The Nix by Nathan Hill (5 out of 5) 

•July 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

It took me far too long to read this. Allison from work told me it was great a few months ago and I bought the hardcover when it was going back on a return (It is currently available in trade paper back!). I was especially glad given the length of the book…600 some pages. Given my suddenly heavy work schedule, it took me a few days to finish this, but I really got through most of it last night and today, I finished it. Wow! Definitely one of my favorite books this year. Reading it, I had many flashbacks of Michael Chabon’s “The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”. Very similar vibe. Samuel Andresen-Anderson (Dig that name!) is a college professor a few days a week, stalled writer for over ten years, daily player of Elfscape (or as it’s known IRL, World of Warcraft), and mourner of lost love, reknowned violinist Bethany Fall. One incident with a student that he busts for cheating on a paper comes back to haunt him. Not as much as his long disappeared mom, Faye. She’s suddenly all over the news for throwing rocks at a political candidate. She’s facing jail time, being portrayed in the press as a radical hippie once arrested for prostitution, but all Samuel can recall is a loving wife and mother, until she abandoned her family and disappeared into thin air. She needs his help. Samuel is torn, but tried to be a good person and help out his mom. Until the publisher tells him they are suing him for never delivering that book he got the advance for- ten years ago. So they hatch a plot for Samuel to get the scoop on his mom and write a sordid tell-all. Can he go through with it after seeing Faye again for the first time in decades? This book is full of spirit, heart, tenderness, lost love, and the overriding theme of importance of family. Shit is always going to change, as things are constant, but you have to find your center. A lot of the book is not just about Samuel doing so, but also Faye. From Chicago to New York to Norway and beyond, this is the truest tale of embracing your past along with your present, and finding the answers you seek, while making peace with all incarnations of who you are. And humor. A lot of tongue-in-cheek humor lightens the mood here. 

Oh, that title? Norweigan folklore defines a nix as a spirit that steals children away. Loose modern day translation could define it as anything you love that steals your heart and disappears. Yes, we all have them. What we don’t often have is a debut novel that crafts a wonderful story of long lost love and second chances around that and makes the reader Fall in Love with that story. Until now. Nathan Hill has managed that feat. Go get it and read it! 

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life: Essays by Samantha Irby (5 out of 5) 

•July 21, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I came to discover Samantha Irby some years ago when the wily Felicia told me about her debut “Meaty”. I bought it and laughed my ass off. And I sympathized with her and agreed with her. But more than any of that? Laughed. My. Ass. Off. This collection? Much of the same. With a few exceptions. Some of her essays brought tears to my eyes. Most specifically, the one about her relationship with her estranged dad, her mom’s long illness and her relationship with her, and what happens when she loses both. And that is NOT meant to sound so grim! On the contrary. Irby takes the roller coaster ride through nostalgia country, does some wheelies along the way, and still finds a way to recognize the merits of fantastic fried chicken. Wait until you meet Helen. A girlfriend, you ask? Oh no..Samantha’s cat. Look at the book cover. That will give you a good idea. And even Helen ends up wringing some tears out of the reader…while tearing out Irby’s arm at the same time. This selection of essays hits on everything- the gals, the one guy who got away, the perils of Nutrisystem, gastrointestinal tales of infestiminal woe, cats, the hidden threat of cheap garage sale chairs, road trips to scatter the ashes of your dead relative, and one of my personal favorites here…”The Bachelorette” audition tape. Priceless! As is the rest of her book. Go grab your copy. 

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley (4 out of 5) 

•July 20, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This was a good book. Great book club pick. It’s out in paperback and has been for a few months. I had it in hardcover and managed to replace it in the battened-out shell of my bedroom, aka the library at home. So I bought the paperback and after starting and abandoning 6 different books last week, this one won the attention span. Who needs a fidget spinner when you can read a book? This particular book was one of the BEA Book Buzz Picks last year, in 2016. The author is a well known writer of such television gems as Bones and Fargo. In fact…just today, he signed on to develop a Doctor Doom movie at Fox. He’s not an idle sort. I do hope he pens another book at some point. This one was really well done. And no, I did NOT see that ending. I also didn’t quite agree with it, hence 4 instead of 5. Then again, if I am going to bitch about books, I should shut the hell up and write one! 

