The Antiques by Kris D’Agostino (5 out of 5)

•December 1, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This book isn’t out just yet, but let me tell you that you should put it on your list for January. I know, most of the blog posts have been books coming out in January. Believe me when I tell you that January is going to be a big month for books being released. For those of us working the retail end, that’s welcome after the returns from the holiday are being processed and you inwardly groan everytime someone with a plastic bag enters your bookstore. This January more so, because December really isn’t giving us much in the way of new books to sell you for the holiday season! Anyone who works in the biz and has seen that advance catalog for December from Ingram knows that it is chock full of not much at all. I am happy to add that I can restock much of my recommends list in January! About 7 books, including this one, are going up. This book is out on January 10, 2017, and is brought to us by the fine folks at Scribner. 

Let’s talk about this book. Reading it reminds me of Jonathan Tropper’s “This Is Where I Leave You”, but not as sad. Don’t get me wrong- there ARE sad moments in this book, but they are not overwhelming. Tropper’s book was my least favorite of his lot, for many reasons that I would have to revisit to list. D’Agostino, however, has nailed it.This is precisely how a book with these revolving storylines should have turned out. There are equal parts dysfunction, love, humor, and hope throughout. George and Ana have spent their whole lives running their antiques shop, providing a roof over their kids’ heads and raising them to go out into the world. And they do, with a mixed bag of results. Josef is a sex addict trying to salvage his failing business, his stunted relationship with his kids, all the while plotting his next conquest. Charlie is a “personal assistant” to a Hollyweird prima donna who insists that Charlie drop her own life to basically do everything but wipe her ass for her. Charlie truly does have a situation Ground Zero going on in her personal life, with her strange art “professor” husband Rey treating their autistic son like an outsider instead of trying to work with his quirks and social anxiety. Not to mention that unexplained pair of Victoria’s Secret underwear that she found in their bedroom- that DON’T belong to her. Rey? Is the type of pretentious, self-absorbed twerp who needs to be hit with a chair to the back. George and Ana still have their son Armie living with them, however. He’s a sensitive soul who has never been able to figure out what to do with his life. He did go into one of Josef’s get-rich investment deals, and not only lost the job, but got hauled into questioning by the FBI for his troubles. He’s nursing a crush on a former schoolmate, but can’t seem to break out of hiding out in the basement all day doing woodwork and wearing scary pink shorts. Believe me, readers, these pink shorts make enough of an appearance that you are not exempt from visuals popping into your head when they happen in the book. The kids, you will agree, are not alright. Papa George is also not alright. He is dying of cancer. He tells Ana that he feels terrible, but quietly makes some sort of peace with what is likely coming. The times comes, and Ana’s grief brings regret of all kinds to the surface. It gets better…George left a letter behind to the family, in which his top priority in wake of his passing is his family selling his beloved Magritte painting. His other priority is to say he wants a memorial servicece, NOT a church service.And to be cremated, not buried. Ana, a deeply devout woman, had already envisioned a church worship for her husband, so this unsettles her even more. George’s presence looms over the entire family, to almost an extent that it feels like “Weekend at Bernie’s”, minus an actual body. I just reread that whole paragraph, and it sounds so grim… but it really isn’t. There is dark humor here, but also, as I said, warm moments of quietude and realization. And a bunch of people bound by the ties of family, although they have drifted widely apart. Their father’s greatest wish may come true, if the kids can pull their heads out of their asses. Charlie finally comes home from the West Coast for her father’s service with her son, but that goes out the window when her addict Hollywood actress follows her there, dragging her son. Melody is a real trip, and some much needed comic relief. Of course, that idiot husband shows up, and it all goes to hell. Josef is trying to use his dad’s death as an angle to get back with his ex and mother of his two girls, only to be told she has moved on, and his girls are very unimpressed by his fatherly involvement in their lives. Poor Arnie has the girl of his dreams offering sympathy, and all he can think about is where his life has gone downhill. Even the family dog Shadow gets in the act and is barely hanging on himself before George leaves the earth. Can these kids get wuth the program and leave their dirty laundry on the clothesline to bury their father and band together to sell this beloved painting? As well as mourn their dad and try to help their mother in her time of sorrow? 

