Category Archives: literary

Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch

darkmatter

Jason Desson is a professor at a small college who could have been a brilliant professor if he hadn’t gotten sidetracked by his life with his wife and son. Jason does not regret his choices in life, as he deeply loves his family. Yet, when a colleague wins a prestigious science award, Jason feels the bite of jealousy. When he is kidnapped and drugged, Jason wakes up to find his life altered. Somehow, he has become the the brilliant, award-winning professor with all the fame and glory that goes with it. But his wife is not his wife. And his son was never born. How did this happen? Does Jason now accept this new life, or does he try to reclaim his old one?

“Dark Matter” is a rare book that crosses many genres. It is a mystery, it’s a thriller, it’s science fiction, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a romance. Jason finds himself in quite a pickle, and it turns out that his worst enemy is himself. This is a fast-paced book, but it is also deeply thoughtful as we get insights into Jason’s life and his choices. Blake Crouch’s previous books include the “Wayward Pine” series. One of the best books I read in recent months

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Be Frank With Me, by Julia Clayborne Johnson

frank

Alice Whitley has loved “Pitched,” a book by reclusive writer M. M. Banning, for years. The book is the author’s singular and much lauded title, a modern classic in the same way “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a classic. Alice, who works for M. M. (Mimi) Banning’s agent, is sent to help the author as she works on a new book–the first one she’s written in years. When Alice arrives, she is immediately put in charge of Frank, Mimi’s son. Frank is nine years old, but inside, he’s an old soul who loves old movies, dresses in old movie fashions, and is smarter than almost everyone else. What Frank can’t do is get along in public schools, handle his reactions when people don’t follow his rules, and understand normal, everyday situations. As Alice begins to understand more about Frank, she begins to wonder about Frank’s father, and she also begins to wonder if Mimi, who types like a fanatic every day in her room, is actually writing a novel. When a handsome, mysterious man named Xander arrives in the household, Alice becomes more deeply involved with the family. Can Alice help Frank adjust to school, figure out how Xander fits into the picture, and help Mimi finish her book, all before Mimi’s finances run out? She is certainly determined to try, at the same time, she hopes to satisfy her insatiable curiosity about the secrets of Mimi and Frank’s life.

This is a marvelous book. At first, it seems like a breezy, light tale, full of comedic antics, mostly performed by Frank. But the story has hidden depth as we come to understand Frank and Mimi, and fully realize the dynamics of their relationship. This story is less about Alice’s growth as a character, and more about her learning to appreciate the personalities and needs of others. And if you don’t fall in love with Frank while you read this book, there is something seriously wrong with you. “Be Frank With Me” is a funny, charming tale, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter

Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter

Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter

More than twenty years ago, beautiful nineteen year-old Julia Scott disappears into the night, never to be seen again. With no clues and no body, the mystery of what happened to her haunts her family still. Her two remaining sisters, Clare and Lydia, are estranged; Clare is married and rich, and Lydia is poor with a teenage daughter. When Clare’s husband, Paul, is murdered in a robbery, it is as if she has stepped into an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” The authorities and their questions are more than creepy, and with a sense of foreboding, Clare starts to look harder at the details of her husband’s life. What she finds begins to terrify her, and without knowing who to turn to, she turns to her sister, Lydia, for help. The two of them must put aside their differences in order to figure out why Clare is becoming the target for some truly frightening attention.

The last Karin Slaughter book I read was the brilliant “Cop Town,” which is a character driven police procedural set in the 1970s. I loved the fast pacing of that particular book. “Pretty Girls” has an entirely different pace and structure. “Pretty Girls” gives you the point of view of the family surrounding Julia Scott as they ponder the mystery of her disappearance, and then, you see the rest of the story unfold through the eyes of Clare and Lydia as they work together to figure out the strangeness of Paul’s life. The tension ratchets up a little more with each chapter, and soon, you literally can’t stop turning pages.

For me, I still prefer a book like “Cop Town,” for its fast moving story. “Pretty Girls” started a little slow for me, but it will likely appeal to fans of “Gone Girl” and “Girl on the Train.” I enjoyed the dynamics between the two sisters; Ms. Slaughter always writes the most compelling female characters.

Review copy received through Edelweiss. This title is released on 9/25/2015.

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The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, by Edward Kelsey Moore

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat, by Edward Kelsey Moore

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, by Edward Kelsey Moore

Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean have been friends since they were young, their favorite meeting spot is their table at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat Diner. Labeled “The Supremes” by the folks of the town, the trio have grown up with the wise advice of Big Earl, who presides over the All-You-Can-Eat with wisdom, humor, and good food. The story begins with the death of Big Earl. His death sets the Supremes on a course to reflect on their 40 year friendship, and to reflect on the choices they’ve made in their lives. Odette, the fearless one, has to face something fearful. Clarice must make peace with her marriage and her husband’s wandering ways. But it is Barbara Jean who must face the greatest challenge of all….she has to set right a wrong, track down a lost love, and find a way to ease the desperate grief she still carries over the death of her son.

