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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

THE OTHER MRS.

4 stars out of 5

Generally speaking, it takes me about a chapter and a half to get so frustrated with paranoid female characters who question everything and everybody. Truth is, the same thing happened here, but there was something so intriguing about the story that my sensible self told my annoyed self to put a lid on it and keep going. And you know what? That was the sensible thing to do.

Sadie, her husband Will and their two sons have left Chicago for Maine, where Will inherited a old but spacious home from his late aunt. Will insisted that they move largely because the aunt's daughter, Imogen, was left an orphan at 16; worse, her mother committed suicide and Imogen was the one who found her.

The scene then shifts to Camille, who lives in Chicago and not only had a fling with Will, but became obsessed with him. At one time, she was Sadie's roommate and coveted Will, but Sadie won him over. Problem is, Camille won't let him alone, finding him for trysts wherever and whenever she can.

From the start, Sadie doesn't much care for Maine; also from the start, Imogen absolutely hates both Sadie and Will - and that makes life difficult at best. But then, it gets worse; a neighbor is found murdered, and fingers begin to point to Sadie - who of course swears she's innocent. And as the evidence against her piles up, the more suspicious and paranoid Sadie becomes. The local police chief - and even her own sons - call her a liar.

Just as I'm about to think the same about her, the plot twists begin; quickly, the scenario changes, and keeps bringing surprises right up to the end. Some of them, including the ending, stretched believability a bit (on occasion more than a bit), but overall, this one is a keeper that held my attention throughout. Thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy.

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica (Park Row, February 2020); 368 pp.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

CINDERELLA AND THE GLASS CEILING

4 stars out of 5

Definitely not your mother's fairy tales! Well, not mine, anyway - she was of a generation that firmly believed a woman's job was to find a man who would "provide" for her while she kept their home immaculate and served him three squares a day. In my mother's case, the fact that she had beautiful black curls and could grow, kill and fry up a chicken accompanied by a killer cherry pie no doubt gave her a leg up on the competition.

In spite of (more likely, because of) that upbringing, as a young adult out on my own I enthusiastically embraced the "Women hold up half the sky, Adam was a rough draft" feminist concepts - which, BTW, I hold to this day. That, of course, explains my primary attraction to this book. The other is humor; I love jokes, puns and parodies - no matter how irreverent they may be. In this case, the authors have rewritten a few familiar fairy tales, in which, they explain, "...women get the last word on their own terms."

And boy, do they ever! Honestly, though, I'd be remiss if I didn't offer a word of caution here: Don't sit down to read these stories at bedtime to your young daughter without reading them for yourself first. The language is frank, honest and overall a hoot, but for the most part it's not for anyone who wouldn't dream of uttering the word "vagina" anywhere except in the bathroom with the door closed. That said, the authors certainly get their point across, usually with some chuckles thrown in (Cinderella's stepmother, for instance, resented the girl for "...being the only one in the family without a widow's peak").

In all, there are about two handfuls of revised stories, all of which turn the usually sappy and clueless females into thinking adults (who among us was really happy that Snow White had to do all the cooking and cleaning for seven perfectly healthy little men, one of whom was Grumpy all the time)? My personal favorite is "Some Princesses Are Gay," a modern spin on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Princess and the Pea." Did she feel it? Yes, she did. Will she wed the handsome prince? Well, you'll just have to read it and see.

All told, this is an enlightening and quite entertaining compilation (and kudos for the really neat illustrations as well). Now that I've finished, I'm reminded that there's no shortage of other fairy tales that present women in ways at least some of us would rather not be depicted. Hopefully, then, the authors will set about to rectify a few more in another volume. While I wait, I'll thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for my pre-publication copy to read and review.

Cinderella and the Glass Ceiling: And Other Feminist Fairy Tales by Laura Lane and Ellen Haun (Seal Press, March 2020); 128 pp.

Monday, January 20, 2020

THE SUN DOWN MOTEL

5 stars out of 5

Do you believe in zombies, ghosts and things that go bump in the night? Neither do I, unless I'm in the middle of a Stephen King novel - or this one. What could be more perfect for reading over a couple of icy cold winter nights?

The story takes place in the quintessential creepy place: A broken-down motel in small-town upstate New York, where lodgers - at least those who actually exist - typically stay one night, pay in cash and leave at odd hours. In 1982, a young night clerk (yes, there was one, if only to deter vagrants from trashing the already disheveled rooms) named Vivian Delaney mysteriously disappears - never to be found. That bothers Carly Kirk, a college student who happens to be Viv's niece. Long a lover of murder stories, in 2017 she leaves college and sets out for remote Fell, New York, to look into her aunt's disappearance.

