TURBULENCE by David Szalay (4 out of 5)

•August 6, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I started this in early June after Wendy from S&S sent me a copy. As always, I thank her. It is out now in hardcover at your local bookseller.

A woman and a man are seatmates on a plane and experience turbulence. After it passes, she opens a dialogue with the man. And it begins. A book that moves from one traveler to another, all traveling from one city to another, with airports few and far between London and Delhi. The storyline moves quickly and fluidly, but as usual, these type of books with the short story arcs infuriate me. You get inside that person’s head and heart- and you do with these characters!- and it ends. This was effective on so many levels, and Szalay has provided multiple emotional landscapes upon which these characters travel with their own forms of turbulence-arrivals and departures of the heart with estranged siblings, lovers, friends, and even alone. The book is a quick read and effective in reaching the readers, but aggravating because it ends after you find yourself giving a crap about the characters. If you want effective characters in a short span, Szalay delivers.

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Foe by Iain Reid (3.5 out of 5)

•July 28, 2019 • Leave a Comment

This one was really OUT THERE. In a good way. I read his last book, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and it really messed with my head. Other customers told me the same thing. This one was in the wrong place when I was straightening one Saturday. Having a hell of a time deciding what to read the week after my Dad passed proved to be quite a challenge. This book fit perfectly, along with my mind being gone and full of questions. For the book left me full of questions. As in, how the hell would this happen and hold true in today’s world? You know what? It COULD almost happen. That’s how convincing of a book Reid has presented to us.

They have this in fiction. I am not sure it doesn’t belong in science fiction. I am convinced of it.

Junior and Henrietta live out on a farm in the middle of nowhere. No one visits, but that’s ok. They have a very normal life, marriage, and a safe, albeit a little boring, existence. Until one night, a car with green headlights (there has to be some significance there, although 5 weeks has passed since I read it, and I still haven’t figured out what it is) pulls up to the dark farm, and a man named Sebastian enters the house to talk to the couple. He seems very familiar to Junior, and Henrietta and Sebastian seem to have a familiar vibe between the two of them that makes Junior nervous. He informs Junior that he was randomly selected to be part of a program where he will be traveling away from the farm…very far away. For some great opportunity which isn’t ever made clear. Junior objects, as does Henrietta, but after she speaks to Sebastian alone, she seems to shift her thoughts to it being a good idea, indicating she may not be happy with her life after all. Junior is very confused, but goes along with this crazy idea after Sebastian reminds him that someone will stay with Henrietta the whole time he is gone. Seems Sebastian will be, along with another familiar face. Junior goes, with great and understandable hesitation, and we see how things change. But do they really? Junior eventually gets home, but things have changed. Not for the better. If nothing else, things are more confusing! One thing is clear. Life for Junior and Henrietta down on the farm will never be the same.

Iain Reid really knows how to mess with your mind in a short time. This book was a little over 200 pages, and it reads like a science fiction book that would be 400+ pages. He is very good at giving the reader a headache as we try to figure out what the hell is going on. This one confounded me, but in a way that I closed the book and said, “What the hell happened there”? I was not in the least annoyed with the book at all; I just wished we had gotten more of an idea of what brought all this about. Instead, more questions. And that’s why this author is so good. You are all over the damn place with questions, hypotheses, and scenarios, but he manages to do it so effectively in the small span of the book. There could be 4 or 5 different things going on, and they would all work. It’s crazy but good, yet the unceasing questions and open ended conclusion will drive you nuts. Good stuff. Would definitely recommend to anyone who wants to read a book that is anything but the norm.

Honestly, We Meant Well by Grant Ginder (3 out of 5)

•July 25, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Another book promising to be falling down hilarious. It wasn’t bad at all, but a lot of it, from the angles of certain characters, felt more sad than funny. This caught my eye when it was in the Ingram catalog, but it was due to that cover. What a great cover; promising hijinks, tomfoolery, and comedy. And yes, those were present and accounted for, but so was a lot of sadness.

