Tag Archives: second novel

Little Girl Gone

Little Girl Gone: A Novel by Margaret Fenton (Create Space, $10.10, 266 pages)

Little Girl Gone

Margaret Fenton’s second novel – following Little Lamb Lost, takes the reader once more into the world of Birmingham, Alabama social worker Claire Conover.  As is typical for social workers, Claire is carrying a full caseload.  Her caring attitude is tempered with a realistic approach to dealing with runaway and discarded children.  A stony-faced young teen girl who was found sleeping in a cardboard box proves to be quite the challenge for Claire.

“Sandy,” at least that’s the name she reluctantly gives Claire, won’t provide any assistance with her details.  She’s very slim, not starving, but definitely willing to go out for breakfast when Claire offers to take her.  Thus begins the saga of reuniting “Sandy” with her family.  The story unfolds naturally as Claire does her job using the skills she has developed over years in the job.  Ms. Fenton infuses her characters with down-to-earth feelings to which the reader can easily relate.

The men in Claire’s life are Grant, her techie boyfriend and Kirk, a clever newspaper reporter.  There’s mutual attraction between Kirk and Claire; however, she knows better than to be caught up in a fling with a flirt when she has calm and reliable Grant in her life.  Kirk has provided helpful insights in past cases and is once again a source of information and strategic planning that brings him into a team-like relationship with Claire.

Little Girl Gone back cover

Ms. Fenton is a confident and strong writer who has lived the work she portrays.  Much like a police procedural, Little Girl Gone takes the reader behind the scenes into real life situations that are both heartbreaking and heartwarming.  Crisp dialogue coupled with excellent scene-setting descriptions make this a most satisfying read.

Highly recommended.

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

 

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Curiously Consistent

Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone: A Novel by Phaedra Patrick (Park Row Books, $24.99, 368 pages)

rise and shine benedict

Fans of Phaedra Patrick’s debut novel, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, will be delighted with her next heartfelt novel, Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone.  Ms. Patrick has created a signature theme that permeates the tales.  The main character is a man adrift in life, not connecting with reality.  The setting is a small village in Yorkshire, England.

Benedict Stone is a jeweler, as was his father before him.  Stone’s wife, Estelle, has decamped from their home, ostensibly to look after the apartment of a friend who is working in New York.  Benedict knows that Estelle has tired of his obsession with having children.  So far that hasn’t happened for them.  He’s proposed adoption and Estelle has rebuffed this alternative.  The emotional distance between them is growing, much to Benedict’s horror.  He relies on food to calm his nerves and we all know where that leads.

Stone’s jewelry store is fading into oblivion, due in no small part to Benedict’s insistence on making simple pieces that aren’t on trend with popular styles.  He is stubborn and resists change, especially when it comes to his trade.  Cecil, his salesman, offers advice on how to win back Estelle and Benedict considers it.

One dark and stormy night, there is a knock at the front door.  Benedict imagines it is Estelle returned home.  But, no, instead there’s a teenage girl on the front porch and she is dripping wet.  She introduces herself – Gemma Stone, his estranged brother Charlie’s daughter.  Gemma has traveled alone from the United State and invites herself in for a stay.  She may or may not have her father’s permission to make the journey!

And that is the beginning of a wonderful tale of redemption and awakening for everyone.  Ms. Patrick infuses her chapters with fascinating information about the gemstones contained in a bag that Gemma has brought on her trip.  Each has historically associated attributes.  Together, Benedict and Gemma make these gemstones part of their strategy for creating a better life for both of them.

Ms. Patrick enlivens her characters with foibles and quirks.  Her scenes are full of color and details that will delight the reader.  It’s not often that an equally engaging novel follows a marvelous debut.  Happily, this author has succeeded with Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone.  Look for Benedict Stone in mid-May.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone will be released on May 16, 2017.

“Phaedra Patrick understands the soul.”  Nina George, New York Times bestselling author of The Little Paris Bookshop.

 

 

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Complicated

other-widow

The Other Widow: A Novel by Susan Crawford (William Morrow, $26.99, 333 pages)

The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford was an excellent, suspenseful debut novel (“A gripping character-driven mystery.” Booklist) And so I had high hopes and expectations for The Other Widow. I was disappointed.