Carly finds an apartment with another young woman, and once she sees the Sun Down Motel, she realizes the best way to learn more is by working there. Low and behold, the mostly absent owner needs a night clerk - and you guessed it, Carly gets the job. Chapters flip back and forth to the perspectives of Viv and Carly (switching so often that I nearly got whiplash until halfway through, when I was able to keep each time frame in perspective). Almost from her first night at the desk, Carly hears and sees strange things - some of the same things that, readers learn through those flashbacks, Viv experienced as well. Clearly, this motel has sordid secrets; and if Viv has gone to her grave as Carly suspects, it'll take some digging to unearth them.

But terrified as she may be, Carly is nothing if not determined. Gradually, she identifies people who were there when Viv disappeared - some human, some cooperative and others not so much on both scores - but just as her aunt did all those years ago, she pushes on at her own peril. Then and now start coming together near the end, bringing some not entirely unexpected "surprises." Needless to say, you won't learn anything more about that from me.

Without a doubt, this is a book that reeled me in and I didn't want to put down (and except for sleeping, I didn't). Definitely a winner, and I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for allowing me to get a pre-release peek.

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James (Berkley, February 2020); 336 pp.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

NEVER FORGET

4 stars out of 5

Why the decision was made to translate to English the third book in this series instead of the first remains a puzzle to me, but I'm sure my enjoyment of it suffered as a result (as well as from a few glitches in the translation). While this book stands on its own fairly well, knowing more about the main characters' backgrounds and previous interactions would have made my reading more enjoyable. Nor was I comforted by the author's suggestion that readers are "not to worry" about the lack of background because we "will be able to learn more" when the first two books are translated later this year and next. Sorry, but it's rare that I go back and read prior books in any series.

So for the first half or so, I struggled. But I hung in there, and for the most part, my overall experience was positive as the pace - and my understanding of the rather complex plot - picked up. Detective Victor Lessard of the Montreal Police is an interesting and, for the most part, likable character; hints reveal that he's been shaped, for better or worse, by his background (hence the desire to learn more about what that was). Fighting demons of his past and dealing with two grown children and a new love - a woman named Nadja - keep him on the edge of self-destruction throughout.

His partner, Jacinthe Taillon, doesn't fare so well in my eyes. She and Victor have a contentious yet cautiously respectful relationship, which certainly adds spice. On the other hand, I couldn't help the feeling that considerable effort went into making her unappealing - and I must say that for the most part it succeeded. She's mouthy, irreverent, impatient and basically portrayed as a fat slob who never saw a French fry she wouldn't eat (at one point, for instance, she "came up behind him [Victor] with the grace of a dump truck." Maybe it stems from my feminist leanings, but the overweight digs seemed a bit excessive (pun intended).

The plot is complicated mostly by rather abrupt shifts and an abundance of characters - sometimes called by their first names, sometimes by their last and sometimes by something entirely different - but it's definitely intriguing. At the beginning, a woman's body turns up in a warehouse sporting some very strange markings; later, it's discovered that she was a retired psychiatrist. Then, a homeless guy jumps off a roof, leaving behind a couple of wallets. One belongs to a recently murdered man (also a psychiatrist), and the other to a ritzy corporate attorney who has gone missing.

While constantly dealing with Jacinthe's disagreeable nature, Victor has to work around a few health issues of his own. And unbeknownst to Victor, his son Martin finds trouble of his own, putting him in danger and causing friction between Victor and Nadya. As the police investigation into the suicide and murder victims and missing lawyer continue, evidence of an almost unbelievable conspiracy with ties to the United States begins to emerge, and even more bodies turn up - done in by a fiendishly wicked weapon.

In the end, things are wrapped up rather nicely, making this is a worthwhile read (albeit not an easy one to wade through). Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for introducing me to a new series by way of an advance review copy.

Never Forget by Martin Michaud (Dundum, January 2020); 544 pp.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

ONE DAY YOU'LL BURN

4 stars out of 5

This one got me fired up right at the start with
the discovery of a once-human crispy critter under a Thai pagoda in Hollywood. Called in on the case are LAPD Detective Marcus Tullius ("Tully") Jarsdel and his partner Morales. An ID is next to impossible (as it will remain for some time after the body cools off), but signs suggest it wasn't your average body dump. Rather, someone deliberately picked both the modus operandi and disposal site. That brings out Tully's professorial side; the son of two gay fathers, he left the halls of academia for the police ranks (to the total and continuing dismay of both his dads).

Meantime, the two partners have been trying unsuccessfully to learn who's behind the killing of several dogs - each of which bit the dust after biting into poisoned meat on their owners' wedding day. As part of the investigation, the single Tully meets Aleesa, one of those who lost a dog a while back (long enough ago for her to have lost her husband as well). She's a bit on the kooky side - but then so is Tully, who's fond of expounding on history and philosophy at the drop of a page or two. Truth is, I found that characteristic enjoyable, educational and fitting with his character, but I'll also say that my sweet husband - who loves police procedurals perhaps more than I do - wouldn't appreciate Tully's lengthy pontifications nearly as much as I did.