A plane full of luminaries, two children, and a last minute guest (a down-on-his-luck painter) takes off and crashes into the ocean not long after. All are killed, except the painter and the 4-year old son of one of the couple’s killed. The couple were David Bateman, head of SLC News, and his wife Maggie. The network’s star is a talker and shit stirrer named Bill Cunningham, whose description in the novel reminds me of the glory days of that O’Reilly fellow (based upon? Maybe…). He’s also irate and thinks he has irrefutable proof that the plane was targeted because of David’s presence on it. He wasn’t the only spark in this death spiral though….Bateman’s close friend Ben Kipling is also on the plane, and right before he boards the plane, he finds out the visit the Feds paid him was not idle and indictments are pending against him for money laundering to volatile countries. All of these details, along with Cunningham’s controversial talking points, make the general audience of the novel question whether the plane crash is a terrorist attack. Then again, who is Scott and what are the odds he and JJ survive the crash, swimming and finding land? Pretty remarkable, and of course since Scott is a struggling artist, the media decides to question his heroism in saving the boy. Alternating narratives from all of the victims, from the humble “hero” Scott, to the guy in charge of the TSA investigation into the crash, this is a harrowing dialogue that attempts to piece together the fragments of the fatal flight, and what becomes an unbreakable beacon of hope in the aftermath of tragedy-the bond created between the little grieving boy who lost his parents but gained a hero in the guy who saved him from drowning. What a great story right there! Still…that ending still bugs me a tiny bit. Regardless, do not hesitate. Pick up a copy today. Well worth the money. 

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown (3 out of 5) 

•July 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Jonathan and Billie have the enviable relationship that most envy..successful marriage, nice house, wonderful friends, great job, and an intelligent and beautiful daughter, Olive. Until Billie leaves on a solitary hiking trip and disappears. The next year is hell for the grieving husband and daughter. Coming up on the one year anniversary, Jonathan has a court date to have Billie declared legally dead, a move Olive is having a hard time with, given that she is suddenly having visions in which Billie is speaking to her. Olive quietly behind investigating her mom’s past, in an attempt to figure out if her mom faked her death and is in trouble somewhere. Jonathan begins to investigate, but what he finds out makes him angrier and angrier. He’s also in the middle of penning a book about his and Billie’s marriage, a process next near to impossible given that it is being touted as a memoir of a great marriage and he’s finding out that she lied about all of this stuff. Billie’s best friend Harmony is also hanging around a lot, and Jonathan is starting to have feelings for her, something that throws Olive into a tailspin. Grief is a funny business. It can sneak up on you when you least expect it. And there is no time limit on it. These are things that went through my mind while reading this. And some of the things that happen in the book really unsettled me. Billie is the central figure here and her actions really made me dislike her. Jonathan and Olive are both still grappling with grief, but her “best friend” Harmony keeps coming forth with new secrets that she is concealing, as well as being quite obvious in her pursuit of Jonathan. If this was her so-called best friend, why is she trying to jump the husband and sullying her memory at the same time? I didn’t care for Billie, Harmony, and Olive’s so called best friend Natalie leaves a bad taste in my mouth as well, blabbing poor Olive’s secrets all over high school. Because the girl grieving over and yet encountering ghostly visions of her mom is not enough for her to contend with. I hated most of the female characters in this book, except Olive. I feel extreme sympathy for her. So that, my friends, is a lot of the reason I didn’t love this book. When the smoke clears and the dust settles and you find out what happened, well, you’ll either agree with it or you’ll want to beat people. I felt like it was one of literary suspense’s overused devices, so I was not in love with it. And the last scene confirmed some suspicions, so I give it 3 and leave it at that. The book is out now. 

Down A Dark Road (Kate Burkholder #9) by Linda Castillo (4 out of 5)

•July 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This latest installment of the Kate Burkholder series finds her childhood friend Joseph King escaping from prison and going on the run. Two years prior, King was convicted of killing his wife with a shotgun blast while his kids were asleep in the house. Kate doesn’t think there’s a chance he will come back to Painters Mill, but since his kids are now there living with the new family, she heads over and sits a shift overnight at the farm. Sure enough, she lets her guard down and gets ambushed by Joseph, then taken hostage with his kids. It’s a peaceful situation, until Joseph tells Kate he isn’t going anywhere until she relooks into his case, because he didn’t kill his wife. His 5 year old daughter bavks him up, and Kate is conflicted, but makes a promise to do so, and he lets her go free, while he continues to be holed up in the home with his kids. Once Kate gets on the outside and tells the hostage respondents, she gets shamed into silence by the boys club. Shortly after, Joseph fires upon a deputy getting to close to the home, and as often happens in hostage situations, he is shot down and killed by a member of the hostage squad.  Now it’s up to Kate to look further into his wife’s murder, while mourning the loss of her friend. I’ll tell you that if you haven’t read the series at all, you need to go back to the beginning and start. Secondly, these are no light and fluffy mysteries. Kate, as well as her lover and colleague Tomasetti, are individuals with dark pasts, secrets that haunt them, and very real in their views of whatever is going on in front of them. I really like that fact! I hate super light and fluffy gardening whodunits. This latest installment was flawless. It’s out now, brought to us by Minotaur Books. Check it out. 

