Cities are constantly abuzz with activity in every direction. But how much of what goes on around a person is seen? And how much noticed? In her book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz gets to the bottom of how people can do their best to take note of the world around them. The author starts by taking her dog around a large city block in Manhattan. As Horowitz is a dog behaviorist by training, she is well aware that the things a dog notices on a walk are not the same as those a human does. (Dog walkers, of course, notice more of the same things as dogs than do other humans.)
After this control walk, Horowitz then invites others to take similar walks with her. She takes along a sound designer, who notices much more of the clatter of the city, things that Horowitz herself had largely tuned out. She realizes, however, that along with the noise of traffic and construction she has also come to ignore pleasant sounds such as birds, and children playing. Another walk is with a child, whose perception and interests are considerably different from the author’s. Additionally, Horowitz accompanies a geologist, an artist, and a number of others, all of which expand her own horizons of what she can discover on a walk around the block. She urges all of us to simply pay attention, and the rewards of looking can be marvelous.
The disappearance of a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. Amity Gaige’s latest book, Schroder, is a kidnapping tale with a twist: it’s told from the perspective of the kidnapper, who is also the child’s father. Eric Kennedy is writing to his estranged wife from prison, explaining why he abducted their daughter Meadow and chronicling the time he spent on the run with her. His story becomes a broader reflection of his life and his misguided decisions and deceptions.
When Eric feels he’s being unfairly treated in divorce proceedings, he drives off with his daughter during one of his custody visits. Through the course of the story, the reader learns the history of Eric, who was born Erik Schroder in East Berlin. He and his father emigrated to the United States under murky circumstances, and Erik originally used the name Eric Kennedy to gain admission to a summer camp. The name sticks, staying with him into adulthood, although modern technology and identity tracking make it increasingly difficult for him to maintain a false persona. Gaige does an excellent job building two contrasting main characters: Meadow is an incredibly perceptive yet wholly innocent six-year-old, while Eric is a deeply flawed adult who puts his daughter’s safety at risk multiple times. There is a train wreck feel to the story as he makes one poor decision after another.
Gaige drew inspiration for this story from the famous case of Clark Rockefeller, whose multiple false identities were discovered after he kidnapped his daughter in 2008. The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal is an account of that story. In Schroder, Gaige manages to show that Eric is not a terrible person, just a “bad choicer”, as she refers to him in an interview with NPR.
Jennie Shortridge’s contemporary novel, Love Water Memory, takes the reader into the unsettled and uncomfortable mind of a woman suffering from dissociative fugue. In this uncommon condition, often caused by a traumatic experience, a person instantly develops a complete amnesia. As the book opens, Lucie is found wading in the waters of San Francisco Bay, hundreds of miles from the Seattle home she shares with her fiancé Grady.
Short chapters using the alternating narrations of Lucie, Grady, and Lucie’s estranged aunt Helen make for a compelling read. Grady, an engineer at Boeing with a dark past of his own tries his best to understand Lucie’s condition. With the help of his large Native American family, Lucie attempts to reconnect with the world that she has utterly forgotten. There are no easy answers; Lucie and Grady are only weeks from their planned wedding, but no longer truly know each other. Helen is the only family Lucie has, and the story of her connection and estrangement from Lucie ties many threads together. Grady’s point of view, as a person trying to understand an amnesiac, provides a good counterpoint to Lucie’s own thoughts. The theme of water flows through the book from the initial rescue of the wading Lucie, Grady’s connection to swimming and his own childhood tragedy, and the surfeit of tears shed during the reconnection process. Successful in taking a baffling medical condition and making it the focus of the novel, Love Water Memory is a look into a world few people ever experience.
Kimberly McCreight’s engrossing debut novel Reconstructing Amelia takes on the hidden life of a teenager. Kate Baron, a single mom and busy attorney, is in a meeting when she receives a call from her 15-year-old daughter’s school. Amelia is being suspended, and the school wants Kate to pick her up immediately. Kate leaves work and hurries to the school to find out what could have possibly caused her good girl daughter to be suspended, but when she reaches the school, there are emergency vehicles outside. She is stunned when they tell her that her daughter has fallen from the roof of the school and is dead. After an investigation, Amelia’s death is ruled a suicide. Weeks later, as a devastated Kate returns to work, she receives an anonymous text message that stops her in her tracks. “She didn't jump.” Could there be another explanation for this unimaginable tragedy?
