Tag Archives: May book releases

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.

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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

arthur pepper amazonThe 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.

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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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Down the Drain

Beer-Money-Cover

Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss, & The Decline of a Detroit Dynasty by Frances Stroh (Harper, $25.99, 336 pages)

“The house (my father had purchased in New York City when I was six) and most of its contents would soon be gone, just as the brewery was. We’d somehow allowed ourselves to be pinned into place by these things; and in our search for freedom, some of us had self-destructed.”

Despite the title, this poor little rich girl memoir offers no insight into the brewing industry. That’s because Frances Stroh, a one-time partial heir to billions of Stroh Brewery dollars – all of which vanished into thin air, was far removed from the family’s management (and mismanagement) of the company. As with most of these memoirs, Frances did not realize early on how rich her family was. In her bored teen and early adult years she carelessly used and abused alcohol and drugs. And as a grown-up she learned to mourn the fortune she would never acquire.

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However, the rich are different. Even as Frances writes about Stroh’s going down the drain, she makes sure to inform the reader that she flies first class; she lives in a fine abode in San Francisco. And when her spendthrift brother came to visit her in The City, he’d rent out entire floors of swank hotels for parties and feast on the best food and drink from room service.

Stroh’s was a “beer giant… in the eighties and nineties…” But Frances has no explanation for the Detroit company’s rapid downfall other than to admit, “we’d simply blown it.” Indeed.

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Beer Money is a pointless, meaningless tale of privileged denial.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Note: According to Forbes magazine, the Stroh Brewery Company blew through $9 billion in profits. That’s a lot of beer money.

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A Noble Life

James Madison Lynne Cheney

James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney (Penguin Books, $18.00, 576 pages)

Every law student begins his or her studies by reading the case of Marbury v. Madison, in which the U.S. Supreme Court invoked its right to strike down governmental actions which violate the law. As James Marshall strongly stated, “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” It was a decision that the then-defendant and Secretary of State James Madison – later the fourth president of the U.S. – was to disagree with: “This makes the judiciary department paramount in fact to the legislature, which was never intended and can never be proper”

The average person is not likely familiar with the life and political career of president Madison, something which is remedied by reading James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney. Cheney’s book builds a fine case for the greatness of the man known as the “Father of the (U.S.) Constitution.”

He had used his remarkable gifts in one of the most important ways a man could, by playing a key role – the key role, one might say – in creating a framework for laws and establishing institutions that would secure liberty and happiness for generations (of Americans) to come.

Madison may not have been as charismatic or attractive a figure as others of his time, such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, or Thomas Jefferson, but he was clearly – along with Jefferson – one of the most intelligent humans alive at the time. Madison was to join with Jefferson in giving birth to a new form of democratic government.

Each was probably the brightest person the other ever knew, and both were well schooled, giving them a vast fund of common learning on which to draw as they talked and planned. Both continued to study throughout life and considered books of mighty importance. Each was known to buy them whether he had ready cash or not.

It was the team of Madison and Jefferson – as Cheney clearly details in her account – that was largely responsible for creating the Constitution of the United States. And Madison, who was initially opposed to the Bill of Rights, was later to play a key role in its enactment. Madison was, as one speaker stated, a man who produced “Power and national glory… without the sacrifice of civil or political liberty.” He was to die as the final living signer of the Declaration of Independence.

There are some fascinating details supplied by Cheney, such as when she describes the secret code that Madison and Jefferson used to communicate with each other. Since mail was often lost or misdelivered in those days, they developed a system in which they assigned telephone number-like digits to each major figure they came in contact with. This meant that if anyone got hold of their correspondence, they would not be able to determine who the writers were referring to when they made less than complimentary remarks about an individual. And Cheney turns the rivalry between Aaron Burr, Jefferson, and Madison on one side and Hamilton on the other into something so dramatic, it reads like one of Gore Vidal’s history-based novels.

A major concern about this nonfiction work never comes into play, the fear that Mrs. Cheney – the wife of Richard (Dick) Cheney, would bring modern day politics into the telling. This is never an issue; there’s not a single instance in which she attempts to analogize between the past and present, or in which she is critical of a modern day political figure. Cheney on occasion does use academic language, such as the term “inquietude” (physical or mental restlessness or disturbance), but this is easily remedied by access to an online dictionary.