Well, I really did expect some chintzy, weak ass ending to this story. I also though Josef and Melody would end up together (not sure why, just a hunch). Neither of those came about. Thank God! D’Agostino does a superb job of tying all these characters together, idiosyncrasies and all. I cannot imagine how this would have turned out if it didn’t work out the way it did. Except I still would have clubbed that sock thief in the back with a chair. Other than that, no complaints! I loved this book for do many reasons. Very real, very flawed individuals. A legitimate family dynamic when all the individuals are so different from one another, and so different from the preconceived notions that the siblings had of each other. How hard is it to live with one another, while mourning your father, when you have so many stepping stones to get past? This is a great way to find out! I loved the supporting cast- Audrey (Arnie’s crush), Melody (the actress whom Charlie had been working for), Dustin (her son), the girls that Josef is screwing with and around on…they all had a part in how this story folds out. I also loved all of the main characters. Hell, I was even rooting for the dog to make it! It’s a breath of fresh air in a stale laundry room, this book. Go out and secure yourself a copy in January. 

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen (4 out of 5)

•November 21, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The cover creeped me the hell out. The book disturbed me greatly. It must be said that the books that disturb the most are often the ones that stick with you the most. If you are faint of heart, tread carefully before picking this one up. If you want a spooky, harrowing book that will have you perplexed for a good portion of the book, this is a great choice. I seriously had no idea to what extent this one went until I was halfway through. Then I was horrified and then I was uplifted by the ending. Have I mentioned the relevance of the topic in this book? There’s that, also. To what that is..I am not spoiling this book for potential readers by spilling the beans. I will say this was a quick read with a very real female lead that has you yelling at her, and then rooting for her in the second half of the book. A great book club choice as well. Fans of Jodi Picoult will dig the realism of it. So yes, I definitely recommend it. 

Clara Lawson is hiding in a cabinet with one of her young daughters when armed men invade her home and take her, her husband Glen, and their kids away. The only thing besides panic that registers in Clara’s mind is Glen screaming at her to say nothing. Locked up against her will, Clara is horrified and confused by the bully tactics of the officers who are keeping her locked up- in a mental health facility, no less. They keep pounding away at her, trying to get her to rat out her husband for whatever crimes they are accusing him of. Her memories begin to assert themselves in with her current reality and Clara begins doubting the life she has known with Glen all these years. The addition of a psychiatrist and a survivors group who helps her realize that her idyllic life was anything but, is where the story turns. Before that, you wonder if Clara will ever accept her true life as the nightmare it was..I know! I spent half the book yelling at her. The fact that the agents continue calling her by a different name is tied into the final story, and once you see what Glen (her husband), Maae, and PA G were up to all these years, well, you’re irate and horrified. Alternately, you’re also glad to see someone wrote a book about a social issue that’s very real. And Reba Olsen has done a great job in the process. The book is out in trade paperback, and brought to us by the fine publishers at Penguin Random House. 

Not Dead Yet: The Memoir by Phil Collins (4 out of 5)

•November 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

That’s my cat Sasha. Sleeping on Phil Collin’s face when the title of the book is “Not Dead Yet”. Thankfully, a lot of my Instagram followers got the joke. My friend Philip said to me on Facebook : “Rock bios are all the same. Fame, fortune, ups, downs, family, infidelity, drugs or booze, divorce, etc. All the same”. I thought about that for a couple of weeks. I finished this book the first week of November. I came to the conclusion that this is NOT the case. Go read Keith Richard’s book “Life”, “The Dirt” by Motley Crue, or Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles, Vol. 1”. Those are just 3 books that I have read that do not follow a formalaic equation for a rock and roll memoir. And Phil Collins? His doesn’t either, despite what you may believe. 

