Thursday, January 14, 2016

ANGELS BURNING (2016)


Angels BurningAngels Burning by Tawni O'Dell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 2014 I read my first Tawni O'Dell. After just a few pages of One of Us, I wondered why I had never heard of her before. Then I learned that her first published book Back Roads had been an Oprah Book Club selection.

THE STORY: A fifty year old mine fire forced residents to abandon Campbell's Run years earlier. Now someone has tried to hide the body of a teenage girl in one of the fiery surface holes.

Fifty year old Chief of Police Dove (named after the soap) Carnahan narrates how the gruesome death of Cami Truly affects the nearby small town of Buchanan, Pennsylvania and its residents. The investigation brings unwelcome memories of the murder and trial of Dove's mother when she was a teenager. Complicating her life are a relationship with Police Detective Nolan Greely and unexpected family problems.

WHAT I THOUGHT: First of all, any author who can work Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets into a story using it as a paint color has my undying allegiance. And I've always been fascinated by the ghost town of  Centralia, Pennsylvania on which Campbell's Run is based. Beyond that, I marked a number of quotes - some touching and some funny like this one, "My ability to arouse passion in men who arouse nothing is me is the stuff of legends."

Family secrets, lies, and people trying to escape their roots in rural Pennsylvania are recurring themes in O'Dell's stories. In Angels Burning she has created another compelling psychological thriller, with memorable characters. You don't doubt she knows these people. It's the details that make the story resonate. Unsettling issues are handled well which makes the reader feel safe.

There were several compelling story lines that weren't actually wrapped up which led me to suspect (and later verify) that there will be more adventures for Dove!

FIRST SENTENCE: "The last time I was this close to Rudy Mayfield he was leaning across the seat of his dad's truck trying to grope my recently ripened breasts."

BOTTOM LINE: A highly recommended literate mystery.

DISCLAIMER: Invited by NetGalley to request and receive this title for an honest review. Also have to admit I grew up and lived many years in Pennsylvania and that it will always be my home.

Title: Angels Burning
Author: Tawni O'Dell
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Publisher: Gallery Books
Rating:4 out of 5 stars
No. of Pages: 288 pages
Copyright: January 5, 2016
ISBN-10: 1501132547
ISBN-13: 978-1501132544

Tawni O’Dell is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels, including Back Roads, which was an Oprah’s Book Club pick and a Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection. She is also a contributor to several anthologies, including Becoming Myself: Reflections on Growing Up Female. Her works have been published in more than forty countries. (from Amazon)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Favorite Reads of 2015



In no particular order, these are the books I enjoyed the most during the year:

NON-FICTION
My Life on the Road (Gloria Steinem) 2015
Being Mortal - Medicine and What Matters in the End (Atul Gawande) 2014
How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Acting (Peter Skagen) 2015

MYSTERIES, THRILLERS, SUSPENSE
Dark Corners (Ruth Rendell) 2015
Descent (Tim Johnson) 2015
Fear the Darkness (Becky Masterman) 2015
The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins) 2015

WOMEN'S FICTION
The Color of Water in July (Nora Carroll) 2011
The Sound of Glass (Karen White) 2015
The Truth According to Us (Annie Barrows) 2015

LITERARY FICTION
All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr) 2014

MAGICAL REALISM
The Alexandrite (Rick Lenz) 2015


Sunday, December 27, 2015

THE PASSENGER (2016)


The PassengerThe Passenger by Lisa Lutz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

THE STORY: Instead of calling 911, Tanya DuBois decides to run when she finds her husband's body even though she insists she isn't guilty of anything. Changing her identity, not for the first time, she attempts to start another new life, but it's not that easy in this day and age. Luckily (or not) she meets Blue, a bartender, and they trade identities. Still, Tanya continues to look over her shoulder.

WHAT I THOUGHT: This is one of those books. The kind that keep you up past your bedtime because you have to know what is going to happen. Peppered with e-mails that give clues to the past, the cat and mouse game criss-crosses the U.S. always just steps ahead of whoever is searching for Tanya.

Escaping one's life through reinvention fascinates us. Told in the first person, Lisa Lutz has created a compelling story and some interesting characters, whose sense of morality is slightly off plumb. There's not a lot of depth, some repetition, but a good ending.

FIRST SENTENCE: "When I found my husband at the bottom of the stairs, I tried to resuscitate him before I ever considered disposing of the body."

BOTTOM LINE: If you love thrillers, add this to your to-read list. You won't be disappointed.

DISCLAIMER: Invited by NetGalley to request and receive this title for an honest review.

