Saturday, January 29, 2022

The Overnight Guest

The Overnight Guest
  The Overnight Guest
Publication Information:  Park Row. 2022. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0778333167 / 978-0778333166

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "On August 12, 2000, Abby Morris, out of breath with sweat trickling down her temple, was hurrying down the gray ribbon of gravel road for her nightly walk."

Favorite Quote:  "It isn't the dark you should be afraid of, the girl thought, it's the monsters who step out into the light that you need to fear."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Reader beware:  The book features violent crimes and abuse. Read the book expecting that.

August 2000. Present day. The quiet small town of Burden, Blake County, Iowa. One horrible crime in the past. The possible makings of another in the present. Both centering around the same idea. "Homes were supposed to be safe havens, meant to protect. It was supposed to be a shelter from the elements, a fortress to keep out evil, and her home had betrayed ... in the worst possible way."

August 2000. A brutal murder on a quiet farm in a town that sees barely any crime. Young Josie survives, and young Becky disappears. Where does the investigation lead? How and why does this happen? Who is responsible. As in This is How I Lied, there are two girls, there is the Iowa setting, and there is a crime that no one is ever convicted of.

Present day. Wylie Lark is a true crime writer, exploring old crimes and telling the stories of the who, what, where, when, and why. She is in Burden, Iowa in the house in which the crime occurred in 2000. She is writing the story of the crime and comes to the place to finish up. A major snowstorm isolates her in the home. She finds a child in the snow and then a woman. As in This is How I Lied, there are two timelines and two investigations. 

Embedded between the two is a third story where time is not specified. That story is of a woman and her daughter kept locked up in a basement room. Occasionally, Dad visits bringing food. With Dad also comes fear, abuse, and violence. The woman, the girl, and the dad are never identified by name. 

The story winds back and forth between the three. At the beginning, the connections are unclear but the threads are pulled together, some contrived but some in unexpected ways. A woman and a child happen to crash in front of a house. The house happens to be the one Wylie is staying in. That happens to be the house in which the crime was committed. All convenient, but in this case, it does not interfere with the enjoyment of the story. It had to be brought about in some way. The twists that do come are enough to make the story not feel contrived. 

Little Mercies was predictable, but this book surprises me with its twists but in a really good way. I do not see them coming, but once revealed, my reaction is, "Of course!". That, for me, makes a mystery and thriller work. If I see all the twists coming, then a story is less engaging to follow. If the twist seems to come out of left field, then the dissatisfaction is that I could not have seen that coming, and what was the point of the read anyways. This book manages to find that balance. I keep turning pages before and after the twists to see what is next.

About the Author

Heather Gudenkauf is the critically acclaimed author of several novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Weight of Silence. She lives in Iowa with her husband and children. Her Q&A for the blog tour of This is How I Lied references the first draft of this book.

About the Book

In a snowstorm, the safest place is home. Or is it?

True crime writer Wylie Lark doesn’t mind being snowed in at the isolated farmhouse where she’s retreated to write her new book. A cozy fire, complete silence. It would be perfect, if not for the fact that decades earlier, at this very house, two people were murdered in cold blood and a girl disappeared without a trace.

As the storm worsens, Wylie finds herself trapped inside the house, haunted by the secrets contained within its walls—haunted by secrets of her own. Then she discovers a small child in the snow just outside. How long had the child been there? Where did he come from? Bringing the child inside for warmth and safety, she begins to search for answers. But soon it becomes clear that the farmhouse isn’t as isolated as she thought, and someone is willing to do anything to find them.


Excerpted from The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf, Copyright © 2022 by Heather Gudenkauf. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.


“Maybe we can go outside and play?” the girl said as she peeked around the edge of the heavy curtain that covered the window. The sky was gray and soft drops of rain tapped at the glass.

“Not today,” her mother said. “It’s raining and we’d melt.”

The girl gave a little laugh and then hopped off the chair she had dragged beneath the window. She knew her mother was teasing. They wouldn’t actually melt if they went out in the rain, but still, it made her shiver thinking about it—stepping outside and feeling the plop of water on your skin and watching it melt away like an ice cube.

Instead, the girl and her mother spent the morning at the card table cutting pink, purple, and green egg shapes from construction paper and embellishing them with polka dots and stripes.

On one oval, her mother drew eyes and a pointy little orange beak. Her mother laid the girl’s hands on a piece of yellow paper and traced around them using a pencil. “Watch,” she said as she cut out the handprints and then glued them to the back of one of the ovals.

“It’s a bird,” the girl said with delight.

“An Easter chick,” her mother said. “I made these when I was your age.”

Together, they carefully taped the eggs and chicks and bunny rab-bits they created to the cement walls, giving the dim room a festive, springy look. “There, now we’re ready for the Easter Bunny,” her mother said with triumph.

That night, when the girl climbed into bed, the butterflies in her stomach kept chasing sleep away. “Stay still,” her mother kept re-minding her. “You’ll fall asleep faster.”

The girl didn’t think that was true, but then she opened her eyes, a sliver of bright sunshine was peeking around the shade, and the girl knew that morning had finally arrived.

She leaped from bed to find her mother already at the tiny round table where they ate their meals. “Did he come?” the girl asked, tucking her long brown hair behind her ears.

“Of course he did,” her mother said, holding out a basket woven together from strips of colored paper. It was small, fitting into the palm of the girl’s hand, but sweet. Inside were little bits of green paper that were cut to look like grass. On top of this was a pack of cinnamon gum and two watermelon Jolly Ranchers.

The girl smiled though disappointment surged through her. She’d been hoping for a chocolate bunny or one of those candy eggs that oozed yellow when you broke it open.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Thank the Easter Bunny,” her mother said.

“Thank you, Easter Bunny,” the girl crowed like the child on the candy commercials that she’d seen on television. They both laughed.

They each unwrapped a piece of gum and spent the morning making up stories about the paper chicks and bunnies they made.

