Tag Archives: May book releases

On the Precipice

the-precipiceThe Precipice: A Novel (Mike Bowditch Series) by Paul Doiron (Minotaur Books, $26.99, 336 pages; Minotaur, $9.99, 416 pages)

The Paul Doiron/Mike Bowditch thriller series continues with The Precipice, Doiron’s sixth novel, and it is as fresh as ever.  In this installment, Bowditch, a game warden in Maine, is called to search for two missing female college students on the Appalachian Trail.  The story moves quickly, but Doiron’s pacing is excellent.

Initially, it appears as if Bowditch has made a mistake in judgment and let the killer go.   Then, a local ne’er do well distracts lawmen from their quest for the truth.  Next, Bowditch’s girlfriend, Stacey, who works for the Department of Natural Resources, joins him in the search. Then she goes missing.

In a frenzy of fear, locals blame the fate of these young women on a rash of recent coyote sightings.  As the two come closer to the truth, the story moves beyond the thriller manhunt and takes a deeper look into the human psyche.  The Precipice delves into the psychology of fear, the propensity for people to make assumptions and rush to judgment, human sexuality, and religion.

There are few stories that don’t tackle good versus evil in some manner, if not unintentionally.  When a whodonit takes on broader themes and pulls it off, it is worth the read.  Writer Doiron has found his voice.  And for his fans, there’s more good news.  The next installment, Widowmaker, is already in the works.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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China Boy

leavers

The Leavers: A Novel by Lisa Ko (Algonquin Books, $25.95, 352 pages)

“There’s no heavier burden than a great potential.”   Charles Schulz

Sometimes a writer can outthink herself.   I found this to be the case with The Leavers: A Novel.   The central character is a boy from China who is adopted by American parents.  Deming Gou’s mother, who is an undocumented immigrant in New York City, one day leaves home to go to work at a nail salon but never returns.   Subsequently Deming – who becomes Daniel Wilkinson, is adopted by white parents, both professors at a small private college in upstate New York.

Daniel suddenly becomes a stranger in a strange land.   Used to the hustle and bustle and diversity of the big city, he must learn to survive in a quiet community where he is The Other; being Chinese, he is known to his Anglo classmates as Special No. 2 (a selection from a Chinese menu).

For so long, he had thought that music was the one thing he could believe in: harmony and angular submelody and rolling drums, a world neither present nor past, a space inhabited by the length of a song.   For a song had a heart of its own, a song could jumpstart or provide solace; only music could numb him more thoroughly than weed or alcohol.  

Daniel is a screw-up but a fascinating character.   He plays electric guitar in a rock band, but keeps dropping out of the group even though success is on the horizon.  He has a problem with gambling (stereotypically) and loses thousands of dollars borrowed from friends.   He drops out of college and ruins multiple chances to go to school at the university where his adopted parents teach.   His story is interesting and linear, and it builds momentum, until…

One third of the way through the book, author Ko suddenly turns her attention to Polly Gou, Deming/Daniel’s birth mother, and transports us to China.   The telling now comes to a halt and the air seems to go out of the story.   Polly was deported from the U.S. and winds up with virtually nothing in her homeland, but somehow goes from rags to riches.   It seems improbable, and Ko spends too much time painting a melodramatic – over-the-top – account of Polly’s pre-deportation period spent in a detention camp in Texas.   The details are highly unpleasant.   Although it’s an attempt to get the reader to identify with, and side with, Gou, for me it had the reverse effect — making me want to put the book down.

The primary issue is that the straight ahead story of Daniel Wilkinson becomes lost and diluted by the long and winding, twisty, road that’s Polly Gou’s story.   It’s as if Ko attempted to meld two different half-novels together.   It didn’t work. The initial story – the fascinating tale of an adoptee attempting to find himself – was dumped for an adjunct creation.   (Basically, Gou’s story subsumes Wilkinson’s.)

Of course, once the final third of the book arrives, Ko has found a means of bringing Daniel Wilkinson and Polly Gou together again after many years.   It’s too clever, and by then I didn’t care.

The Leavers had great potential which sadly goes unfulfilled.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

The Leavers, a debut novel, will be released on May 2, 2017.

 

 

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The Maine Line

Recent Books in a Sleuth Series Worth Reading

Bone Orchard

The Bone Orchard: A Novel by Paul Doiron (Minotaur Books, $15.99, 319 pages)

I needed a shower and a hot meal but without a vehicle, I was effectively stranded. At the very least, I knew the Bronco required a new windshield. I hadn’t checked to see what other damage the shotgun pellets had inflicted on my prized possession.

Mike Bowditch, a twenty-seven-year-old former Maine game warden, is now a fishing guide. Mike can’t let go of his warden training, instincts and love of the outdoors. This narrative presents the next phase in his character development by author Paul Doiron. The fifth book of a series, this installment smoothly takes the reader along on a fast-paced adventure in the Maine woods.