This story unfolds gently, giving us glimpses of the past and of the present as the heart of each of the Supremes is revealed. We meet the members of the Plainsview, Indiana community, and come to love them as the Supremes do. It is a story filled with warmth, friendship, humor, ghosts, tragedy, and hope. How the author is able to so capture the hearts and souls of the three central characters–who are aging, black women–is astonishing. This is a wonderful tale.

Edward Kelsey Moore was born in Indiana, and received a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. While he now lives in Chicago, his novel is filled with the essence of a small Indiana town. His website says he is working on his second book, and I am already looking forward to it.

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The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

s The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

If you’re like me, you had to read Homer’s Illiad, a tale set during the Trojan War, in high school. And if you’re like me, you would have been less than impressed by that classic tale. I love battle books, I love books involving warriors and swordfighting and acts of heroism and honor, and so I should have loved Homer’s epic story. But the style and language of the Illiad overshadowed all the battling, heroism, and even the swordfighting. Thank goodness Madeline Miller, a high school classics teacher, wrote The Song of Achilles, for her retelling of the story includes everything I love in such books and none of things I don’t.

The Song of Achilles is told from the point of view of Achilles’ friend, Petroculus. Petroculus meets Achilles at the palace of King Peleus, and the two become friends. King Peleus sends the two young men into the wilderness to be trained by Chiron, King of the cave-dwelling Centuars. The young men become warriors become embroiled in the Trojan War, and the rest is history.  One thing I found astonishing about this book was the depth and complexity of her characters. They practically walk off the page. Achilles’ mother, a sea-nymph named Thetis, was such a wonderfully fierce wild being that when she was on the page, I was certain that the gods of ancient Greece were real. Also, Ms. Miller’s prose is so beautiful–every word has a purpose–it is like reading a poem. Her prose touched my soul, I think. While battles rage and kings and warriors maneuver for power, underneath is a sense of quiet calm and hidden depths.

This is a powerful gem of a book. If you are looking for a classic book to enjoy, yet you want poetry and battles and acts of heroism, this is the book for you.

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Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

On the day that a terrible plague ends civilization as we know it, an actor dies onstage during a performance of King Lear. The actor, Arthur Leander, dies of a heart-attack, never knowing that his death day is also the death day of the world. Yet, Arthur Leander is at the heart of this tale. As the Georgia flu ravages the earth, we follow the lives of five characters, all connected to Arthur in some way. By seeing their lives before the Georgia flu, and comparing them to their lives after, we gain an appreciation of what is really important. Miranda Coles starts her seminal work, a two book comic book series titled “Station Eleven,” years before the flu stricks. Miranda, one of Arthur Leanders three wives, never gained any fame or fortune from her work while she was alive. But after the coming of the Georgia flu, her work becomes a vital literary work in the new world. Kirsten, who as a child, watched Arther Leander die onstage, joins the Traveling Symphony after the flu outbreak. The Traveling Symphony brings Shakespeare and music to the communities it visits, and Kirsten finds a new family. The stories of Miranda, Kirsten, and others who knew Arthur Leander weave together to become something greater than the sum of the parts.

Station Eleven is not a hard-hitting, action-packed dsytopian adventure. Rather, is a leisurely exploration of our world, civilization, and the human heart. A nominee for the National Book Award, this was an enjoyable read.

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The Ploughmen, by Kim Zupan

The Ploughmen, by Kim Zupan

The Ploughmen, by Kim Zupan

Every once-in-awhile, I discover a book that I think is one thing, and it turns out to be quite another. Oftentimes, this is a source of great disappointment to me, and I usually do not finish the book. With “The Ploughmen,” by Kim Zupan, I thought I was going to get a Western, or a Western mystery.  And yet, in this case, I got a story that refused to fit any category, and yet one with lit up my brain with joy as I read it.

The story is set in Montana, and involves a hardened career murder and a morally upright deputy. John Gload, when we first meet him, is hard at work killing people. Gload is a master of disposing bodies so they will likely never be found, and if found, rarely identified. It is clear as the story unfolds that he has been killing people for a very long time. Some of the people in the story he kills for monetary gain. But the vast majority of the people he kills just because he doesn’t like them, or perhas just because he can.

One day, John Gload’s luck runs out, and authorities tie him to a murder. Police arrest him and he sits in the jail, awaiting trial. Enter Valentine Millimaki, a troubled deputy who is unable to comprehend how his marriage is in the process of ending. His job is to sit, during the long Montana nights, in the jail with John Gload and make sure he and the other prisoners in the cell block have a safe and restful night. John Gload, however, suffers from chronic insomnia, and before long, he and Valentine have started talking. Through their conversations, we get a glimpse of the complicated inner lives of both men. And when John Gload decides he has had enough of prison, we get to see the true natures of the two men as they deal with the cards they’ve been dealt.

I can categorize this book more by what it’s not than what it is. It’s not a Western, it’s not a mystery, and it’s not a thriller. It *is* a beautifully told book, one that will bring the Montana wilderness come to life in your mind’s eye, a tale that will explore the depths of the human heart. Mr. Zupan’s bio says he’s worked as a carpenter for 25 years while working on his writing. I would say that his work was quite excellently done.

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