When the girl’s gum lost its flavor, and she had slowly licked one of the Jolly Ranchers into a sharp flat disc, the door at the top of the steps opened, and her father came down the stairs toward them. He was carrying a plastic bag and a six-pack of beer. Her mother gave the girl a look. The one that said, go on now, mom and dad need some alone time. Obediently, the girl, taking her Easter basket, went to her spot beneath the window and sat in the narrow beam of warm light that fell across the floor. Facing the wall, she unwrapped another piece of gum and poked it into her mouth and tried to ignore the squeak of the bed and her father’s sighs and grunts.

“You can turn around now,” her mother finally said. The girl sprang up from her spot on the floor.

The girl heard the water running in the bathroom, and her father poked his head out of the door. “Happy Easter,” he said with a grin. “The Easter Bunny wanted me to give you a little something.”

The girl looked at the kitchen table where the plastic bag sat. Then she slid her eyes to her mother, who was sitting on the edge of the bed, rubbing her wrist, eyes red and wet. Her mother nodded.

“Thank you,” she murmured.

Later, after her father climbed the steps and locked the door behind him, the girl went to the table and looked inside the plastic bag. In-side was a chocolate bunny with staring blue eyes. He was holding a carrot and wore a yellow bowtie.

“Go ahead,” her mother told the girl as she held an ice pack to her wrist. “When I was little, I always started with the ears.”

“I don’t think I’m very hungry,” the girl said, returning the box to the table.

“It’s okay,” her mother said gently. “You can eat it. It’s from the Easter Bunny, not your dad.”

The girl considered this. She took a little nibble from the bunny’s ear and sweet chocolate flooded her mouth. She took another bite and then another. She held out the rabbit to her mother and she bit off the remaining ear in one big bite. They laughed and took turns eating until all that was left was the bunny’s chocolate tail.

“Close your eyes and open your mouth,” her mother said. The girl complied and felt her mother place the remaining bit on her tongue and then kiss her on the nose. “Happy Easter,” her mother whispered.
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Friday, January 28, 2022

Light Years from Home

Light Years from Home
  Light Years from Home
Author:  Mike Chen
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2022. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0778311732 / 978-0778311737

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Everything in front of Jakob Shao was dark."

Favorite Quote:  "How did you cause this? How will you fix it?"

***** BLOG TOUR *****


For a book that references light years in the title and begins on an alien spaceship somewhere in outer space, the story actually has very little to do with aliens themselves. This book is about family, relationships, expectations, love, and disappointments. Not that aliens may not have those, but this is a book very much about humans - the Shao family. Dad, Mom, Kass, Jakob, and Evie.

Kass is the pragmatist, the oldest child. Jakob is the screwup who could be brilliant if he only chose to. Evie is the youngest child, rebelling because somehow she can never measure up.

The lives of this family are forever changed when one day Jakob disappears. Some assume he ran off and never looked back. Some assume he is dead. Some believe that he was abducted by aliens. No spoiler here because the first page of the book reveals Jakob to be on an alien ship under attack.

To save the world, he must return home. The question is can you go home again? If so, how? What of those you leave behind. In the fifteen years Jakob has been gone, his father has died. His mother has developed dementia. Kass has become the primary caretaker of her mother. Evie has fled to the opposite coast and is still chasing aliens, trying to prove what his father died believing - that Jakob was abducted by aliens.

The "action" plot of this book is about Jakob finding a piece of equipment he sent ahead from his spaceship, using it to unlock from his memory information to defeat the alien enemy, and then to transmit this information to his ragtag fleet attempting to defeat this enemy empire. Interestingly, the "emotional" plot is clear from the very beginning for the reminder driving Jakob's actions is simply, "Go home."

The "emotional" plot of this book is about Jakob and his family, about the different perspectives of the three siblings depending on their personalities and the role they play in the family dynamics. It is ultimately about love. The book tells the story in the alternating perspectives of the three siblings, creating a rounded view of the family and reinforcing how children in the same family can have completely different childhoods and memories.

Within this context, the ending of the book seems rather sudden and somewhat unfinished. I suppose it really could not end any other way, but nevertheless, with the entire book focused on family and togetherness, the decision made at the end seems to revert back to the beginning. Perhaps, the lesson is that once the past is resolved, it is possible to move forward again with a clearer purpose. Perhaps, I am reading too much into it, and it is simply the fact that most family relationship do not have a closure. They simply go on.

Regardless, the story works. Ultimately, this book is more family drama than sci fi, but a heartwarming drama to follow. This seems true of all the Mike Chen books I have read. 

About the Book

Back again with his trademark "sci fi with feelings," Mike Chen brings us a Space Opera/Family Drama mash-up. When Jakob Shao reappears after fifteen missing years, he brings turmoil to his sisters, Kass and Evie, and intergalactic war on his heels.

Every family has issues. Most can't blame them on extraterrestrials.

Fifteen years ago while on a family camping trip, Jakob Shao and his father vanished. His father turned up a few days later, dehydrated and confused, but convinced that they'd been abducted by aliens. Jakob remained missing.

The Shao sisters, Kass and Evie, dealt with the disappearance end ensuing fallout in very different ways. Kass over the years stepped up to be the rock of the family: carving a successful path for herself, looking after the family home, and becoming her mother's caregiver when she starts to suffer from dementia. Evie took her father's side, going all in on UFO conspiracy theories, and giving up her other passions to pursue the possible truth of life outside our planet. And always looking for Jakob.

When atmospheric readings from Evie's network of contacts indicate a disturbance event just like the night of the abduction, she heads back home. Because Jakob is back. He's changed, and the sisters aren't sure what to think. But one thing is certain -- the tensions between the siblings haven't changed at all. Jakob, Kass and Evie are going to have to grow up and sort out their differences, and fast. Because the FBI is after Jakob, and possibly an entire alien armada, too.