Bone Orchard back cover

Kathy Frost, Mike’s mentor in the warden service, becomes embroiled in troubles brought on by her actions in the line of duty. Mike knows his loyalty lies with Kathy despite some doubts cast by a government inquiry and the threats posed by a band of renegades who were friends of a man Kathy killed. Ultimately, Mike has to make a choice for his life path that reflects his maturation under pressure.

Well recommended.

The Precipice

The Precipice: A Novel by Paul Doiron (Minotaur Books, $15.99, 329 pages)

I found Caleb Maxwell in the sitting room, warming his hands over the wood stove. His mind seemed elsewhere. He flinched when I spoke his name, as if he hadn’t heard me walk up behind him.

This time around Mike Bowditch has rejoined the Maine Warden Service. His life is back on track, complete with girlfriend Stacy Stevens. Readers are treated to a well-crafted tale full of back-woods characters and facts about trekking across Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness. Author Doiron aptly displays his knowledge of the region.

Two lost hikers are the focus of an all-out search by the ranger service and volunteers. A combination of high tech equipment and down-to-earth basic outdoors skills are needed to solve the mystery of their disappearance. This episode in Mike’s journey through life and the Maine woods involves Stacy and her father. Readers will be quickly turning the pages as they realize the need for Mike’s quick wits and physical strength to bring the tale to a good ending.

Well recommended.

Note: Paul Doiron infuses the characters and locales in his series with an authenticity that allows the reader to enjoy an up close and personal armchair adventure. The Maine woods are not your average camping destination. Doiron avoids romanticizing his stories by grounding them with the harsh reality that comes with the picture postcard images we often attribute to unspoiled natural preserves. His characters behave in ways that touch on the choices we all must make in life, even if we are in a suburban development home or a secure highrise apartment. These books teach and entertain, and are well worth reading.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

The Precipice was released in paperback and trade paperback forms on May 31, 2016.

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Mercedes Bends

tollling of MB amazon

The Tolling of Mercedes Bell: A Novel by Jennifer Dwight (She Writes Press, $18.95, 416 pages)

This tale that spans 10 years is crafted to fit the locale, the San Francisco Bay Area/East Bay, the era, the 1980s to the 90s, and the human foibles of a rich array of characters carefully structured and revealed by debut author Jennifer Dwight. More a novel than a mystery, The Tolling of Mercedes Bell lulls readers by the rhythmic pace that is the unfolding of a new life for recently-widowed Mercedes and her seven-year-old daughter, Germaine.

Mercedes is an emotionally fragile, yet stubborn quasi paralegal. Her drunkard husband’s single car crash has left her penniless and in desperate need of a job. She and Germaine leave a rental house in Piedmont to settle into a rental cottage in an undesirable part of Oakland. Author Dwight has obviously frequented the areas she describes in minute detail. Coincidentally, my wife lived just blocks from the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland where Mercedes buys her newspapers and she vouched for the authenticity of the writing.

tolling of mercedes bell

The biggest shift from the minor key of the musical score, yes this is movie material, comes when Mercedes has realized her goal of steady employment at a law firm. Given the era, the notion of a tall, handsome single lawyer becoming infatuated with her is no surprise; however, what follows is eye opening to say the least!

Long-time residents of northern California may have an advantage in figuring out the conclusion.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on May 3, 2016.

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All In the Family

a game sh paper

A Game for All the Family: A Novel by Sophie Hannah (William Morrow, $26.99, 447 pages)

By now, if all were well and this were a normal weekday morning, Ellen would be in her forest-green school uniform and on the bus, almost at Beaconwood. Alex, in torn jeans and a sweatshirt, would be asleep on a train from Berlin to Hamburg, en route to his next German concert.

What genre designation is appropriate for this book? Firstly, there never is a “normal” or even an ordinary day portrayed within its covers. We jump right into the rambling narrative of Justine, a woman who has recently left her demanding career in London to move to the country with her husband, Alexander, and teen daughter Ellen.

Alexander is a well-respected opera singer who travels frequently to venues around Europe; therefore, his home base can be almost anywhere. Ellen has been enrolled in Beaconwood, a private school that bears no resemblance to the one she attended in London. Justine hopes to fulfill her fantasy of Doing Nothing, as she like to announce to anyone who will listen.

Some of the chapters are set in an alternate typeface that designates them as the work of a writer who is composing a novel about a family with some bizarre issues. Perhaps it is a work of fiction, or even a thinly disguised expose of an actual family in serious need of an intervention.

a game sh paper back

The plot skips around and has a jerky home-movie made in the 1950s quality. There are myriad odd occurrences and very strange characters that pop in and out of the tale. Justine is the subject of menacing anonymous phone calls that include death threats. One might wonder what has happened to set previously stable author Sophie Hannah on this wild, unpleasant and twisted ride.