Title: The Passenger
Author: Lisa Lutz
Genre: Thriller
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
No. of Pages: 320 pages
Copyright:March 1, 2016
ISBN-10: 1451686633
ISBN-13: 978-1451686630

Lisa Lutz is the author of the New York Times bestselling, Edgar Award– and Macavity Award–nominated, and Alex Award-winning Spellman Files series and the novel The Passenger. She is the coauthor of Heads You Lose, written with David Hayward. She lives and works in upstate New York.(from Amazon)

Monday, December 21, 2015

MY LIFE ON THE ROAD (2015)


My Life on the RoadMy Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My favorite books are those that surprise me and Gloria Steinem's MY LIFE ON THE ROAD was so much more than I expected.

THE STORY: Because I live near Clark Lake (Michigan) where Gloria Steinem's father had a dance pavilion when she was growing up, I was particularly interested in what she might write about that time. The opening chapter, however, talked about her experiences in Sturgis, South Dakota, where motorcyclists from all over rally the first full week in August. My husband and I were there many years ago and Steinem's comments echoed our experiences. After that I was in thrall. (And yes, she did write about Clark Lake.)

Although this is the first time I have read a book by Steinem, her life's work has been a road map for me. When I was a young mother, a friend asked me to watch her children while she traveled to another state where she could get an abortion. She and her husband were planning to divorce. My reward? A subscription to Ms. Magazine, which I read for years.

The most encouraging thing Steinem shared was the need to travel or at least finding different ways to view one's world. Her four stated purposes were to share the least visible parts of her life; what it was like traveling America; sharing the stories she heard on her travels; and to open up the road to women.

The surprise is that Steinem never had a driver's license. Early experiences with group traveling in India influenced her to travel in a way that allowed her to see a whole world of lives most of us never encounter. For example, I found the descriptions of truck stops fascinating. But the best parts dealt with Native Americans and their paradigm of human organization as the circle and not the pyramid hierarchy that we have come to embrace.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Episodic and impressionistic, reading My Life on the Road is like spending time with an old friend who has had an incredible life and is willing to share her wisdom. My only regret is that I did not read the wonderful footnotes as I went along. I read them afterwards and learned much more. (Have you ever heard of Walter Ashby Plecker? His beliefs affected many for years and still reverberate.)

One might assume that Gloria Steinem would be angry. So much of the work that was undertaken in her lifetime has been rolled back, but her book is encouraging not discouraging. There is more work to do. And lest we think there are not consequences, she does point out why and how we have ended up in certain places and how important it is to be involved in creating the world in which we want to live. She even gives us hints as to how we might proceed. One of my favorite quotes ". . .people in the same room understand and empathize with each other in a way that isn't possible on the page or screen."

Gloria Steinem pays tribute throughout to her mentors and those who shared their lives with her.The ending of the book is particularly touching.

FIRST SENTENCE: "I board a plane for Rapid City, South Dakota, and see a lot of people in black leather, chains and tattoos."

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.Worth reading and re-reading.

DISCLAIMER: Invited by NetGalley to request and receive this title for an honest review.

Title: My Life on the Road
Author: Gloria Steinem
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Biography
Publisher:Random House
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
No. of Pages: 304 pages
Copyright: October 27, 2015
ISBN-10: 0679456201
ISBN-13: 978-0679456209

Gloria Marie Steinem is an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist who became nationally recognized as a leader and spokeswoman for the feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 70s. (from Wikipedia)


Saturday, October 31, 2015

THE ALEXANDRITE (2015)


The Alexandrite: A time-travel noirThe Alexandrite: A Time-Travel Noir by Rick Lenz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every once in a while I am asked to review a book as opposed to the ones I request from NetGalley. Most of the time I am disappointed. The plotting and writing can be uneven. On the other hand I have sometimes discovered a gem I might otherwise have missed. That is certainly the case with this book by Rick Lenz.

The cover identifies The Alexandrite as 'a time travel noir'. I have read a few time travel stories with varying degrees of satisfaction, but time travel seems to be having a moment so I thought, "Why not?"

My two basic requests of any book are interesting writing and something I haven't seen before. The Alexandrite fullfills that criteria and so much more. Rather than an imitation of any of the time travel stories with which I am familiar, it is a completely original, wonderful surprise.

THE STORY: Actor Jack Cade, is adrift. At 40, he has nothing to show but a life that is falling apart. He's having nightmares; he loses a part in a play that didn't even pay; and his wife feels they need time away from each other.

When a mysterious pawn ticket turns up in the mail, it redeems a valuable Alexandrite ring. The changing colors of the stone foreshadow the twists and turns that Jack's life will take.

