Since I have been a Michigander over thirty years, the fact that this story is set here is an added bonus. The author describes recognizable places in the northern part of the mitten. He has a keen eye for the details that matter and sketches them with words in ways that make them come alive. Over and over again things in this story connected with my own life.

Some of the plot twists at the end of the book are a little over-the-top but by that point, it's irrelevant. This is a book you will want to recommend to your friends whether they have a connection to Michigan or not.

You can purchase the book from Amazon for $3.99 and it's worth that and much, much more. It was published March 19, 2013.

Biographical information on Jon Harrison is limited. "A native of the Midwest, JON HARRISON currently lives with his dog Jasper in the Northern Rockies. When not writing, he enjoys skiing, running, and climbing." from the book and from the website.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (1980)



"When we were out in Manchester, Michigan in that book store we visited, I saw a book I wanted but didn’t get it. It was $24.95 and Mother said she would get it for Christmas for me. A couple of weeks ago we tried to get it ordered through the Frigate Book Shop [now gone] in Chestnut Hill. They say it is out of print, though Mother saw it reviewed just about six months ago. It was only published in 1978, I believe. It is called The Dictionary of Imaginary Places by Alberto Manguel and Giannin Guadalupi (MacMillan). If you can find it or get over to Manchester, let me know. I would like to get it."
(from a letter written to me by my father dated March 9, 1982)

A couple of things occurred to me while transcribing this letter from my father, a project that is currently occupying my time. One is that we searched for that book forever and didn't find it.

I made the trip to Manchester to the little bookstore, which no longer had the book. I searched for it everywhere I traveled as I'm sure my father did.

Of course, the book was republished and packaged and updated over the years and I have a copy of it sitting next to me. The Internet has made those searches necessary for only the most obscure items and even then a clever researcher can find clues and bread crumbs leading to discovery.

My guess is that my father was enchanted with the book because it included all the imaginary and mystical places in the books of his childhood from Xanadu to Oz. Leafing through my paperback copy (was it Daddy's or did I buy it?) I am reminded of worlds created by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein among many others.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Blue Remembered Hills (1947)


After seven years in retirement the need to divest myself of things acquired over many decades has become more intense. I want to give certain objects new homes where they will continue to be loved. Those are the easiest decisions to make.

But other items have been with me so long that I have to stop and try to remember why I once treasured them.


This morning I chose a book from my shelves that has been with me since I was a child. It is called Blue Remembered Hills: A Novel about a Young Girl by Nancy Stonestreet. The book jacket survives but is quite worn from sitting on the shelf and from just plain age (like me).

The cover blurb says the books was written during the summer of 1945, which is when I was born.

I have no recollections of when or where it came into my possession but I proudly inscribed my name inside the front cover.

My first thought was to search for "blue remembered hills" on Amazon and was surprised at the number of hits. Then I realized why.

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows;
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
From A Shropshire Lad
by A.E. Houseman
 I have always loved this poem and this was most likely my first exposure to it. Needless to say that although there is a listing for the book on Amazon, it is unavailable for purchase and there are no reviews. Some libraries still own it although it may be 'in storage'.

I did learn from Google that the author's name was a pseudonym but a quick search revealed that her real name was Lalah Leone Daniels Mead and that her only book is now in public domain. She and her husband Albert Mead had no children according to a family tree I stumbled across. I did find reference to a typewritten manuscript (no longer available) that had been for sale containing her journal writings with the keywords 'death & dying' indicating that she was not well before her early passing on 11 December 1947 at the age of 50. Her book was published that same year.

How can I discard this unwanted treasure?  Instead I plan to read the slight book in the next week. I wonder how well I will like it so many years later?

Monday, September 1, 2014

THE SECRET PLACE (2014)


The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #5)The Secret Place by Tana French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been reading Tana French since receiving an ARC of In the Woods back in 2007. It went on to win the 2008 Edgar for best first novel by an American author among other awards. Since then I have highly anticipated each new entry in the Dublin Murder Squad series.

Unlike many series, you don't have to read these titles in order. Each one is unique but all are chain-linked by a lesser character from one book being elevated to center stage in another. Each one introduces a different way of life. In the Woods (2007) was haunting, The Likeness (2008) seductive, and the Faithful Place (2010) holds a mirror up to the past as does Broken Harbor (2012).

Available beginning September 2, 2014 French's most recent title is The Secret Place (2014) and once again she has taken us somewhere unexpected.

A master at mixing police procedural with psychological thriller, French sets this tale at an exclusive girls' boarding school in Dublin where a year earlier a young man from the neighboring boy's school has been violently murdered. This 'locked room' mystery focuses on eight young women who could be responsible. French carefully draws each suspect in ways that keep the reader guessing until the end. Her ear for how teens communicate seems very real.

The story takes place during one very long day for two newbie detectives trying to make the grade. Alternating chapters reveal significant events with reminders of how long Chris Harper has left to live making sure the reader is never lost.

With complex issues of friendship and loyalty, this literate mystery will keep you turning pages past your bedtime.

Bottom Line: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Title: The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad Series)
Author: Tana French
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publisher: Viking Adult
No. of Pages: 464 pages
ISBN: 0670026328
Copyright: September 2, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Amazon

"Tana French grew up in Ireland, Italy, the US and Malawi, and has lived in Dublin since 1990. She trained as a professional actress at Trinity College, Dublin, and has worked in theatre, film and voiceover." (from the author's website)

My Current Net Galley Titles

Initially I found I got a little over eager when I first discovered the wealth of titles available through Net Galley. I requested books and then couldn't find the time to read them.

Recently I have been doing better but September had me stumbling a bit.