About the Author

Mike Chen is the author of the award-nominated Here And Now And Then and featured in Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View—The Empire Strikes Back. He has covered geek culture for sites such as, The Mary Sue, and and used to cover the NHL for Fox Sport and other outlets. A member of SFWA, Mike lives in the Bay Area with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals.


Excerpted from Light Years from Home by Mike Chen, Copyright © 2022 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books. 

Chapter 1

Everything in front of Jakob Shao was dark.

His eyes adjusted after several seconds, turning the void into a black sheet laced with brilliant white dots, countless stars coming into focus. Jakob raised a finger and poked at the nothingness, only to feel a magnetic pushback from deflective impulses. Force fields, really, as Jakob still used the Earth terminology brought from a childhood of movies and comic books. Whatever they were called, they kept the vacuum of space from sucking him out, freezing him, possibly imploding him.

The atmosphere dock of the Awakened ship wasn’t much more welcoming than deep space. It didn’t help that he stood barefoot and nearly naked, only an ill-fitting cloth halfway between a burlap sack and a poncho draped over him. The Awakened probably used it more to maintain their hostage’s body temperature than comfort, and definitely not for fashion. But where were his captors?

Where was anyone?

Then a voice called out.

A familiar voice, a not-human one that strained to yell his name in a vocalization that came halfway between a crow’s caw and an electronic blip. The implanted chips between Seven Bells soldiers constantly translated for species, but nothing came through here. Something must have burned out the chip, leaving only natural expression, a human word forced into alien physiology.

It called Jakob’s name.

Jakob ran to the voice, tracing the sound while rumbles vibrated the floor. Spigots of steam and gaseous vapor burst onto him, and his bare feet crunched on jagged debris. He turned a corner and though different lights flashed and fluctuated through the dim space, he saw a familiar figure.


The unmistakable silhouette of curling horns and humanoid frame of Henry’s native species stood out against beams of light, and Jakob called out. “Henry!”—The simplest name he could assign to his friend given the physically impossible way of pronouncing their culture’s names. A harsh draft blew dust in his face, fragments hitting his bare shoulders as he charged forward. “Henry! We need to go right—”

Except Henry would not be able to go anywhere.

Stripped of his standard armor and clothing, his friend’s set of eight eyes all focused on him, their face angling away. One arm reached out to Jakob, straining to move.

The other remained frozen, a statue pose as the crystallization took over, organic matter gradually desiccating from the bottom up. Jakob paused, slowly putting together what it all meant.

Jakob was in the Seven Bells first wave of defense, but his power-armor mech had been damaged and he was captured in space. Henry was to lead the second wave, an on-the-ground defense squad that took advantage of his native planetary knowledge.

They must have failed. Which meant Henry’s home world had fallen to the Awakened, their technology analyzed and usurped, their population and wildlife crystallized to be used as building material.

Jakob took his friend’s hand, a pincer-like claw with small sensory tentacles in the palm. “I’m so sorry. So sorry,” Jakob said repeatedly, taking far too much time given the exploding craft around him. Henry’s shoulder froze, body crystalizing from elbow to forearm to claws until the whole appendage stiffened and the sensory tentacles stopped moving. Jakob leaned forward as an invisible weight suddenly pushed in on his skull, a pressure from the center outward. He looked at Henry, only their head and neck remaining, eyes closed, but tilted his way.

Jakob knew what to do, what Henry wanted. It was the way their species passed on generational knowledge during final moments.

He let Henry in.

And several seconds later, Jakob absorbed information, secrets, devastation, all of the things that Henry saw and felt while Jakob had been captured. And a number.

A sixteen-digit number that could change everything.

“Go,” Henry managed in their unearthly voice before the crystallization process inched upward, eventually taking over their entire head with a sparkly dead texture.

Then his friend collapsed, their transformed body falling apart like a sand castle imploding under its own wait. Henry's remains scattered, spilling everywhere and getting between Jakob's toes. When he turned, he felt the grind beneath his feet.

But there was no time to mourn or be disgusted. He needed to go. But where?

Jakob sprinted, checking all corners and hallways. But whatever had happened before he came to had caused the ship to be evacuated, mostly ransacked of anything useful. At a hanger bay, his captured half-wrecked mech sat, stripped of any useful tools. The only thing intact was a decryptor—a tool for espionage. Not escape.

That wouldn’t help here, though he grabbed the device anyway—technically, a neural encryptor/decryptor—and looked for a way out. In the corner, a holographic interface flickered on and off.

That just might do it.

A closer look had Jakob laughing at his luck: the half-functioning interface was the ship's compressed-matter transporter system, something he was familiar with since the Seven Bells regularly scavenged them from downed Awakened craft. He craned his neck up at the too-tall interface next to him, fingers flying over controls he understood just enough to operate. It hummed to life, a low vibration nearly eclipsed by the ongoing rumbles of various decks exploding above him. A white glow signified it was ready to fire him across space.

Him—and the knowledge he'd stolen.

But what destination would provide safety until the Seven Bells recovered him?

A star chart glowed in front of him, and the vast pool of space lay at his fingertips. One of those tiny dots represented a chance. He just had to figure out which one—fast.

Jakob scanned the possibilities, already tensing for the brutal gauntlet of compressed matter transport: an invisible bubble sealing around the body, then throttling it through a newly generated wormhole that collapsed upon exit. He needed somewhere safe, somewhere primitive that the Awakened would completely overlook. Only then could he track his fleet without putting them in danger. Solar system upon solar system whirred in front of him, the options coming and going until he paused at one choice.

One obvious, hilarious, completely impossible choice.

Earth. The place he’d departed fifteen years ago.

Jakob zoomed in on the image, examining its projected rotation. Pure dumb luck handed him a win here; they were passing through within three light years, perfectly within the edge of the transporter’s radius. The holographic light pulsed, indicating the system was ready to go.

