Tag Archives: ARC

Obla Di Obla Da

This isn’t the movies.   Everything doesn’t turn out all tied up in a neat bow the way you want.

Luck never has anything to do with love, she said…  Luck has everything to do with everything, he told her.   Especially love.

From Carolyn Leavitt’s Pictures of You

Somewhere between heartwarming and heart wrenching lies Carolyn Leavitt’s Pictures of You.

In this book, Charlie loses his wife, April, in a car accident on a foggy night as she is leaving him for another man.   Unbeknownst to April until well into her journey, Sam, their only son, a fragile asthmatic, has snuck into the car and nearly dies in the accident as well.   The driver of the other vehicle, Isabelle, who is fleeing her unfaithful spouse, is free from fault but haunted by the tragedy, nonetheless.   The survivors and innocent bystanders’ attempts to make sense of these events and move on with their lives is the crux of the story.

Nothing completely works out for any of the characters, which is perhaps the point of the novel.   Isabelle, a trusting, warm, caring, and somewhat naive person, seems to land on her feet to a certain degree, though whether or not this will be true for Sam is left open to question.   What likely will be troubling to some readers is that Charlie, who, though imperfect, is mostly admirable and noble, meanders through the later stages of his life with little or no resolution to anything.

Leavitt’s treatment of Charlie’s plight toward the end of the book essentially drives home all of the major themes of restlessness and longing that pervade throughout it.   While the characters frustrate, the reader is drawn to them and prone to root for them.

Leavitt’s concise prose is provocative, dense with meaning, and packs a greater punch than those whose excessive detail loses itself in translation.   However, there are a few things that are problematic.   As a child, Sam is given independence to roam and make decisions more common to someone in their early teens, and events occasionally jump from one to the next without adequate explanation.   All of a sudden another character appears, or two characters meet, or a major time shift occurs, and the reader – without enough to go on – must suspend belief or grapple with the inconclusive “what-for’s” and “why’s” of the situation.   Perhaps most troubling is Leavitt’s over-reliance on constructing the characters’ major thoughts or points she wants the reader to ponder in the form of questions.   The writing itself is mostly powerful, which could lead one to deem this technique unnecessary, yet it is instead common.

Leavitt trickles the story out initially and creates strong scenes, engaging passages, and well-constructed dialogue, moving the reader to a satisfying inconclusive conclusion.   She does an admirable job of exploring the complexity of human relationships, and none of the minor issues noted above interfere with the reader’s enjoyment of this rich tale.

Recommended.

This “second look” preview-review was written by Dave Moyer, author of the novel Life and Life Only.   (A review copy was provided by the publisher.)   Pictures of You: A Novel will be released by Algonquin Books on January 25, 2011.

“Magically written, heartbreakingly honest…”   Jodi Picoult

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A 4 Book Giveaway!

We’re giving 4 different books away.   The first, courtesy of St. Martin’s Press, is The Vaults by Toby Ball ($24.99).   Here is a synopsis:   “The City,” your typical 1930s metropolis full of corruption and sleaze, is home to a host of crooked cops, businessmen, and everyday citizens.   However, for the few who don’t adhere to the shady rules of this society, there is a mystery unfolding.   When Arthur Puskis, the reclusive archivist for “The City,” finds duplicate files for one criminal in his flawless archiving system, he can’t help but try to find out why the fraudulent one exists.   Meanwhile Ethan Poole is a private detective and top-notch blackmail artist who is going after the mayor’s right-hand man while trying to track down a woman’s son who disappeared seven years ago.   Frank Frings is a well-known investigative journalist who, between printing attacks on the mayor of “The City,” is dating its most notorious jazz singer.   Eventually all three men are lead to evidence of “The Navajo Project,” something the mayor and his associates are desperate to keep under wraps – by any means necessary.

We also, thanks to Doubleday Books, have two (2) hardbound copies to give away of the novel The False Friend by Myla Goldberg, which will be released on October 5, 2010 ($25.95).   We posted a copy of the book’s cover on September 25, 2010 (“Second Hand News”).   Here is a brief synopsis:   Leaders of a mercurial clique, Celia and Djuna subjected each other and their three followers to an endless cycle of reward and punishment that peaked one afternoon when all five girls walked home along a forbidden road.   Djuna disappeared that day; Celia blocked out what happened.   It was assumed that Djuna was abducted, though neither she nor her abductor was never found.

