This Was Not The Plan by Cristina Alger (5 out of 5)

•November 24, 2015 • Leave a Comment



I got this advance from Wendy at S&S (Wendy, you remain my queen).. This book isn’t out until February 2, 2016. But set your speedometers for that date so you can head out and pick it up. I think it’s likely my first feel good book of 2016. I can’t wait to recommend it to others. I think it’s the perfect antidote to the shitty weather that awaits most of us in February. Put it on your To-Be-Read lists now, and read it!

Charlie Goldwyn is my favorite character since Tom Violet. If you don’t know who Tom Violet is, how do you know me? (See-or read- Matthew Norman’s Domestic Violets from a few years back). Anyway, he’s a wonderful, grieving widower working 12 hour days at a law firm, trying to make partner. These hours began before his wife’s death, and they have only gotten worse since she passed. As one would expect, his home life- namely, his relationship with his young son Caleb- has suffered to the point that Caleb is basically being raised by his sister Zadie. Charlie is on the fast track when he has a few too many at a big company party, and he makes a speech undermining the job and those who work in the industry. Not surprisingly, he loses his job. Charlie is convinced that Todd, this semi-creepy hanger on at the firm, is behind the Youtube video that gets posted and goes viral as a result, which resulted in his dismissal. Charlie has a friend, Fred, in the firm who tells him that he’ll do his best to find him a new opportunity elsewhere. Remember that, kids, for the end of the book. In the meantime, he takes a well-needed break, bonds with his kid, spends time with his sister, meets his long estranged father (not by choice), helps his sister plan her wedding, becomes friends with stay-at-home dads, develops a crush on a soon-to-be-divorced mom Elise, and plots his sweet revenge. But all is not as it seems in Denmark, as Charlie soon gets to the bottom of what- and whom- was at the heart of the speech being put on Youtube and the dismissal from the company. Will it all end up well? Will father and son keep the bonds that they’ve developed since Charlie lost his job, or will it get shot out of a cannon the second Charlie gets back into the  saddle?  Will Charlie reunite with his father, before it’s too late for both of them? Will Caleb ever begin dressing in normal clothes, and not the pink and purple tutus he loves? Many questions, many answers, and this one is so effortless that before you know it, you’re finished. And then you’re very sad. Because it’s ended.

The best way I can describe this is a worthy runner-up to Nick Hornby’s About A Boy. It’s fun, effortless, and heartwarming. Charlie is one of those characters you feel instantly connected to, and you’re cheering for him and Caleb the whole way. When things are revealed about Charlie’s ouster from the firm, it makes sense and more importantly, it’s not so far-fetched that you’re scratching your head and going “WTF”. Family relationships are never smooth, and this one is a great example- especially between Charlie and his estranged dad. So seriously, I can’t tell you how much I loved this. Go out on February 2, 2015 (Groundhog Day), and pick this up. I guarantee you’ll love it as much as I did.



Disclaimer by Renee Knight (4 out of 5)

•November 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment


I had a few million customers come in and tell me to read this book. But- as with GIRL ON THE TRAIN- I discounted what they said, because popular opinion and G are not happenstance bedfellows. We had a copy that got sun-damaged in our window and we couldn’t sell it as a result, so it got marked out. So I gave it a whirl. The lesson learned? You should listen to your customers more often, G. Duh. This was as page-turning and tilt-a- whirl as GOTT was. Must be something with me discovering great psychological suspense titles when the weather goes to shit. I’m going to recommend this one if you liked GOTT or Gillian Flynn- although I don’t think it’s quite to the level of Gillian Flynn yet- that’s why four stars and not five. It didn’t appeal to me right away, so that lost a bit of it for me. The others were right on with pulling me into them. But you will not see several things coming at you with this, and at the end, well, prepare yourself for overwhelming sadness. Because out of this great narrative of love, loss, and the darkness of the human spirit, comes some great sadness after all is said and done. I wasn’t quite prepared for that. Nor what happened with one of the leads and narrators of the story. But that, friends, is why it’s a fantastic read!

