Monday, August 29, 2016

We Are Unprepared

We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly
MIRA: 8/30/16
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780778319436

We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly is a story set in Vermont about a broken relationship and an impending superstorm. It's either so-so or recommended, depending upon what you can personally tolerate in a disaster/climate change/politically preachy/bad relationship/needy neighborhood child/debut novel.

Ash and Pia have moved from Brooklyn to Isole, Vermont, a town of 6,481 people. Their desire is to live a simpler life, sort of return to the land and rely on themselves. After being there for 3 months, the forecast of the impending disastrous superstorm is predicted, with as many as 30 hurricanes along with heatwaves, blizzards, drought, and fronts of various kinds. It's a climate change believer's dream, or er, natural expected outcome based on scientifically proven measurements.  Pia is a neurotic mess and teams up with local preppers, which Ash didn't know until after the fact. Ash wants to team up with local authorities.

The novel covers the current action, with Ash reflecting upon the past and his relationship with Pia. Ash admits at over half way through the drawn-out-too-long narrative that: "The truth is that Pia had always been impulsive. I worked hard to see her as a passionate free spirit, but I knew she had a tenuous grasp on sanity most of the time." Well, Ash, I had that figured out pretty much at the first few pages. As the narrative follows the extremely slowly arriving storm (predicted in Early October, hits in the Spring, and doesn't happen in the novel until chapter 19), the marriage falls apart. To be honest, they were never really together from the beginning and the only reason they had some semblance of a relationship is due to Ash's denial of Pia's mental problems and his desire to smooth things over, explain behavior away, and keep it together.

Ash's relationship and desire to help neglected 7 yr. old neighborhood boy, August, is one redeeming quality to We Are Unprepared, which could have used some more redeeming story lines and characters. Other than that this is one you'll read for the disaster. You can skim ahead for that because it happens late in the book. I appreciate what Kirkus reviews said: "By that point, 19 chapters into the book, the reader is eager for the damn storm to occur." Yup, that pretty much summarized my thoughts.

The writing is okay, nothing spectacular. Ash is the only character you get to know, but he and Pia are both formulaic stereotypes of a certain segment of the population. So, read this if you just want to read a disaster novel with blizzards, snow, and flooding. It's akin to a sci-fi channel disaster movie (or at least those I noticed back when I actually had cable). In fact, you could just watch a disaster movie and do just as well. Those of you who have experienced huge snowfalls and then floods from Spring melting might just see this as an "eh" book because you've lived it with less fanfare and hand wringing.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Wolves by D. J. Molles
Blackstone: 8/30/16
eBook review copy; 528 pages
ISBN-13: 9781504725910

Wolves by D. J. Molles is a dark, gritty post-apocalyptic western. It is highly recommended for those who like plenty of gun play, violence, and a doomed man on a mission.

Huxley is a man who has lost everything. The world as we know it ended for him. He was living on an agricultural commune with his wife and daughter until the Slavers came, killed his wife, and took his daughter to sell. In her dying breath his wife told him the man who took his daughter had a scorpion tattoo on his neck. Now Huxley is crossing the Wastelands, heading east. He is saved from dying when another man, Jay, gives him water. The two travel together, on a mission to avenge and kill slavers.

As Huxley and Jay travel the wastelands, tracking the path of a band of slavers as they head east, he acquires a rag tag band of followers. They are hard men on a mission, to kill all the slavers who have ruined their lives. The two are motivated by pain, blood and death now, as they leave a path of destruction in their wake. It is a tragic portrait of a man pushed to his absolute limits.

This is a non-stop dark, bloody, violent, gritty, and intense novel. The influence of classic westerns is obvious in this saga of a man on a mission of vengeance and rage toward the people who took his daughter and killed his wife, as well as anyone who enabled the Slavers to continue their evil enterprise. It's also a long novel, so be prepared for the sheer overload of violence you will encounter within these pages.

The writing is excellent and above reproach. The character development, descriptions, and world building is exceptional. Honestly, the only drawback is that sometimes this is a hard novel to read because of the tone. It is a dark novel, very ominous, gruesome, bloody, and harsh, with relentless violence. Huxley is a driven man, by grief, and revenge, but also buried deep, by the love for his wife and the daughter he needs to save. There is redemption at the end, but an overwhelming amount of violence lead up to it.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

End Point

End Point by Peter Breakspear
Troubador: 8/28/16
eBook review copy; 212 pages
ISBN-13: 2940158391538

End Point by Peter Breakspear is a so-so sci-fi thriller.

End Point opens with a mysterious object that fell to Earth in Wales being investigated by a special forces team lead by Tom. It seems that several of these objects have recently been sent to or launched at Earth. Even more startling is the fact that these objects have been on Earth for many years, and can also be found on Mars, and Venus. What are they, Are we being watched by some mysterious beings, and are they manipulating the environment?

