Tag Archives: Atria Books

New York State of Mind

The Widow of Wall Street: A Novel by Randy Susan Meyers (Atria Books, $26.00, 352 pages)

widow of wall street

As with The Murderer’s Daughters, The Widow of Wall Street transports the reader into situations that few people experience.  Author Randy Susan Meyers  maintains her running theme of human frailty in this, her fourth novel.

A bitter opening chapter sends the tale to nearly the end of its long and treacherous timespan, from August 1960 to 2009.  Author Meyers has taken the horrific scandal that was the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme and reworked it into an up close and personal morality piece that provides raw emotion and insight into the lives of her fictional characters.  While the general premise of the telling closely mirrors the real life front page story, the details that are specific to Meyer’s characters are of her own invention.

Phoebe has a better than ordinary life living on a nicer street in Brooklyn.  She’s pretty and doesn’t look like the rest of her Jewish family.  At age fifteen Phoebe has become smitten with Jake Pierce who has just turned eighteen.  Jake’s family is down the economic ladder from Phoebe’s.  Jake is ambitious, agressive and determined to get ahead.

As the chapters unfold, the pace of the tale quickens.  Phoebe and Jake’s life as a married couple in New York has its up and downs.  Jake is clearly obsessed with making money and Phoebe feels she has been relegated to a boring housewife life.  Jake is a risk-taker and he lacks the sort of empathy that would temper his personal drive.  Consistent with the Bernard Madoff scenario, Jake borrows money from his wife’s family, which as we know puts them at jeopardy of being his victims.

Author Meyers does an excellent job of depicting her characters.  Jake is hard edged and deluded, as a Ponzi scheme boss must be to maintain the illusions he creates.  Phoebe, for the most part, lacks the fortitude and willingness to see past the glittering life she leads as the scheme grows and grows.

While the tale is not original, the writing is superb.  Readers will wonder at the lives led by the super rich.  It’s like being behind the scenes of the pages of People magazine.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

The Widow of Wall Street was released on April 11, 2017.

 

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Songs in the Key of Life

small-admissions

Small Admissions: A Novel by Amy Poeppel (Emily Bestler Books/Atria, $26.00, 358 pages)

I was anticipating this book to be a downsized version of The Admissions, an earlier-released novel by Meg Mitchell Moore about the pressures of getting a high school senior daughter – one living in Danville, California, into an elite college.  The Admissions was a funny and entertaining book, but it was also loaded with valuable information for real-life parents on how to attack the knotty college admissions process.

Small Admissions focuses on parents attempting to get their children admitted into a highly competitive pre-school/elementary school in New York City.  While it’s also humorous, I found it to be overly light – both in the manner in which it’s written and in the lack of substantive, useful information.  I expected more of the latter since the author previously “worked in the admissions office of a prestigious private school” in NYC.

On the plus side, this is a relaxing read – like watching a family comedy on network TV, or a film on Lifetime – and Poeppel occasionally gets off a good line: “Happiness is not a zero-sum game.  It’s the only case in which the resources are limitless.”  You may get better mileage and satisfaction than I did.  (Perhaps.)

i-liked-my-life-amazon

I Liked My Life: A Novel by Abby Fabiaschi (St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 272 pages)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is an honest-to-goodness ghost story.  Madeline (Maddy) Starling is a happy housewife and mother.  She has a successful husband, Brady, and a great teenage daughter, Eve.  And then, suddenly, Maddy is gone – by suicide.  This might be the end of the story, but it’s just the beginning as Maddy sticks around as a ghost; one who can observe what goes on with Brady, Eve, and other formerly-important figures in her life.  She also has the power to implant thoughts in their heads – such as the notion that Brady needs to find a new spouse to take care of him and Eve.

Author Fabiaschi, in this debut novel, makes good use of the notion that people tend to feel the presence of a deceased person after his or her passing.  Yes, there’s a touch of the plot used in the 1990 film “Ghost,” but the overlap is minimal.  And she writes well in a ghostly voice:

“Everything in our house looked perfect, which was awesome when I thought everything was perfect, but disturbing now that I know the truth.  It’s like we lived on a stage.”

And:

“Perhaps we all offer what we can, until we can’t, and then our loved ones step up or have others step in.  Perhaps death exists to challenge the people left behind.”

In her ghostly existence, Maddy finds that she’s on a timetable.  There’s only so much time to complete what she needs to get done – via earthly creatures, before her powers erode and she heads for her final destination.

i-liked-my-life-back

Surprisingly, Fabiaschi sets up an ending that we can see coming from hundreds of pages away.  Except that the book does not end that way.  Well played!

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

Small Admissions was published on December 27, 2016.

I Liked My Life was released on January 21, 2017.

early-decision

Note: Another novel that deals in a semi-factual way (“Based on a true frenzy!”) with the college admissions process is Early Decision by Lacy Crawford.

 

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The Sound and the Furry

The Sound and the Furry (nook book)

The Sound and The Furry: A Chet and Bernie Mystery by Spencer Quinn (Atria Books, $25.00, 311 pages)

And then we were gliding over the water, watery sounds and swishing all around me. How lovely! I’d no idea being in a boat was so wonderful! Plus the bow was obviously the best place to be, just like the shotgun seat. I sat up even straighter, gazing straight ahead, missing nothing. Chet, the natural born sailor: what a life!

Chet and Bernie are back on the trail. This sixth episode finds them in the deep South on the hunt for a missing man. To say that his family is colorful is an understatement.

The Sound & the Furry (audible audio edition)

Chet, the very large canine member of the Little Detective Agency, narrates the mystery. He provides his usual interpretation of Bernie Little’s work as the human half of the agency.

Each book is the series has an underlying theme. The Sound and The Furry features cool jazz references throughout.

