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Blog Tour & Review: One Hundred Names

One Hundred Names

One Hundred Names
by Cecelia Ahern
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
496 pages
Genre: fiction 
4 / 5

Kitty Logan’s life is in the dumper.

For one thing, her journalism career is going up in flames, thanks to an ill-begotten story that Kitty not only aired on television, but pursued doggedly for half a year. Her boyfriend moved out, something Kitty herself isn’t even the first to notice, and her beloved mentor Constance has died, leaving Kitty a list of 100 names that apparently are not connected in the least.

Granted, Constance was a bit eccentric and capricious, chasing after story angles that other journalists would view nonsensical. This is a woman, after all, who hid her passports in the toaster and her wine in the potting shed. What is Kitty supposed to do with these 100 names?

Her editor, Peter, thinks it’s all rubbish, but he wants to honor Constance, so he agrees to let Kitty pursue the story – even if no one knows what the story is. Kitty, however, is damaged goods; advertisers threaten to pull their business if the magazine publishes Kitty’s work. That’s almost the least of her concerns, though: her apartment routinely is vandalized, including feces smeared on the door.

Ah, yes. The least of HER problems.

Therein lines the lesson Kitty must learn: it is not, contrary to what she thinks, all about her.

Kitty ruined a man’s life with her reporting. Rather than acknowledge the pain she inflicted, she instead focuses on her own suffering, much to the dismay of her best friend Sam. He’s there for her when she needs him, but he too often feels disgusted with her.

Kitty responds by seeking solace in all the wrong places. She is a difficult character to like because she is so selfish and self-focused, but Cecelia Ahern doesn’t want you to like her heroine. As with Sam and the rest of the cast, we must be patient with Kitty. We have to decide if she’s worth our loyalty and faith (spoiler: she is).

The 100 names narrows down to six (the first six, perhaps) that Kitty pursues. Each has his or her own story, and Kitty cannot find the common thread. She insinuates herself into these people’s lives, determined to figure out why Constance wrote down their names. What is it about them that Kitty is to discover?

Kitty’s voyage of self-discovery, then, transpires in conjunction with her discovery of Constance’s motivations for the list of names. The question, though, is if Kitty is able to set aside her self-interests and focus on the needs of others. It is a question that Kitty herself struggles with answering.

While this is certainly a sweet book with a sweet message, its sweetness often comes across as tart and bitter, thanks to Kitty’s flinty personality. Every time she cries, we know it’s largely for herself, not for the people she has hurt. Yet – and this speaks to Ahern’s talent – we like her. We want her to succeed, not just professionally, but personally.

There are a few twists that we see coming, but they are somewhat beside the point. What we should focus on is our role within humanity. How connected are we to one another? How connected do we want to be? And what do we do with those connections? What do we owe them?

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Ahern’s message could be treacly or heavy handed in another writer’s grasp, but she unfolds it with respect and gentleness. Kitty Logan is one of us: flawed, self-involved, yet not unwilling to change. Cecilia Ahern

Get to know Cecelia Ahern here: website and Facebook page.

And purchase your copy of One Hundred Names here: Goodreads, Amazon, IndieBound, and Barnes and Noble.

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Blog Tour: Outside In

OI-Cover-192x300

Outside In
by Doug Cooper
Published by Greenleaf Book Group Press
253 pages
Genre: literature 
4.5 / 5

 

They (whoever “they” are) say that teaching is a calling. I’m sure “they” would also say that learning is a calling.

I mean, let’s face it. No one really enjoys learning life’s tough lessons, do they?

In the case of Brad Shepherd, those lessons come especially brutally, even if most of that brutality is self-inflicted.

Brad has been forced to take a “leave of absence” from his job as a middle school math teacher (oh, the horror … faithful readers, indulge me with this aside: surely one of Dante’s rings of hell is teaching middle school math), and in an act of delayed adolescence / screw you, Mom and Dad / you want a leave of absence, I will give you a leave of absence, Brad hits the road to Put-in-Bay, Ohio, an island in the middle of Lake Erie.