But what if the Awakened chased him, captured him again? He could hide his body, yet his mind still represented a risk: specifically, the device implanted in his head that connected to the Seven Bells command fleet, activated only when speaking the right words. The Awakened were known for torturing to the point of unconsciousness, trying to pry secrets that might tip the war one way or another, except he’d been trained to protect the activation phrase with his life.

His life for the entire fleet’s life.

But did the Awakened have other ways to extract that information, something more strategic than pain? If they tracked him down, could they try some type of mental probe or memory scanner?

Jakob turned to think, his bare foot kicking against a smooth object that suddenly caught his attention.

The decryptor he salvaged—a basketball-sized device that could scramble certain parts of his memory. A way to blank out the activation phrase from his mind, guaranteeing its safety—and thus, the fleet’s safety—in any situation until the Seven Bells located him. Jakob calculated the risks. As one of the Seven Bells’ leading engineers, patching up damaged equipment in the heat of battle was standard procedure. But scrambling and patching up his own mind?

There was a first time for everything.

Jakob held the decryptor to his forehead, pressing it firmly and thinking as hard as he could about the specific phrase to activate the skull implant’s emergency communications signal. A very quick, very sharp zap hit him, and with it, scrambled that memory, now unlockable solely with this very device.

But he suddenly realized that if the zap’s blast radius scrambled tangential memories, he might lose more: what had happened, what he needed, his whole mission. Jakob’s eyes darted around, searching the broken space for something that might provide a way to give himself tangible backup clues.

The pipes on the walls.

Whatever liquid they contained might be as good as ink.

He grabbed jagged shrapnel off the floor and smashed the line, neon blue dripping out. It didn’t produce steam or eat through the floor. Good enough. His finger stung a little under the viscous liquid, and with it, he wrote words on his exposed skin.


Dizziness and nausea struck as details blurred out of existence, and Jakob knew disorientation would hit soon enough. He held the decryptor close, hugging it while activating the scan sequence of the transporter. A thin beam of light trickled over him, a tingle crawling over his skin while the transporter calculated the shape and strength of its protective bubble. It nearly finished when sparks flew from the far side of the room, another shake knocking him off balance.

“Shit, shit, shit,” he said while reinitiating the scan, uttering Earth curses that still stayed with him. The scanning beam re-appeared, only to stop halfway down his body. He tried again and then again, but each time, it refused to move past the decryptor.

Jakob squinted at the repeated message on the transporter’s interface, but without the supporting communications tech from Seven Bells on him, it was incomprehensible. He looked at the decryptor in his hand, then back at the interface, then over at the message.

Maybe that was it. Jakob with the device might be too much.

He set the decryptor on the floor and retargeted the scan beam. Several seconds later, a planetary image indicated a target destination. The decryptor shot off across space, a simple white flash as it vanished.

He’d have to find it. But what if the decryptor's memory fallout erased those details? What if the transporter veered him off course on his own journey? How would he even know where to start?

Jakob turned back to the holographic map; the decryptor had been sent somewhere on the west coast of the North American continent. The Bay Area. Images flashed through his mind, faces surfacing after so many years of disconnecting from that life.

Mom. Dad. Kassie. Evie.


Such a word felt weightless, devoid of any meaning now. But it gave a shorthand to the decryptor’s location.

He jabbed his finger into the smashed pipeline, dipping into enough alien goo to write one more message. GO HOME, he wrote across his left shoulder. That would point him in the right direction, no matter where on Earth he started.

Jakob took in a deep breath, then hit the controls again on the transporter. The beam returned, scanning him up and down. Seconds passed and the air changed, like he was encased in a layer of plastic— pressurized energy protecting him across the vacuum of space. Around him, various hums and vibrations indicated the system would activate in moments.

The room shook as a hole tore open in the ceiling, fire and shrapnel showering him.

“Weapon. Signal. Go home.” He told himself, repeating the words. If all the writing dissolved or washed off, he could try to remember these few words. He readied himself, and only now did he notice bits of crystalline sand stuck to his legs and feet. Nausea hit Jakob, but whether it came from the decryptor process or seeing Henry’s remains, he wasn't sure. Fists formed with tight fingers and tensed arms, and he forced himself to picture Henry's crumbling body, a reminder of why he needed to do this.

“Weapon. Signal.”

He had to make it to Earth safely. He had to retrieve the decryptor and contact the fleet.

Because he wasn’t just a Seven Bells soldier trying to find a way back. Those sixteen digits Henry had chiseled into his mind would win the war.

He just needed to tell them first.

“Go home.”

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Friday, January 21, 2022


Author:  Thrity Umrigar
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2022. 336 pages.
ISBN:  161620995X / 978-1616209957

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Her face is a constellation of stars."

Favorite Quote:  "Everywhere she went, it seemed, it was open season on women. Rape, female genital mutilation, bride burnings, domestic abuse - everyone, in every country, women were abused, isolated, silenced, imprisoned, controlled, punished, and killed. Sometimes, it seems to Smita that the history of the world was written in female blood."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Meena is a young woman. Born and raised in a small village in rural India, Meena grows up under the strict control of her brothers. She and her sister flout tradition by getting paying jobs to help support the families. Her brothers use her earrings but considering her working an insult to them. Meena, a Hindu girl, falls in love with a Muslim man. She is forbidden and then worse to prevent such a union. She marries him anyway. They have a daughter. They name her Abru. "It means Honor."

Meena's brothers exact revenge and, in their eyes, restore their honor by murdering her husband by burning him alive. He dies, and Meena is left permanently scarred. Her courage propels her further. She allows an attorney to file suit against her brothers. "Steel is forged from fire."

Everyone awaits the court's decision. This is the point at which the book begins and the point at which Smita joins the story. She is a reporter. She is of Indian heritage, but her family immigrated to the United States when Smita was young. Being back in India brings back to Smita all the reasons she loved India but all the betrayals and hate that caused her family to leave.

