Tag Archives: best new authors

For a Dancer

Five Days Left (nook book)

Five Days Left

Five Days Left: A Novel by Julie Lawson Timmer (Putnam, $26.95, 352 pages)

At first, it wasn’t a conscious decision, keeping her illness from them. She was in denial in the beginning, as loathe to admit to herself that everything was wrong as she was to admit it to them. But then, after her diagnosis, everyone around her became so overly concerned, so insufferably attentive that she started to regret anyone knew… (I)t was infuriating to watch herself deteriorate in the eyes of the people around her. Use the word “disease” and suddenly everyone will instantly treat you like you’re ill, Mara learned, even on days you feel fine.

Five Days Left is a close to perfect debut novel from Julie Lawson Timmer, whose background is in law. This is the story of Mara Nichols, a successful lawyer, wife and mother whose life is put on hold by a diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease. Mara fights to hide her symptoms from her co-workers and family members for months and years, but eventually realizes that her body is breaking down and out-of-control; the disease is going to take her life. So Mara decides that she will commit suicide on her next birthday. The narrative begins five days before the birthday on which Mara will end it all. Or will she?

(Her death by suicide) was a dreadful thing to do to a child, a husband, to such caring parents and friends, but really, who were any of them to judge? How could they ever truly know what she had gone through? Who were any of them to say they wouldn’t have at least considered the same thing?

Timmer does an excellent job of portraying how infirmity can make a coward out of the strongest individual. Mara goes from being a life-long workaholic to becoming a virtual invalid. Once proud, she eventually simply wants everything to be over with and no longer cares about how she’ll be judged upon her self-inflicted demise. It’s a timely, unique look at the mindset of a suicidal person.

Five Days Left (kindle edition)

There’s a secondary character and story that’s not as strong, and that story is a touch unrealistic. But all in all, this is a stunning work from Timmer.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“…this impressive debut novel heralds the arrival of an extremely talented writer.” Jodi Picoult

Five Days Left is a heart-wrenching drama about a world in which there are no easy answers… This novel feels as true as life.” Christina Baker Kline

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Coming Up Next…

Five Days Left (Timmer)

A review of Five Days Left: A Novel by Julie Lawson Timmer.

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My Father’s Gun

Rules for Becoming a Legend (nook book)

Rules for Becoming a Legend: A Novel by Timothy S. Lane (Viking Adult, $26.95, 352 pages)

“The time is out of joint.” Hamlet, Act I, scene 5, line 188

Timothy S. Lane’s Rules for Becoming a Legend, released in March, is a strong debut novel. In the age of travel ball and the mistaken belief that every child is a Division 1 and/or professional prospect of some type, there are many not-so-subtle lessons contained in the pages of Rules. For those who truly do have the talent to excel at a chosen sport, the message is scarier.

In a basketball-crazed town, Jimmy “Kamikaze” Kirkus is even more talented at basketball than his father, Todd “Freight Train” Kirkus. “Freight Train,” a one-time sure thing star in the NBA, is known in his middle age as nothing more than a flop who loads trucks with Pepsi for a living.

One disaster after another descends upon the Kirkus family, creating something known to the locals as “The Kirkus Curse.” Only some of it can be traced to the actions of the characters themselves. While in life, the vicious cycle of misfortune that results from a single misdeed is all to real for many, in this novel it is taken to a close-to-unbelievable extreme.

In the midst of these sad circumstances, young Jimmy must decide for himself if it is worthwhile to pursue the path to becoming a sports legend; a journey which may lead to his ruination. In Rules, the joys of childhood are lost far too quickly.

Lane’s characters are interesting and the major themes resonate. There are high quality passages throughout the book such as, “The warmth around Genny (Todd’s wife) was delicious, and the moment he settled in next to her he was able to regain the just-below-the-surface sleepiness that was the best part of waking up….”; the end of a strong passage in which Genny suppresses her anger toward her husband, “Letting even just a little of that in would blow the hinges off the whole thing and she would suffocate…”; or, considering the meaning of Jimmy’s basketball throughout the book, the strong use of personification, “He (Todd) set the ball on the table and swept up the broken vase. The basketball watched him work.”

Lane tells the story in a sequence of never-ending flashbacks, which is understandable initially but unnecessary and/or irritating later on in the book. Despite the examples above and many other well-worded passages, the book is generally written in a fragmented manner – intentionally so it would seem, to accentuate the characters’ thoughts and circumstances. However, there are times when this is not stylistically necessary and, therefore, subject to question. Yet, neither criticism detracts from the general reader’s overall enjoyment of what is otherwise a very solid effort.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

Rules (audible audio)

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “A slam dunk of a debut… Rules has the authenticity and pathos of a great Springsteen song.” Jonathan Evison, author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel.