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Woman with a Secret: A Novel by Sophie Hannah (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 416 pages)

Ms. Hannah’s prior work, Woman with a Secret, also suffers from a choppy beginning and a bit of confusing plot shifts. Here too are the trademark typeface shifts that she has employed in past novels. Woman with a Secret needs a list of characters to assist the reader in deciphering the multiple perspectives depicted throughout the tale. The husband and wife team of police detectives featured in the plot do not share a last name and their co-workers are numerous to say the least.

This time around the main character, Nicki Clements, is a woman who yearns for excitement in her “normal” life in the suburbs of London. She’s a wife, a mother, a sister and a daughter whose past haunts her. Damon Blundy, a caustic columnist for the Daily Herald, is found murdered with his mouth taped shut with tape. Nicki receives countless sinister emails from a person she cannot identify. Somehow she is linked to the murder. Her first-person narrative and the third-person narrative from the other characters’ perspective give the reader the feeling of being spun around with a blindfold in place. Once the blindfold is removed, it’s anybody’s guess what lurks in Nicki’s past and why she’s linked to Damon Blundy’s death.

If by now you are wondering what’s actually happening in Woman, I’m not going to tell you as it would take more space in this review than I’m willing to give.

Woman is recommended, for ardent Sophie Hannah readers; everyone else, no.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

A Game for All the Family was released on May 24, 2016.

Woman with a Secret was released in trade paperback form on April 12, 2016.

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Sounding the Alarm

tolling of mercedes bell

The Tolling of Mercedes Bell: A Novel (She Writes Press, $18.95, 416 pages)

In the style and spirit of P.D. James, author Jennifer Dwight captures the tough terrain of a psychological thriller. Presented through an unflinching panoramic vision, the reader soon is pulled into the harrowing six-year journey of Mercedes Bell, a thirty-four-year-old paralegal; a recent widow with a four-year-old daughter. She soon finds what she believes is her dream come true. This award winning book novel lays the groundwork for its shocking, blood-curdling climax with a careful, meticulously crafted build-up of subtle clues.

After the midpoint in the narrative, when the plot reaches a crescendo following an accumulation of very subtle descriptions foreshadowing doom, we are still treated to vivid emotional imagery:

she was trapped into a reality, as if she had stepped into an Escher illustration where the stairs that seemed to go up really went down; where the doors that seemed to open to the outside really opened inward, into dark places of suspicion and fear.

tollling of MB amazon

This is a wonderful page-turner, with a number of of unpredictable subplots. I loved even the dastardly characters because I felt I could understand their insecurities and fears! In summary, this is a wonderful and astonishing page-turner and debut novel.

Highly recommended.

Diana Y. Paul

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on May 3, 2016.

Diana Y. Paul is the author of Things Unsaid: A Novel. You can read more of her entertainment and cultural reviews at the Unhealed Wound blog:

http://unhealedwound.com/

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Curiously Charming

Curious Charms

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper: A Novel by Phaedra Patrick (Mira, $24.99, 331 pages)

Arthur felt his heart dip. He hoped that she wouldn’t tell him about her husband. He didn’t want to trade stories of death. There seemed a strange one-upmanship among people who had lost spouses.

They talked about their loved ones as if they were objects. Miriam would always be a real person to him. He wouldn’t trade her memory like that.

Arthur Pepper is a mild-mannered British pensioner whose wife, Miriam, passed away a year earlier. Arthur has built a solitary life structured on keeping a schedule, tidying his small house and intermittently hiding from Bernadette, a well-meaning widow from across the street who brings him home-baked pies. Lucy and Dan, Arthur’s grown children, are distant from him, both geographically in the case of Dan and emotionally in the case of Lucy.

At this one-year anniversary, Arthur decides it is time to go through Miriam’s personal possessions – clothes, makeup, shoes, etc. He reaches into one of her boots to check for anything that might be hidden deep inside. To his amazement, Arthur’s hand closes around a heavy metal object, which proves to be a gold charm bracelet. As the book’s title announces, this is the beginning of an adventure for Arthur.

Author Phaedra Patrick has used a somewhat ordinary premise to create one of the most enduring and touching tales this reviewer has read. Although the physical book is only 331 pages in length, the story between its covers contains a series of encounters for Arthur Pepper that require and demand his emotional strength and willingness to be open to a shift in perspective regarding his 40-year marriage to Miriam.

Each of the disparate characters portrayed by Ms. Patrick evolves into a fully developed and believable person. She does not rely on gimmicks or magic to provide her reader with an enlightening experience. Moreover, the phrase “you can’t judge a book by its cover” takes on multiple meanings as Arthur discovers the Miriam he never knew.

curious charms alt cover

Perhaps this reviewer’s similar age to Arthur may have contributed to the resonance and warmth felt for the situations and challenges he faces. Regardless, the tears that fell as the book came to its conclusion were produced by writing that reaches the emotions of a reader, regardless of age or gender.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“Eccentric, charming and wise, this will illuminate your heart.” Nina George, author of The Little Paris Bookshop.

This book was released on May 3, 2016.

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