For the majority of readers, James Madison: A Life Reconsidered will be James Madison: A Great Life Encountered.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released in a trade paper version on May 5, 2015.

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“Compelling, elegant, original… Lynne Cheney brings the great, elusive James Madison back to life.” Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage.

This review was originally posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/book-review-james-madison-a-life-reconsidered-by-lynne-cheney/

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Murder She Wrote

Stone Cold Dead

Stone Cold Dead: An Ellie Stone Mystery by James W. Ziskin (Prometheus Books, $15.95, 317 pages)

James W. Ziskin’s Stone Cold Dead is the third in a series of Ellie Stone novels (Styx and Stone, No Stone Unturned), each with a take on the heroine’s name. The young heroine is the journalistic version of fictional novelist Jessica Fletcher, she of Murder, She Wrote fame.

Stone is endearingly petulant, to the extent that that is possible.

Like Fletcher, Stone seems to forget that she is a writer, not a detective, and so does everyone else in the novel, including all of the law enforcement officials. In real life, it is hard to imagine that people would answer this reporter’s questions at all, much less without a lawyer – or that she would be permitted such access in the first place, but such license is often the basis of an enjoyable novel.

The book revolves around Stone’s investigation of the murder of 15-year-old Darlene Hicks and takes place over 29 days, from December 1, 1960, to January 28, 1961.

The characters are mostly likeable and realistic, and the writing generally holds up, with a few exceptions. For example, on pages 126-128, Ellie hospitably feeds a no-good townie in her apartment who may or may not be plotting to kill her. An editor might have been helpful here. In Ellie’s world it is anything for a story, but still….

This book is better than most mystery/crime novels I’ve read and/or reviewed. The basis for this statement is that there is a much better attempt by the author to actually tell a story as opposed to plugging settings and characters into a formula. For that reason – and because the storytelling engages the reader – my rating of Stone Cold Dead is above average as compared to other books of this genre.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Ellie Stone is the kind of gal you’d want to share a malt with… or a fifth of Scotch.” Matt Coyle, author of Yesterday’s Echo and Night Tremors.

Dave Moyer is an educator who has published Superintendent and Teacher Perceptions of Performance Based Pay (Lambert Academic Publishing). He is also the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Doggone Good

Muzzled (nook book)

Muzzled: A Kate Turner, DVM, Mystery by Eileen Brady (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 219 pages)

Back at the hospital, finished for the day, I sank exhausted into Doc’s worn office chair and closed my eyes. I was tempted to take a hit off the Jack Daniels bottle I knew lay hidden behind the huge Ettinger’s Veterinary Medicine reference book on the shelf above his desk.

The reader jumps right into Dr. Kate Turner’s life as a small town veterinarian who is filling in for long time Oak Fall Veterinary Hospital owner Doc Anderson. Doc is on an around-the-world cruise with his sister. The trip is his way of celebrating her successful battle with cancer and fulfilling her dream.

Author Eileen Brady, a 20-year veterinarian herself, interjects charming scenes of pets receiving treatment throughout the tale. A grisly double murder of a wealthy elderly couple named Langthorne that breeds and shows Cavalier King Charles spaniels kicks off the action. Kate Turner is the first on the murder scene and dutifully calls in the police.

As small towns go, this one is typical with plenty of gossip and mistrust for newcomers. Kate has been in town working on contract for Doc a scant four months, which makes her a likely suspect by the locals, especially in light of her discovery of the bodies at the Langthorne mansion. Motive? Anyone’s guess is possible, but not necessary.

Kate manages to treat her patients skillfully while doling out good advice to their owners. Readers are bound to pick up helpful knowledge as well. Kate’s need to clear herself and solve the murder puts her into several dangerous situations. Author Brady provides a full cast of potential murderers who need to be vetted. (Sorry, I could not resist the pun.) The intense rivalry among show dog owners plays a part in the action.

All in all, most anyone will thoroughly enjoy this mystery and animal lovers will be absolutely sure to love it. Woof!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

Alan Beechey

Beechey

A review of This Private Plot: A Mystery by Alan Beechey.

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