You know Phil Collins. Even if you don’t love his music, chances are good that you know him or are acquainted with him. Phil takes us through his childhood, where the music bug bit late, after he spends a portion of his childhood and teen years acting in plays. Then into his luck-of-the-draw audition with Genesis. The story of Genesis (the genesis of Genesis??!) and its inhabitants and effect on Collins branching out into a solo career is great reading. Phil lost me a bit with the marital discord that permeated a good portion of his personal life, but hey…at least he accepts full fault for that! I have read other bios where the issues are skirted around. Also no apologies for being a workaholic and how that contributed to those marital breakups. Honesty is the policy here. On top of all of that, he addresses the fact that he almost drank himself to death on the heels of his marriage dissolving and his “retirement”. What the reader gets throughout the entire book is an affable, aboveboard Phil Collins telling the story of his promised life and the reader immediately feels a kinship with this dude. Phil is exactly the type of guy I would go sit down and have lunch with. Funny, honest, and just a fun guy to talk to. The memoir was fun to read from start to finish. Definitely an enjoyable read. 

Doctor Who: Royal Blood (Glamour Chronicles) by Una McCormack (2 out of 5)

•November 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This is NOT the Doctor Who book I threw away after 3 chapters read. I was close. I was reading this while dealing with the stomach flu earlier this week. My level of patience was non existent. So was my ability to stay awake. This was not a book that helped with that aspect either. It’s a 12th doctor novel (Capaldi), with Clara hanging around as companion. It’s part of “The Glamour Chronicles”, a series of Doctor Who adventures where the Doctor and Clara are pursuing one if the most dangerous artifacts- The Glamour. 

The Doctor, Clara, and The Tardis land in Varuz, a city that appeared to once be grand and now is falling apart, quietly behind a mask of pride. Duke Aurelian is last in line for the throne, and his nemesis and his army are ready to invade at any time. Aurelian asks the Doctor- viewed as a holy man among residents of Varuz- for his blessing as he plans out a grand battle to save his city. Something is afoot in Varuz, though… namely with his wife and most trusted knight, who appear to be plotting to overthrow Aurelian himself. Are they in cahoots with the enemy, or bloodthirsty with power? And where does the lovely Clara fit in with her crush?? This is a quick read, unless you’re in your sickbed. Then it may do you in..

What didn’t I like?? Unlike previous Doctor Who books, this one didn’t have a clear vision. The Doctor wasn’t on an epic journey, or even trying to save the world or its inhabitants. It felt like he was aiming to save a town from a direction less leader and his cutthroat girlfriend. What fun is there in that for the reader? Not much, I’m afraid. Clara just ambles about the book, harboring a crush and trying to get medieval witty. Hint: it doesn’t work well. It is largely a book without much aim in it or going for it. The Duke is a big ball of wuss, so it was hard to cheer him on with his plan for domination. The Doctor is still his usual fun self, but even he appears lost and without an idea of why he is trying to help save this town. Hint: The Glamour. Hint: there are better Doctor Who books out there. This isn’t one of them. 

High Heat by Richard Castle (5 out of 5)

•November 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

No, I am not giving it 5 stars because the show ended. Don’t even accuse me of such tomfoolery! I am giving it 5 stars be cause I was stumped until the end, and the ending justified the book. Given that I have read 7-8 books in the past two weeks where that has not been the case, I was relieved that it didn’t take the easy way out. And it throws the reader quite a surprise at the end…the type of surprise, I hope, that means the Richard Castle books will keep on coming, even after the show ceased. Then again, that ending could go the way of the last episode of Castle, where a good many of us were “WTF”‘ing all over the Internet. This latest installment of the series in book form? Highly enjoyable.