We’re also, at the suggestion of one of our readers, going to give away a grade “A” condition advance reading copy (ARC) of the thrilling ride On the Line by S. J. Rozan, which was reviewed on this site on September 19, 2010 (“Hold the Line”).   It’s a recommended book, the hardbound copy of which is selling for $24.99.   Why not just win the ARC instead?

Before giving you the giveaway contest rules, we have one brief announcement.   We’re moving up the closing date for our contest to give away a copy of the novel The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier.   This novel was reviewed here on September 3, 2010 and the hardbound copy has a value of $25.00.   If you want to enter this contest, you will need to do it now.   The rules (“Win a Second Chance!”) were posted on September 4, 2010, and your entry must be in by tomorrow – Tuesday, September 28, 2010 – at midnight PST.

As for the four books being given away, in order to enter this contest just post a comment below with your name and e-mail address or send an e-mail with this information to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.  For a second entry, indicate which book/ARC you are most interested in and why.   In order to keep this interesting, Munchy the cat may decide to give all four books to one person, two books to two persons, or one book to four persons.   It’s his call, so you may offer to bribe him with cat treats.   Yeowk!   (OK, just kidding)

Your entries must be received by midnight on Friday, October 15, 2010 because we want to move these books fast.  In order to enter, you must be a resident of the continental U. S. and you must supply, if you are contacted, a residential mailing address.   No books will be shipped to a P. O. box or a business-related address. 

This is it for the rules.   All rules are subject to be changed at any time by Munchy.   Good luck and good reading!

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The Season of Second Chances

The Season of Second Chances: A Novel by Diane Meier  (Henry Holt, $25.00, 285 pages)

When I finished The Season of Second Chances, I felt bereft.   The Season of Second Chances was a wonderful novel that I enjoyed reading.   I enjoyed it so much that I ripped through the book reading it too late into the night and finishing it in record speed during a busy work week.   After I finished it, I regretted only that it didn’t continue on as I loved the story and characters so much, it was hard to let them go.

The Season of Second Chances is a unique story that I really loved.   Joy Harkness is a middle-aged literature professor at Columbia University.   She loves and excels at her work, but doesn’t really feel connected to anyone.   When a professor she admires, Bernadette Lowell, offers her a chance to move to Amherst College in Massachusetts and be part of an innovative new curriculum in learning, Joy jumps at the chance.   She impetuously buys an old large, falling down Victorian house and quickly moves up from her small New York apartment.   I love the scene where she moves in and the house springs a giant leak.

Realizing that something needs to be done about the state of her house, Joy hires Teddy Hennessy to fix her house.   Teddy is a unique individual that knows the history and design of old houses.   He has an impeccable eye when it comes to interior design and works wonders with the house…  and with Joy.

Joy finds life changing for herself at Amherst and becomes involved with a great new group of friends.   She has a growth of personal relationships and self.   Through her time there, Joy really has a “coming-of-age” at mid-age.   She learns that to be a feminist, one does not need to give up everything that is feminine.

It is really hard to describe this novel as it was so unique and I do not want to give away the entire plot of the novel.   It was a great story and I really loved the style in which it was written.   Meier has beautiful prose throughout the novel.

Some of my favorite quotes were:

“What became apparent in my conversations with Teddy was my acceptance of a kind of snobbery I thought I’d avoided:  the notion that accessible writers and authors were hacks.”

I love this quote.   I think there is a lot of snobbery that exists, especially in academia about “accessible” writers.   It saddens me that a lot of great female authors from the past have been dismissed and have slipped into obscurity for just such reasons.   One example is Fannie Hurst.   I read a compilation of her short stories a few years ago and it was wonderful.   The stories gave a glimpse of working class girls’ lives in the 1920’s and 30’s.

“There is the family you’re born with, my dear – and then there is the family you choose.”

This quote is so true.   While you’ll never forget your birth family, I’ve found wherever you move you make a “family” of friends too that you can count on during times of trial.

There is also a great section about style, where two of the characters discuss that one doesn’t need to be afraid of style to be a feminist woman.   There are too many good quotes in this section just to pick out one!

I also loved that since Joy is a literature professor she talks about a lot of my favorite authors such as Edith Wharton and Willa Cather.   The discussions are like small diamonds throughout the text that I really enjoyed reading.

Overall, The Season of Second Chances is a wonderful novel with a great story, fantastic characters, and great prose.   I highly recommend it.