Catherine has a great life; a ‘content’ marriage and a ‘content’ relationship with her son, and a career. But that’s about to change. Catherine has a deep, dark secret, and someone else out there knows it. A book appears in her home, by her bedside, that causes her to lose her shit. She reads it, and goes to pieces. Instead of telling her husband and son what’s going on, she burns the book and thinks the unnamed threat will go away. Instead, it amplifies it. Her husband and son are ensnared in the Internet and book web of the silent stalker. Soon photographs appear. Robert, her husband, abandons her and their marriage. The stalker takes the book to her job and infiltrates himself with her coworkers. Catherine has a meltdown and goes after her coworker, earning herself a rep as a nutcase and some time off of work, along with therapy. Her son Nicholas begins to have serious doubts about his mom, someone he’s treated with quiet respect and uncalculated emotional distance the entirety of his adult life. Nicholas is a former drug addict who lost his job, and has a go nowhere relationship with a mystery girl, and seeing the photographs and hearing the story his mom has been hiding, he goes into a downward spiral and disappears. Catherine and her husband have to find him, but by the time they do, well, let’s just say the innocent always pay for the actions of the guilty. The mysterious book, you ask? It’s a thinly disguised book written about what Catherine’s past and the dark secret contain- and it destroys everything and everyone in its path. Is her stalker crazy, grief-stricken, or justified? What does this person want from her? This story takes ALL kinds of trippy sidewalks that you aren’t expecting, and you have to keep turning around and finding a new way to navigate, or the book just keeps spinning wilder and wilder out of control. In other words, something you should read!

Doctor Who: The Dalek Generation by Nicholas Briggs (3 out of 5)

•November 19, 2015 • Leave a Comment
I'm still reading through all the Doctor Who novels. I know, I'll be 
reading them the rest of my life. There are too many! I've read a few
of Nicholas Briggs' novels, and always enjoy them. I'm not really sure
why this one didn't stick as well. Those dastardly Daleks have fooled the
masses into thinking that they're a godsend, not the devious little 
bastards that they truly are. Sunlight 349 is a Dalek Foundation world
and where this novel is set. The good Doctor arrives and tries to 
enlighten those that the Daleks are evil, and gets tossed in the pokey
as a result. He ends up in court, fighting his case against a "Dalek
Litigator" and arguing for something resembling custody of three kids
who were left wards of a Dalek state when their parents walked off 
their ship, committing suicide, rather than telling the formula to the
evil Daleks. Are you confused yet? Turns out that the majority of this 
one is that way. I definitely didn't dig those one as I hoped, although
it was funny to see the good Doctor dealing with THREE kids throughout
much of the novel. On another Foundation planet, archaeologists uncover
some scary shit going down. Of course, directly connected to those 
bastard Daleks, and to what's going on over at Sunlight 349. Can the
Doctor convince the reluctant people that the Daleks are up to no good
again? Can he find the kids a happy ending, despite their parents deaths?
Can the good Doctor find his Tardis and get the hell out of there, and save
the day? Or is it going to backfire on him in spectacular fashion? 

I will say this- not among my favorites. This book was a little garbled
and just didn't click in many parts. There should have been more of a
bond between the Doctor and his ward, but it's largely absent here. In the 
end, not a bad novel, but definitely needed some serious work on 
the cementing of some key details. 

Home Is Burning by Dan Marshall (1 out of 5)