Everything about the Wrights is wrong. Sue Ellen, the head of the family, has a great job as a professor, a wife, and a mother. But she’s lying to herself. Her husband Dean has been cheating on her and her young son Will is a major work in progress. Sue Ellen is asked to give a lecture to a senior cruise group in Greece. After much prodding of her family, they decide to take a family trip with her at the same time. Throw in Dean’s superfan/Will’s friend Ginny and Eleni, owner of the inn where the family stays while in Greece, and you have quite a little group. Dean is the character I wanted to smack with a copy of the Necronomicon. What a selfish, self-effacing bastard. What Sue Ellen is going through-middle age-is something everyone goes through, and I felt that Ginder covered it well. Will is just a mess, and I felt like his storyline arc didn’t get the full treatment it should have. Ginny was a contradiction in every way, yet steadfast enough in her beliefs that she comes across as the only one (besides Sue Ellen) with any sense. This novel was similiar to The Family Fang but on steroids. That’s the best description I can come up with. I applaud Ginder for bringing us a strong, female character who doesn’t go milquetoast at the end. Overall, it was a good read. Not overwhelming in familial brilliance by any means, but entertaining as it can be with the themes of self-confidence and darkness explored. It would make a good book club book, certainly. I could also see someone trying to make a movie out of it, because it cries out Hollyweird. Honestly, We Meant Well is currently available in hardcover from Flatiron Press, a division of MacMillan.

Recursion by Blake Crouch (4 out of 5)

•July 23, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Try sitting in a hospital room with your dying father and reading a book where the chapter in question is counting down the last seconds of a character’s life.

I don’t recommend it.

I waited for months for this book. Matt C and I were trying to get an advance of it. I begged Stefan at Penguin, who asked someone who asked someone else. I entered I don’t know how many giveaways on Goodreads and Shelf Awareness. I had my coworkers entering contests on FB and IG. No dice. In a last frenzied attempt to read it months before it was released, I went on Twitter and tweeted a request to the author. Not surprisingly, abject failure followed. I was not meant to read this until the week of June 11, its release date. Also the week my father was admitted with this bleed which ended up being the thing that took him out of this world. Again, as I was telling a customer about this just the other day, the universe meant for me to read this when I did. Except I had to put it down and finish it after my dad had passed. It was TOO INTENSE in its unfailing portrait of the love of family.

Love of family.

I should apologize in advance because a lot of my rambling discourses known as book blog entries may veer toward my father’s death. It will take time to work through this. There were so many fucked up things going on in the year, the months leading up to, the week before and of his death, and just wait until you hear how the month since has worked out. Life and loss of it? Crazy shit. Speaking of.. this book? Crazy shit. In a good way. And before you ask, I did like Dark Matter better. But by a smidge. Crouch is great at bending what you think of as conventional reality and messing it up so, so bad. You question it. You reread the same page several times. You try to process it. You may succeed. You may not. But you will not be bored. And if you are? Well, your loss.

Barry Sutton is a NYC cop investigating False Memory Sydrome, an illness where victims recall memories of a life they’ve never lived. Helena Smith is a neuroscientist who is trying to create technology that will preserve the most important memories of our lives. Helena’s mom is battling for her memories, which drives Helena to make a potential deal with the devil to get her memory chair done. Barry and Helena must join forces to defeat the enemies that are supposed to be helping them with their respective fights. But are they really on the same team? And can they make these things happen before innocent people are affected? This book is fluid in that it never stops moving. It also never gives you an idea what the hell is going to happen. So, a definite win in every way. I just couldn’t put away the bleakness. For a book with dual premises of a happy outcome, it is so, so dark. Almost too dark for me. But you? You might dig it. Recursion is available in hardcover at your local bookstore.

Comedy Sex God by Pete Holmes (4 out of 5)

•July 22, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I have to tell you; I dug the title and the cover. I’m also a little bit familiar with his comedy and his podcast. The title of this is a bit misleading, however. It should have been titled God, Comedy, Sex. Because that’s how heavy the Jesus vibe comes down. This is out in hardback from the folks at Harper.

Our author is known for his HBO specials but mostly for his podcast You Made It Weird. I’m not sure how far the book will take him because if you are expecting a lot of comedy and sex (the good stuff), you are going to be handling the cold heavy hand of rejection. Pete Holmes takes us on a magical mystery tour of his comedy career, his relationships, and his faith. All of which are connected to his upbringing. Holmes wasn’t raised by a strict Christian clan or a cult, but the teachings of his “bad” behavior (smoking, drinking, dirty thoughts, premarital sex) sending him to eternal hellfire feed into his subconscious, leading him to marry his first serious girlfriend at 22, only to be cheated on a few years later and have the marriage screech to a halt. Heartbreak doesn’t come easily to Pete. He slides into many different modes of religion (atheism, Christianity, Yellow Tail) to try to find the one that fits for him. What follows is a treatise on his faith and how much it becomes a part of his life. This book had some truly funny moments but I have to tell you, it was WAY DEEP. I am not a deeply religious person (my God of choice is Nerd Lord, Nathan Fillion), but I enjoyed his trek to the steps of spirituality. You do have to have a sense of humor to read Pete’s book, however. I think a lot of my faith-heavy flock of friends would literally throw the book at me if I didn’t warn them in advance that there is some material they may find objectionable. The appearance of Ram Dass (not a rapper, but a well known spiritualist and author) was a pleasant surprise, and one that stuck around most of the last half of the book. A good read for anyone wanting some dry humor and a lot of spiritual leaning.