This review was written by Laura Gerold of Laura’s Reviews.   You can see more of her book reviews at: http://lauragerold.blogspot.com/ .   An Advance Review Copy was received from Interpersonal Frequency LLC.

 

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Suspicion

Once Wicked Always Dead: A Novel by T. Marie Benchley (M.M.W.E. Publishing, 296 pages)

“Ev’ry time you kiss me/ I’m still not certain that you love me…”   Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman

The story begins at the intersection of retribution and lonely street.   Well, not exactly, but it’s close enough to justify the reference – sorry Elvis and Terry.

Author T. Marie Benchley proudly proclaims that she hails from a family that included early exposure to classic literature as part of her upbringing.   Perhaps her reliance on excessively flowery language can be attributed to the literature?   The reviewer read an advanced copy/uncorrected proof; therefore, no direct quotes will be used in this review.   Let’s hope that Ms. Benchley has engaged a skilled editor to polish up her novel because there are enough malaprops to be exorcised, or is that excised?

There are several story tracks that intertwine in the manner that is currently in fashion.   The reader is horrified by a very vengeful, angry woman on the one hand, and on the other, is saddened by the plight of a faithful, devoted wife whose husband has neglected to inform her that he’s gay and has a lover.   These tracks have some serious continuity issues.   When they are paired with several non sequitur-like statements, it’s not clear whether this is an intentional device to draw the reader’s attention or a set up for later revelations.

Oh, I neglected to mention that the devoted wife just happens to be the only child of a very rich rancher – the ranch is situated on 45,000 acres in Big Sky country.   Back at the ranch there are men who have been hounding dad to sell out and they really don’t want to take “No” for an answer.

Although the plot lines are tied together in a knot worthy of a sailor, I suggest that prospective readers pass on this one.   My copy went straight to the recycle bin.

(Not recommended.)

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   An Advance Review Copy was provided by the publisher.

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A Doggone Good Giveaway

We’ve loved the dog-related crime novels from David Rosenfelt.   We earlier reviewed both New Tricks (on December 17, 2009) and Open and Shut (December 18, 2009) and listed them both as highly recommended.   Now, Mr. Rosenfelt has a new book coming out soon, Dog Tags.   This Andy Carpenter series novel will be released on August 25, 2010 and will carry a list price of $24.99.   But we would like to give away a copy of Dog Tags for free.

The copy to be given away in this contest is an Advanced Reading Copy in pristine (A grade) condition.   Dog Tags is already rated as a 5-star book at Barnes and Noble.   Our intent is to choose a winner on Saturday, August 21, 2010 which should leave just enough time for the winner to receive the ARC on or near the book’s publication date.

Author David Rosenfelt is the former marketing president for Tri-Star Pictures.   He now lives in southern California with his family and stable of 35 dogs.   Here is a synopsis of Dog Tags:

A German Shepard police dog witnesses a murder and if his owner – an Iraq war vet and former cop-turned-thief – is convicted of the crime, the dog could be put down.   Few rival defense attorney’s Andy Carpenter’s affection for dogs, and he decides to represent the poor canine.   As Andy struggles to convince a judge that this dog should be set free, he discovers that the dog and his owner have become unwittingly involved in a case of much greater proportions than the one they’ve been charged with.   Andy will have to call upon the unique abilities of this ex-police dog to help solve the crime and prevent a catastrophic event from taking place.

Interested?   In order to enter this book giveaway, here’s all you have to do.   Just post a message here with your name and e-mail address, or send an e-mail with this information to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   (E-mail addresses will only be used to contact the winner.)   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, explain why you think a dog would make a good or great crime detective.  

The winner – whose name will be chosen at random by Munchy the cat – will be contacted by e-mail and asked to supply his/her residential mailing address ASAP.   Yes, it must be a residential (street) mailing address in the U.S. rather than a P.O. box or a business-related address.    

You have until midnight PST on Friday, August 20, 2010 to submit your entry or entries.   Good reading and good luck!

“I’ve got a thing about dogs; I am totally and completely crazy about them…  Maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with the criminal justice system, but the average dog I know is paws and shoulders above my species.”   David Rosenfelt

Note:  Dog Tags will be published by Grand Central Publishing, part of the Hachette Book Group U.S.A.   To read our earlier reviews of books by David Rosenfelt just enter his name in the SEARCH IT! box on this site and hit enter.