Nikki Heat is not long returned from her honeymoon and still reveling in newlywed bliss while her beloved hubby Rook is off in SE ret locations, chasing down a highly revered interview with charismatic Presidential candidate “Legs” Kline. (Yes, Legs does bear a resemblance to a bulbous Cheeto newly elected to high office. In case you were wondering). Things at the 2oth Precinct halt when a video is delivered in which a prominent female journalist is beheaded by hooded figures claiming allegiance to Isis. Seconds after the beheading, the head figure announces the next journalist to be killed- Jameson Rook. Nikki is panic-stricken because no one can find him. In true fashion, the rascal shows up and thinks he recognizes the girl who was killed.. indeed, it’s his ex Tam, and Rook’s life is definitely in the balance. In the middle of all this, Nikki sees a homeless woman in the park and freaks when she realizes she thinkd-is certain- it is her long dead mother who was murdered. People who were around Joanna when she was alive start dropping like flies, and Rook tells Nikki her mom may well have been in hiding all these years, suddenly to re-emerge. Her thoughts distracted by why her mom would have abandoned her all those years ago and why, Nikki really wigs out when Rook and Inez- one of her officers- go to meet a probable lead, and are kidnapped by the Isis fighters…right in front of her. This leads to a terse standoff, and a whole tsunami of revelations in the last few chapters that stun the reader. Well, this reader wasn’t expecting any of this! And that is why I loved the hell out of it and hope there is another one or two books in the pipeline. There has to be, for us to find out what the hell is going on with the mom business. And that other thing that happened at the end. And that last thing. Really? Really? I am all for suspensions of reality as much as I am for roast beef sandwiches, but what in the ever loving fuck can I say about the last paragraph of this book? Wowwee Wowwee.

Go get it, if you are a fan of the now defunct show Castle. I daresay I enjoyed this book probably more than the entire last season. It’s out now at your local bookstore. 

Fatal by John Lescroart (3 out of 5) 

•November 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I won this one from a Shelf Awareness giveaway. It’s not out until January, so don’t go looking for it now on your bookstore shelves. I hadn’t read John Lescroart in many moons. I forgot how quickly his characters can embrace you and pull you into the group fish fry. It happened quickly, and after I had started a Doctor Who novel that was so terrible I pitched it after 3 chapters. So, thank you, Mr. Lescroart, for getting me into a deeply absorbing novel. But I should also, Mr. Lescroart, smack you six ways to Trump Tower, for leaving me so deeply conflicted at this book’s end. So conflicted yet that I keep changing the starred rating over on Goodreads. And I predict the pattern of lame duck threats will continue throughout this review. But to the reader thinking of reading this in January, I advise you to buy it, read it, and then find me on any social media platform to discuss this further. It’s one of those books that will have me retreading literary ground again and again, trying to find a common thread. 

Kate Jameson has a wonderful marriage, great kids, and a great best friend who’s a cop. All of it goes by the wayside when an urge to sleep with a man she meets at a dinner party overtakes her. That man is married and close friends with others in the dinner circle. She phones Peter, the man, and one afternoon of marital infidelity occurs. His marriage goes belly up, Kate pretends as if it didn’t happen, and after a terrorist attack in an outdoor plaza leaves Kate and her friend Beth-the police officer- at death’s door, their own friendship goes into solitary confinement. Until months later, when a body washes up in the harbor and Beth and her partner Ike get the case. The body? The cheating husband, Peter. Beth has to go and rewind the messed up cam reel of what had become Peter’s sordid newfound separated bachelor life, and everyone- and I literally do mean EVERYONE- is a suspect. I almost broke out the damn index cards and enacted a murder board, ala Castle, to keep track. More people turn up dead, and the circle of perps of who could have killed Peter Ash keeps getting wider and more off the rails. Kate, her husband Ron who forgave her, their kids, Peter’s estranged wife Jill, their kids,his friend Geoff, his wife Bina, a partner in the law firm, his landlady, his secretary…damn, Lescroart, damn! No shortage of people here. But the pieces in this puzzle keep shifting, sand appears in the cracks in the pavement, and some of the things that occur did puzzle me, I’m not going to lie. Beth is a great character to have as the cop, fair and often not so fair, but never losing end sight of the important thing- to find the killer and get the victim justice. As a reader, I finished this feeling not quite sure that the victim got justice. The reader will, though. There are no shortages of curveballs thrown to you, courtesy of the author. And it is quite a ride that keeps you plastered to the book until the bitter end. That’s successful. But all of the hullabaloo leading there? I felt like it was a bit too much.