Slowly, Kate begins to uncover the truth about the last months of Amelia’s life. Through text messages, emails, and social media posts, Kate unearths the secrets that Amelia kept, including a pile of notes in Amelia’s bedroom that say “I hate you.” How could there be so much about her daughter’s life that Kate never knew? McCreight intersperses chapters from Amelia’s perspective among those about Kate’s investigation to give readers a better understanding of what was really happening in Amelia’s life and at her exclusive private school. The story is both suspenseful and heartbreaking as Kate learns the reality of Amelia’s world and the truth about how she died. Reconstructing Amelia will appeal to readers who enjoy Jodi Picoult’s novels or William Landay’s recent bestseller Defending Jacob. Reconstructing Amelia’s emotional depth and exploration of current social issues make this a great pick for your next book club discussion.
Set in New Orleans circa 1920s-50s, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski is an original family drama that mixes matters of the heart with elements of magical realism. Dancy, a waitress at the local diner, and William, a young lawyer, fall in love. Tragedy is destined to strike, but not before an extraordinary new life is created.
Meet Bonaventure Arrow and you will discover that he is as exceptional as his name. Although his vocal cords are healthy, he is born without a cry. Denied conventional speech, Bonaventure discovers that he possesses a supernatural sense of hearing. From the sound of dust falling from a moth’s wing to his mother’s cigarette smoke floating to the ceiling, he can hear what no one else can. However, this unworldly gift comes with great responsibility. When he hears a small sadness held inside a small box in a chapel wall and the painful secret hidden in his mother’s closet, he knows he can bring comfort and hopefully closure to his family, who are still plagued by the secrets of the past.
Inspired by the work of Flannery O’Conner and Ann Patchett, Leganski has created an earnest Southern hometown and populated it with mysterious characters. There’s the disfigured man only known as “The Wanderer,” Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole woman who has her own mystic ability, and Brother Harley John Eacomb, a sham preacher who has a feverous following. Faith, love, and providence are all tested in this tale of charm, love and forgiveness.
A couple weeks back, some lucky romance writers were thrilled to receive that special phone call with the good news that their books were finalists for a RITA Award. RITAs are the highest award of distinction in romance fiction and are awarded in twelve categories. The Romance Writers of America (RWA) bestow these awards to highlight excellence in published romance novels and novellas. Want to see how many you’ve read? Check out the complete list which also includes Golden Heart (excellence in unpublished romance manuscripts) nominees. The Romance Writers of America will announce the winners of the 2013 RITA contest at the Awards Ceremony at their annual conference in July, this year held in Atlanta.
Several of the titles were featured on Between the Covers during the course of the past year. My Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade is a finalist in Best Inspirational Romance and is the contemporary love story of Kate and Matt and their personal struggles. Sarah Maclean’s A Rogue by Any Other Name is a Regency that gets the Rules of Scoundrels series, which follows four charming rogues, off to a rollicking start. Anna Huber secured two RITA nominations for The Anatomist’s Wife, her debut historical fiction and first in the Lady Darby mystery series. Huber is hoping for wins in both Best First Book and Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.
An American woman’s journey from embassy secretary to African royalty is this year’s choice for the One Maryland One Book selection. King Peggy: An American Secretary, her Royal Destiny and the Inspiring Story of How she Changed an African Village chronicles the story of Peggielene Bartels of Silver Spring, Maryland, who learns in 2008 she is the new king of Otuam, a poor Ghanaian fishing village of 7,000. This book was previously reviewed on Between the Covers last year.
Now in its sixth year, the Maryland Humanities Council program brings people together from across the state through a shared reading experience, book-centered discussions and other programming. A calendar of free public events will be available on the MHC website this summer. Last year’s book, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, attracted almost 7,000 readers in Maryland’s only statewide book club.
