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I'd Move to Where All the Shooting Stars Are Gone

posted by: February 6, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for ExoImagine that right this second you could be anywhere else in the world: Where would you go? What would you do? Who would you seek out?  Where would your dreams take you?


Cent dreams of space. She can jump anywhere in the world. Space is a whole other set of challenges.


The ticking heart of a Steven Gould book is the hard science underlying a fantastic premise. Yes, Cent and her parents can jump anywhere in the world, but it's underpinned by physics. Playing around with the implications of instantaneous travel is only part of the package. Much of the rest of it comes from examinations of present day and near future space travel. The third pillar of a Steven Gould story is relatively normal characters living through the fantasy.


Exo is the fourth book in Gould's Jumper series, which climbed all the way to the box office in an almost completely unrelated movie. Every single book has looked at the implications of instant travel, and every book has shown new revelations. This is the first to take the concept into space and ponder questions with serious real world implications. We're unlikely to ever have the ability to teleport freely, but any method that could allow for cheap or free launches could change the course of human history in large and small ways. A long, positive look is taken at the idea of letting senior citizens spend time in the comfort of zero gravity, for instance.


It's not all science. There are broken hearts, patchy relationships, awkward family bonding and an organization of spies lurking in the background. But Exo is a fun, fast romp that plays with some big ideas.


Connecting Dots

posted by: February 4, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for "Lost and Found"It’s hard to root against a 7-year-old named Millie Bird, the charming, precociously wise protagonist in Lost & Found, the heart-tugging debut by Australian author Brooke Davis. Millie just wants to find her mum, who has absconded from the large ladies’ underwear section of a local department store. Fortunately, Millie crosses paths with two peculiar octogenarians who become the unlikely minders for the abandoned Millie. It falls to them to reunite the little girl with her wayward mom.


Millie desperately needs a “Dot Four” since her father has died and now her grief-stricken mother has disappeared. Connecting the three dots from mom to dad to herself meant Millie felt safe. But now the red-gumboot-wearing, curly headed youngster is obsessed with dead things and carries a “just in case” glass jar around. She finds herself on a bumpy road trip through Western Australia suburbia with two elderly companions, who are also thinking about death but for different reasons. Karl the Touch Typist nervously types letters in the air as he speaks. He misses his dead wife. Millie’s neighbor, the sad and grumpy Agatha, has not left her house since her husband died seven years ago. “How do you get old without letting sadness become everything?” wonders Agatha. Indeed, it’s but one of many questions asked in Davis’ irresistible story that fuses the psychological reservoirs of grief with humor and the hopefulness of youthful perspective.


A suggested book club selection, Lost & Found may appear as a lighter read from its colorful, whimsical cover, but don’t be fooled. Inspired by events in the author’s own life, the novel was born out of a doctoral thesis on grief. Davis, whose own mother died suddenly in 2006, was “relearning the world” too, like her three distinctly voiced characters. With steady pacing and brief sectioned chapters, Lost & Found will strike a chord with anyone who has ever considered the many forms of missing someone and the different shapes of acceptance. Fans of The Rosie Project by fellow Australian author Graeme Simsion may also want to give this strong first effort a try.



Things Carried

posted by: February 3, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Fives and Twenty-FivesMichael Pitre’s Fives and Twenty-Fives is the perfect book for customers clamoring for their holds on Phil Klay’s National Book Award-winning collection Redeployment. Like Klay, Pitre is also a former Marine who served in Iraq before returning home to chronicle his thoughts in writing, using fiction to reveal the realest truths.


Fives and Twenty-Fives reads as an assemblage of harrowing experiences Pitre survived while on active duty, told through three characters whose stories are woven into a moving novel. These three Marines comprise a portion of an Iraq Road Repair Platoon that sweeps U.S. military routes through the desert in search of hidden explosives. Donovan, the lieutenant, tries to lead and represent his squad while combatting the weight of self-loathing and the isolation of rank amidst imminent ambush. Lester “Doc” Pleasant is the platoon’s medic responsible for the lives of his teammates, but after witnessing a Marine overlook a live bomb, he resorts to his field kit for solace. Road Repair’s interpreter is an intelligent third-world post-grad named Kateb, known as callsign “Dodge” by his platoon. Dodge harbors an internal war between morality and loyalty that keeps him distanced from the Marines. Whenever his wall of superficiality is breached by violence, Dodge folds into a disheveled copy of Huck Finn and reflects on the university life that was stolen from him.


With a supporting unit of strongly humanized soldiers, Road Repair wages perpetual war with scorching desert conditions and treacherous insurgent traps. Pitre illustrates these losing battles without overwhelming readers with military jargon or trivializing the emotions and dispatches. Even with checks like fives and twenty-fives in place, it’s impossible to return from deployment unscathed.


Not Mayberry

posted by: February 2, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Sometimes the WolfSometimes the Wolf: A Novel by Urban Waite is about a small town sheriff and his son. Thinking about Andy Griffith? Only if Andy is in jail for dealing drugs, Opie’s married and a deputy himself, Barney Fife is in charge and Aunt Bea doesn’t exist. In other words, this isn’t Mayberry.


