Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Right Side

When times are tough, the last thing I need to read is a story about a war-damaged female veteran who suffers from PTSD.  

But she's tough, as tough as the times I've gone through lately; perhaps more.  

Spencer Quinn (a.k.a. 'Peter Abrahams') is the author of one of my most favorite mystery series, the 'Chet and Bernie' books. Chet, being a dog with a keen mind and a nose for trouble, is the narrator, and his perspective is pretty hilarious. His human partner, Bernie, is sexy, stupid about investing, and a great private investigator.  I've read all of those books, and eagerly await the next.

However, Spencer has taken a side trip into the horrors of war, and what it does to those who serve. And one of those who served is LeAnne Hogan, one of the toughest characters you'll ever meet.

Once a rising star in the military, she's gone through hell, lost her right eye, and suffers from facial scars.  She's tough, sarcastic, and seems to have lost her warmth along the way.  Of course, after what's happened to her, I don't blame her for creating such a defense system.  While in Walter Reed Army hospital, she rooms with Marci, a fellow soldier who has lost a leg.  These two hardened veterans who have suffered so much become friends, and both are dedicated to their life of service to their country.  Just. Like. Men.  

When something happens to Marci, LeAnne leaves the hospital and travels to Marci's hometown in Washington state, where she learns that Marci's 8-year old daughter is missing.  When she decides to search for the girl, a stray dog enters her life and refuses to leave.  The dog, now named 'Goody', is tough and powerful, and she stays with LeAnne through thick and thin.

This was a hard book to read, but not because it wasn't interesting.  It's also not a 'hurried' story; it takes its time.  The suspense is not in the search, but in the telling of LeAnne's bright beginning in the military, and the horror from which she eventually suffered.  I'm not one to read 'war stories', but this particular one grabbed me and made me think of family members who served and came back changed.  LeAnne is a woman, true, but she's a soldier first, and her strength becomes her weakness. War changes everything, and that's why it was a hard book to read.

As Stephen King wrote, "Brilliant.  Deeply felt, but totally under control.  I loved it".

And so do I.  I can postpone reading about Chet & Bernie.  I want to learn more about LeAnne and Goody.

Thank you, Spencer.  This new one just might open a few more eyes.

'The Right Side' , written by Spencer Quinn, and published by Atria Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) is available in hardcover at your local library or favorite bookstore. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

'Reincarnation Blues'

Yes, I know.  It's been a year since my last post, but I won't apologize.  Nope.  I needed a 'mental health' year; a.k.a. Iwaslazyandmycomputersucked.

But I'm back, and I'm opening with a book I've read and really liked.  I've been reading so many books that came highly recommended, as was this one, and I really didn't like some of them.  However, I found a few that grabbed me.

'Reservation Blues' was one of them.

Milo has lived thousands of lives, and he's closing in on the last few he's allowed to have. But the only thing he really wants is to spend time (and a life) with his lover, Suzie. But in order to become part of the 'Oversoul', he has to reincarnate until he achieves perfection. He wins, he loses, he comes back as a bug (a few times), a total asshole, and a total genius. He was a family man, a total jerk, and a farmer. But he's a man in love, and he searches for her time and again. During his various journeys, he learns the pieces to the cosmic puzzle and gains experiences that propel him into a future that might not be so bad.  And lonely.

What really grabbed me from the first was Poore's style (which is reminiscent of Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut).  It was total 'smooth sailing', which in my lingo means I didn't try to mentally rewrite the story.  

Although this novel carries serious undertones, it is amazingly humorous, and full of spirited dialogue.  His characters are so well-developed that you wish you had them as personal friends (well, maybe a few of them).  Some of the chapters about his various lives are like little short stories; some are utterly sad, some are utterly devastating, and one in particular is the sum total of almost everything he's learned.

I have spent a major portion of my time wondering where I'll go after I die, and although there are no 'real' answers, this story came pretty close to what I've imagined.  Perhaps that's why I love this story so much.

But I'm hoping I don't have to live thousands of lives just to get to where I need to be.

'Reincarnation Blues', published by Del Ray, is available at your favorite bookstore and your local library.  ISBN 978-0-399-17848-1

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Woman in Cabin 10

So many mystery stories, so little time.

Or, perhaps, too much time, and few well-written mystery stories.

Except for this one:  'The Woman in Cabin 10', written by the incomparable Ruth Ware. Her previous novel, 'In a Dark, Dark Wood' had such an incredible premise, and it left me feeling so claustrophobic, much like her new one.  Ware is a good writer, indeed. 

Imagine that you're at sea in a beautifully outfitted luxury cruise ship.  And imagine that you have an assignment for a travel magazine; to interview the owner of said ship and talk up the accommodations and staff.  The fabulous life on calm seas, with jovial guests, the best food, and sparkling, calm seas.