•November 16, 2015 • Leave a Comment


I should have loved this book. Or at least liked it. Instead, I really had to keep myself from sending that motherfucker to the trash. Maybe if I wasn’t a caregiver myself, I could go and reread this and not be annoyed, sickened, or pissed off. Instead, in alternate points throughout, I was a little of all. This book is out now, via Flatiron books. I also thought I was going to like it because the author warns the reader that the book is not for the weak of heart and those who are easily put off by four-letter words. NOTHING could be further from the truth! The swearing and graphic nature of some of the things Marshall writes about didn’t turn me off of this at all. Instead, the problem was the way that Marshall writes of his journey into the hard, often sad and devastating, but often rewarding parts of caregiving. Here’s my personal, honest opinion before I go into the synopsis of the book. If you didn’t have your parents and they didn’t raise you to be the misunderstood, but upstanding citizen you grow into, none of us would be having this conversation. If your parents decline into terminal or long-lasting illness, more times than not, they will need your help. If they could wipe your ass when you were a kid, you most certainly can do the same for them when they grow old and are no longer able to do so. If they had to clean up puke and give you showers, you should be ready to do the same for them. They give birth and raise you, and then they regress to children themselves, and the roles of child into caregiver and the parent into the role of a young child who needs your help more than you could ever predict, reverse. And you should have no problem helping them into their final years. Or.. if you’re going to write about it, have some compassion and understanding- even if in your normal everyday life you’re a giant douchebag- for the parents and what they are going through. The loss of things they have been able to do themselves their whole lives, the loss of freedom to live their life freely without recompense, and ultimately, their humiliation for these everyday changes and having no control over them whatsoever, is largely disheartening and devastating for most of our elderly parents. Caregiving is the toughest thing I’ve had to do in my life so far, but there are moments where it’s so worth it. I’m from a family that doesn’t communicate well (or until it’s too late), but there was nothing wrong with my dad using the four letter word or grabbing my mom’s ass in front of us. Everything was open, and there was no shame in our house with four letter words, 12 year olds smoking cigarettes in the upstairs bedroom while listening to Madonna’s “True Blue” album, the 12 year old covering up for the 11 year when they drank a few of their dad’s Old Milwaukee’s Best stash, etc. I had a very liberating and open childhood. My mom was kind of a hippie in many regards, and overly emotional and overthinking to the max. My dad is chill now as he was then and not very emotional at all, but he can no longer help me fix everything I destroy. He cannot do anything without my help. And as open minded as he is, you can see the pain on his face, and it can be heard in his voice, as often as he tells others that very fact. I joke at times, but that time is past- shut the fuck up and help your parent if they need you to. Write a book about how much you love him, even if you have to clean him up after he shits his pants. Write a book about how the experience has shaped you as a person, not about how much weight you  put on because you drink yourself into omission amid avoiding reality (Year 1- 2012-2013-that was me. You can see it in pictures). We’ve been there, most of us, in some regard. But write a book that shows your humanity and that of your family, and not makes the reader want to punch you in the face.

This book made me want to punch Mr. Marshall in the face. There are no punches pulled as far as his inability to accept his new role and his father’s demise at the hands of the bastard Lou Gehrig’s Disease. There is the hope that by the end of the memoir, he will have grown a little and the reader will feel more of a kinship for him and his family as they watch his father wearing away. I didn’t even mention- Marshall’s mom is undergoing chemo for another bout of cancer when the bomb is dropped on her husband. They call Dan and inform him, and like most with a terminal illness diagnosis, he hopes and thinks it can’t be that bad. So he stays in LA with his new job, his girlfriend, drinking and living the life. His first trip home, he sees a bit of a difference, but blithely shrugs off the requests of help from his siblings and goes back out. The second visit home, he realizes that his help is needed. He takes a leave of absence from his job, leaves his girl and roommate out there, and heads home. It’s not hearts and flowers, kids, but terminal illness never is. I give high marks for Marshall’s blunt portrayal of ALS and its evils, then wonder why he gives his mom shit most of the book for only being able to hold yogurt down through chemo. I give him high marks for not mincing words about how bad his father’s illness affects his body and that he now has to help him shower, urinate, and shit, yet wonder why he makes a point to call out his mom’s often confusing conversations with him and his siblings (they call it “chemo brain”) throughout the book. I give him marks for accepting his father’s decision regarding the end process of life, but then he rips his mom’s overusing Fetanyl patches for her physical and emotional pain as her husband’s decision starts to kick in. There is a lot of swearing throughout the book, often it feels like Marshall is overwriting that angle of the book for the fact that he has identified himself and his family as a bunch of potty-mouthed sassy pants peeps. OK, I got that right off the bat, but drop it down a notch, buttmunch. Yes, buttmunch. My four letter words never stop, but they have dropped down a bit. I also thought the more that Marshall cared for his dad, the more I would care for him. Instead, by the end of the book, I was annoyed. There wasn’t a lot of “I give a shit” about the author by the end. He comes across as whiny, selfish, and giving himself a blue ribbon for every single thing that’s accomplished. That’s important, don’t get me wrong, but not so much that you spend the entire book patting yourself on the back. I felt the family as a whole were a strong solitary unit, especially toward the last part of the book. But overall, it hurt me to read this. A great deal. My father is still struggling day by day, I’m still working full time and caring for him full-time, and there are MANY hard days and nights. Holidays suck, but they’re bearable because my sister comes over to eat with us and helps take the load off of me. But a day does not go by where I miss the way things were, the way they used to be, how I used to be able to be gone hours at a time drinking and gallivanting without a care in the world. But here’s the thing- I grew the fuck up and sacrificed that part of my personality to the linen closet until the time when my father makes his next transition and I am back to alone. Then, and only then, will I feel like I can breathe and find myself again. You can live a semblance of a life while being a full-time caregiver, but a lot of your leisure time goes out the fucking window. Marshall does an excellent job of pointing this out, again and again. And he’s right. However, nothing is more important than family. Especially when they are battling terminal illness and need you. My personal take? All of those bars and bad dates awaiting me? They can stuff it until a time down the road when that window opens up again. Right now, those shutters are closed and I’m inside attending to those who need to be kept warm. Marshall still finds time to have some idle pursuits, but you’re made to feel like it’s a huge sacrifice on his part. And that, dear reader, was another reason I had a hard time giving a rat’s ass about Marshall’s take on it.