Right now I have the following four books on my 'shelf' all with publication dates in September:

1. The Secret Place by Tana French (9/2/14), which 'drops' tomorrow, and which I may actually finish today! FINISHED 9/1/14 10:30 pm
2. Audition Hell by Peter Skagen (9/15/14) promises insider rants and guidance about working as an actor in the film industry.
3. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (9/16/14), a gender-bending suspense set in Detroit.
4. The Sweetness by Sande Boritz Berger (9/23/14) is the intertwined story of cousins on different continents and how WWII changed the course of their lives.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

NO SAFE HOUSE (2014)


No Safe HouseNo Safe House by Linwood Barclay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes you read a book you like but aren't inclined to read others by the same author. It was the particular story or setting  or characters that attracted you.

Sometimes you read a book and can't wait to get your hands on the next story that the author writes.

That's how it is for me with Linwood Barclay. I've read or listened to a half dozen of his books and all of them have delivered the goods. His mind works in devious ways that are absolutely delightful in a thriller!

Since I couldn't track down a preview copy of No Safe House, I actually pre-ordered it for my Kindle so I could read it as soon as it was released. Even having read the prequel No Time for Goodbye a while ago, I needn't have worried that I might not be up to speed. Barclay is a master at making sure the reader knows exactly what she/he should be aware of and makes sure the reader doesn't know the rest until the appropriate time.

In No Time for Goodbye, 14 year-old Cynthia awakes to find her entire family gone.  Twenty-five years later, with her husband Terry and young daughter Grace, she agrees to a TV documentary that will reopen the case. The aftermath is terrifying.

It's seven years later in No Safe House and we find the family still coping with issues that are causing problems. Cynthia decides to live apart from Terry and Grace while she struggles with her demons. Grace is hanging out with a young man who convinces her to so something illegal and we are off and running.

Barclay tells his tale in alternating chapters using Terry's voice in the first person followed by third person narrative about what's going on elsewhere. Sometimes the timing overlaps, which is a neat trick to pull off so successfully.

Barclay has been referred to as the 'King of the Suburban' thriller. His characters' lives don't seem much different from ours before unexpected things start happening. The good guys sometimes make questionable decisions and the bad guys sometimes do the right things.

There is  a lot of suspense and threat in his stories but Barclay seems to have a great feel for just how much violent description the reader actually wants or needs.

Some reviewers have found fault with the story for being a stretch. I haven't read a thriller yet that wasn't. A little suspension of disbelief is what makes the story such a roller-coaster ride. It's just plain fun. Can I confess that I actually cried at one point?

Bottom Line: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Title: No Safe House
Author: Linwood Barclay
Genre: Thriller
Publisher: NAL Hardcover
No. of Pages: 464 pages
ISBN: 0451414209
Copyright: August 5, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Amazon

Bestselling author Linwood Barclay was born in the United States but moved to Canada just before turning four years old when his father's job took the family across the border.

Linwood obtained an Honors B.A. in English at Trent University, in Peterborough, Ontario.

Initially he began working for a number of local newspapers, eventually landing a job at the Toronto Star in 1981. His break came with No Time for Goodbye in 2007. It became a runaway bestseller in the U.K. selling a million copies there and elsewhere.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

SMALL BLESSINGS and Simple Gifts (2014)


Small Blessings: A Novel
Although I love thrillers and mysteries, I seem to be following a course set for me by my father, who in his later years preferred to re-read favorite authors and seek out gentler stories. He did not care for the highly descriptive sex and violence that was coming into vogue, instead preferring a good, well-written story, where much is left to the imagination of the reader and the good guys win in the end.

In her debut novel (August 12, 2014), Martha Woodroof has given readers many small blessings and I, for one, am thankful. Her writing is easy and graceful. Her characters are charming and quirky. Perhaps you've dreamed of living in the small town she describes? It even has an independent bookstore! And there's just enough mystery to make you wonder what is going to happen next.

The story is a simple gift. Tom is an aging, kind, and unexciting professor of Shakespeare at a small Virginia college where the faculty live in close proximity and think they know everything about one another.

Tom's burden is his wife Marjorie, who has suffered with mental illness for many years forcing Tom and his mother-in-law Agnes into roles as caregivers.

Small unexpected changes ripple through the community when the charming and mysterious Rose is hired at the local bookstore. (I have a suspicion that author Martha Woodroof is actually Rose.)

The book jacket reminds me of Shaker art and brings to mind the words of the song Simple Gifts. And so everyone “comes down where they ought to be.”

I hate to reveal more of the story. I hope you will be as delighted and surprised by this book as I was. It is so much more than it seems on first glance.

Every time the reader thinks the story is settling into a familiar track, it isn't. Not only does the story surprise, the “characters never stop surprising themselves, and each other.”

Small Blessings put me in mind of the world author JanKaron has created in her Mitford tales, although with an absurdist twist, where foibles and human failings are recognized and tolerated with love. I hope that Martha Woodroof's characters will appear again. I missed them as soon as I read the last page.

Bottom Line: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Title: Small Blessings
Author: Martha Woodroof
Genre: Literature
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
No. of Pages: 320 pages
ISBN: 1250040523
Copyright: August 12, 2014
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Amazon

Disclaimer: A copy of Small Blessings was provided to me by St. Martin's Press/Netgalley for review purposes.

MARTHA WOODROOF was born in the South, went to boarding school and college in New England, ran away to Texas for a while, then fetched up in Virginia. She has written for NPR, npr.org, Marketplace and Weekend America, and for the Virginia Foundation for Humanities Radio Feature Bureau. Her print essays have appeared in such newspapers as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Small Blessings is her debut novel. She lives with her husband in the Shenandoah Valley. Their closest neighbors are cows. (Source: Amazon)