While the start is intriguing in this competition winning novel, intriguing enough to keep me reading, the action falls apart into a formulaic recounting of what happens that bleeds all the excitement and intrigue out of discovering the purpose of the objects. There is a lot of laundry-list-action: they go hear, this is said, that is said, Tom thinks this. Breakspear had some good ideas; it's just the execution that needs work. He needs to make us care about the characters, good or bad, and develop their characters, while describing the setting and place us there, in the action. As a reader, I want to connect with these people and feel the desperation behind their search for the answers before the world ends. That didn't happen. The failure is in the writing, which could improve with more experience. This novel can be considered a YA novel.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Natchez Burning

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
HarperCollins: 8/4/15 (reprint)
P.S. Trade Paperback; 816 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062311085 
Penn Cage Series #4

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles is a very highly recommended thriller that had me mesmerized and totally invested in finding out what was going to happen next for the whole 800 pages. I can hardly wait to start the next book in the trilogy, The Bone Tree, and am anxiously awaiting the third installment, Mississippi Blood, due to be released in March 2017. This is an excellent book on all points: great writing, check; intricate plot twists, check; complexity, check; well-developed characters, check; suspense, check, check, check. Forget my stuck-overnight-at-the-airport book rating. You'd miss them calling your next flight. In fact, just save yourself the trouble and postpone your trip to finish Natchez Burning and jump right into The Bone Tree. Greg Iles just made another fan.

"If a man is forced to choose between the truth and his father, only a fool chooses the truth." Penn Cage agreed with this writer's sentiments for years, but now he realizes that, as his distant relative, Robert Penn Warren wrote: "There is always something."  Penn's father, Dr. Tom Cage, is a beloved family doctor in Natchez so it is unthinkable that he could be accused of murdering Viola Turner, the African American nurse who worked for him in the 1960's, let alone arrested for this. Viola was dying and returned to Natchez to spend her last days there. Tom wants to prove his father is innocent, but Tom won't assist his son in this endeavor, invoking doctor-patient privilege.

There is a whole lot more going on and hidden, including an off-shoot cell of the local KKK that call themselves The Double Eagles. These men have been terrorizing and killing people for years. Somehow Dr. Tom and Viola are connected to them and the death of several men in the 1960's. We know what happened from the opening chapters in part 1 of the story. Part 2 jumps ahead to 2005. More is explained as the book continues through several different characters, including Penn, Dr. Tom, Penn's fiancée Caitlin Masters, reporter Henry Sexton, and several of the bad guys.

This is a tale of illegal activities, racism, greed, murder, corruption, and brutality, as well as the different legacies a family may be passing on to the next generation. Penn must decide if he will choose his father or truth. Penn is a crusader at heart, one who wants to right wrongs, but what if the wrongs involve his father, or result in his father's death?

Incredible, rich, vivid, descriptive writing highlight this fast-paced, engrossing thriller. You need to realize that there are some very vivid descriptions of violent acts in Natchez Burning, but they are also crucial to the plot. Iles does an remarkable job allowing the facts and secrets to slowly emerge as characters uncover the monumental truth of the past and the present, piece by piece, and realize how far-reaching the gross injustices reach.  The character development is phenomenal. Iles has created characters that are memorable, complex, flawed, and totally believable.

Natchez Burning is amazing. I am, quite simple, stunned at this incredible novel. This is surely in the running for my list of top ten novels of the year.

Although this is the fourth novel featuring Penn, it is a stand-alone novel for the new series of three Penn Cage novels. While I need to get the previous three, you can start the series of three with Natchez Burning. And, currently (during the writing of this review) the digital edition is 1.99!

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC for review purposes. 


Friday, August 19, 2016

The Couple Next Door

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
Penguin Publishing Group: 8/23/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735221086

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena is a recommended novel of suspense.

Anne and Marco Conti are attending a dinner party at their next door neighbors. Their sitter cancelled on them at the last minute and they know Cynthia and Graham don't like children, so they have left 6 month old Cora asleep next door, in their attached home. They have the baby monitor with them and are taking turns checking on her every half hour. As the party drones on, Anne is drunk and bothered by how much Cynthia is shamelessly flirting with Marco. When Anne finally persuades Marco to leave after 1 AM, they return home to find their front door open and baby Cora gone.

Detective Rasbach knows there is more going on than the couple is telling him and he works to slowly uncover hidden secrets and potential theories regarding what happened to Cora. It doesn't appear that anyone else has been in their home. However, the back door motion sensor light has been unscrewed and the Conti's garage door, which opens to the alley, was left open. There are tire tracks not from the Conti's car in the garage. It seems that someone went out the back door with Cora, but why was the front door open? Could the Cont's be covering up something more sinister?

This is a riveting, suspenseful debut novel that had me glued to the pages, overlooking, but noting, all the many flaws while I read. The chapters alternate between narrators so you can follow what each character is thinking as the search progresses. There are plenty of secrets which mean there are plot twists and reveals of secrets along the way. And, let's face it, in any case, real or fiction, with a missing baby the parents are the main suspects.

I kept reading wanting to know what happened next, as Lapena throws one surprise after another at the reader. Many of these twists I saw coming so they just confirmed my predictions, which is sometimes a motivation for reading a mystery. Some of the plot elements are also just a tad bit too convenient.

Now the flaws are numerous. The characters seemed very much all convenient cliches: the doubting detective, extremely wealthy parents, disappointing son-in-law, poor first time mother with postpartum depression and other issues (and postpartum depression is real, but somehow marginalized here), the sexy next-door-neighbor, a difficult fussy baby. Add to that the lack of real character development, and it's hard to like or truly care about these people.

In the end this was a hard one for me to rate. The ending almost led me to a two star rating. It is not an outstanding-must-read-book-of-the-summer. The writing is okay and the plot is pedestrian, BUT I did read it wanting to know what happened next, which is sometimes the whole reason to read a mystery. This is worthy of airplane book status. It's going to keep your attention, provide entertainment, and will be easy to jump back into during your trip.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Walking with Plato

Walking with Plato by Gary Hayden
Oneworld Publications: 7/12/16
advanced reading copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781780746562

Walking with Plato by Gary Hayden is a highly recommended walking tour of Great Britain, with philosophical pondering shared along the way.

Hayden and Wendy, his wife, decided to do a three month "End-to-End" walking tour from the northeastern tip of Scotland to the southwestern tip of England. They started in John o'Groats and made their way to Land's End (JoGLE), a 1,200-mile trek, enduring blisters, sore backs and feet, and weather along the way. The eight chapters list the towns they went through during that part of their travels.

Rather than an account detailing exactly what they did from a detailed journal kept along the journey, Hayden, who was 49 when they undertook the journey, shares what he remembers as he recalls their travels. He had no plans to write a book about their experiences, and is glad he didn't keep a journal because it would have ruined the experience, reducing it to something that needed to be recorded and sold rather than lived.

There are stories and thoughts shared about the areas they traversed and some of the sights they encountered along the way. You can appreciate Walking with Plato without any geographical knowledge, but it might help American readers to have a clear knowledge of the names and places, including walking trails in Great Britain, or at least a map handy to follow Hayden and Wendy's path.

Along the recounted journey, Hayden contemplates some thoughts from other thinkers. Bertrand Russell  said "The secret of happiness is to understand that the world is horrible, horrible, horrible." Hayden thought that it makes sense because, if you go through life thinking the world owes you anything, you will be disappointed. However, if you accept that the world cares nothing for you or your plans and that bad things happen to everyone, you can stoically wait/hope for something better to happen.

He also ponders the writing of Epicurus, and concluded that the more you have, the less you appreciate it. The key is to subtract from your desires to appreciate the simple, wholesome things in life. If you are walking 1200 miles and usually cooking outside and sleeping in a tent, the simple pleasure of a coffee and a biscuit along the way takes on a new satisfaction.

Hayden felt that the walk was benefiting his mental health along the way. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who believed that "the striving for meaning is the most powerful and motivating force in human life, and that a sense of purpose is essential to mental wellbeing." Frankl's thoughts summed up Hayden's feelings about the goal to walk JoGLE, "Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on what one has already achieved and what one still has to accomplish."

Walking with Plato is a worthwhile travel memoir, and every reader can appreciate Hayden's thoughts along the route. It might be more appreciated a bit more by those who know the geography compared to those of us not living in Great Britain who had to stop and look at a map. (No judging please, I could follow walking travels across the USA quite easily.)

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher via Library Thing for review purposes.

Cold, Cold Heart

Cold, Cold Heart by Karin Slaughter
Witness Impulse: 8/23/16
eBook review copy; 40 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062663290

Cold, Cold Heart by Karin Slaughter is a very highly recommended dark short story.

When the story opens, Pam, 52, is on her way to California for the third time in her life to deliver something important. We learn that a few years early her emotional abusive and controlling ex-husband, John (aka Jon), contacted Pam to tell her he was dying and wanted her to visit him in California, sending her a first class plane ticket. Pam was unsure about going, but saw it as a potential opportunity to extract some closure or revenge.

Her ex was a serial adulterer and a liar. When their marriage fell apart after the death of their son, John blamed Pam. Then he wrote a book, changing his name to Jon, on healing after a loss that was full of slander and cruel indictments of Pam, things millions of people have read and believe. Now her ex lives with a 19 year-old Pilates instructor and is a multi-millionaire. Pam doesn't want his money. She wants a different kind of payback.

Exceptionally well written and perfectly executed, I really, really liked Cold, Cold Heart. I was cheering Pam on and wanted to high five her, saying "You go girl!" While there is no doubt that this is a rather dark story, there are plenty of ex's out there that deserve some special attention. This one is for all the women who put up with their own versions of "John."

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.