Tag Archives: February book releases

Love Is All There Is

Yesterday's Sun (nook book)

Yesterday’s Sun: A Novel by Amanda Brooke (Harper, $14.99, 326 pages)

How can she choose between her child and herself?

If you’ve enjoyed reading Audrey Niffenegger’s unique novels (Her Fearful Symmetry, The Time Traveler’s Wife), you will likely find this debut novel by Amanda Brooke to be extremely engaging. Yes, there’s the calm countryside near London, time travel and spirits of a sort as provided by a magical device – an ancient Aztec moondial that, on full moon nights, enables its owner to travel 18 months into the future, for an hour at a time. Our female protagonist, Holly, fears she’d be a terrible mother – like her own parent, until she uses the moondial found in her new home’s garden to discover that she will give birth to a daughter, Libby. The problem is that Holly will die while giving birth, which means that she’s faced with the choice of never getting pregnant or sacrificing her life for that of a child she will never know.

Brooke does so much with this fascinating plotline and, like Niffenegger, drags us slowly into an alternate world presenting strange and dreadful choices…

Holly felt defeated and deflated. There were three whole weeks to wait until the next full moon… and Holly felt like her life had been placed in limbo. Dealing with the emotional fallout from this latest separation from (her husband) was bad enough, but living with the nagging doubts and the growing possibility that she had seen a vision of her future – one where she had already died – was just too much to bear.

Holly, fortunately, comes to know the elderly neighbor, Jocelyn, who once lived in her old rural home and knows the powers of the moondial, and the rules (“A life for a life.”) that apply to its use.

Her hands trembled as she held aloft her death certificate. The certificate recorded the cause of her death as an aneurism… following childbirth complications. Holly took a deep breath and focused on the sensation of her blood flowing through her veins and her heart beating rapidly in her chest. She was most definitely alive.

Holly barely survives the days between full moons, when she jumps into the future for 60 minutes and sees the results of her current life choices. She comes to find that some things about the future can be changed, and some cannot. And she’s faced with the ultimate choice: continuing her own life (seeing in her time travels that her husband Tom will be destroyed at her untimely death) or giving it up for the child she’s seen and come to love more than anything.

(Holly) looked up at the moon and realized that she didn’t have to wish for anything else. She had her husband and she had Libby growing inside of her and she would have both of them with her until the day she died.

Brooke supplies an almost perfect ending that will fool readers, like me, who suspect a different conclusion has been brewing. This novel, which evolved from the author’s loss of her three-year-old son, Nathan, from cancer, is both inspired and inspiring. It’s a fine tribute to Nathan Valentine and the power of eternal love.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Magical and unputdownable.” Katie Fforde

Yesterday’s Sun was released on February 12, 2013.

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Yesterday's Sun (alt. 300)

A review of Yesterday’s Sun: A Novel by Amanda Brooke.

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The Promise of Stardust

Promise of Stardust (sharp)
The Promise of Stardust: A Novel
by debut author Priscille Sibley will be released by William Morrow on Tuesday, February 5, 2013. Here is the publisher’s synopsis of the story:

Matt Beaulieu was two years old the first time he held Ellie McClure in his arms, seventeen when he first kissed her under a sky filled with shooting stars, and thirty-three when he convinced her to marry him. Now in their late thirties, the deeply devoted couple has everything – except the baby they’ve always wanted.

When an accident leaves Elle brain-dead, Matt is devastated. Though he cannot bear the thought of life without her, he knows Elle was afraid of only one thing – a slow death. And so Matt resolves to take her off life support. But he changes his mind when he finds out that Elle is pregnant.

While there are no certainties, the baby might survive if Elle remains on life support. Matt’s mother, Linney, disagrees with his decision. She loves Elle, too, and insists that Elle would never want to be kept alive on machines. Linney is prepared to fight her son in court – armed with Elle’s living will.

Divided by the love they share, Matt and Linney will be pitted against each other, fighting for what they believe is right, and what they think Elle would have wanted, resulting in a controversial legal battle that will ultimately go beyond one family… and one single life.

Click on this link to read the first 62 pages of The Promise of Stardust:

http://priscillesibley.com/the-promise-of-stardust-excerpt/

(Place your mouse arrow near the book cover image in order to call up the page-turning arrows.)

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A review of Wild Thing: A Novel by Josh Bazell.

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Aftermath

Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice by Alisa Statman with Brie Tate (It Books, $26.99, 380 pages)

“Pardoning is God’s domain…  I forgave Sharon’s killers through His grace.   But, within, the laws of man, this forgiveness didn’t lessen the killer’s culpability or diminish my ambition to keep them in prison.”

This is an engaging and sometimes moving (and sometimes overdone) account of the life of a family that was terribly affected and afflicted by a brutal crime – the murder of Sharon Tate.   There are two names listed as authors, one being the domestic partner of Tate’s younger sister and the other her niece.   But, in fact, the book was written by four parties since it incorporates the words of Sharon Tate’s mother and father; both of whom intended to write their own memoirs.   And, to some extent, it was also written by Vincent Bugliosi as it borrows generously from his bestselling book Helter Skelter.