Through the story of these two women both past and present, the book tackles so many issues surrounding even modern day India - poverty, corruption, religious tensions, and, most of all, violence against women. This view is tempered through the depiction of Mohan, who embodies a passion for his homeland and a vision of what it could be.

The story of this book is Smita's story, including her telling of Meena's story and her own role in Meena's story. That is my only regret about this compelling and heartbreaking book. I want this to be Meena's story first and foremost. That is the voice I want to hear for that is the voice the world needs to hear. However, the book begins and ends with Smita.

Smita's story in and of itself is tragic and horrifying, but it is Meena's story that I want to hear more of. Smita's story is of strife between faiths, and times when friends and neighbors betrayed each other in the name of religion. Meena's story is of the strife between two faiths and even more so about the plight of women - women of any faith in a rigid, male dominated society. Smita's story is of a terrifying, horrifying, life altering event as a child, but it is about a way out and life - even a good life - after. Meena's story is about a lifetime of subjugation and abuse with no foreseeable way out. Smita's story is a reflection back on tragedy and the way in which a decision can alter the trajectory of an entire life. Meena's story is an ongoing tragedy. Not to mitigate the trauma in Smita's story, but I am drawn more to Meena's story. The fact that the books begins and ends with Smita highlights that disparity in focus even more starkly.

Nevertheless, both women are memorable characters, and the events described so tragic that the book will stay with me for a long time.

About the Author

Thrity Umrigar is the bestselling author of eight novels, including The Space Between Us, which was a finalist for the PEN/Beyond Margins Award, as well as a memoir and three picture books. Her books have been translated into several languages and published in more than fifteen countries. She is the winner of a Lambda Literary Award and a Seth Rosenberg Award and is Distinguished Professor of English at Case Western Reserve University. A recipient of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard, she has contributed to the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the New York Times and Huffington Post.

About the Book

The bestselling author of the PEN/Beyond Margins Award finalist The Space Between Us and eight other critically acclaimed novels that have been published in over fifteen countries, Thrity Umrigar has long been known as an author with “an uncanny ability to look deeply into the human heart and find the absolute truth of our lives” (Luis Alberto Urrea). Now, it is with great excitement that we welcome Umrigar to the Algonquin list with HONOR (Publication Date: January 4th, 2022; $26.95), her ninth novel in a remarkably accomplished career. Returning to subjects that have long haunted her work—the complex relationship between women of different classes, the power of privilege and wealth, and the lively, frenetic energy of Mumbai—Umrigar’s HONOR is a “powerful, important, unforgettable book” (Cheryl Strayed) that shows she is working at the height of her extraordinary talents. As New York Times bestselling author Lisa Wingate says, “In the way A Thousand Splendid Suns told of Afghanistan’s women, Umrigar tells a story of India with the intimacy of one who knows the many facets of a land both modern and ancient... A place where love can sometimes involve the peril of defying convention, and ultimately risking everything for what matters most.”

When a young Hindu woman is brutally tortured for marrying a Muslim man, and her husband murdered, Indian-American journalist Smita travels to India to cover the story of the young widow, Meena, and her attackers—her own brothers, who feel their sister’s forbidden marriage brought unforgivable shame to the family. Returning to Mumbai for the first time in twenty years, Smita sees a country entrenched in outdated beliefs about caste, religion, and patriarchy, a country where a woman can meet violence for exercising any amount of autonomy. But Smita’s harsh assessment of modern India is complicated by Mohan, a lifelong Mumbai resident with progressive ideals and a fierce love of his country who becomes her unofficial partner in her quest to bring awareness to the tragedy. As Smita works for justice on behalf of Meena and her infant daughter, she must also reckon with the privilege she now has as an American—and finally face the trauma that led to her own family fleeing India all those years ago.

“A few years ago, I read a series of articles in the New York Times about the misogyny endured by women in rural India,” says Umrigar, a recipient of the Nieman fellowship at Harvard, a Distinguished Professor of English at Case Western University, and former prize-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe. “I lived in India until I was 21, but since I was raised in a modern, urban family, some of the ‘traditions’ and rituals I read about—most of which are rooted in iron-clad beliefs about caste and religion and patriarchy—shocked me. I began to conceive of a novel where a woman who exercises basic human rights—the right to employment, to love and marry whoever she chooses—is brutally punished for her courage. I wanted to explore her inner life, the source of such bravery. And then I thought of a second character, one who has had the advantages of wealth and education, but who has also been wounded by the divisions in Indian society. I wanted to see these two women in conversation, to see whether they could inspire and support one another.”

“With HONOR, Thrity Umrigar continues her habit of laying bare the folly of our perceived differences,” says Connie Schultz, author of The Daughters of Erietown. “This an intense and spellbinding novel, ricocheting between fear and hope, and betrayal and redemption. HONOR is the story of the human heart in all of its complexities, and love worth fighting for.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton

  The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton
Author:  Eleanor Ray
Publication Information:  Gallery Books. 2021. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1982163526 / 978-1982163525

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It really was too much."

Favorite Quote:  "Real life needed space to grow."

Amy Ashton is a thirty-something year old woman living alone in a home she owns. She is a hoarder, but she wasn't always. The traumatic, simultaneous disappearance of her long-time boyfriend and her best friend led to Amy's hoarding. "Belongings were what she could trust. People were not."

Amy Ashton met Tim at a party. He became the love of her life. She moved in with him and her best friend Chantal. Life was merry and joyful for a while. Then, one day Tim and Chantal disappeared. No note. No goodbye. No clues. There was an investigation, but nothing was found. It was presumed that they both deserted Amy and ran off together.

Amy never recovered. She changed. She withdrew more an more into herself. She turned into a hoarder. This is where the book begins. Her hoarding fills her home and spills over into her yard. Most spaces in her home are no longer accessible. The mass of stuff is providing a haven for creatures such as mice. Neighbors have complained. 