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Waiting for McLean Stevenson

Cakewalk: A Memoir by Kate Moses

“The byproduct of suffering, if you’re lucky, is appreciation…  My windfall has always been a sweet tooth, the gold watch that deflected the bullet aimed straight at my heart.”

I was more than 50 pages into reading a galley of Cakewalk before I realized that this is a non-fiction memoir.   At the start it reads like a novel that might have been written by Anne Tyler or Anna Quindlen, although I should have taken a clue from its overly upbeat nature.   “Mom, did you know the words ‘treat’ and ‘threat’ are separated by just one letter?”   But the tone shifted before many more pages had been turned.

Kate Moses was in first grade in 1969 and this re-telling of her life story reads like a memorial to an earlier time, the 1950’s.   It’s made all the more interesting by the fact that Moses grew up living in several places including Palo Alto, Petaluma, Sonoma, outside of Philadelphia (where the Main Line ended), Virginia and Fairbanks, Alaska.   She also had relatives in San Francisco and Dayton, Ohio (“…along every road in Ohio the corn stood high as an elephant’s eye.”)

This initially appears to be an ode to food, the many treats and meals that an overweight young girl took in growing up.   She sees a cross-country trip as “an opportunity for reunion with Howard Johnson’s coconut cake.”   And she “spent every cent I was given on candy and pink Hostess Sno Balls.”   The impression that this is all about food is given further credence by a recipe that concludes each chapter.   Yet the food talk is a cover.

“My family was totally screwed up…”

This memoir is, to a great extent, about the pain of growing up.   Moses’ parents had a very unhappy marriage.   Her father was an overly serious man and her mother was fun-loving.   It did not make for a good mix.   One fault with the telling is that Moses makes a few too many negative references to her father.   He was “a rigid bullying husband…” and a violent father who caught his wife in “the stranglehold of… marriage” due to his “brutalizing domination.”   The reader gets the point after the first couple of references.

This brings up the issue of editing.   All in all, this is an entertaining read but not so much that the typical reader will want to stick with it for 368 pages.   It could easily have been shortened by a third of its length, and there is a bit too much repetition.   Ah, and a minor point, some of Peter Frampton’s lyrics are quoted incorrectly.

“It was the year we started waiting for McLean Stevenson…”

Still, there are some very entertaining stories included in Cakewalk, some of which prove the adage that truth is stranger than fiction.   Kate’s mother fantasized about being rescued by the actor McLean Stevenson, and she eventually was arrested – or rather, detained – while visiting the White House after being caught taking something from Pat Nixon’s bathroom!

Further, if you absolutely love food more than life itself, there are plenty of intriguing descriptions here of meals and snacks.   In fact, this autobiography is gorged with tales of food consumption.   Then there are the recipes to try out.   Be sure to try the one for chocolate chip cookies!

Cakewalk will be released on May 11, 2010.   An advance review copy was provided by The Dial Press, an imprint of Random House.

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Homeward Bound

The Last Time I Saw You: A Novel by Elizabeth Berg

“So many people who go to reunions think that doing so can somehow change what happened to them.   That the person you’ve become might erase the person you were then.   But of course that doesn’t happen.   …It’s not that you can’t go home again; it’s that you never can leave.”

Elizabeth Berg, author of Home Safe and 17 other novels, has offered a perfect argument for skipping one’s next high school (and maybe college) reunion.   In The Last Time, Berg shows us that people never act the way you want them to, even on the most important of occasions.   And even sadder, we don’t act the way we want or intend to, especially when meeting representatives from our dimly-lit but well-remembered past.

For one thing, everybody tries too hard at these events.   They try to be happier, smarter, more charming or simply more relaxed within their own skins than they were decades earlier.   They rarely succeed.   One of the men in this story comes to understand that, “All of a sudden he feels sorry for everybody.   Here they all are, all these people, all these years later just…  what?   Trying, he guesses.   Just trying.”

One of the women isn’t quite sure how to react as she observes the goings on:  “It comes to her that all of the people in this room are dear to her.   As if they all just survived a plane crash or something.   All the drunks and the show-offs and the nice kids and the mean ones.   All the people she used to know and all the ones she never knew at all.   And herself, too.   She includes herself and her stingy little soul.”

Eventually, we get to see in Berg’s story that people – some people – get out of these events what they must get out of them.   They learn to either completely let go of the past or to simply grip it tighter.   What other choices are there?

“If only people were given the opportunity to behave differently at certain times of their lives!”