Then an unexpected invitation to meet with a psychophysicist sends Jack traveling back in time where he not only meets Marilyn Monroe but gets himself killed several times before emerging to a better life.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Even though time travel is popular these days, Rick Lenz has fashioned a completely original story. His slightly off-track narrator confesses he is "barely holding it together" but he serves as an excellent guide through old Hollywood commenting on what has been replaced and what used to be.

Told with a lot of dark humor and angst, The Alexandrite is a compelling tale that is difficult to put down. Skillfully plotted, all the threads of the story weave together to make this a most worthy read.

FIRST SENTENCE: "At some unidentified point during the first time I live through the following events, it becomes as clear as my muddled brain has ever experienced clarity that most of us do not see what we see or hear what we hear; in fact, we can't tell what's going on right in front of us."

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. You will want to take this journey. (Besides, as it turns out Alexandrite is my alternate June birthstone.)

DISCLAIMER: Invited by the author to read his book and provide an honest review.

Title: The Alexandrite
Author: Rick Lenz
Genre: Time Travel Noir
Publisher: Chromodroid Press
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
No. of Pages: 234 pages
Copyright: August 13, 2015
ISBN-10: 1514135744
ISBN-13: 978-1514135747

Rick Lenz is a jack of all trades in show business: actor, artist, and author. Besides plays he has also written a well-received personal memoir, North of Hollywood. When Lenz is not riding away on his next kaleidoscopic quest, he can be found painting, playing the piano, or reading at home with his beloved wife, Linda. Come to ricklenz.com to discover Rick's blog, books, art, and interviews.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Catching My Breath & Getting Organized



I never seem to be able to curb my enthusiasm for new books, which I don't have enough hours in the day to read.

This bothers me the most when I have requested an interesting title from NetGalley with the very best intentions. And I must confess I have fallen behind again.

Currently I am reading a physical book, provided by the author, called The Alexandrite by Rick Lenz (2015). It's a time travel noir that I am finding quite fascinating.

On my Kindle awaiting me are My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (on sale today), Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder (went on sale September 8), and The Passenger by Lisa Lutz (not on sale until March 1, 2016). If that doesn't sound eclectic, I'll throw out our book group selection for November, On Canan's Side by Sebastian Barry (2011).


Friday, October 23, 2015

DARK CORNERS (2015)


Dark CornersDark Corners by Ruth Rendell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ruth Rendell's last book reminded me why I have read so many of her stories (some written as Barbara Vine). She leads the reader down a normal path that somehow spirals to despair and worse.

THE STORY: Carl Martin's father has died leaving him a lovely London house and it's contents. As a newly published author, he lacks the money necessary to maintain the property without taking in a boarder. This begins a series of mistakes Carl makes that totally change the course of his life.

Like many of us, Carl tends to overlook simple tasks. Rather than dispose of odd medicines his father collected, he ignores them as he unsuccessfully pushes himself to work on a new book.

Then he makes his first real mistake. He rents his upstairs to the wrong person to allow into his life. Dermot McKinnon seems to be harmless, if annoying, but he pays his rent on time.

Dermot works the front desk of a veterinarian's office. Rendell uses that office as a way to connect the various characters and move the plot along.

To say much more would spoil the experience for the reader. 

WHAT I THOUGHT: I've always appreciated how Ruth Rendell's stories can take the reader inside the mind of others who think differently. The way she assembles small, inauspicious happenings creates a sense of dread. Between blackmail, murders, and unplanned deaths, Rendell creates a story of dark comedy, an intricate web of calculated and accidental intersections with a warning about the destruction that can result from keeping secrets.

The final sentence in the book seemed a fitting ending to the career of a mystery writing legend. “Now it’s all over.”

Ruth Rendell died in May. She wrote the Inspector Wexford novels (made into a television series), stand-alone suspense novels, and psychological thrillers under the Barbara Vine pseudonym.

FIRST SENTENCE: "For many years Wilfred Martin collected samples of alternative medicines, homeopathic remedies, and herbal pills."

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. If you've never read a Ruth Rendell tale, you might check out this article that recommends five excellent choices.

DISCLAIMER: Invited by NetGalley to request and receive this title for an honest review.

Title: Dark Corners
Author: Ruth Rendell
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Publisher: Scribner
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
No. of Pages: 240 pages
Copyright: October 27, 2015
ISBN-10: 1501119427
ISBN-13: 978-1501119422

Ruth Rendell (1930 - 2015) won three Edgar Awards, the highest accolade from Mystery Writers of America, as well as four Gold Daggers and a Diamond Dagger for outstanding contributions to the genre from England's prestigious Crime Writers' Association. Her remarkable career spanned a half century, with more than sixty books published. A member of the House of Lords, she was one of the great literary figures of our time." (from the book)