What did I like? Almost everything, except all of the puppets who were suspects. And I didn’t quite buy the end result. I felt cheated, not just on account of the victim, but also for other characters who bit the dust in the book, and for what felt like a giant “Let’s hide the wedding cake in the cedar closet” game. As I said, I loved the character of Beth, also her partner Ike. What I didn’t quite get, come to think of it, was the other storyline running through the book, about Laurie, anorexic sister of the guy that Beth is interested in, and Beth’s daughter Ginny, who ends up striking up a very close friendship with her. I guess there has to be some life for the policewoman who spends the whole book trying to solve this mystery, but it seemed a little filler given the floating corpse in the harbor. As for the usual suspects, they are, as I said, innumerable, and quite a few of them, highly unsympathetic to the point of derision. The friendship between Kate and Beth that is referred to, in what sounds like a sisterhood almost on the book jacket, doesn’t seem to be as much throughout much of the book. A traumatic event where both women are shot and physically and emotionally traumatized as a result? That seems like a great steppingstone for bonded friendships to unite more, but the opposite happened here. And that’s BEFORE Beth remembers Kate admitting she wanted to do the nipple twist with a fellow married man! So..I have a few bones to pick with the book, but overall, still a knuckles white, edge-of-the-seat book. But really….I’m serious. Get it in January, read it, and tell me I’m crazy. I dare you! 😃

Caraval by Stephanie Garber (5 out of 5)

•November 16, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I have a confession to make. I stole this out of Holly’s advance box from St. Martin. She was working an off-site event for a week and as I came and went that week, this book kept calling me. In deep, seductive whispers. Like the sort I usually hear when confronted with a bag of Cheetos. I finally grabbed it and told myself I would get done with it before she got back. And I would have…but she just couldn’t stop herself from coming in on her only day off, and my deception was uncovered. I also didn’t do myself any favors putting it in my “to be read” pile and posting it on Facebook… but anyhow, I digress. I really love this book! It’s out in January, 2017, so put it on your TBR list.

The back cover compares it to “Night Circus”. I would agree, except that I hated “Night Circus”. I did not hate this, so I am not tying this in. Except I sort of just did, but the ARC back cover said it. Not I. I am not quite sure I can compare it to anything, except I would say “Treasure Island” meets “Moulin Rouge”. That’s the best I have. I can say that I will throw it up on the recommends when it comes out. 

Scarlett and her sister Donatella live their solitary lives on the island with their domineering, borderline brutal father. He hasn’t been kind to either of them since their mother fled the island. Scarlett has been writing to Master Legend of the infamous Caraval for years, begging for admittance for her and Donatella to come and play the game of Caraval. After Scarlett is promised as the bride to an unnamed Lord, that golden invitation finally arrives. Scarlett is terrified to leave and miss her chance to marry someone who may finally skirt her away from her nightmare father, but Tella talks her into it, aided by the help of a charming sailor named Julian. Tella takes off ahead of time and Scarlett is forced to flee the island with just Julian. A rapport is established on their flight to Caraval…one that leaves Scarlett breathless and questioning everything. Scarlett gets Caraval and things are definitely NOT as it seems. She doubts Julian when she realizes her sister is in trouble and loses him, and is cast out on her own. Scarlett’s emotions often take place of logic, and after some very terrifying close calls, she advances and finds Julian, in a tough place, and makes amends. They try to figure out what Legend is going to pull next, but Scarlett is panic-stricken at the thought that her sister is in danger, and misses some important clues. She and Julian get to the end of the game, and downright puzzling becomes downright frightening as the reality of the game begins to take a terrifying turn. Does Scarlett win? Does she save her sister? What is Julian’s real deal? Is Legend really the douchebag we believe, or is he a master of alternate realities that blend time, dreams, and the unknown? Can time really stop in this magical game? What’s fantasy and what’s fiction? What I can tell you? There is one scene that will absolutely stop your heart. The book itself? SPELLBINDING!!!! There’s darkness, the fierce and often misunderstood bond between sisters, emotional tumult, magic, and the many unanswered questions of time and its  mysteries. It’s a hell of a lot better than “Night Circus”, but more for the young adult set. This is probably the first YA book I picked up in months that transfixed me the instant I started reading it. Do yourself a HUGE favor and get a copy as soon as it comes out in.