Well recommended.

The Cat, the Devil and Lee Fontana (nook book)

The Cat, The Devil and Lee Fontana by Shirley Rousseau Murphy and Pat J.J. Murphy (William Morrow, $19.99, 320 pages)

Fans of the Joe Grey talking cat series by Ms. Murphy will enjoy this spin-off featuring Misto the elusive member of the clan in Molena Point. The tale begins with a flashback, a prequel of sorts. Misto is the main feline and Lee Fontana is an aged bank robber out on parole. The Devil is punishing Lee’s soul as collection on the time Lee’s grandpa bested him.

The setting is outside of Los Angeles in the farmlands near Blythe, an isolated part of California. Lee is paroled to work on a farm. He has many challenges that keep pulling him back to a life of crime. With the Devil appearing in the mix, Misto stays busy taking care of Lee.

The closing scenes of the book open up many possibilities for Ms. Murphy and husband Pat to develop as this new series unfolds.

Well recommended.

Dog Butts and Love (nook book)

Dog Butts and Love. And Stuff Like That. And Cats: Cartoons by New York Times Bestseller Jim Benton (NBM, $13.99, 96 pages)

Now it’s time for a change of pace, a slim volume that would not have drawn this reader’s attention on the shelf of a bookseller. The red cover festooned with conversation bubbles emitting from a wildly acrobatic drawing of a loudmouthed dog is quirky. Inside the pages are adult web comics that have been posted on Reddit. By “adult” I mean twisted, brutally honest and laugh out loud comics. Some are single page pictures and others are laid out in a series of panels.

earth jim benton

not a robbery

Jim Benton, the cartoonist, provides perspective shifts, shoots holes in serious issues and generally expresses his thoughts without reservation. This book is the perfect gift for someone who needs to lighten up!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

The cartoons by Jim Benton are examples of his “unique perspective” humor.

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The Sound and the Furry

A review of The Sound and the Furry: A Chet and Bernie Mystery by Spencer Quinn (author of Dog On It), and more!

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The Comfort of Lies

The Comfort of Lies: A Novel by Randy Susan Meyers (Washington Square Press, $16.00, 352 pages)

Comfort of Lies (paper)

Not for the first time, Juliette wished she found solace in alcohol. It was a shame that chocolate and sugar didn’t induce sleep.

Yesterday at 3:40 a.m., I read the last page of The Comfort of Lies. Mind you, this is not a mystery or a thriller; rather, the tale is a thoughtful blend of characters whose lives are forever bound by deceit and truth. Author Meyers allows the reader more breathing space in this, her second novel. The Murderer’s Daughters, also reviewed on this site, offered up overwhelming sadness in the first few chapters. The sadness was so intense that this reviewer was reluctant to keep reading. Fortunately, the rest of the book was gratifyingly rewarding which offset the initial feelings.

In The Comfort of Lies, three women, Tia, Juliette and Caroline, are connected by a little girl – Honor/Savannah. Tia is the youngest and she’s single; Juliette is the oldest and married to Nathan; while Caroline is a doctor and married to Peter. Tia’s year-long affair with Nathan produces baby Honor who is adopted by Caroline and Peter who rename her Savannah.

The relationships revealed above are far more complicated than might appear at first glance. Each of the characters has secret lies known only to themselves and they have lies they tell each other. The underlying theme of neediness and wanting comes just short of distaste. Meyers knows how to temper her message in a way that allows the reader to view all sides of the relationships in the story. There are also class differences among the families whose lives are lived in the areas surrounding Boston, Massachusetts. Each neighborhood plays a part in their lives as does the food they eat and the holidays they celebrate.

comfort-of-lies-back-cover

Everyone makes choices in life but not everyone realizes the consequences of the choices. While the story line is not new, the depth of understanding and appreciation of feelings held by her characters make Randy Susan Meyers an outstanding writer.

The Moving Finger writes; and
having writ,
Moves on: nor all the Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a
Line.
Nor all they Tears wash out a Word
of it.

Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the poem The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 1859.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “I devoured this big-hearted story. Meyer’s wit and wisdom shine through…” J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine: A Novel.

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Power To The People

Stillpower: Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life by Garrett Kramer (Atria Books/Beyond Words, $22.00, 191 pages)

Stillpower (nook book)

This slender book that promises assistance with sports and life seems at first glance to be just another guide to success in life. It is more than that. Author Garret Kramer has been a businessman, sports coach and motivational speaker. His years of experience have been distilled into a credo of sorts that he defines as:

Stillpower n. The clarity of mind to live with freedom and ease; the inner source of excellence; the opposite of willpower.

Kramer uses scenarios and vignettes from his days with sports figures to illustrate the principles of stillpower. His first person narrative delivered in a down-to-earth conversational tone is reassuring. Kramer can be a bit chatty and redundant; however, the message bears repeating. Sports and life are really the same. Games compress time and physical effort, whereas life can move along at a painfully slow pace or rush at you. Having a game plan or, in this case a mindset, increases the chance for a satisfying outcome.

So, the next time you feel the urge to provide guidance or discipline, please understand that what comes out of your mouth is much less significant than the level of mental functioning from which the words are spoken.

The somewhat self-deprecating approach Kramer uses can be slightly off-putting. He means well and has a mighty list of clients and successes. References to Zen and the inspirational quotes that begin each chapter enhance his message. Practicing the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is a similarly-sized volume. They can be complementary additions to a mindful reader’s book collection.

Ultimately, we have no ability to control the actions of others, but we all possess the potential to understand that these actions have no ability to control us.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Stillpower was released on June 5, 2013.

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Stillpower (preview)

A review of Stillpower: Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life by Garrett Kramer.

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