The Outsider by Stephen King (4 out of 5)

•July 21, 2019 • Leave a Comment

This will go down as the book I was reading when all hell broke loose. I bought it on June 10, left work early in the afternoon, and lodged myself at the Willowbrook Denny’s, ate TWO All American Slams, drank too much coffee, and began to read it. By the time I left Denny’s and got home, my Dad was complaining of pain in the abdomen, and feeling nauseous. Little did I know this was the beginning of the “non traumatic gastrointestinal bleed” that would culminate in his passing 11 days later. It is a mystery to me why the human subconscious tags certain things in correlation with sad and tragic things that occur in one’s life. But hey, I just did it again! Anyway, the last two Stephen King books I read…Elevation last November and Doctor Sleep in January…I was miles apart in my thoughts of them. I thought Elevation was a letdown and then Doctor Sleep was pretty great. So I am never sure with Mr. King these days. This one furthered divided my mind into quarters of Chunky Monkey.

You are never going to have a shortage of character development in a Stephen King novel. You may, however, have a shortage of what you deem as reaching too far with parts of the story. I had that complaint with Elevation. That would also ring true here, but in a smaller percentage. I thought this was a fantastic premise, but halfway through, I became very annoyed with the stalling of the overall plot and one of the characters became the first candidate for my literary sledgehammer to the nutsack. Detective Ralph Anderson reminds me of my old adage…the name Ralph is a vomitous blemish on one’s powder blue tuxedo. Ralph Cramden, Ralph Wiggum, Ralph Malph, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wreck-It-Ralph..all of them were extraneous goo. The only cool Ralph’s are Macchio, Fiennes, and Furley. Detective Anderson is the lead on a case where a little boy is found murdered and defiled in a grotesque manner. Terry Maitland, popular Little League coach, husband, and father, was seen by a multitude of witnesses with the kid before the body is discovered. He has an alibi but fingerprints, DNA, and the eyewitnesses put him there, so Detective Ralph arrests him in public during a championship game, in front of his wife and kids. This is public shaming Stephen King-style. Then the ironclad case starts to go a little off the rails. Things start happening and others disappear, although Maitland is incarcerated. One of the happiest occurrences for this reader was the reappearance of one Holly Gibney, a central character in the Mr. Mercedes trilogy. She helped quell some of my irrational impatience with the fool boy detective. The outcome and revelations springing forth at the end are complex and entertaining. I finished this with more delight in which I have begun it. Only a weirdo like me could dig into this twisted tale with relish. The good news is there are others who agree. Not one of his best, but not one of his worst, either.

Hot Shot by Sheldon Siegel (4 out of 5)

•July 21, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been singing this guy’s praises since Stacy at Crown Books got me into him when I started there. Her description of Sheldon Siegel was “like John Grisham but better. More personal”. All these years later, I’m still reading him. The Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez novels are give & take in the best of ways. If you like your legalese with a touch of humanity, Sheldon Siegel’s books are worth a look.

The latest book in the series finds Mike Daley, our Public Defender, having to defend Lexy Low, a young woman with a profile on San Francisco’s sugar daddy hookup site. One of her sugar daddies is billionaire/start-up founder and area sleazebag Jeff Kent. After one of their hookups, Kent ends up dead, ala John Belushi, after Lexy shoots him up with a lethal hot shot of heroin. Lexy maintains her innocence, and although the evidence seems stacked against her, Mike takes the case and runs with it. While there were many scenarios right out of the daily news, there were a lot of twists and turns I was surprised by. And obviously Mike and Rosie continue to be compelling characters, so it didn’t get old fast. You can count on Siegel for a quick and satisfying read, and he delivers yet another winner. The book is out now and available from Amazon.