This is a book that is poignant at moments, heartbreaking in other moments, and funny in parts, but overall, it’s a story that is taking place all around you. Trying to cast humor into something that is hard and sad is not easy, but it has been done to better effect (read Dave Egger’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”- and Alysa Abbott’s “Fairyland”- THOSE two memoirs are much better than this one, on similar footholds) than here. Marshall comes across as trying to hard to make this very sad story funny, and when the ball doesn’t land on the right side of the court, we’ll swear and throw in some vulgarity to make it flow better. Sadly, it doesn’t work. At all.



The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner (5 out of 5)

•November 13, 2015 • Leave a Comment


I didn’t read Eric Weiner’s Geography of Bliss. Now that I’ve read his Geography of Genius, I have to backtrack and read that one. I requested a copy of this from Wendy at Simon & Schuster (As always..thank you, Wendy!) after reading about it in one of her S&S newsletters. I am so glad I did! I’ve gotten away from my love of non-fiction lately and been reading light and quick fiction. Guess what? I miss non-fiction! What a great way to get back into it- by reading this book. If you’re a fan of history, happenstance, and wonder whether there are similarities in time, place, and genius, wonder no more. Pick this book up and consider yourself enlightened.

Weiner’s latest brings him to a precipice where he examines the link-or whether there is one- between geographical locations and the birth of ideas not yet heard in the idea marketplace. This takes place in the here and now, and in the before and after of our historical timetable. He’s all over the damn place, from Vienna to Silicon Valley and back again. With good humor and more than a fair touch of intelligence, Weiner examines the significance of ideas out of nowhere, inspired or not, by the location in which the ideas are taking place. Is there such a thing? Or is it all a bunch of hooey? This is a sharp little treatise on many figures in our history and in our present and whether they were brought to the brink of genius, based on where they were at the time of the initial idea. Weiner doesn’t just base this on a few token historical figures- the dude is all over the place testing out his theories! That’s another thing I enjoyed- the breadth of his research into this book. All sorts of well-known figures through our timespace and what may- or may not have- lit the spark that fueled some of these important ideas in time. Fascinating, funny at times, and a page-turning trot through the halls of history? Check, check, checkmate. This is out now from our friends at Simon & Schuster. Do yourself a favor and give it a whirl.

If You Dare (Deanna Madden #3) by A.R. Torre (5 out of 5)

•November 13, 2015 • Leave a Comment


This is the third book in A.R. Torre’s splendid Deanna Madden series. Yes, read it. Make sure you have no problems with slight overtones of erotica and some adult situations. Make sure you don’t have a violent aversion to a Dexter-type character, minus the sheer number of murders that Dexter was known to commit. Deanna reminds me of Dexter in that there is humanity lying in her person, sitting quietly in wait. Yet there’s the “dark passenger” there as well with Deanna. Except Deanna is a cam girl for a living. Her back story is tragic, and no doubt shaped the tendencies that oft take over her subconscious. In the previous two books, you’ve learned to love and hate Deanna’s impulses. One thing you can say? She’s never dull! I absolutely loved the first one, but the ending of the second one left me greatly unsettled, for a number of reasons that I won’t go into here (read them and then we’ll talk). So I was very curious where Torre was going to go with her in this book. Never fear, the mistress of her own domain has returned!