Brad’s parents think he’s running away from his problems, and perhaps he is. But really, it’s more that Brad is running to himself, whomever that may be.

Once on the island, he meets a motley crew of drug dealers, hot women, bisexuals, drunk bartenders, and philosophical guitar players. Brad avails himself of each and every one, frequently winding up in a drug haze that disguises the pain he feels. In the book’s Q&A, Doug Cooper draws a parallel between Outside In and Catcher in the Rye, and the comparisons are strong indeed when it comes to Brad’s drug and alcohol usage. At one point, a character points out to him that his mistress is cocaine, a fact Brad refutes.

But it’s true. Brad just isn’t ready to face it at that point.

(When he is, Cooper astutely creates the struggle Brad undergoes to regain his sobriety as one that is challenging, full of fits and starts.)

Through the drugs, booze, and sex, Brad remains a man in search of his identity. Who is he if he can’t teach? Can he still teach? Does he even want to?

Just as his students must do, Brad must learn his lessons, often the hardest way possible. He needs to learn to trust his heart, both romantically and intellectually, and he has to make peace with his parents. He also needs to learn to be his own man and not the mistress of pharmaceuticals and alcohol, as the case may be.

Not to make this novel sound bleak. It is not at all. There are some richly comic moments, and Cooper knows when we need them. Just when Brad begins to feel overwhelmed, something funny occurs to give us a break from Brad’s overwhelming sadness. Yes, he appears happy, but he, like Holden Caulfield, is lost. Whereas Holden tries to find himself in New York City, though, Brad searches in Put-in-Bay.

It is not accidental, I am sure, that Brad’s last name is Shepherd. He is the guide and comfort to others, just as he needs guidance and comfort. He’s a teacher at heart, and there are times he teaches his new friends. Like his middle schoolers, his friends occasionally don’t listen to him; they sometimes take precarious, threatening risks.

And then the teacher becomes the student, and in those moments, we wish the best for Brad Shepherd.

You will not want to say goodbye to him, but Cooper knows how to end Brad’s story. The best writers don’t give readers what they want, they give readers what they need.

Links:Cooper.Douglas.A

Amazon.com:  http://www.amazon.com/Outside-In-Doug-Cooper/dp/1626340048

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17355767-outside-in

Pinterest:  http://www.pinterest.com/trubelo/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/ByCooper

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/ByCoop

Author’s page: http://bycooper.com/


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Blog Tour: Natchez Burning

Natchez BurningNatchez Burning
by Greg Iles
Published by William Morrow
800 pages
Genre: mystery; suspense; thriller; literature 
4.5 / 5

 

Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – begin this book unless you have some time to read it. For one thing, it clocks in at a whopping 800 pages. And for another, far more important, reason, it is nearly impossible to put down.

The first of a planned trilogy, Natchez Burning introduces us to Penn Cage, a mid-forties mayor of Natchez, Mississippi, whose father, revered local doctor Tom Cage, has been arrested for murdering Viola, a former nurse of his.

The story unfolds through the eyes of quite a few characters, including Tom Cage, Caitlin (Penn’s newspaper publisher fiancee), and a slew of bad guys. Only Penn speaks to us in first person, which makes him the character we get to know the best. Then again, even at 800 pages, it’s difficult to know all the characters in this book terribly well.

There are two story lines here: the present tale, centered around Tom Cage’s murder arrest, and the ’60s saga, in which a KKK splinter group ruled Natchez with cruelty, prejudice, and no small amount of viciousness. Led by Brody Royal, this killer crew targeted anyone who threatened the white status quo, regardless of skin color or socioeconomic status.

The stories converge when Tom is arrested, and as Penn slowly discovers the links between his father and Brody Royal’s organization, he also begins to grasp the extent of Natchez’s violent history.

Throughout the sprawling story lines, characters, plots and subplots, there is one thread that binds it all together: a man’s coming to terms with the knowledge that his father is not the stuff of super hero comic books, but rather a flawed, complex man. It is this simple, age-old truism that makes this book so compelling and riveting. We hold our breaths as Penn uncovers one secret after another, hoping – along with him – that his father is the man we think he is. When we are told at one point that Tom is exhausted from carrying the burden of other’s expectations, we empathize with him, even as we hope those expectations are deserved.