Isabella Hendemore, now Lady Trent, has had an adventuresome, successful, and often harrowing life researching the lives and habits of the mysterious, dangerous dragons that dwell across the world. Though she has written many books on the subject, rumors and speculation abound about her journeys to far-flung mountaintops and desert plains in search of these elusive creatures. But Lady Trent has finally written her memoirs, and boy are they exciting. The first volume, A Natural History of Dragons: a memoir by Lady Trent, is the beginning of a new series by fantasy author Marie Brennan set in a world where dragons are just another type of exotic creature to be studied, hunted, captured and exploited. As a child, Isabella is entranced by the small dragon-like sparklings in her garden, even though natural history is not considered a proper subject of study for young ladies. Her obsession with discovering more about dragons only grows as she matures into adulthood and gets married. When the opportunity to study dragons firsthand arises, she and her husband set out on a thrilling and groundbreaking expedition that carries a deadly cost.
As with her previous Onyx Court series, Brennan excels at breathing life into her characters and settings. She looks beyond this first book, casting out storylines that will intrigue readers to follow the adventures in later novels. So hold on to your bonnets, dust off your microscope, and get ready to dig into Brennan’s new fantastical world in A Natural History of Dragons.
Dr. Cyrus Mills returns to Eden Falls, Vermont and the Bedside Manor for Sick Animals in The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs by Nick Trout. Bedside Manor was Cyrus’ father’s veterinary practice and with the passing of his dad, Cyrus is the freshly-minted owner. However, Cyrus, who was long-estranged from his father, wants to sell the old place to a national chain and get back to his life. He doesn’t even practice veterinary medicine, but prefers the isolation of his career as a vet pathologist. Cyrus also needs fast money and plans on using the proceeds from the sale to help him defend against potentially career-ending litigation at home in Charleston. Plans change when Cyrus realizes the Bedside Manor is in financial trouble and he is given one week to prove that the practice could be a profitable investment. During this week, Cyrus cares for a variety of household pets and finds himself reconnecting with his former community and the crazy cast of characters who populate the small town. But not everyone is happy to see Cyrus and at least one banker and an anonymous blackmailer have set him in their crosshairs.
During the course of the week, Cyrus’ personality changes as he learns to open up to the people who are supporting him in his endeavor to turn the practice around. He is also forced to face some truths from his past, including new information about his mother and father. Nick Trout is a veterinary surgeon who has written best-selling memoirs about his experiences caring for animals. In his first novel, he offers a well-written, fast-moving, entertaining tale populated with plenty of unique two and four-legged characters. Ultimately, this is the story of one man and the dramatic way his life changes once he opens his heart and lets people and animals into his world.
In Last Days by Adam Nevill, we are introduced to the Temple of the Last Days, a severe apocalyptic cult started in England and led by the enigmatic Sister Katherine. She began as a visionary, but soon detached herself to the life as a recluse, surrounding herself with her favorite acolytes and treating the remaining cult members with reproach and disgust. The cult traveled from England to a farmhouse in France, and eventually ended up in Arizona where Sister Katherine wound up beheaded and several members committed suicide.
Years have passed but interest and speculation about the cult never ended. Enter Max Solomon, CEO of Revelation Productions and general new age guru, who wants to make a documentary on the Temple of the Last Days. He enlists a young filmmaker named Kyle who is well known in the indie film business for making gritty, realistic films on paranormal topics. Kyle, heavy in debt, agrees. Max sets up filming locations and connects him with members of the cult who were lucky enough to escape its clutches before it landed in Arizona. Kyle soon realizes that these living remains of the cult are broken souls, and reliving past days will not be easy for them. During filming, strange things begin to happen, from unexplained footsteps on the floor above to unexplained noises coming from basements below. There is talk of presences, but no one can explain what or who these presences might be. Kyle is skeptical until he begins to see shapes in the darkness, shapes carved into the very walls themselves. And then the former members begin to die.
Last Days is a gripping read, well detailed and full of interesting characters. The book creates an eerie atmosphere that will have the reader looking over their shoulder while making sure the lights are on. Fans of Stephen King and Dean Koontz will enjoy this new voice in contemporary horror.