Bobby Drake, deputy in Silver Lake, Washington, has a lot on his plate. He is tracking a rogue wolf through the Cascade Mountains, his marriage is strained and his father Patrick, a former Silver Lake sheriff, is newly free on parole after serving 12 years for his part in a drug smuggling ring. He is also moving in with Bobby. Add in a DEA agent who is determined to pin an unsolved murder and theft of a few hundred thousand dollars on Patrick, as well as a chilling pair of escaped convicts who are chasing after both Patrick and the money, and Bobby is stressed. Trying to understand why his father, an officer of the law, became a criminal strains the relationship between the two men to the point of breaking.


Waite’s writing is sometimes compared to Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, with his matter-of-fact prose and tense stories which march along a seemingly inevitable path of increasing violence, creating a sense of both dread and anticipation for the reader. Loyalty and vengeance propel this father and son thriller as Sometimes the Wolf reveals that redemption can come when least expected.


Flooding Memories

posted by: January 30, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Already DeadThe rugged terrain of Derbyshire provides a melancholy backdrop for Already Dead by Barry Award winner Stephen Booth. The summer rains bring mud, floods and a corpse laying in a shallow ditch. Detective Diane Fry, substituting as team leader for the absent Ben Cooper, gloomily ponders a crime scene as it is inexorably swept downstream. There is more bad news: the victim is an unassuming insurance agent who lives at home with his mother and doesn’t have enough of a personality to like or dislike. Who would want to kill such a person? Struggling to inspire loyalty from another detective’s team, Diane remembers the qualities that make Ben Cooper such a good detective and wonders where in the world he is.


Tragically, Ben Cooper lost his fiancée while they were both investigating a crime scene. Trapped in a fire, Ben desperately attempted to reach her, only to be overcome by smoke and flames. Recovering from his injuries, he is trapped in a nightmare of memories of that deadly night and his single-minded resolve to gain justice for his murdered fiancée. For murder it was – it was arson. Deliberate, callous, reckless disregard for human life to make a profit. But the law doesn’t always provide redress, and the guilty sometimes go free. Devastated, Ben spends his days roaming the Dales, biding his opportune moment for revenge.


This taut police procedural featuring Detective Sergeants Diane Fry and Ben Cooper is the 13th entry in the series. While the other offerings in this series are all equally satisfying, this work could read as a standalone, as the author provides a vivid portrayal of the preceding events. Booth consistently provides deep insight into the inner workings of the British constabulary, particularly the plight of the more rural districts. Well-drawn characters, compelling moral situations and good old-fashioned police work can always be found in Booth’s work. Fans of Peter Robinson, Elizabeth George and Ruth Rendell will find a new friend in this author.


Colleen McCullough, 1937-2015

posted by: January 29, 2015 - 1:49pm

Cover image for The Thorn BirdsColleen McCulloughAcclaimed Australian author Colleen McCullough died at age 77 following a long illness. McCullough wrote over 20 novels during the span of her long career, which began with the publication of her first book in 1974. Her most recent novel, Bittersweet, shared the story of four sisters navigating love, life and loss in 1920s Australia.


It's the mega blockbuster, The Thorn Birds, for which McCullough will be most remembered. A sweeping romantic saga spanning three generations of an Australian family, it was the most talked about book of its day and sold 30 million copies worldwide. The paperback rights alone sold for $1.9 million, and the miniseries featuring Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward and Barbara Stanwyck was the second highest rated miniseries of all time.


McCullough always stretched herself as a writer, trying her hand at different genres. Her mystery series featuring Carmine Delmonico, a police captain in a small Connecticut college town was critically well-received, and her Masters of Rome series, a seven-book, impeccably researched historical series, had fans in the political realm, including Henry Kissinger and Newt Gingrich. Explore her legacy...



How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are

posted by: January 29, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for How to be a ParisianLike members of our social circle, books occupy certain roles in our reading sphere. Goodnight Moon: the childhood friend you don’t see these days, but whom you remember oh-so-fondly. Jane Eyre: that friend of many years who is there when you need her. A Game of Thrones: your current best bud who may actually end up standing the test of time.


If How to Be Parisian, Wherever You Are: Love, Style and Bad Habits were in your social circle, she would be that vivacious friend whom you adore, but also slightly fear — that glamorous, audacious, slightly selfish girl who challenges you to embrace your inner chic. She is intriguing, she is original, and she is not quite stable. She is who you would gladly be for a day… but no longer.


Like that friend, How to Be Parisian, by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline De Maigret and Sophie Mas, is best enjoyed in doses.


The work of four friends, themselves bona fide Parisiennes, How to Be Parisian offers unique insights into the mind and character of the modern Parisian coquette. Engaging, mercurial and unapologetically egocentric, this quartet of Parisiennes cum authors might raise a few hackles with their blasé attitudes toward certain subjects covered, such as children as accessories or rules for keeping a lover on the side. At such times, the reader would do well to recall that, despite the title’s suggestion, How to Be Parisian is not to be understood as an instruction manual for the reader’s own life. Rather, it is a delicious opportunity to slip into the role of The Parisienne for an hour or so — with all her flaws, foibles and je ne sais quoi.