As much as I enjoyed this book, though, I do have some issues with it, namely its ending. Iles leaves several questions unanswered, which almost feels cheap and underhanded considering we just spent nearly 800 pages engaging with his characters. I cannot tell you how frustrating the ending is.

Some of the characters are straight out of Central Casting for bigoted bad guys, and their one-dimensionality stands in stark contrast to how well developed other characters are.

Still, though, this is one heck of a fantastic read. I can’t wait for the next one.

Links:Greg Iles

Purchase links:

 

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Casebook

casebookCasebook
by Mona Simpson
Published by Knopf
336 pages
Genre: fiction 
5 / 5

 

I have been a fan of Mona Simpson since I read Anywhere but Here lo those many years ago. She understood the perspective of an unsettled teenage girl, as well as that of the girl’s mother. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Casebook only solidifies the love.

When we meet Miles Adler-Rich, he is a grade schooler who discovers while eavesdropping that his parents’ marriage is fracturing. He overhears his father say that he has an interest in another woman. Miles’ curiosity is piqued, to say the least, and thus begins his journey into domestic spying.

As Miles grows up, his fascination with his mother only increases. I don’t mean in an Oedipal kind of way, although I’m sure Freud would disagree; Miles seems to truly want to understand her more than anything. What kind of woman gets left by her husband, forced to raise a son and two daughters (twins whom Miles refers to as Boop One and Boop Two), and doesn’t give up? That’s the thing about Miles’ mother: she never stops believing that better is just around the corner. She refuses to allow the divorce to defeat her.

Mirroring this somewhat is Miles’ friend Hector’s parents, also divorced, but perhaps not as amicably as Miles’. Hector joins Miles in the spy game, which becomes increasingly vital and fascinating to the boys as Miles’ mother begins to date. Mims’ Man Friend is a nerdy guy who lives on the opposite coast of Miles and his California home. But Mims likes this guy, and Miles considers it his job of sorts to suss out Eli.

There are comic moments in Miles’ espionage, as well as within his family and friends. But there is a sort of bittersweet sheen to this story, a sense that Miles will uncover some things that could lead to heartbreak and loss of innocence. We watch Miles grow up into manhood, and Simpson expertly delivers those changes of voice that must occur as a character matures. With each nugget he finds, Miles grows a little, and Simpson reveals this with delicacy and affection. She even completes the intricate feat of allowing adult Miles to comment on child Miles’ thoughts and experiences.

Of course, Miles does uncover some somewhat unsavory details about some of his spy subjects. He finds them disturbing enough that he calls in an investigative expert, Ben Orion, who fills in the gaps left in Miles’ life by his divorced parents. Ben Orion is more than just a supporting character, though. He helps not just Miles, but Miles’ family. I found myself wishing I had a Ben Orion in my life.

Miles also sees his hero worship of his father take a dent, although not an awful one. As Miles himself observes, he’s okay with his father’s lady friends because he doesn’t feel threatened by them. One of the few “good” things Miles’ father does is maintain a strong relationship with his children, and even with his ex-wife, and that makes a powerful impact on the boy.

There is a little mystery here – what’s up with Eli? – but the heart of this story is Miles, a boy growing into a man and all of those attendant issues. Remember when you discovered that your parents weren’t the mythical, mystical masters of the universe you thought they were? It’s something you observed and experienced over time, right? Perhaps Miles’ realization is less organic, but its lessons are as real as any you’ve experienced.

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Jane’s Melody

jane's melodyJane’s Melody
by Ryan Winfield
Published by Atria
337 pages
Genre: women’s literature, romance 
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

 

When you think of addicts – alcoholics, drug addicts, hoarders, gamblers – you tend to focus on them, the abusers. You don’t give too much thought to their friends and families, whose suffering is just as acute. Groups such as Al-Anon realize this, of course, and try to help the second-hand victims.