Dave Moyer is an educator, a former college baseball player and coach, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Black Is Black

Wendell Black, MD (nook book)

Wendell Black, MD: A Novel by Gerald Imber (Bourbon Street Books, $14.99, 412 pages)

Fans of medical-themed stories will be happy to find this one written by famed plastic surgeon Gerald Imber. Dr. Wendell Black, the central character, narrates an often-dark and sinister tale. Black is a New York City police surgeon. His credentials allow him access to crime scenes even though he’s not a sworn officer who carries a weapon.

Circumstances that seem quite ordinary place Black at the center of an international crime syndicate. His first encounter with the mayhem created by the criminals occurs on a flight to New York. A call over the public address system for a doctor on board to provide assistance brings Black to the side of an ailing passenger.

The story centers on the theme of connections, mostly centered around human friendships. The in-flight medical emergency becomes more than a one-time event. Black seeks out the help of a Central Intelligence Agency staffer who’s well placed in the organization when he realizes there’s trouble that far exceeds Black’s problem solving capabilities.

Imber provides the reader with just enough medical information to be plausible but not in an egotistical and heavy-handed way like one finds in the Kay Scarpetta novels. In this post-9/11 era tale, an awareness of terror threats forms a basic thread in the plot’s fabric.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“Imber’s debut is a fast-paced thriller with plenty of twists.” Booklist

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Fire Lake

The Lake House: A Novel by Marci Nault (Gallery Books, $16.00, 386 pages)

The Lake House (nook book)

In The Lake House, two women, generations apart, struggle with finding a true home — a structure and a place in their hearts. The older woman, Victoria Rose, is a beautiful and talented actress who chose to leave her home by Lake Nagog near Acton, MA, at the end of World War II. Victoria was escaping the smothering and predetermined life that lay ahead for her. Being a wife and mother within the confines of a wealthy and isolated community held little appeal for her. Now in her seventies, she returns to Lake Nagog to heal the deeply felt pains of loss brought on by the death of her granddaughter.

Heather Bregman, a successful 28-year-old newspaper columnist, is suffocating in her relationship with fiancé and agent Charlie. Heather is a travel writer whose adventures are exciting and challenging. She feels invisible and hardly cared for when Charlie neglects to pick her up at the airport after a long trip.

The backdrop for the intersection of the lives of Victoria and Heather is a small, closed community on Lake Nagog. Until recently, the ownership of the lovely cottages that border the lake has been passed down through generations. Now, one of the cottages is sold to an outsider to the consternation of the elderly residents. To make matters more volatile, the new owner is Heather! She has broken her engagement to Charlie and hopes to find a more stable and meaningful life along the lake.

Both Heather and Rose are outsiders of a sort. Each of them is yearning for a life that feels just right. Their efforts to fit in and settle their lives form the basis for the tale. Author Marci Nault is a master of layered detail and sentiment. She knows just when to pull back from an excess that would break the spell she has cast.

The Lake House is an excellent choice for a summer vacation read.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. “A richly textured novel about love, friendship, and second chances that spans generations.” Mary Alice Munroe, author of The Summer Girls.

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Kansas City

Every Last Secret: A Mystery by Linda Rodriguez (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 289 pages)

Poet Linda Rodriguez, who is part Cherokee and lives in Kansas City, Missouri, brings more than a bit of herself to her first mystery novel.   In many ways, it seems as though she is living a fantasy life through the story.   The main character is Marquitta Bannion, a female cop in America’s heartland – K.C., Mo.   Skeet, as she’s known by her peers, has worked her way up the ranks of the Kansas City Police Department at the cost of her marriage to a fellow officer.   To make matters worse, her dad’s tarnished reputation as a cop has shaken her faith in him.   She’s half Cherokee which makes her internal struggle even more challenging as she integrates what matters most into her maturing persona.   The Native American values Skeet learned from family are sometimes at odds with her work life.   With so much tension and disappointment haunting her, Skeet decides to move on in life.

The action takes place at a nearby small town college where Skeet has taken a job as the chief of the campus police.   Her hope for a career move away from the turmoil of big city crime fighting is shattered when the student editor of the school newspaper is found murdered.   As is to be expected, the tale centers on solving the crime.   What is not expected is the knitting our heroine uses as a way of calming and soothing her frazzled nerves.   The author is an avid knitter and her knitting references are authentic.   It makes for a charming twist to the standard mystery genre.

The underlying themes of an intergenerational struggle and life shifts sets the stage for Skeet to arrive at realizations about her priorities.   The action moves smoothly and keeps the reader’s interest.   Clearly, Ms. Rodriguez has set up the beginning of an engaging series of novels with a great ending – and the potential for a direct sequel.   Stay tuned!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

“Murder on a college campus, plenty of bad people, and all kinds of puzzles to solve.   Linda Rodriguez has written a highly enjoyable procedural introducing a rough and tender heroine, Skeet Bannion.”   Kathleen George, author of The Odds and Hideout.

Every Last Secret was released on April 24, 2012, and is available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition download.

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Maxwell’s Silver Hammer

The Burning: A Novel by Jane Casey (Minotaur Books, $15.99, 354 pages)

Here’s a mystery novel for fans of the TV show Law and Order: Criminal Intent.   Author Jane Casey has launched a new detective series featuring a young female British detective constable named Maeve Kerrigan.   Maeve yearns to prove herself; however, as the sole female in an investigative team assigned to identify and apprehend a serial killer, she has many obstacles to overcome.   Moreover, the team’s boss, Superintendent Godley, makes every effort to provide Maeve with opportunities that will allow her to advance in her career.   Being the favorite can create some serious challenges for getting along with the rest of the investigative team.

The serial killer has been nick-named The Burning Man because his victims are found amid the ashes of their bodies.   These victims were thoroughly beaten to a pulp before being torched.   The fifth victim is found but not exactly in the same condition as the prior four.   Yes, she has been burned, but no, her head has not been bashed in.   Maeve and her coworkers sift through the scant evidence in a race to find the killer before he strikes again.

Ms. Casey uses the tried and true technique of devoting chapters to individual characters.   She uses the first person narrative in different type fonts to draw the reader into the two main character’s minds and experiences.   Maeve and Louise – the best friend of the fifth victim,  are highly developed persons with a strong dedication to their own goals.

The mystery moves along at a steady pace and the reader’s never bored or overwhelmed by the action.   Having a story told from a variety of perspectives serves to heighten the drama and intrigue.   Ms. Casey’s conclusion is also a beginning for the next book in her series.   Let’s hope it’s as good as this, her second novel.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   In Europe, the title is The Burning: A Crime Novel.   “Astute, complex, layered – and very twisted.”   Lee Child

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A Perfect Read

Perfect Reader

Perfect Reader by Maggie Pouncey (Anchor; $14.95; 288 pages)

“Now the distance leads me farther on/ Though the reasons I once had are gone/ With my maps and my faith in the distance/ Moving farther on…”   Jackson Browne (“Farther On”)

Maggie Pouncey is bringing back language, slow and careful language.   It’s the type of language that began to disappear in the 1960s.   The language that the daughter of a college president might have grown up hearing.

One gave the dog a sop, not a treat or bite; one woke not at dawn but at sparrow fart, and wore not party clothes but finery.   Now it was like speaking Yiddish, or some other dying language; soon there would be nobody around to talk to.

Perfect Reader is a story of a not-so-young 28-year-old woman who returns to her home town after her father’s death.   The town is Darwin, Massachusetts which daughter Flora Dempsey has returned to from, presumably, Boston.   Flora’s father was the president of Darwin College (as the author’s father was the president of Amherst College), and also a noted literary critic, professor and sometime poet.

Flora is a rootless person who has not yet decided what to do with her self, her life.   She’s disoriented coming back to the small college town built on “liberal well-meaningness”; it’s a town more than a bit reminiscent of Davis, California.   But then she felt no more at home working in the city.

Flora’s parents had been divorced many years before and she had made a career out of avoiding contact with her father.   Now the time for avoidance has passed.   She must handle his funeral arrangements, and everything her father owned – his home, his writings, his books – has been left to her.   This is not the least of things, as Flora learns that her dad had a lover, a female instructor from the college.   The woman wants to be close to Flora, but Flora just wants to isolate herself; she wants people to leave her alone while she ponders her next steps.   In a strange way she envies her father’s escape from the people who trouble you:  “The dead left you alone, but it was the living who filled you up with loneliness.”

Flora felt her life shrinking.   The smallness of the table provided a good metaphor.   No room for other people.   Soon her life would cease to be a table; it wouldn’t even be a cocktail table.   It would be a solitary chair, hardbacked and wooden…

This likely sounds depressing but in the telling – a careful and precise telling – it is not.   The Boston Globe called it, “(An) exquisitely observed drama.”   This is because it comes down to the words, the language, which makes the reader feel like he or she has picked up a novel from the wrong decade, if not century.

It is, however, slow.   This is something that some readers will likely have a problem with but it is deliberately slow.   The author has said that, “so many of the books I love are slow.”   If and when the novel is made into a film, there will be no car chases, no gun battles, no slaps or loud confrontations.   It will be a moody movie (like The Hours) that will be loved or hated.

I loved this very contemplative story set around a basic theme.   Does a child, even an adult child, grow up by escaping her past or embracing it?   Whose life is it anyway and, presuming it’s your own, why do we pay such a high price for not fulfilling the expectations of others?

Although Flora’s father has passed (and Flora hates that people will use any word in the English language but dead) she must nevertheless battle her mother’s expectations, and the fact that she fails to heed her mother’s advice.   In one prime scene, Flora’s mom suggests that she volunteer somewhere in order to provide “some structure” to her life.   “How wonderfully helpful, Mom.   How sage…” responds Flora who is tired and “regressing, moving backward, growing down.”

Yes, our protagonist is not someone who everyone will like or relate to.   She’s brittle and angry and exhausted but, two years short of her third decade on this world, she’s reached the point of decision-making.   Who and what is she going to be in her life?

Perfect Reader is not for everyone.   For me, it was close to a perfect read.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Perfect Reader Pouncey

This book was purchased by the reviewer.   “Maggie Pouncey’s Perfect Reader is wry, vivid, loving and exuberantly BOOKISH.   I enjoyed it tremendously.”   Meg Wolitzer, author of The Uncoupling: A Novel.  

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Proof of Heaven

On October 10, 2011, I posted a review of the forthcoming book, Proof of Heaven: A Novel, by Mary Curran Hackett.   This debut novel will not be released until November 1, 2011, but you can begin reading it now; just click on the link below to read the first chapter:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/67775383/PROOF-OF-HEAVEN-by-Mary-Curran-Hackett

Joseph Arellano

 

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Heaven

Proof of Heaven: A Novel by Mary Curran Hackett (William Morrow; $14.99; 336 pages)

Grief never ceases to transform.

proof-of-heaven

Mary Curran Hackett has drafted a stirring and remarkable, life-affirming novel.   This is the story of a very sick and courageous five-year-old boy, Colm, who suffers from a rare disease that will kill him within two years.   He knows this and wants simply to see the father he’s never known before he departs this earth.

Colm’s mother, Cathleen, is an intensely religious Irish-American Catholic woman who will do anything to extend her son’s life, although she knows that “if her son were a dog, they would have put him out of his misery already.”   This includes taking him on a pilgrimage to the Abbey of San Damiano in Italy in the hope that Colm will be cured by a miracle.

Colm was one of a kind.

Colm’s disease is idiopathic, meaning that its origins and treatments are unknown to the medical world.   Colm suffers strokes  which put him into a condition of appearing to be dead before he returns to consciousness.   Colm believes that he has literally died on at least one or two occasions, and comes to accept that there’s nothing waiting for him after his death.

Colm (pronounced “calm”) is quite reminiscent of the character Tim Farnsworth in the novel The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris.   Farnsworth comes to give up hoping that the medical profession will save him, and he remains – despite having a wife and family – ultimately alone in his struggle against a unique, crippling disease.   Colm also thinks of himself as being alone, despite the smothering efforts of Cathleen to protect him, until a potential savior – a physician – arrives on the scene.

Dr. Gaspar Basu is a man who lost a son at an early age in India, and comes to love Colm as a type of replacement for his late son Dhruv.   Dr. Basu also comes to fall in love with Cathleen.   And so, he installs a pacemaker in Colm’s chest – in the hope of preventing further near-death experiences for Colm and agrees to accompany Colm and Cathleen on their journey to Italy.   Dr. Basu also joins with Colm’s uncle in supporting Colm’s efforts to find his father who was last known to be living as a musician in Los Angeles.

…by Colm’s seventh birthday he hadn’t had any other near-death experiences after leaving Italy.   To Cathleen it was a sign that God was answering some of her prayers.   Colm may not have been physically healed, but at least he hadn’t died again.   Perhaps the worst was behind him.   Perhaps the miracle took…

proof-of-heaven-rear

The other details of the story should be left for the reader to discover.   Kudos to Hackett for presenting a real world, gritty, yet soaring tale in which humans must make their own choices between hope and hopelessness (in a spiritual sense).   And rest assured that  once you’ve finished reading Proof of Heaven you may well look at life and its inevitable conclusion in a new way.

He had loved her.   She had loved him.

It was enough.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. 

“…it was the tale of one boy’s search for heaven that brought me to tears.   I loved this book.”   Shelley Shepard Gray, author of Christmas in Sugarcreek

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