A caveat: Organization of theme is not this book’s strong point. Pithy, engaging monologues, whimsical photography and lists upon lists are where this volume shines. The key to enjoying How to Be Parisian is to remain uncommitted, to dally as it were, among its pages. Flip open the table of contents, ignore the ostensible chapter headings, and select whichever of the enticing subject headings attracts you most. It’s what a Parisienne would do.




In Search Of...

posted by: January 28, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for My Father's WivesJonathan Sweetwater is a high-powered executive with two beautiful children and a gorgeous wife, Claire, in Mike Greenberg’s My Father’s Wives. Life is perfect until he comes home early one day and thinks he hears Claire in bed with another man in their guest room. Not bothering to open the door, he flees their home to grapple with this shattering event.


Rather than confront Claire head-on, Jonathan hires a private investigator to track her every move and embarks on a road trip to process this information and figure out his future. He decides to track down his father’s ex-wives in order to learn more about the man who deserted him at age 9 who is now deceased. Percival Sweetwater was a respected and powerful five-time U.S. senator who was beloved by constituents, but had a little difficulty in remaining married. After Jonathan’s mother, Percival married five more times, leading Jonathan to dub him a serial monogamist all while vowing never to adopt his cavalier approach to marriage. In connecting with each of the wives in his father’s life, Jonathon seeks to learn more about this charismatic man, find out why he had so many wives and how he could have deserted his only child.


Greenberg, familiar to ESPN viewers as one-half of Mike & Mike in the Morning, tells this story with clean dialogue, interesting characters and detailed colorful settings from Aspen to Nevis to London. The engaging writing will keep readers intrigued until the very end as they, like Jonathan, are longing to know the truth of Claire’s fidelity and discover the answers Jonathan found from all of his father’s wives.



End All, Be All

posted by: January 27, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Man v. NatureDiane Cook’s stories in her debut collection Man v. Nature are similar to Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic book series in that they depict an end of the world in which conflict is more survivor-centric than cataclysm-centric. Cook accomplishes this feat repeatedly throughout her stories, with multiple instances of apocalypse serving as mere backdrops while her characters continue their lives unabated by cordiality. While Kirkman’s tales ooze with gore, Cook’s exude wonderment and danger in dazzling prose.


Premiere in Man v. Nature is “Moving On,” the grim telling of a widow internment center that functions like an adult orphanage. The mood around the grounds is bleak enough that reality becomes overpowered and contorts to make room for places like this to exist as if they’ve been institutionalized. “Meteorologist Dave Santana” pits a woman against her own sexual desires as she tries everything to seduce her neighbor, a homely and less than upstanding weatherman. “The Mast Year” portrays a woman who is chosen by fate to share her good fortune with those in need, no matter the personal cost. She grapples with notions of sacrifice, unable to separate charity from obligation until she no longer recognizes her own life. Lastly, the titular “Man v. Nature” is the account of a man and his two friends who are stranded in a tiny lifeboat adrift on a vast lake. As exposure besets and their bodies atrophy, they reminisce and eventually curse one another for past transgressions until their misdirected anger threatens to become their undoing.


Man v. Nature’s stories are all so convincing in their heavy fictitiousness that the reader never questions the altered existences. Emotions are so poignant that doubt never surfaces; rather, fingers are crossed, eyes are squeezed shut and knees are taken in supplication to will the characters to safety. But in Cook’s worlds, safety may no longer exist, and instead readers are given deliciously unsettling new normalcies.


To Not Catch a Thief

posted by: January 26, 2015 - 7:00am

Unbecoming by Rebecca SchermDebut author Rebecca Scherm has embedded her new psychological suspense thriller Unbecoming with the ambiguous moral cracks of a femme fatale-like character, complicated and difficult to package. Grace keeps her life simple for a reason. The part-time antiques restorer can't return to her Garland, Tennessee, home because too many people know her story. Or do they? There is an art heist gone wrong, but this story is also about the interior journey of a 23-year-old woman whose past and conscience shape her into what she needs to be.


Grace is no longer Grace. Now she's Julie from California, working in the gritty outskirts of Paris. At Zunuso et Filles, she fixes broken old things and is not above switching out gems given to her by an unscrupulous boss. Her only friend is Hanna, a 34-year-old Polish woman, who sits across from her. She, too, has escaped her past. It's been three years since Grace's hometown artist husband Riley and his friend (and Grace's one-time lover) Alls broke into and looted the historic Wynne House Estate at Grace's suggestion. Now both men have been released from prison. Julie can't help but look over her shoulder. Will they come looking for her? What about the missing Dutch painting?


Things are never as they seem and so it is with this story. Scherm, who grew up in the South, was inspired by the Hitchcock movies she watched in her youth. She decidedly mines her protagonist's psyche to see where it falls in a plot that unfolds steadily and mainly in flashback. Rather than focus exclusively on the suspense of the crime, Scherm chooses the continuum of Grace's choices. With plenty of lying and double-crossing and lively, detailed descriptions of objets d'art, readers will find an entertaining read in the distant shades of Gillian Flynn and Patricia Highsmith.




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