But then you've had a bit too much to drink, and while you're alone in your luxurious cabin, you hear the sound of a body being thrown overboard.  When you try to investigate, you find that everyone is accounted for.  The ship sails on as if nothing's happened.  However, what doesn't help the situation is the fact that you've been involved in a most unfortunate incident before you left for your assignment, an incident that left you feeling paranoid and scared.  

Laura Blacklock (better known as 'Lo') is given the chance of a lifetime and the opportunity to gain a promotion at the travel magazine for which she works, but when she knows, just knows that a body has been thrown in the ocean, no one believes her, and she feels as if her whole life is being questioned.
But she knows what she heard, and she's desperate to prove it.  

Ware's previous novel, 'In a Dark, Dark Wood' kept me guessing until the very end, and her new one is no different.  Just when I thought I knew what was really going on, she pulled me in another direction.  And the end wasn't what I imagined.  

The only bone I have to pick with this new one is with the protagonist.  As with most recent mysteries I've read, if it contains a female protagonist (case in point:  'The Girl on the Train'), she is usually addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. Why?  Are those particular weaknesses supposed to provoke sympathy from the reader?  And is the reader supposed to think that because the protagonist is an addict, they are to naturally question the character's discoveries?  The answer is 'Yes'...but it's becoming a bit overplayed.

As I usually don't find such weaknesses employed with most male mystery characters, I'd like to read about a woman who knows her own mind, and can contribute more to the plot than the reason why she has to take anti-depressants or consume mass quantities of alcoholic drinks.  Sure, she can be questioned, but I want her to believe her discovery with every fiber of her beingwithout the impediment of drugs or alcohol.

Author Ruth Ware
Yes, I want a Superwoman.  Even a Wonder Woman.  But one that is down-to-earth.  

I want a character who will inspire me, who will make me cheer for them.

I certainly hope that the talented Ms. Ware's next female protagonist will rise above.  Like I said earlier, Ms. Ware is such a good writer.

Book Hog can't wait to read her next one.

'The Woman in Cabin 10', by Ruth Ware, and published by Scout Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, is available at your local library and favorite bookstore.  Book Hog would like to thank Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to review and highly recommend this book!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Disappearance at Devil's Rock

Not long ago, I reviewed 'A Head Full of Ghosts', written by Paul Tremblay, and I really wasn't impressed.  Sorry, but the supernatural aspect of the story really didn't hit me. Stephen King loved it, though.  Gotta give him some credit for promoting a fellow horror writer.

But now, with Tremblay's new one, 'Disappearance at Devil's Rock', I grew very involved in the story, to the point that I had tears running down my face.  Any story about the loss of a child really really punches me in the gut.  

There are supernatural occurrences in this novel, too, but a bit more subtle.  One, however, was chilling, and the sense of fear permeating through the story made me turn the pages, but slowly because I dreaded learning the fate of Tommy, the missing boy.

Tremblay's characters are well-formed and you actually care about them. Elizabeth, the desperate mother, was someone to whom I could relate, and Kate, her pre-teen daughter, had a lot of angst brewing under the surface.  

Author Paul Tremblay
But it was Tommy who had a diary, Tommy who loved to draw, Tommy the lover of the video game, Minecraft, who grabbed me and didn't let me up for air.  Tommy who disappeared in the woods of the local state park, and his friends, Josh and Luis, who aren't telling the entire truth about what happened that night.  

When you learn the truth, you'll be stunned.  And perhaps you'll cry, as I did.  

But you'll pay extra attention to the shadow in the corner, and the pages on the floor.

'Disappearance at Devil's Rock' is available at your local library and favorite bookstore.  ISBN 978-0-06-236326-8

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Monster Calls

Having finished 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child', I was in the mood to read another book for independent readers (btw, I thought the HP book was....okay. I'm not big on reading plays; I much rather see them performed).

So, when I received the notice that a library book came in for me, I wasn't surprised to learn that it was a story for independent readers.  What was even more coincidental was that I had just watched the trailer of the film adaptation.

In October, I will head to the theater to watch 'A Monster Calls', especially now that I've read the story.  Hearing Liam Neeson's voice as the monster is a nice little nudge, too.

Author Patrick Ness has written a story (and the screenplay) based on an idea from the late children's writer Siobhan Dowd (her premature death from cancer kept her from writing the book). Funny, dark, and very, very moving, the story brought me to tears several times, and made me consider my own mortality.

Conor has been expecting the monster from his nightmare, the one he's had every night since his mother started chemo.  The nightmare with the darkness and the wind and the screaming...