Jane is a member of Al-Anon, driven there by her daughter Melody, who abused drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse runs in Jane’s family, so perhaps it was inevitable that Melody would succumb. Jane sure hoped otherwise. And now, she sits in the car, staring at the grave of her daughter, whom she had not seen in a year.

That Jane cut off Melody from any sort of financial – or emotional – assistance gives us great insight into her. She’s tough when she needs to be, even if she lived with constant fear for her daughter. She kept Melody’s room as it was when her daughter left, and she continues to attend Al-Anon meetings. She is recovering, both from being the mother of an addict and from the decisions she made regarding her daughter.

As Jane stares at Melody’s grave, she sees a young man stop and visit. Jane wants to know about him. Was he friends with Melody? Her lover? When Jane later sees him playing his guitar on the streets, she asks those questions. He gives no answers. They meet again, and this time the young man accepts Jane’s help.

Jane and Caleb begin a tenuous friendship that offers the promise of moreJane, though, is afraid. She’s forty, he’s twenty-four. She’s an insurance salesman, he’s a street musician planning to move from Seattle to Austin. Getting emotionally entangled with him will only lead to heartbreak, and Jane can’t open herself up to more of that.

Fortunately, Caleb is very open. He slowly reveals himself to her, and he expects her to do the same to him. When he begs her not to hurt him and not to leave him, it is as poignant a scene as you will read. Caleb and Jane have been hurt so deeply, yet they know that to live lives worth living, they need to be open to the possibility of getting hurt again.

There is some delicious hot headboard rockin’, all the more delicious for the age differential tilting in favor of Jane. She takes full advantage of Caleb’s youthful endurance, let’s just say.

This is a case of fantastic storytelling and fantastic characters, which makes overlooking the flaws an easy task to accomplish. Caleb goes from being closed off to being emotionally available quite quickly, and Jane’s somewhat constant whinging about the age thing gets annoying. But these two are so enjoyable that you will forgive them their shortcomings.

It’s a fantastic book.

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A Single Breath

A single breathA Single Breath
by Lucy Clarke
Published by Touchstone
384 pages
Genre: literature; mystery 
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

 

At what point do you know – really know – the person to whom you are married? Is it when you’re falling in love? Is it when you are pronounced husband and wife? Is it on your fifth anniversary? Tenth? Ever?

Eva and Jackson have been married for eight months and have been together for a few years when Jackson falls into a churning river while fishing, leaving Eva a bereft, grief-stricken widow. She cannot fathom how this happened, much less why. All she knows is that she and Jackson were in love and now he’s gone.

Although they lived in London, Jackson grew up in Tasmania, so Eva heads there to try and connect with his family. She quickly discovers that the Jackson she knew is not the Jackson who really existed. She knew and loved a man who was a fabrication.

As she tries to make sense of Jackson and her feelings about him, she finds herself getting closer to Saul, Jackson’s younger brother. For their relationship to take hold, though, Eva needs to make peace with her memories of Jackson. She needs to forgive herself, and she needs to forgive him. And she needs to allow herself to be vulnerable.

Told primarily from Eva’s point of view, we also see Jackson’s. His flashbacks to their romance help us understand his perspective, to a degree. Yes, we can see why he felt he had no choice to do what he did, but feeling that way and actually allowing yourself to choose that path are two very different things. As Eva herself points out, there is always a choice.

I enjoyed this book tremendously. Eva is fragile and tender, a raw wound needing to be healed. A fisherman, Saul is the perfect salve for her. He’s used to tagging water critters and checking in on them. He studies creatures who live under water, and he’s also a fisherman. He baits and catches, but always carefully, never as a predator. That Jackson died underwater and his brother studies what lies beneath is an interesting dynamic, just as is Saul’s teaching Eva to free dive. Once she learns to regulate her breath, she’s able to see things she’s never seen before. She sees what’s there, in all of its beauty and complexity. With just one single breath.