Widow starts off with a bang. Joe Lindsay, a married business owner who is having an affair with one of his workers, has a fatal car accident while driving in heavy snow. His mistress is his passenger. For some reason the brakes on Joe’s Volvo fail to work and his airbag does not deploy. The mistress escapes from the accident scene and resolves to find out what happened. As does insurance investigator Maggie Brennan, a former police officer and war veteran who notices that the dead man had recently been extremely well insured by his spouse. (The Irish-American character of Maggie Brennan is listed as Maggie Devlin on the book jacket.)

While Pocket Wife was stocked with a few well drawn out characters, one of the key problems with Widow is that there are too many characters, virtually all female. It’s difficult to identify with any of these characters – other than Brennan/Devlin – because so little time is spent with each of them; Crawford has dissipated her creative energy with quantity rather than quality. And while Pocket Wife was genuinely clever in the mode of Scott Turow, Widow is loaded with dead ends and red herrings. And even a ghost of sorts – the dead mother of a character speaks to her whenever she’s in imminent danger. In my mind, I pictured Crawford with flow sheets helping her keep track of the characters and false leads.

Widow concludes in a somewhat logical fashion, but it’s just one of many possible endings tying up far too many loose ends. The reader may spend time afterward, as I did, wondering if Crawford selected the right villain among numerous characters most of whom had bad intentions and evil motives.

On the positive side, Widow is a quick read since the suspension of disbelief never quite kicks in. Not much is invested or lost on the reader’s part. And the promising character of Maggie Brennan makes her entrance. At the end of this crime tale, she’s welcomed back to the police department with open arms after having figured out who – singular or plural, killed Joe Lindsay. Maggie is tough and smart and has great instincts.

Let’s hope that Crawford’s next book is subtitled A Detective Maggie Brennan Mystery. And let’s hope that Crawford listens to the ghostly voice telling her to keep it simple.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

This book was released on April 26, 2016.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/book-review-the-other-widow-by-susan-crawford/

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Tattered Lives

guis of another amazon

The Guise of Another: A Crime Novel by Allen Eskens (Seventh Street Books, $15.95, 269 pages)

Allen Eskens’ The Guise of Another is indicative of a man with a future writing crime novels. Having reviewed many of these books, my experience indicates that writers can slip into many traps – rely solely on plot with no legitimate character development, rely almost exclusively on dialogue to tell the story, interject stray characters randomly to promulgate reader interest… (Insert your favorite criticism here.)

In Guise, Eskens’ delivery is so natural that it is read as a story with a crime element as a backdrop, and not as a stereotypical “crime novel.” A man with a stolen identity is murdered and Detective Alexander Rupert is handed what he perceives as a chance to salvage his sinking career. Big brother Max, also a cop, is called upon to perform heroic acts in the call of duty as he attempts to save Alex from himself. The story is set primarily in the twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Tattered lives hang in the balance and, of course, judgment is clouded when Alex falls under the spell of Ianna, who is enmeshed in the mystery and pursued by the evil Drago Basta. Just when the reader is convinced that she can predict the outcome, another subtle twist hits the story. While the ending is not quite perfect, it certainly satisfies.

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Guise, a quite excellent read, is a follow up to The Life We Bury. Congratulations to Eskens for conceiving of it!

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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

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New Morning

“So happy just to see you smile/Underneath this sky of blue/On this new morning, new morning/On this new morning with you.” – Bob Dylan

It's Nice Outside amazon

Honest, Uplifting, Revealing… Excellent.

Its. Nice. Outside.: A Novel by Jim Kokoris (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 320 pages)

Jim Kokoris’ 2002 novel, The Rich Part of Life, which has been published in 15 different languages, earned the Friends of American Writers Award for Best First Novel. I have not read that book, but I plan to do so now. Having just ripped through his latest, Its. Nice. Outside., it’s easy to see why Rich was so highly acclaimed.

Its. Nice. Outside. is the tale of many things, “Family, Family, Family, USA,” among them (one must read the book to understand this reference). But the truth is, in today’s world, how does one even begin to imagine a Leave It to Beaver perfect family? How does one define love? How do young adults ever actually leave the nest or get their feet under them? How does one forgive? Who does one blame when one has run out of people to blame?