But this is more than a Peggy Sue Got Married story.   It is a story about men and women who get a second chance with their original crowd – a chance at reconnecting and either succeeding or failing in life.   The rich graduates worry that they didn’t spend enough time with their kids while they were growing up.   The poor graduates worry that they have no impressive titles or stories of times when they were important.   But this is not really their story…

It is primarily the story of Candy Sullivan, the once-and-still beautiful and popular girl at Whitley High School.   She has been diagnosed with one of the deadliest forms of cancer.   Candy has little time to waste but decides to attend the reunion to enjoy herself while she can.   She leaves her husband at home and flies off to the reunion, where people notice her vacant eyes.   They’re vacant because she’s pondering the question, “Is death an end or a beginning?”

Candy is who we are – or at least we identify with her because she acts like we think we would in her place.   Frightened yet emboldened, imprisoned in a disease state, facing death and yet somehow set free.   Scared and calm, ready for what’s to come.

“This diagnosis has been a kind of gift.   It’s making me look at things and see them.”

You will want to keep reading The Last Time I Saw You to find out what happens to Candy and her all-too-human classmates.   Author Berg surprises us by also making the case that you simply cannot afford to miss your next reunion.

Well done, Ms. Berg.   Life painted large and small all at once.

An advance review copy was received from Random House.   The Last Time I Saw You will be released on Tuesday, April 6, 2010.

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Angels on Earth

CC Theresa Brown

Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life and Everything in Between by Theresa Brown (HarperOne, $14.99, 224 pages)

“Death.   It casts a long shadow in this book, and in these stories.   Even when death is not present it hovers just around the corner, unbidden and unwanted, but waiting nonetheless.”

“People say, why wait?   But really they should say, don’t wait.   Listen when you can, tell the people in your life you love them…”

If doctors are the mortal gods of medicine, then nurses are its angels.   At least that’s the case put forth here by Theresa Brown, a former Tufts University Journalism professor turned Registered Nurse (R.N.).

It seems that Brown and a former close female friend were looking for meaning in their lives when they decided to go to nursing school.   Brown started at Penn but finished at Pitt.   In Critical Care, Brown pulls back the curtain on what she somewhat successfully labels the Science of Nursing.   My mother was an emergency room nurse, so much of what I read in Critical Care sounded familiar and true…  Good hearted nurses are worn down by tough-minded superiors.   These nurses rarely receive praise for medical successes but often are blamed for the failures.   And, they have to clean up stool because “doctors don’t do poop.”

Still, this seemed like a somewhat lightweight survey of a crucial field.   There are some specific problems with the telling.   Brown shows us her empathy in writing about patients like the all-too-young David, who is battling leukemia; and Irene, the Pittsburg television personality who does not realize that she’s dying until she hears her former co-workers talking about her on TV.   But as soon as we become engaged with their lives, Brown’s off describing other things – like a voluntary job change.

Brown also loses track of former patients (some of whom have likely died) and their families.   In this age of the Internet, it’s odd that she did not pursue some basic research to find out what happened to them.   Also, the book begins with multiple pages of acknowledgments which seems distracting before we get to the actual content.

A last flaw is that we do not get to know the author’s husband or daughter.   They remain on the edges of the stage.

What Brown does quite well is to convince the reader of the need to enjoy life (and other people) while good health lasts.   Today’s tiredness may be diagnosed as leukemia or some other energy-robbing disease tomorrow.

Critical Care lets you walk in the shoes of some very ill patients, both young and old.   Yet for a better overview of today’s world of medicine – as practiced on a daily basis – I recommend two books by Dr. Atul Gawande.   The most recent is Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance (2008).   The contemporary classic is Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science (2003).

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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We have a winner!

Munchy the cat just finished administering another book giveway and the lucky winner of two books is…  My name is Will (drumroll, crowd tension) Tracey Dent!   Tracey has won a brand spanking new trade paperback copy of My Name is Will, a fun and unique comedy novel from Jess Winfield, and also an advance review copy of Hardball, the newest V.I. Warshawski novel – the 13th in fact – from Sarah Paretsky.   Tracey, we know you’re a book lover so we’ll be contacting you by e-mail to get your mailing address. 

Now Munchy says, “I want to do another contest!”   OK, so we’ll post some information on another book giveaway before this weekend is up.   Who knows, we may even have two book giveaways since we’ve stored up 6 books in ye olde contest bin.

Stay tuned!

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