Tag Archives: new fiction

Family Affair

family trustFamily Trust: A Novel by Kathy Wang (HarperLuxe, $26.99, 400 pages)

Family Trust is a debut novel from Kathy Wang.  Ms. Wang has an engaging, chatty writing style full of vivid details.  She grew up in northern California and holds an undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a graduate degree from Harvard Business School.  The story she tells feels accurate.

While this reviewer is not Chinese, numerous family and friends were emigres from Lithuania.  Believe me when I say that many of the attitudes displayed in the book are cross-cultural!

The San Francisco Bay Area, more specifically the South Bay and Silicon Valley are where the Huang family comes to grips with the eventual mortality of Stanley Huang, father of Fred and Kate, ex husband of Linda Liang, and husband of second wife Mary Zhu.  Each of these characters is featured in the developments that follow Stanley’s diagnosis of terminal cancer.

Ms. Wang goes above and beyond her obligation as a writer to inform her readers of the details surrounding the lives of each of her characters.  The one slow-down I felt was when she went into the aspects of careers in Silicon Valley.  The technology and finance language were sometimes a bit too much, even for the mom of a former Sand Hill Road venture capital employee.

Seventy-two-year-old Stanley and his much younger (28 years younger) wife of ten years, Mary, live in the house where he and his former wife, Linda, lived for many of their 34 years of marriage.  Son Fred is divorced and his sister Kate is supporting her stay-at-home “writer” husband and two children.  Kate is more successful than her brother.  Their mom, Linda, worked hard securing financial security for herself and her family.  She now wants to explore the possibility of love after 70.

Each of these characters interacts with the others through thoroughly believable, easy to visualize situations with amazing dialogue.  The fly in the mix is Fred’s egocentric manner and his hints at the fortune he will leave behind.  The mystery, even though this novel is not tagged a mystery, is how much is Fred worth and who will inherit?

The book starts out relatively slowly.  At first the pace seemed too slow.  As the background and history of each character unfolded, Ms. Wang’s pacing increased until the story became somewhat of a page-turner.  Nope, no spoiler alert is needed in this review.

Family Trust is an excellent novel and well worth the read.  Let’s hope Kathy Wang is busy writing another one for her readers.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  This book will be released on October 30, 2018.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Rest of the Story

no one ever asked

No One Ever Asked: A Novel by Katie Ganshert (Waterbrook, $14.99, 368 pages)

Sometimes a promising novel is destroyed by the story telling structure selected by the author.  I found this to be the case with No One Ever Asked.  The fictional tale, about racism and socio-economic differences that affect two public school districts in Missouri, is a worthwhile one.  Ganshert well illustrates how racism impacts everyone – rich and poor, majority race or minority – whether it is overt, covert, deliberately hurtful, or inadvertent.  And this would have been a relevant read for these times if only she had written the tale in standard chronological form.  She did not.

No One starts with a dramatic event.  The event covered in the Prologue – something a novel almost never needs, takes place near the end of the events covered in this book.  Thus, the next 300 or more pages take the reader back in time to see what preceded the climactic event.  The reader’s patience might not have been tried if Ganshert had taken 10, 20 or even 30 pages to “set up” the non-linear story in this unexpected way.  Unfortunately, and regrettably, she used 300 or more pages to do so.  Not only this, she often refers to events that, in legal terms, “are not in evidence.”  For example, an incident that occurred in a boy’s high school locker room is referenced multiple times.  But the reader is never informed, until near the very end of the telling, as to what exactly was involved in this incident.

Hiding the ball from the reader in this fashion builds up fatigue and frustration.  I was ready to put the book down many times, for good.

There’s also the distressing fact that No One has so many characters – white and black, prosperous and poor, that you would need to keep a spread sheet in order to keep track of them.  And the author’s style is not only confusing and sometimes bewildering, but often choppy.