At any rate, Tully and Aleesa hit it off from the git-go, adding a bit of romance to the plot. Before long, the over-baked body is identified; seems he was a huxter who once tried to sell jars of "Hollywood Dirt" to Hollywood looky-loos. Later, Tully also finds evidence that ties the victim to an unsolved case under investigation by a different LAPD department, ruffling feathers of those who are less than thrilled to have Tully and Morales digging around.

Tully tries to put his brain to work on a motive that prompted the human pot roast (leading, hopefully, to the killer's apprehension); but the closer he and Morales get to the flame, the greater the chance one or both will get burned. Making matters worse, yet another couple's official coupling day is spoiled by the killing of their precious pet, leading Tully, almost in desperation, to suggest setting up a sting operation. 

It all leads up to a suspenseful, fiery ending that certainly kept me turning pages (well, okay, swiping my Kindle screen) to the very last word. This is the first in a series, and while I didn't totally warm up to Tully (pun intended), his quirkiness and background make me eager to read the next one. Thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with an advance copy of this one. 

Dare I say well done?

One Day You'll Burn by Joseph Schneider (Poisoned Pen Press, February 2020); 336 pp.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

WHEN I WAS YOU

4 stars out of 5

I read a ton of pre-release books, and when I get them gratis or at low cost from publishers, I figure I owe it to my benefactors to finish them no matter what. And if I've learned one thing over many years and many more books, it's that I'm right to not be too hasty to call it quits.

Such is the case with this book, which I got through Amazon's First Reads program. Somewhere around the 10% mark, I was ready to call it a day. The main character, Brienne Dougray, depicts the kind of woman who, for the most part, I simply want to smack upside the head - the kind who refuses to listen to reason yet complains about her lot in life and can out-second-guess a paranoid schizophenic.

It didn't take long, though, for me to be glad I hung in there. You guessed it: Not only was I pleased (and surprised) by the turn of events, but in spots I was so close to the edge of my seat that I nearly fell off. I won't say Brienne and I could ever be best buds, but the whole thing kept getting better by the chapter.

The survivor of an attack, Brienne has holed up in the old, spacious home she inherited. Just so she won't constantly be alone, she advertises for a tenant; goodness knows she's got the extra room. The ad is answered by Dr. Niall Emberlin, who turns out to be the caring friend and helper she needs. But then, she learns that her identity may not only have been stolen, but another woman is actually living her life: Same name, same car, same physical characteristics. That's puzzling, to say the least - especially since no one seems to have tinkered with Brienne's substantial bank accounts or credit cards.

Gradually, readers begin to suspect there's much more going on here (as does Brienne). But what? And who? And why? Alas, my review must of necessity stop right here; otherwise, I'd be revealing too much. Suffice it to say it's an enjoyable roller coaster ride complete with a few surprise bumps that make it even more interesting.

When I Was You by Minka Kent (Thomas & Mercer, February 2020); 282 pp.

Friday, January 10, 2020

THINK OUTSIDE THE BUILDING

5 stars out of 5

I have a love-hate relationship with books like this. Love: They make me think. Hate: They make me think. But no matter which way it goes, nobody does "think" books better than this author, whom I have admired ever since I read A Tale of"O: On Being Different in an Organization" way back in 1980 (and about five years later, Change Masters).


Most of us in the business world (or mostly retired from it, like me) have long since taken the "think outside the box" mantra to heart; but now, the author maintains, the world has outgrown that box and it's time to expand our thinking once again. People have come to view institutions, such as health care or religion, as buildings; when we think of health care, we see hospitals; think religion,  see churches or synagogues. The people inside these buildings - in particular, those who run them - for the most part have become accustomed to, and comfortable with, the way things are and resist meaningful change (i.e., that which can make a real difference in and to the world).

Illustrated by a ton of examples, mostly from participants in Harvard University's Advanced Leadership Initiative (which the author co-founded and directs), this book "reflects a search for new possibilities for positive change." This means going beyond conventional wisdom, and certainly making an end run (or perhaps a bottom-up) around institutional top-down toxicity. Especially amid the I'm okay but you're not, circle the wagons times in which we live, that seems to me to be a sound approach. Many of us are unhappy with the world as it is, yet still believe it can be made better; the trick, if you will, is in knowing how to make that happen.

To be sure, it's not easy; it's not enough to have a well-thought-out idea. Just getting started requires three "Cs" - capabilities, connections and cash - either well in hand or knowing how and where to obtain them. Detailed here are the processes, from concept to fruition, of several such ventures: what worked, what didn't, and what the rest of us can learn from these experiences.

Overall, this is an important book that isn't just for successful business men and women and those with plenty of money to spare. Rather, it's for anyone who sees a problem that needs addressed and envisions possible solutions that could make the world (or their little part of it) better. Highly recommended, and many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review a pre-publication copy.

Oh yes, I'm still thinking.

Think Outside the Building by Rosabeth Moss Kanter (PublicAffairs, January 2020); 352 pp.