The mystery of Jackson may drive the story, but the central focus is Eva. We worry for her and we grieve with her. We want to protect her, and we hope that Saul’s intentions are as pure as they appear to be. We want her to choose wisely.

Lucy Clarke’s style is evocative, making you feel that you are on the water with Saul and Eva. You can see Saul working on his boat, and you can feels the water beneath you. You also feel the rising tension as Eva gets ever closer to seeing all there is to see where Jackson is concerned.

It’s a lovely book. Read it.

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You Should Have Known

you should have knownYou Should Have Known
by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Published by Grand Central Publishing
448 pages
Genre: literature; women’s literature 
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4.5 / 5

 

I have a particular affinity for certain words.

Masticate. It sounds so lascivious, doesn’t it? Yet it means “to chew.”

Schadenfreude. Leave it to the Germans to have a word for “joy in other people’s misery.”

And hubris. Ah, hubris. The cause of the hoisting of one’s petard. The reason behind Trump Tower and the Dallas Cowboys.

Hubris. Excessive pride or ambition.

As I read this book, “hubris” kept popping up in my mind. So many characters seem to suffer from it, and given that Korelitz’s writing is realistic and relatable, I wonder, then: do we all suffer from hubris? Is it part of the human condition?

In the case of Grace Reinhart, perhaps pride is not so excessive. Certainly not enough to cause what happens to her.

Grace is a therapist whose patients come to her, as most do to therapists, searching for answers. Grace believes that they knew the answers all along, that if they had only paid attention, not been so quick to ignore the evidence in front of them – if they had only seen reality as opposed to what they wanted to see – then they would realize that they knew. Because, really, they should have known.

In fact, she wrote a book about it. You Should Have Known. She is in the final stages of pre-publication, working with her editor and publisher, granting early interviews. Grace’s theory is simple, but true: the clues were there all along. You just chose to overlook them or make excuses for them or wish them away.

You should have known.

Of course, when you write a book about something like that, your own house better be spotless. And Grace’s appears to be. Her son Henry is twelve, suitably precocious, and ensconced at the same New York City private school she attended. Her husband Jonathan is an acclaimed pediatric oncologist – he treats children with cancer, for goodness’ sake. She’s an only child, her mother having passed away when Grace was in college and her father remarried. She is successful, but not too successful.

Life is good for Grace Reinhart.

But then there is a grisly death.

And Jonathan goes missing.

And every certainty Grace had becomes uncertain, questioned.

She should  have known, right?

Jean Hanff Korelitz weaves her tale with the precision of a master chef, slicing, dicing, and sauteeing her characters into various confections of deliciousness for us readers.

Grace is a fantastic character: fully complex and fully realized. Her hubris is in her somewhat smug, somewhat frustrated response to her patients’ problems. If Grace can see within three minutes that your husband prefers the company of men, why haven’t you? As they weep in her office, Grace responds with professional empathy, albeit with some personal tsk-ing. When she recalls her history with Jonathan, we begin to see what Grace did (would) not. We also harbor, before she does, certain suspicions of Jonathan, as well as of another character. Because we care about her, we also hope that our suspicions are wrong. Not that she’s perfect, mind you. Grace is a bit too caught up in her world to pay attention to those details that she would condemn her patients for ignoring. She judges. She suffers jealousies and insecurities. She gets frustrated and snippy.

But she’s a good mother, devoted to Henry, and she adores Jonathan, admiring him to the point of awe.

As developed as Grace is, Jonathan is a mystery, and that is entirely by design. I was frustrated by how little I knew him, which only made me more concerned for Grace. The question here – how well do we know our spouse – is not the point, though. Korelitz believes, and hopes you understand as well, that we only know what our spouse wants us to know. We only know, Korelitz posits, what we want to know.

Occasionally the pacing is off (we spend a bit too much time with Grace’s patients), and there are a couple of threads that are a bit too neatly tied up. So is the book perfect? No, but it is deeply, richly entertaining and engrossing.

The ending is something I would dearly love to discuss with you faithful readers, so please hit up the comments and let me know your thoughts. I’d also love to know your reaction to this book.

Read it. READ IT.

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