A new neighbor moves in - the right age and the right demeanor. He has two boys of his own. Can you see where this is going?

The book uses a two-timeline approach to tell the stories of Amy's past and present. This approach, for me, does not work as successfully as it does in other books. By the end, the two meet. That coming together is quick and convenient. It ties everything up in a neat package - too neat. Life is not that neat.

Somehow, through it all, Amy herself fails to develop into a sympathetic character. Perhaps a chronological story may have heightened the impact of the disappearance and presumed betrayal and the understanding of Amy's hoarding of particularl objects. Perhaps, a less than neat, conveniently packaged ending may have leant more reality to Amy's story. Perhaps, the use of more realistic supporting characters than the stereotypical handsome neighbor and the mean neighbor may have helped develop Amy's characters. Perhaps, the more depth to the relationships than the instant conversion of enemies to friends and neighbors into more may have helped.

The issue of hoarding is central to this book. Yet, it does not appear to be given the depth and challenge that the issue deserves. Amy emerges out of her need to hoard as the unresolved mysteries of her life find resolution. Yet, no mention is made of help or resources sources sought. It appears too simplified a depiction. A trauma leads to uncontrolled hoarding. A friendship and a resolution to a mystery is the only impetus needed to lead towards a cure from the condition. Maybe it happens that way, but, most likely, it takes considerable more.

Sadly, much as I want to like Amy and her story, I was not the right reader for this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

My Darling Husband

My Darling Husband
  My Darling Husband
Author:  Kimberly Belle
Publication Information:  Park Row. 2022. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0778312119 / 978-0778312116

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP BOOK Fall 2021 Mystery & Thriller tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Juanita Moore:  Mr. Lasky, thank you for speaking with me today and sharing your story with Channel 7 Action News."

Favorite Quote:  "What's that old saying? The higher your star, the farther it is to fall. That's not an excuse, but I hope it's an explanation."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


The "darling" husband is Cam Lasky - chef, restaurant owner, entrepreneur, husband, father, and perhaps much more and perhaps, as the author's interview states, "not so darling after all." The loving wife is Jade - designer, wife, mother, and someone who put her own dreams and ambitions aside to support those of her husband. The children are nine year Beatrix and four year old Baxter. Nine year old Beatrix is stubborn, mature for her age, and a violin prodigy. Baxter is a precocious four.

The Lasky family lives in a mansion, drives expensive cars, and Jade is dripping in diamonds. Cam Lasky is a celebrity as Atlanta's Steak King, with his five restaurants and perhaps a sixth on the way. They are definitely one of Atlanta's power couples - loving marriage, children, success, and wealth visible to the world. However, perhaps all that glitters is not gold. Debt and a whole litany of disgruntled former employees plague Cam. Does Jade know?

The book begins with two dramatic events. Jade feels as if she is being followed. Cam is dealing with a major, destructive fire at his flagship restaurant. Then, it gets worse. Jade arrives home, only to be overtaken by an intruder. Now, Jade and the kids are locked in the house with a kidnapper. With Cam making enemies of so many people, there are many candidates for who might be responsible for the fire and who the kidnapper is.

The book becomes an entertaining fiction as the layers of Cam and Jade's life are peeled back to reveal their secrets and the people who have grudges against them. The book adds to the layers with multiple perspectives - Cam's, Jade's, and the invader's. Cam's perspective is portrayed through an after-the-fact interview with a reporter; it is about memory, regrets, and 20/20 hindsight. Jade's perspective is that of a mother's nightmare - captured in a house with her children and a masked invader; it is about fear, courage, and survival. The invader's perspective is the most mysterious for his identity and motive are unknown at the beginning; his is the story of anger, revenge, and desperation.

The story itself is slow moving for it is more about revelation than action. The crux of the story is the why? Why does this happen to Cam and Jade, and what role do they each play in the events that lead to this? What makes the story works is that all three characters - Cam, Jade, and the invader - are believable. All are driven by a sense of desperation. While, as a reader, there are decisions the characters make that should never be made, the sense of fear and even love that drives the choices is understandable. The children are perhaps a little too precocious, but it is what it is.

If you want to look at a broader point in a domestic thriller, this book highlights disparity in wealth and the decisions that leads to. It also speaks to decisions of business owners that sometimes come at the expense of their employees and the need to find that balance between profit and people. That conversation too is an important one.

So, enjoy the thriller or look for the bigger meaning or both in this entertaining book.

About the Book

Bestselling author of DEAR WIFE and THE MARRIAGE LIE, Kimberly Belle returns with her most heart-pounding thriller to date, as a masked home invader reveals the cracks in a marriage.

Everyone is about to know what her husband isn’t telling her…

Jade and Cam Lasky are by all accounts a happily married couple with two adorable kids, a spacious home and a rapidly growing restaurant business. But their world is tipped upside down when Jade is confronted by a masked home invader. As Cam scrambles to gather the ransom money, Jade starts to wonder if they’re as financially secure as their lifestyle suggests, and what other secrets her husband is keeping from her.

Cam may be a good father, a celebrity chef and a darling husband, but there’s another side he’s kept hidden from Jade that has put their family in danger. Unbeknownst to Cam and Jade, the home invader has been watching them and is about to turn their family secrets into a public scandal.

With riveting twists and a breakneck pace, My Darling Husband is an utterly compelling thriller that once again showcases Kimberly Belle's exceptional talent for domestic suspense.

About the Author

Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of seven novels, including her latest, My Darling Husband (December 2021). Her third novel, The Marriage Lie, was a semifinalist in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, and a #1 e-book bestseller in the UK and Italy. She’s sold rights to her books in a dozen languages as well as film and television options. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Q&A with Kimberly Belle

Q: Your cover really draws you in. Are you involved with the cover process? What do you hope this cover tells potential readers?
A: Thank you! And I agree; the designers at Park Row really nailed this one. Typically, I don’t have a lot of involvement with the cover until it’s nearly finished, which means it’s already gotten approval from my editorial team as well as the folks in sales and marketing before I get to see it. That moment when the email lands in my inbox – A sneak peek at your cover! – is always so exciting.