Deanna is back in her apartment in 6E. She’s getting real serious with her beau, UPS guy Jeremy. Except that he’s now getting serious grift from his coworkers and family members about his mysterious, smoking hot girlfriend Deanna. Namely, why has no one met her? His sister really wants her to come to a family dinner so she can meet her, and Jeremy begins to have some quiet doubts that he manages to give away to Deanna in a conversation with her. Doubts surface, and worse yet, so does a female lying in wait. Deanna’s druggie neighbor Simon who locks her in at night (What? Read the books and answer why she has her neighbor lock her in at night) has his sister staying with him. Chelsea, the sister, is not only a cop in training (not something that Deanna is happy about), but she’s got the hots for Jeremy, and moves right in after he’s had a fight with Deanna. Deanna sees red, and things quickly escalate. The jealousy brewing between the two begins to come in between Deanna and Jeremy, along with Deanna’s unhappy thoughts about “meeting the family”, and the domino falls over. Deanna wakes up one morning with a broken nose and blood in her apartment. Worse yet? Her attempts to contact Jeremy end up with a phone that goes right to voicemail. A new UPS guy shows up to deliver her boxes. No one has any idea where Jeremy is. The minute the police detectives show up, Deanna knows something bad happened (she’s tried to remember; to no avail). They question her, and inform her that Jeremy is in a hospital fighting for his life after being stabbed and falling six stories out of a window. Not just any window, mind you- HER apartment window! They find blood in Deanna’s trunk, and arrest her for Jeremy’s attempted murder. Deanna decides her best shot is to confess to the attempted murder, even though she has no memory of it. (Why? Why? Self-guilt and she thinks that Jeremy deserves better than her, so this is her ‘punishment’). She goes in the jail awaiting a trial, but the lead detective, much as she wants to think Deanna is guilty, realizes when she pleads guilty with little or no fight, that something is fishy in Denmark. They begin investigating more in depth. Through a series of startling events that this reader didn’t see coming, the answers are there, and whatever it was that toppled over that domino, well, it’s unbelievable and page-turning to the end. Torre definitely outdid herself again. The turn of events, the perp, and the ending to this-Deanna’s story and Jeremy’s part in it- was incredibly satisfying. I prayed that Torre did not take an easy, clichéd way out of this, and she didn’t. She also managed to do it without insulting the integrity of her characters. The actions of all involved made sense, and there was no airy, fairy happily-ever-after Cam Princess resolution to this dark tale. If I can get more people to invest in this series, I would be doing many a favor. I can’t wait until her next one to see what awaits Deanna- and the reader- next.

Harmony House by Nic Sheff (4 out of 5)

•November 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment


Don’t run looking for this one just yet, kids. It’s out on March 22, 2016 from our friends at Harper Teen. Once again, pretty sure this one came courtesy of Ms. Jenny over at Harper (Thanks, Jenny!). As I usually do, I hopped over to Goodreads and checked out to see what those who had advances thought of this book. I was more than a little surprised to see a number of two star reviews and not a whole lot of good vibes from those who did read it. I have to heartily disagree on this! As I usually admit, I’m a sucker for a good cover. This has a great cover! Spooky all over the place. The book was a quick read and eerie as hell. The only problem- repeat, the ONLY problem- was that I predicted the end in this one also. And sadly, I was right. No matter how many books I read, when I’m actually right about something at the end of a book, it takes something away from my joy of reading the book. And that was the case here. I also don’t see what some of the people over at Goodreads were bitching about- I thought the character development was good and I understand many who are complaining about a cliché effect- I can get that, but I thought the way that Sheff carried out the plot of this book, was pretty good. Not sure what other people were expecting, but I really enjoyed this book. I can’t wait to try to sell it when it comes out in March, 2016.

Jen Noonan’s alcoholic mom dies; her father loses his noodle and decides it’s time to move to Harmony House. A change of scenery can only be good for those who are going through the stages of grief. Right? Uh…sure! This joint is right up there in the creepy rafter, with Amityville. The atmospheric moodiness is perfectly done by Sheff. Like you would expect, Harmony House has its own history- and it’s not a good one. Jen figures out and discovers more secrets, and strange ass things start happening the more she finds out. Jen has visions, and her father’s tenuous hold on sanity and reality begins to go completely. Can she figure out a way to save her father and herself, or will the forces in the house combine and drive her and her father into a darker place altogether?

Some parts of this, it can be argued, are a cliché. The spooky vibe surrounding the house. The secrets surrounding that spooky house. I didn’t see Jen having all of the powers that she ended up finding that she possessed, and those powers didn’t just come in handy in her fight to save her and her father’s lives, but it also added a necessary dimension to the book. Again, close your eyes to the slight cliché factor and dive into this book. It’s totally worth it. It has an eerie quality hovering in the background as the reader gets further into the maze of Harmony House. If you like some light terror, or the teens dig into the lighter side of horror, this is a good fit. It didn’t scare the everloving crap out of me, but it did keep me captivated until the end of the book. I enjoyed it greatly.


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