How do adults move past broken dreams? Does anyone ever really know how and when it’s time to let go? And how does one, in the midst of the chaos that has now become a normalized reality, manage to simultaneously raise a disabled child?

When John Nichols embarks on a cross-country journey with his adult autistic child, Ethan, to attend his adult daughter Karen’s wedding; and when he joins up with celebrity daughter, Mindy; and when he finally encounters his ex-wife, Mary, things have deteriorated so much in the present that the past begins to matter much less. To hold grudges, to forgive, to have the courage to move on, to have the courage to let it go… Its. Nice. Outside. is a story of love and humanity, with these five characters the vessels through which important themes are channeled. Yet they are real enough to be your neighbors.

Any flaw in the telling is so minor that it does not merit referencing.

books Its Nice Outside 1

After many swimming pools, potty stops, Cracker Barrels, hotel rooms, and pickles, the reader who is continuously compelled to turn to the next page, regrettably comes to the end of this great novel. The genius of it is that Kokoris manages to accomplish this in 308 pages. This is indicative of someone who knows how to both write a very, very good story and provoke an honest look in the mirror.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Horse Racing Dreams

B Team cover

The B Team: A Horse Racing Saga by Alan Mindell (Sunbury Press, $16.95, 246 pages)

“Down here there’s just winners and losers and don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line.” Bruce Springsteen (“Atlantic City”)

The B Team Earns an “A”

Alan Mindell’s The B Team chronicles the unlikely story of seven people and a horse. The book combines the right amount of back story on the world of horse racing to satisfy horse lovers without overdoing it for the casual sports fan or human interest junkie with a perfect touch of realistic, engaging characters and Hallmark appeal.

As the story unfolds, Stan, an old-school track regular who knows his way around a racing form, becomes associated with a team of owners and trainers, which includes Cory, whose only fault seems to be his total commitment to his craft. Together, they claim One-Eyed Bandit, whom they enter into the Kentucky Derby after an improbable win at Santa Anita.

One-Eyed Bandit, as the name implies, is blind in one eye. Cory’s son-to-be love interest, Tracy, has a similarly handicapped child; their parallel stories of hope, persistence, and overcoming the odds carries the reader through the culminating race.

B Team back cover

The book is above all human. It is mostly good and always interesting. It is not uncommon for any writer, even the best, to sometimes struggle with the whole male-female relationship thing. The dialog between Cory and Tracy is occasionally awkward but – considering the overall strength of this book, it is a minor flaw that is easily overlooked. This work is a step up from Mindell’s debut novel, The Closer. In short, it is one heckuva story, suitable for virtually all audiences.

During this holiday season, it is nice to remember that dreams sometimes do come true.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the author.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator in the greater Chicago area, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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I Shall Be Released

I’m beginning to hear voices and there’s no one around…/ Reality has always had too many heads. Bob Dylan, “Cold Irons Bound.”

Forgetting Place

The Forgetting Place: A Novel by John Burley (William Morrow, $14.99, 344 pages)

Wow.

John Burley’s second novel, The Forgetting Place, is a worthy successor to Absence of Mercy. At first it did not appear as if that would be the case, as the story seemed to meander for a while. But, Burley’s managed to do it again.

Dr. Lise Shields arrives at Menaker, a correctional psychiatric facility in Maryland and becomes embroiled in a massive “cover up” – or does she? That is the question readers are left with when they finish the book. Who exactly are the victims in this story?

The plot is well conceived, but pulling this story off was no easy task. Fortunately, Burley did pull it off. So much so that one cannot be sure with any absolute certainty what did or did not happen. This brilliantly parallels the confusion evident in the minds of the mentally ill that Dr. Shields is or is not treating.

One of the main male characters has a lover, who is a suspected terrorist; the latter winds up being murdered. That’s about all one can say for certain. To go into much greater detail would create too many spoilers for prospective readers of this work.

This is a fine novel, Mr. Burley! If you can keep this going, you’ll wind up with a cult following and perhaps much more.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on February 10, 2015.

“The Forgetting Place is a deep dive into the darkest recesses of the human psyche. Surprises wait at every turn.” Lisa Unger

“Layered and evocative – an intelligent, powerful read.” Sophie Littlefield

“Will send chills down your spine. A taut psychological thriller.” Alice LaPlante, author of A Circle of Wives.

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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