The one major flaw with this nonfiction work is that it was likely released at the exact wrong time.   I may not be correct (and I am not taking a side on this issue), but the political winds seem to be blowing in the direction of a moderately to dramatically less “tough on crime” approach than was exercised in the past.   This, at the least, appears to be true in California.

Restless Souls at times reads like a legal and political brief for locking them up and throwing away the key.   This is understandable as Doris Tate, Sharon’s mother, was a prominent figure in the victim’s rights movement in California and throughout the country a few decades ago.   She was recognized as one of the Thousand Points of Light by the first President Bush and worked very closely with California governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson.   Had this book been released in the period between 1980 and 1991, it would likely have drawn a great deal more attention that it’s going to get today.

A major part of the “Crusade for Justice” addressed in this account were the attempts by the Tate family to ensure that none of the Manson Family members were released from state prison.   These efforts were successful (Susan Atkins died in her cell); a fact which, ironically, takes away the weight and suspense of the telling.

Probably the most interesting of the four family member’s accounts is the one written by Sharon’s father P. J. who was in court during the Manson Family trials.   P. J.’s version of the courtroom dramas is fascinating, yet it takes a back seat to Bugliosi’s chilling version (Helter Skelter perhaps being the second best nonfiction account of a crime ever written, next to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood).   This is something that’s apparent to Statman and Tate since a surprisingly – almost shockingly – lengthy excerpt of Helter Skelter is used here to describe the murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring and the others at the home on Cielo Drive above Beverly Hills.

Astoundingly, Statman goes on to claim that Bugliosi’s book “was missing emotion” for the crime victims, something that could hardly seem to be less true based on the prosecutor’s writings and his work in court.   It’s the authors’ emotions, on full display, that make otherwise cold accounts, Helter Skelter, In Cold Blood and Joseph Wambaugh’s The Onion Field, so very stunning and moving.   These three books, once read are never, ever forgotten.

“Parents are covictims, and many of them get worse when the legal process is finished…  Now they begin to pine for their (lost) child in earnest…  They have to reconstruct their whole belief system because their assumptions about the decency of humanity, the security of social order, and justice are all shattered.”

Restless Souls serves as a needed reminder of how crime victims are often twice brutalized in our society and in the criminal justice system (having to deal with both a crime and its true aftermath in human terms), but I suspect it will mostly be read by criminal justice students as an historical account and not much more.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Restless Souls was released on February 21, 2012.

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A review of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business by Charles Duhigg.

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Crying, Waiting, Hoping

Spin: A Novel by Catherine McKenzie (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 448 pages)

McKenzie presents sensitive topics with such blatant honesty and humor that I found myself laughing out loud.

Kate Sanford is trying to hold on to her college days, scheduling parties instead of business meetings, when she is given an interview for the job of a lifetime as a music writer for her favorite magazine, The Line.   The night before the interview, to celebrate her potential life changing opportunity and as well her thirtieth birthday, she agrees to go out with her friends for a quick drink.   Still intoxicated the morning after, she bombs the interview but is offered an ironic opportunity.   Kate’s assignment is to go undercover and follow a Lindsay-Lohan-type icon…  in rehab!

Kate signs into rehab (drunk) and begins to go through the steps to recovery as she writes about the “it girl” Amber Sheppard and her “young James Bond” boyfriend, Connor.   Yet the story begins to spin as Kate befriends Amber as well as Connor’s perpetual assistant, Henry.   As Kate continues her assignment, she is challenged with perhaps the real reasons she is in rehab and the ultimate decision of whether her “dream job” is worth hurting those she has met along the way.

My head is spinning out questions, but I don’t have any answers.   I feel like they’re floating in front of me, but they haven’t taken shape.   And instead of making progress, I’m in suspended animation, waiting, hoping for something to happen, but unable to make it so.

Spin is a lighthearted, quick read full of interesting characters and believable experiences.   McKenzie presents sensitive topics with such blatant honesty and humor that I found myself at times laughing out loud.   Her characters are real, both the famous and infamous, with evident flaws but each possessing their own charm.   Everyone is on their own path of self-discovery and yield realistic and often disappointing conclusions as they deal with their addictions and shortcomings.   As the story unfolds they find that perhaps they have more in common than anticipated.

McKenzie touches upon the realism of chemical dependency.   Through her characters’ therapy discussions she presents scenarios on how individuals find themselves in these situations, how relationships are affected and how difficult it can be to continue down the path of sobriety.   She keeps the topics light through the quirkiness of her characters and with the flowing humorous dialogue throughout the novel.

McKenzie demonstrates Kate’s love of music with random references to songs that have particular meaning to her main character and provides “Kate’s Playlist” at the end of the novel.   This would have been an interesting way to perhaps introduce more of Kate’s past and further describe her family dynamics but I enjoyed the references for their simplicity.