But this monster is different, and not the one from his nightmare.  It is ancient and wild. And it wants something that is difficult for Conor to give:  The truth.

This is a story of a young boy dealing with his mother's terminal illness, and the school bullies, and his dreaded grandmother.  It is also the story of a young boy who needs his father, but gets just a small part of a parent who lives far away.

His grandmother turned out to be a total surprise.  Her devotion to her daughter was truly heartfelt and made me cry (very familiar ground for me). But it was Conor who earned my sympathy; a young boy full of anger and sadness.  A very scared child.  

Unlike Conor's teachers, the monster does not coddle him.  It encourages Conor to release his anger so he can get to the truth he is reluctant to reveal.
Author Patrick Ness

The illustrations by Jim Kay are perfect; black and white, and phenomenal.  They lend a dark air to the story, up until the very end.

Patrick Ness, author of the 'Chaos Walking' series (and other fantastic novels), has done an incredible job with Dowd's last idea.  

He has certainly done it justice.

'A Monster Calls', by Patrick Ness, and published by Candlewick Press, is available at your local library and favorite bookstore. Book Hog suggests you purchase a big box of tissues, too.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Man Called Ove

Even though I took some time off from reviewing, it doesn't mean I took time off from reading.  My 'Hold' list at the library just got longer and longer, thanks to those of you who sent me recommendations via social media and Goodreads.  Some of those books came in at once, so I did a great juggling act.

One of those books was mentioned everywhere, and after much anticipation, I finally got to read it. It was worth it, and I couldn't put it down.

'A Man Called Ove', by Fredrik Backman, was a delight from the first page to the last. Backman's deceptively simple story is packed with humor and sadness, and his great character, Ove, is the most curmudgeonly man I've ever met.  He might be a stereotypical 'grumpy old man', but he's surprisingly tender when you learn his backstory.  Ove lives simply, has staunch principles, certain routines, and a short fuse. He feels that the world is full of idiots, especially those who buy the wrong car.

A stray cat and new neighbors burst into his well-ordered life, bringing with them mayhem and hilarity.  They all have lessons to teach one another, and some of those lessons are heartbreaking.  One by one, other people enter Ove's world, giving his life more meaning.  Sometimes, experiences are forced upon him, and although he fights them, Ove finds a way to fix most anything.
Author Fredrik Backman

But the two people he has known the longest are the ones he soon sees in a different light: Rune, Ove's former friend, is the catalyst who helps bring the greatest 'disorder' to Ove's life. And Sonja, Ove's wife, provides the greatest inspiration.  

It's a good thing when one can find the perfect 'vacation book'. I think it's time I looked into his other stories.  

But if his other novels are as good as 'A Man Called Ove', I just might extend my time off.

'A Man Called Ove', written by Fredrik Backman, and published by Atria Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), is available at your local library and favorite bookstore.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Behind Closed Doors

Have you ever read a story that takes you by the hand and leads you into a horrible anxiety attack?  Or one that makes you panic every time you see a lock on a door?

I just did.  And it wasn't pleasant.  It was bad enough to drive me out of the house so I could take a walk and breathe fresh, clean air.

I'm not kidding.

'Behind Closed Doors', the first novel from B. A. Paris, took the air out of my lungs.

I could go on and on about her talent for creating memorable characters, and using short, tight paragraphs that make you jump. But I won't.

Paris brought terror right to my front door.

If you loved 'The Girl on the Train', or 'Gone Girl', this new one will really hit you.  For a first novel, Paris has written a riveting story that stunned me.  I had to put it down a few times, although it really only took me a day to read it.  

The narrator, Grace, is married to Jack Angel, a movie-star-handsome, wealthy attorney who champions the cause for abused women.  Grace, his perfect, elegant wife, has a down syndrome sister who she loves very much; in fact, Millie, will be living with Jack and Grace in a short while. But Grace learns that the man she's fallen in love with isn't who he seems.  Grace and Jack are never apart, and their friends are getting a bit miffed when Grace cancels lunch plans all the time.  Soon, Jack lets her in on a secret that could be her life's ruin.

But I'm not saying any more.

This is a story to experience.  One that will keep you turning the pages...but one that will make you set it down just so you can find some sort of mental stability.

It's brilliant, it's scary, and it's horrifying, and Grace is an incredible character. And so is Millie, who is more aware of things than Grace realizes.

It has stayed with me.  And I think it will be with me for quite a while.

B. A. Paris has found a new fan.

'Behind Closed Doors', by B. A. Paris, will be published on August 9, 2016 by St. Martin's Press. Movie rights have been sold.  Put it on your hold list at your local library, or pre-order it from your favorite book store.  You won't be sorry.