In my mind, what makes the My Darling Husband cover so strong is that it gives us a view of Jade’s face but none of her husband Cam’s, only a slice of his shoulder. For me, this makes Cam feel somewhat elusive, and it hopefully puts the reader on alert that things with him may not be what they seem. Especially in combination with the title, the image lets the reader know that the husband in this story may not be so darling after all.

Q: What research did you need to conduct for this book and how did you do it?
A: I did a lot of research around a couple of plot points that if I mentioned them here, would give a big chunk of the story away. What I can mention is my research around raising a child prodigy and the kinds of stresses that degree of talent can put on both the family and the child. Beatrix is nine and has played violin since she was a toddler, when she picked up one in the toy aisle at Target. As amazing as her talent is, it’s also a daily hurdle. Lessons, practice time, the drive to succeed, the pressure to not “waste” your talent by frittering away your time with normal childhood pursuits – it can all feel very isolating. She’s a brilliant, brave kid who is much more mature than she should be, as illustrated with this line: “Most parents want their children to grow up. Cam and I should have spent more time coaxing Beatrix to grow down.”

Q: What is your elevator pitch for My Darling Husband?
A: My Darling Husband is the story of a mother held captive with her two children in their own home while her husband scrambles for the ransom, and the masked invader who’s about to turn their family secrets into a public scandal.

Q: Which came first, the story or the title?
A: I turned this book in as “Book #7” so definitely the story came first. Seven books in, and not one of my titles has ever stuck, so I’ve stopped worrying about what the story will be called when I’m writing it. My publisher has a fabulous team of experts who are so much more versed in the process than I am. While I’m only thinking of the story, they’re looking at big-picture items like comparable stories, market trends, which words are hitting a collective chord (remember all the books with “girl” in the title?). All this goes to say, they know what they’re doing, and I am happy to let them work their magic!

Q: What is your favorite season and why?
A: My favorite season has always been fall. I never mind the shorter days and cooler air, all the more reason to light a fire and wrap myself up in an oversized sweater. For me, fall has all the bests–the best fashion and the best food (soup season!) and the best festivities, ones that are centered around family. That’s hands-down my favorite part of fall, when all my people are gathered under one roof.

Social Links

Author website:
Facebook: @KimberlyBelleBooks
Twitter: @KimberlySBelle
Instagram: @kimberlysbelle

Buy Links

Barnes & Noble:
Google Play:

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, January 10, 2022

The Paris Bookseller

The Paris Bookseller
  The Paris Bookseller
Author:  Kerri Maher
Publication Information:  Berkeley. 2022. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0593102185 / 978-0593102183

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was hard not to feel that Paris was the place."

Favorite Quote:  "Not every star is like the étoile polar, chérie. Some are more elusive, more subtle. But they are no less brilliant, no less important."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


The store Shakespeare and Company is a bucket list destination for this reader even though the store in existence now is not the store originally established by Sylvia Beach. I relish the opportunity to read a fictional account of the store's history history and the history of its intriguing founder.

February 2, 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the publishing of Ulysses by James Joyce - the most impactful legacy of Sylvia Beach. The novel was first published in installments as a serial. In the United States, it was deemed immoral and, by some, pornographic. No publisher on either side of the ocean would take on the project until Sylvia Beach. She and many others deemed it art. Her undertaking to publish it altered the world of literature.

This book is the story of Sylvia Beach, of Shakespeare and Company, and of the publishing of Ulysses. It does not cover Sylvia's entire life, but rather the time from 1917 until 1937, the period relevant to these events. 

Much as I find the history intriguing, I find myself not the reader for this particular book. Based on the content of Ulysses and based on Sylvia Beach's relationships at this time, this book becomes graphic at times, and that is just not for me. Much of the history relevant to this story is that of acceptance of sexuality and the differences in that acceptance amongst individuals and across continents between Europe and the United States. It is fascinating and heartbreaking to read some of the same conversations occurring today. However, I still do not need physical descriptions in a book to reach understanding.

The telling of this book is also very much like a history. As the author's note points out, "... I chose to write the novel in the third person because I wanted readers to see things that Sylvia might not." This narrative approach lends itself to that history book feel. Yet, many nonfiction sources exist for this history. I love historical fiction to point me to history, but I still want the emotional, fictional story built around the characters to be the focal point. Too much in the direction of history takes away from the emotional connection to the story.

As a broader third person history, the book also expands well beyond Sylvia's story. There are a lot of names in this book. Some I know. Some I feel I should know. Some I just don't. Many are historical figures, but some are pure fiction as the author's note distinguishes. With this broad number of characters, I find myself occasionally lost amongst the characters. When a name is first mentioned, I am unsure of how closely to pay attention as I do not know who will appear again and what relevance they may have to the story. It is a challenge, and not one I successfully meet through the entirety of the book.

Although I am not the reader for this book, I so appreciate the introduction to this history. I honor the book and the author in words from the book itself. "And I feel nothing but gratitude for the writers who make the sentences. Sentences have changed my life." Thank you.

About the Book

(from the author's website)

Discover the dramatic story of how a humble bookseller fought against incredible odds to bring one of the most important books of the 20th century to the world in this new novel from the author of The Girl in the White Gloves.

When bookish young American Sylvia Beach opens Shakespeare and Company on a quiet street in Paris in 1919, she has no idea that she and her new bookstore will change the course of literature itself.

Shakespeare and Company is more than a bookstore and lending library: Many of the most prominent writers of the Lost Generation, like Ernest Hemingway, consider it a second home. It’s where some of the most important literary friendships of the twentieth century are forged—none more so than the one between Irish writer James Joyce and Sylvia herself. When Joyce’s controversial novel Ulysses is banned, Beach takes a massive risk and publishes it under the auspices of Shakespeare and Company.