Mr. Mercedes (Bill Hodges #1) by Stephen King (4 out of 5)

•July 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I love Stephen King. There, I said it. I also have to be totally honest here. There ARE books of his where the ending is utter BS and those books usually sour me to the point I don’t read him for a long time. Two different customers talked to me about the Bill Hodges series recently, then I found the first book (this very one) on super sale at Half Price Books for $2.00. Even with my employee discount, you can’t beat THAT price. So I took the plunge. This is the first book, and I’m a big fan of Retired Detective Bill Hodges already. Jerome and Holly, his unplanned for support system, are a hoot as well. I hope King doesn’t pull some crap and do away with either of them. I’m also glad he didn’t hurt the animal. You’ll know what I mean when you read it. If he had, I very well may have bailed on this one. But, as I said, a real evil presence in this one, and a great start to his Bill Hodges trilogy.

City Center is the scene for a job fair promising 1,000 jobs to be filled. Quite a crowd has gathered, and as daylight begins, a grey Mercedes suddenly seems to appear out of nowhere. It revs up, its yellow headlights go into power mode, and it speeds into the crowd of people, already squashed like sardines. Eight people are killed, and many more injured. The driver escapes and is never apprehended. Months later, retired Detective Bill Hodges is sitting in his LaZy Boy recliner, eating crap, and enjoying the period of afternoon retirement television, when he receives a letter from the killer (Mercedes Killer, Mercedes Man, Mr. Mercedes, all terms are applicable here) taunting him and referring to the “suicide” of one Olivia Trelawney, whose Mercedes had been stolen and was the killer automobile. He’s told to open an account on a social media sites called “Debbie’s Blue Umbrella” and provided with an account name, to further correspondence with Mr. Mercedes. Bill takes the bait, and realized that the nutso is planning to do something similar AGAIN. He ends up recruiting his landscaper Jerome, as well as a depressed computer genius named Holly, to help him crack the code and try to stop this. Because this IS Stephen King, you have to realize that there are more deaths, a lot of gruesome imagery, some unorthodox technology, dark humor, and yes, some heart bearing behind the story. The trio of unlikely crimestoppers are a lot of fun, considering the clock is ticking madly on another mass homicide, and the story only bogs down a bit in the middle, with a memorial service and family fighting over inheritance money. And although it does have some part in the plot regarding the introduction of Holly to the team, it still brings the action in the book down to a Laverne & Shirley rerun level. No thanks. Happily, the action comes back quickly, and the reader is hooked until the end. Great start to a new series. 

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon (2 out of 5)

•July 9, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This book is out now. It was released on June 27, 2017 from the folks at Putnam Books. I liked her writing style, and she set the circumstances up well, but the only problem I had was …everything else. I’m sure that Oprah will read and recommend this book out the wazoo. It just made me angry and annoyed. This book brought to you by the letter “A”. It is very good at addressing the difficulties of being Americans in a Middle Eastern country, but was that the real point, or the dissonance of trust amid supposed friends? No thanks. The world is a dark enough place as it is. I like books to help me escape, not make me more melancholy. 

Cassie and her husband Dan end up “fostering” Margaret and her husband Crick, who are new to the military life in Jordan, and their son Mather. Cassie and Dan are on tinder hooks around each other all the time, their inability to conceive a child stretching their love for one another into different corners. By comparison, Crick and Margaret have their beautiful son, the newlywed glow, and swanky new digs that Cassie quietly and jealously covets. The men are shipped off to Italy, and Margaret goes hog wild, despite Cassie warning her to be careful with the cultural differences, and how American women are viewed by those native to Jordan. She becomes friends with two gentlemen, not realizing that one thinks all the wrong things and that the other that she is trying to help out as a friend, is a high up government official, who will pay a steep price for her friendship with him. This is ONLY the beginning  of a domino effect going  full tilt. Cassie and Margaret get into an accident with the baby in the car, and Margaret leaves Cassie at her apartment to watch the baby so she can go to the police station and make restitution. The only problem is that Margaret never returns. A frantic Cassie tries getting ahold of her, Crick, and finally her own husband, because she is damn scared something terrible has happened. Where’s Margaret? Why did she have have a restlessness in her soul that led her to not listen to Cassie’s warnings? Did she have undiagnosed bipolar depression? This is a hard book to get through, because multiple corners are painted black. The end result is staggering and makes you shake your head at the entire scenario. So, yes, if you like a deep, bleak fiction encounter, go here. It’s just a little too bleak for my liking.