By the end of No One Ever Asked, I realized that Ganshert had written a decent story which might have been enjoyable had she simply kept it straight (chronological) and simple.  She did not.  I am hopeful that an editor will advise her to follow the common path of storytelling in her next effort.  Cleverness for its own sake is rarely a reward for the reader.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

No One Ever Asked was published on April 3, 2018.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Question of Balance

A Question of Honor (nook book)

A Question of Honor: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 336 pages)

The 2013 installment of the Bess Crawford saga draws readers back to India in 1908 for the plot-setting incident. Bess grew up in colonial India where her father, Colonel Crawford, commanded a regiment. One of his officers was identified as a murderer; however, the fellow was presumed dead before he could be captured and tried for his crime. The regimental honor was sullied and the memory of the evil deed followed the men for years.

The secondary plot threads concern the perils faced by British citizens whose children were shipped back home due to sickness and the tensions between the British and local warring tribes in the early 1900s. Fast forward ten years to 1918 and we encounter Bess serving as a nurse on the battlefields of France. She is, as always, plucky and strong willed. Her eyes and ears gather information from the wounded as she carriers out her duties. One fellow in particular confides in her regarding the presumed dead murderer from her father’s regiment, thus sparking Bess to action. The regimental honor is family business!

The tale unfolds across Europe from this multi-level beginning. The book seems to be more Bess’ journal than a mystery novel. The narrative is a bit bouncy which may be due in part to the advance reader’s edition on which this review is based. There is an interesting contrast in perspective for fans of the authors, the mother-son duo who write under the pen name of Charles Todd. The Ian Rutledge series focuses on the post-war personal fallout for a male World War I officer; whereas, the Bess Crawford series details the ways in which women were expected to be brave and serve their country in time of battle and yet maintain their modesty. That’s quite a challenge.

Well recommended.

An Unwilling Accomplice (nook book)

An Unwilling Accomplice: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $25.99, 352 pages)

This year’s Bess Crawford tale segues smoothly from the one reviewed above. There is an even pace to the telling as the reader learns of Bess’ experiences behind the battle lines in France. As the book begins, Bess is home in England on leave and planning to rest. A messenger delivers an order regarding a badly wounded soldier who has requested that she accompany him to Buckingham Palace. Bess must accept the assignment and forego her rest.

The soldier, Sergeant Jason Wilkins, is to receive a medal from the king. Social mores dictate that Bess restrict her care to checking in on Sergeant Wilkins and tending to his bandages. At no time is she to stay in his London hotel room. The evening after the ceremony, Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon (known to fans in past mysteries) meets her for dinner in the hotel dining room. All seems well until the next morning when Bess goes to ready Sergeant Wilkins for his trip out of London. Wilkins’ bed is empty and he is missing!

The Army and the Nursing Service blame Bess. Her spotless record of service is now tainted and she is placed on administrative leave pending a review of the matter. That’s all she needs to spur her to find the vanished soldier and clear her good name. Simon assists Bess in her quest whenever he is between covert assignments.

The complex plot line is at times confusing. There are miles of back and forth driving in the English countryside chasing the elusive Wilkins. The search occurs among three small towns. A map of the vicinity would be helpful. This review is based on an advance reader’s edition. Hopefully, the final published version will include a map. One other matter is confusing – Bess and Simon are devoted friends and their relationship seems oddly platonic. Perhaps his military rank relegates him to only being a buddy?

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were received from the publisher. An Unwilling Accomplice was released on August 12, 2014.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Where It Began

Where It Began: A Novel by Ann Redisch Stampler (Simon Pulse, $16.99, 384 pages) won’t be released until March 6, 2012, but you can read the first 23 pages now:

http://pages.simonandschuster.com/annstampler?mcd=Z_120103_CLP_WIABegan_SA

This one’s quite engaging, so after you read this excerpt – about a young woman who has to start her life over again after a car accident – you may want to pre-order your Kindle Edition or Nook Book download!   This YA novel includes references to 11 real places in Southern California (Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Van Nuys and Santa Barbara) such as The Apple Pan on West Pico Boulevard – which was known as The Peach Pit on the TV series 90210 – and Mad Dogs on State Street in Santa Barbara.

Joseph Arellano

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized