Review & Tour: Casebook

Casebook
Casebook
By Mona Simpson
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385351416, April 15, 2014, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

A little bit of mystery and a lovable protagonist add a special something to an otherwise familiar story.

The Rest of It:

After his parents split, Miles Adler spends his days eavesdropping on his mathematician mother, Irene. Although his father visits frequently and Irene is still good friends with him, Miles fears that she’s lonely and a little depressed. When she meets Eli Lee, Miles sees a different side to his mom, a happy side. Her laughter and the easy breezy way she has about her when Eli is around, makes the days that much easier. But when Miles begins to suspect that Eli is too good to be true, he employs the help of his best friend Hector, to find out the truth.

The setting of this novel is both Santa Monica and Pasadena, Ca. Two places very local to me and for that reason alone, I decided to accept this novel for review. It’s fun to read a book and discover that yes, that is exactly how those neighborhoods are and that was absolutely the case here. I love when I can relate to a character through setting.

The setting wasn’t the only thing that caught my eye. I loved the characters, too. Miles, when we first meet him, is an awkward teen. He’s not a ladies man but is okay with it. He hangs out with his best friend Hector, and they spend their days cooking up business deals to make a few bucks. Selling snacks at lunch or providing re-location services for problem pets, Miles and Hector seem to do alright. When Miles begins to suspect that Eli is not being truthful with his mother, Miles and Hector tap her phone and look into Eli’s personal life to get a feel for the kind of guy he is. This is difficult for a couple of reasons, one…that Miles has grown to like Eli, and two…that his mom is so happy around him. Does he really want to know the truth?

I loved this book and was so sorry to see the story end.

Miles is such a sweet kid. Hector, too. I loved their friendship. It really reminded me of my teen years. How all you wanted to do all summer long was hang with your best friend. I spent many summers at my friend’s house, on her floor, gazing at the ceiling or out the window. It was okay to just BE and that’s how it is with Miles and Hector. The added mystery of Eli and who he really is just adds to the story.

As a mystery, it’s pretty tame. But as a coming-of-age story about friendship and family, it hit the ball out of the park. It just hit me in all the right places. It was sweet, funny and reminded me that there is goodness in the world. I highly recommend it.

 

Mona Simpson

Ms. Simpson’s Facebook page.

Ms. Simpson’s TLC tour stops.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review, Tour & Giveaway (3 copies!): Bait

Bait
Bait
By J. Kent Messum
(Plume, Paperback, 9780142180259, August 27, 2013, 288pp.)

The Short of It:

Think Survivor, on heroin. Utterly gripping but this is a dark, gritty little tale.

The Rest of It:

Six strangers wake-up on an island somewhere in the Florida Keys and what they have in common, is that they are all heroin addicts just coming off their last hit. As they struggle to piece together the puzzle of why they are there, the lure of treasure, in the form of a heroin,  is what keeps them hopeful. To get it, they must risk everything and that includes shark infested waters and each other.

It’s a simple premise. Messum takes these six characters and places them in an impossible situation and let me tell you,  it makes for some good reading. The pacing is tight and the writing is impressive. It’s a page turner but it’s a gritty, dark little book. Heroin addiction is not pretty and the desperation of these six people is made clear to the reader by what they are willing to do to score their next hit. As the pieces come together, the reader learns a little bit about each person’s background, but ultimately the problem with the premise itself is that it’s hard to feel anything for these characters. As one of the characters mentions in the book, these guys are throw-aways and I would have to agree.

Aside from that, the ride itself was quick and action driven, but it felt abbreviated to me. This was read in one sitting, and I am not sure it’s meant to be read that way. There are some things to ponder and the frantic pace did not really allow for that. For me, it played out like an episode of Lost. Lots of questions, lots to investigate but once the credits roll, you’re left hanging until the next episode. Only in this case, there isn’t a next episode to look forward to.

This begs the question, what makes a novel a novel? Bait was impressive but entirely too short. It had a beginning, a middle and an end and it explored some deep, dark secrets but in the end, it didn’t quite feel like a novel to me. It felt more like a novella and I’m not sure, but I’d guess that Messum changed his mind half-way through on who would survive. Wasn’t a bad choice but wasn’t surprising either.

Readers looking for a quick, fast-paced read will appreciate Bait for what it is but I prefer to spend a little more time with the characters. That said, I think Messum is a writer to watch. His ability to put you in the moment is impressive and the fact that I wanted more from him can only be good, right?

The publisher has made it possible for me to giveaway THREE copies of this book. Look for details at the bottom of this review.

J. Kent Messum

To visit his Facebook page, click here.

Follow @_JamieK_ to follow him on Twitter!

To visit his other tour stops, click here.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review and giveaway copies provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of Bait and is open to the US and Canada. THREE winners will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person. Giveaway closes on September 6, 2013 (pacific). I will contact the winners for his/her mailing address.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!

 

Review, Tour & Giveaway: He’s Gone

He's Gone

He’s Gone
By Deb Caletti
(Bantam, Paperback, 9780345534354, May 2013, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Hands down, the most riveting book I’ve read this year.

The Rest of It:

I don’t know about you, but I love a good book about marriage. Especially if it’s about an imperfect marriage and let me tell you, this marriage is not perfect!

Dani Keller wakes one morning and realizes that her husband Ian is not in bed. It’s Sunday, and Dani’s slight hangover clouds her memory of the night before. As she goes about her normal, everyday activities it doesn’t really occur to her that something is wrong. Not until later in the day when her husband has not returned any of her calls. What she remembers of the party the night before is the small argument they had, but she can’t actually recall him coming through the door. Did he come home with her? Why can’t she remember? As it becomes more and more apparent that Ian is in fact, gone, the police begin to investigate the case, Dani’s family comes for support and Dani herself continues to rake her memory for clues to his whereabouts. What makes the story juicy, is their past and it ALL comes out as Dani wades through the delicate threads of matrimony.

This is a second marriage for both Dani and Ian and it’s clear that there is some emotional baggage that has not been completely unpacked and the reader learns this as Dani’s self-doubt begins to overwhelm her. We learn how their relationship came to be, about the children that Ian left behind, about Dani’s abusive ex-husband and although none of it is fairy tale material, it is fact what makes up a marriage today. Dani’s reflections on marriage in general are not surprising, but the aspect that Caletti focuses on is when a marriage loses its shine; that moment where the honeymoon ends and the marriage begins.

I knew what happened to Ian very early on, and although most will turn those last few pages, smack their head and shout, “I knew it!”, if you’re being honest, you’ll also admit that you really didn’t, because Caletti artfully guides you into more dangerous waters where ANYTHING could have happened and all of it would have been plausible. She’s sneaky that way.

Some have criticized the book saying that there is a lot of telling and not enough showing,  but I felt it worked here. If a person goes missing, and you aren’t telling all of the story, at least not all at once, you are going to begin the dreaded internal dialogue with yourself over whether or not you did the right thing. This piecey introspection is what kept me reading. I freakin’  loved it!

The Seattle setting and the supporting characters that Caletti introduces add the necessary back story to make the situation plausible. From the very first page I was riveted and could not put it down. I blew through the first one hundred pages in one sitting and when I closed the book for good, I felt satisfied. You can’t ask for more than that.

Toss it in your bag this summer. You won’t be sorry. It’s that delicious mix of good pacing, flawed characters and doubt. Love it.

Thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours, I have a copy to giveaway! Details below.

Deb Caletti

To visit her website, click here.

To visit her Facebook page, click here.

Follow @debcaletti to follow her on Twitter!

To visit her other tour stops, click here.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review and giveaway copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of He’s Gone and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person. Giveaway closes on June 16, 2013 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!

 

Review, Giveaway & Tour: In the Garden of Stone

In the Garden of Stone

In the Garden of Stone
By Susan Tekulve
(Hub City Press, Paperback, 9781891885211, April 2013, 250pp.)

The Short of It:

Full of sorrowful, memorable characters with writing that immediately pulls you in.

The Rest of It:

The story begins in War, West Virginia and spans from 1924 to the 70′s. After a rail accident buries her home in coal, sixteen-year-old Emma is rescued by a railroad man by the name of Caleb. Shortly thereafter, the two marry and begin their life together. Caleb is a good man but prone to dreaming and when he dreams up a garden to rival that of any found in Sicily, Emma has her doubts but she goes along with it. When tragedy strikes and Emma is left to fend for herself, what we are given is only a brief glimpse of what is to come. Told in alternating chapters and ending with Emma’s granddaughter, Hannah, this is a family saga that began strong but left me wanting more.

Emma’s story was the most appealing to me. I wanted to know more about her and Caleb but when it jumped to her son Dean as an adult, I began to lose interest. Dean was not likable and his marriage to Sadie and her eventual decline in health, made me not like him even more. And when the story ended with Hannah, his daughter, I found myself even less interested. From the strong beginning, I had high hopes for this one. In the end, I enjoyed the book but not as much as I had hoped.

Had this story stuck with Emma and Caleb I think I would have liked it more. The dreamy, fantastical part of Caleb was particularly interesting against Emma’s more sensible nature. What these characters all share is a sense of longing. The type that can never be fulfilled. They seem to struggle with happiness. Both what it is and how to achieve it. Flawed as they are, the story doesn’t dwell long enough on any one aspect of their unhappiness so it steers clear of the depression you’d expect to find in a book like this. If I were to take the story out of the equation, I’d say that the writing was lovely. Lovely, without being over-the-top. The imagery and the voice of the characters came through enough for me to want to finish the book and I would absolutely read another book by Tekulve.

If you are intrigued by anything I’ve said here and want to read it for yourself, enter to win your own copy. Details below.

Susan Tekulve

To visit the publisher’s website, click here.

To visit her other tour stops, click here.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review and giveaway copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of In the Garden of Stone and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person.  Giveaway closes on June 14, 2013 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!

 

Review, Tour & Giveaway: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
By Anthony Marra
(Hogarth, Hardcover, 9780770436407, May 2013, 400pp.)

The Short of It:

A haunting glimpse of war, as seen through the eyes of those affected.

The Rest of It:

I know little about the War in Chechnya. That’s the first thing I’ll tell you as I attempt to review a book that pushed me away as much as it pulled me in. The second thing I’ll admit is that I’ve never read a book quite like this one. Marra’s handling of the subject is both delicate and brutal. A combination that I was not expecting.

The story follows a handful of characters as they experience war between the years of 1994-2004. Havaa, a young girl who ran from her home as the Russians took her father away. Akhmed, the neighbor next door who lives with his ill, bedridden wife, Ula. Sonja, a brilliant surgeon, trying to keep a hospital open with just two full time staff to run it. Natasha, Sonja’s sister, addicted to heroin and nowhere to be found. Khassan, an old man who lives across from Havaa and is the father to Ramzan, a young man who has been enlisted by the Russians as an informer. Dokka, Havaa’s father, who gives refugees a bed to sleep in as they make their way to the camps.

The character list is short, but the complexities of each character make this a very rich story, filled with moments that will haunt your memories for days. The hospital serves as a gateway to the other side. Many come for help, but some never leave given their injuries or the lack of supplies available to Sonja. She makes do with dental floss for sutures, heroin instead of morphine and when Akhmed brings the young girl to her and asks her to provide a place for her to sleep, Sonja is not ready to care for a child. Akhmed’s only saving grace? The mediocre medical experience he holds. Help is what she desperately needs so she takes what she can get and agrees to take the girl in.

The pace of the story falters a bit as Marra takes us back and forth through time. At times I zipped through the pages and at other times, I had to push myself to get through a chapter. It wasn’t until the final third of the book that I found myself unable to put the book down. The fate of these characters and how Marra walks us down each of their paths was riveting and heartbreaking.

It’s beautifully written and the complexities of war are displayed in acts both large and small. The amputation of a limb, a young girl’s collection of items left behind by refugees, feeding a band of loyal dogs. This is one of those books that seeps into you slowly but it’s a story that you will never forget.

Enter to win your own copy. Details below.

Anthony Marra

To visit her Facebook page, click here.

Follow @anthonyfmarra to follow him on Twitter!

To visit her other tour stops, click here.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review and giveaway copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person.  Giveaway closes on June 7, 2013 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!

 

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