But the success and notoriety of publishing the most infamous and influential book of the century comes with steep costs. The future of her beloved store itself is threatened when Ulysses’ success brings other publishers to woo Joyce away. Her most cherished relationships are put to the test as Paris is plunged deeper into the Depression and many expatriate friends return to America. As she faces painful personal and financial crises, Sylvia—a woman who has made it her mission to honor the life-changing impact of books—must decide what Shakespeare and Company truly means to her.

About the Author

Kerri Maher holds an MFA from Columbia University. She was a writing professor but now writes full-time. She lives in a Boston, Massachusetts suburb with with her daughter and dog. She is the author of The Girl in White Gloves, The Kennedy Debutante, and, under the name Kerri Majors, This Is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World.


From THE PARIS BOOKSELLER published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Kerri Maher.

Sitting at her little desk in the Palais, Sylvia kept catching the scent of dust and lavender that reminded her of A. Monnier—the shop and the woman, both—and every time she buried her nose in her sleeves to find the source of it, she found it was always elusive.

She couldn't help thinking that this distraction was just one more sign she was not destined to be a writer, despite the fact that after all the reading she'd done in her life, everyone around her, from her parents and sisters to her oldest friend, Carlotta Welles, just assumed she would be one.

"There's a Walt Whitman in you," her father told her every time she brought home another high mark on a school essay. "I just know it."

But essays were not poems, or novels. When she tried her hand at verse or a story, it came out all wrong. She adored Whitman. To try to be anything remotely like him—or Kate Chopin or any of the Brontë sisters, for that matter—almost seemed an insult. It didn't help that as she grew older, she began to prefer the writers she saw successfully continuing Whitman's legacy, singing so startlingly of themselves and the world that she would sometimes complete one of their works and lie awake half the night wondering, How do they do it? How do they reach inside me, put their fist around my very soul, and rattle it in its cage? It had been like that with Chopin's The Awakening especially, and also with James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Oh god, she felt a roiling stew of lust and admiration and jealousy thinking of both those novels. The exquisite honesty with which they wrote about bodies and their cravings, and the guilt and consequences of those cravings, using words strung into unsettling sentences that embodied the very nature of the character's inner turmoil, made Sylvia sweat in her sheets.

Could she ever write so bravely, knowing her minister father, whom she loved dearly, would read every word? It was one thing for him to quietly accept her spinsterhood, and perhaps even her discreet sapphism—for he'd never encouraged her to marry and he'd never questioned the friendships she'd had with women, which after all had run the gamut between entirely platonic and, rarely, heart-wrenchingly intimate—but it would be quite another thing for her to write about her desires with the kind of honesty she admired in the new writing she was starting to see in the more progressive journals.

Could she write about her own deepest longings with abandon, without abandoning herself? Could she help fill the pages of her favorite journal, The Little Review, which its editor Margaret Anderson had boldly left entirely blank in 1916, publishing twenty-odd white pages with only an editorial saying that she was no longer willing to publish good enough writing; everything she published had to be true art. Art that would remake the world. And Sylvia believed with all her heart that this was the purpose of art—to be new, to make change, to alter minds.

She recalled her mother's reply to her father's suggestion about Whitman: "Or maybe she'll be the next Elizabeth Cady Stanton." Why did her parents have to pick such big shoes for her to fill?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The Ride of Her Life

  The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America
Author:  Elizabeth Letts
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0525619321 / 978-0525619321

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The sun rose bright over Pasadena, California, on January 1, 1954."

Favorite Quote:  "... the quiet strength of her personal philosophy - that happiness comes only to those who participate in the adventure of life, and that true security is, in essence, a state of mind."

Imagine 1954 in Maine. Imagine being a 63-year old woman who has spent most of her life on an isolated farm in Maine. Imagine that you have lost your family and are about to lose your farm.  Imagine that you have been told be the doctor to live a restful life and that you may not have long to live. If you find yourself in this situation, what do you do?

Now comes the surprise. Annie Wilkins is this woman, and what she decides to do is take a huge risk. She spends a season growing a cash crop to make some money, sells her farm, buys a horse, and decides that she is going to ride cross country with her dog to see California. Why? For the simple reason of a dream to see California. Annie, at a crossroads in her life, does not want to die without living out a dream.

This book is the story of that journey that lasted over a year. She began in November, 1954 and reached California in March 1956. She began with some money, a horse named Tarzan, and a dog named Depeche Toi. "And more than anything, Annie had trust. When she set off, she was sure she was going to find the same America she'd grown up believing in: A country made up of one giant set of neighbors. People who'd be happy to give you a helping hand. People spread out far and wide, from sea to shining sea, with different accents, and different favorite dishes, and different kinds of homes, people who lived with dust or traffic, snowstorms or tornadoes, or mountain for flatlands, in cities or small towns. ... people who were fundamentally decent and deep down, the same."

That trust, for the most part, bears out across the country. Annie's personal story becomes of days of riding and people along the way who provide help and support. The cycle repeats over and over and even grows as Annie's story goes "viral" through the news without the benefit of the internet. She and her animals capture the imagination of all those who learn about them. 

Annie's story alone, however, is not enough to fill a book because the days do repeat and the sense of purpose remains constant. This book adds to Annie's story with inserts about the history of the United States at that time. The highway system. The beginning of the TV age. The demise of small farms. The growth of towns. The Jim Crow era. McCarthyism. And so much more. The information builds on an incident, a location, or even a person along Annie journey and expands to present the history.

The history at times seems to interrupt Annie's story, but, at the same time, provides the context. At times, the balance tilts in favor of the history, with Annie's story becoming a conduit for the history. However, the uniqueness of Annie and her journey is definitely the ultimate lasting impression of this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.