If you are searching for a deep, life-changing novel, you will be disappointed, but if you are interested in a well-written story laden with real issues presented with quick wit and humor, this is the novel for you.   Spin would make a fabulous holiday or book club read.   I enjoyed the book from page one through to the end; therefore, this novel is…  Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Imagine if Bridget Jones fell into a million little pieces, flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and befriended Lindsay Lohan along the way, and you are beginning to grasp the literary roller coaster ride that is Catherine McKenzie’s Spin.   Filled with brutal honesty and wry humour, Spin is a story for everyone who has ever woken up hung over and thought, “Do I have a problem?   Yes – I need to find a greasy breakfast.”   And by that I mean everyone I know.   Leah McLaren, Globe and Mail Columnist, author of The Continuity Girl

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Cinnamon Girl

Spin: A Novel by Catherine McKenzie (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 448 pages)

How far would you go to get what you always wanted?

Party girl and music lover Kate Sanford comes closer than most to achieving her lifelong dream when she secures a job interview at her favorite music magazine, The Line.   The interview has the potential to be even more special, as it is slated for her 31st birthday.   However, when a friend invites her out (just for one drink) to celebrate the eve of her birthday, Kate downs a few too many – leading to a disaster the next morning.

Catherine McKenzie, in her debut novel, ably invites the reader into the story.   Just when Kate believes she has blown her opportunity, she gets a call to go on an undercover assignment for the company’s sister publication, Gossip Central, a celebrity rag.   Her task is to enter the same rehab facility as pop-phenom Amber Sheppard, “The Girl Next Door,” and produce an exclusive story that could lead to permanent employment at The Line.   The opportunity for a juicy expose gets even better when TGND’s equally dysfunctional boyfriend and James Bond portrayer, Connor Parks, enters the same rehab facility.

Things quickly get very complicated.   Does Kate herself actually need rehab?   When Amber befriends her, can so go through with the story?   Is there a more meaningful existence beyond living the life of a perpetual college student?   Can Kate get comfortable enough with herself that she can form a meaningful relationship with another person?

In rehab Kate falls for Connor’s bodyguard, Henry.   Their unlikely convergence and subsequent relationship/non-relationship/relationship form the basis for most of the second half of the book.   This is where the story either takes off or gets derailed, depending on your perspective.   McKenzie misses an opportunity to delve deeply into the pathos of the media entertainment industry and the addiction to celebrity of so many seemingly normal people.   The moral quandary as to whether Kate should write the story comes into play in the last fourth of the novel, but serves more as a mechanism to wrap up the story than a theme that’s explored.

The author could have opted to delve deeper into Kate’s behavior, background and possible addiction, but her family and past are dealt with in a cursory manner.   This oversight makes less credible any transformation in Kate at the conclusion of the story.   Several music references reveal Kate’s interests and help establish some measure of place and time but do not do much to advance the story or reveal much about her or the other characters.

What’s left is the love story which, by a process of elimination, appears to be the crux of the narrative.   Can Kate find true love?   The book leaves just enough loose ends to satisfy the reader, yet still leave us wondering.  

For readers who enjoy a light, breezy love story, this book clips along well and is satisfying.   For those who prefer to go a little deeper into some questions that gnaw at the human condition, the novel does  not go far enough.   This reviewer concludes that many will find this book enjoyable; a worthy debut effort by McKenzie.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Spin was released on February 7, 2012.   Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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A review of Spin: A Novel by Catherine McKenzie.

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Heart of a Killer

Heart of a Killer: A Thriller by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 304 pages)

Author David Rosenfelt has added another winner to his long lists of credits with his latest effort, Heart of a Killer.   This reviewer has written about two of his Andy Carpenter mystery novels.   This time out, there is a different and unlikely hero.

The main character, Jamie Wagner, is a Harvard Law School graduate working as an associate at a corporate firm whose office is located in New Jersey.   Wagner, something of a contrarian, chooses to live in Manhattan on the west side where the atmosphere is urban and enjoyable.  Pro bono cases are often assigned to attorneys who are working their way toward a partnership in the firm.   This is precisely the position Wagner is in when the story opens; however, he sees little hope for attaining partner status.

The pro bono case Wagner is working centers around a woman who pled guilty to the murder of her nasty, evil husband six years prior to the time of the story.   Sheryl has been sitting in a New Jersey prison quietly doing time as a model prisoner while her mother takes care of granddaughter Karen.   Karen has a failing heart and her health has taken a turn for the worse.   She needs a transplant or she will die.   Yes, Sheryl has herself tested and is found to be an ideal match.   The confusion around whether Sheryl has the right to donate her heart provides ample motivation for Wagner to bring his Harvard education and well-honed brief writing skills into the picture.

The mystery revolves around some very seedy and brilliant characters that lack a conscience, hence, the proliferation of deaths by nefarious means.   Rosenfelt is a master of understatement and dry wit.   He aptly displays both in Heart of a Killer.   Rather than a straightforward mystery, this one is an in-depth examination of human nature and personal values.

After three wonderful reads, this reviewer is considering delving into past works by Rosenfelt.   It’s like betting on a sure thing.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Heart of a Killer was released on February 14, 2012.   Click on this link to read the opening pages:   http://www.davidrosenfelt.com/heart-of-a-killer-first-chapter/

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