Monthly Archives: February 2016

I Let You Go

I Let you go cover

First Berkley | May 2016
ARC e-Reader provided
Hardcover: 384 pages
ISBN: 978-1101987490
Genre:British Crime Fiction/Psychological Thriller
★★★½

It happens in a heartbeat…
the car comes from nowhere…the squeal of wet brakes,
the thud…and the spin of his body
befoBright Red Splatter clip artre it slams onto the road…

…the car backs up the street [its] engine whining in admonishment.

Debut Authors tickle my fancy.   I just love discovering new budding authors and Clare Mackintosh did not disappoint me in crafting her first work of fiction.

Drawing on years of experience as a British crime inspector and the emotional loss of her own child, Mackintosh has fashioned a psychological thriller that will appeal to any lover of crime fiction.  First published in England in 2014, I Let You Go will make its hardcover debut in the US in May 2016.

Five year old Jacob, nearly effervescent describing his learning to write his name, races home from school tethered firmly in his mother’s grip.  As they near the house, his mother points across the street at the porch light she has left on for them.

 She releases his hand for a split-second to swipe a rain soaked hair lock out of her eye and Jacob lurches forward challenging her…“I’ll race you, Mummy…”

Detective Inspector Ray Stevens and members of his crime investigation team take on the task of finding the hit-and-run driver. A nearly impossible task with heavy rain in the area, blinding headlights highlighting the horror on the pavement, and no other eyewitnesses.

Jenna Gray, suffocating with grief, decides to packs a holdall (gym bag for us ‘Mericans) and leave.  “Can I do this?  Is it possible to simply walk away from one life and start another?  I have to try; it is my only chance of getting through this in one piece.”

Jenna aimlessly travels further and further from Bristol until she sequesters herself in an isolated small cottage in the teensy seaside town of Penfach (Wales).

As the investigation proceeds we meet the Inspector’s family and his team in greater detail. We learn the hardships and pressures that affect everyone during a long and arduous criminal investigation. The interoffice relationship between the DI and his trainee felt contrived and unnecessary. The dialogue would have been better spent, in my humble opinion, exploring his relationship in deeper depth with his wife and children.

I am leaving out some pretty heady plotlines and additional characters as I consider them spoilers. The author tackles some powerful topics that I would love to have seen her explore in greater depth. You’ll know it when you find them! I wouldn’t want to ruin your read!

Mackintosh has done a great job for her first mystery entrée.  It isn’t a masterpiece but very entertaining.  Great airplane or beach read.

She is writing her second book and I for one am standing in line with my hand raised for a chance to review it!

Thank you Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Breaking Wild

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Breaking Wild

by Diane Les Becquets
Penguin Random House | 2016
ARC e-Reader provided
Hardcover: 310 pages (978-0-425-28378-3)
Genre: Adult/Fiction/Mystery      ★★★1/2

 

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge
by Doubleday Books through NetGalley
in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

  “…something was taking hold of her, an awareness of her surroundings, and the cold and the approaching nightfall.  She’s relied on her adrenaline, had  attacked these woods, trying to make good time, and now with each step, she knew just how lost she had become.”

I have been arm wrestling my brain for a couple of weeks deciding what I think of the book.   It wasn’t until I read the transcript of an interview on NPR with the author that I realized what was troubling me.  Les Becquets revealed that Breaking Wild, in her words is an “autobiographical fiction”.  A skilled hunter herself, Les Becquets survived a terrifying rainy cold night after her headlamp failed while elk hunting in Colorado.

Initially I was trying to review the story from my librarian frame of mind but my inner voice, as a woods woman myself, was telling me I was negatively judging the actions of Amy Raye Latour.  It seemed inconceivable to me that a skilled hunter would make so many compounding life endangering split second decisions. Everyone makes a bad choice at times to leave an important piece of gear home or fails to anticipate an injury on a simple day trip.  But few would wander into the Colorado wild with so little thought.

But that gets to the heart of the story.  As well researched and vividly described, the wilderness serves as a backdrop to their inner stories. The reverence for nature is palpable for Ranger Pru and Amy Raye.  The painful secrets in their daily lives overwhelms them.

Les Becquets gives us two physically strong women both comfortable alone in the wilderness; neither intimidated by adverse weather, difficult terrain, or life in the shady depths. When faced with an unexpected challenge in the wild, both women are more than capable of facing it head-on.

Yet despite the mastery of survival in nature each struggles to overcome deep scarring events in their personal lives, incapable of stepping through pain, remorse or regret. Each has chosen to let sleeping demons lie thus delaying any hope of happiness or resolution. Will they remain as alone and isolated in life as they are in the wilderness?  Or will they allow themselves to step forward risking pain to find joy and peace?

The librarian in me wants to note that the flashes into the past at times were distracting.  The men in the lives of these women were depicted as a little weak in my estimation.  Not really worthy of these powerful women.

I spotted a few unresolved things, the most obvious was the loss of Ken’s borrowed gun.  When she did an inventory of her pack, why didn’t she note that she no longer had the gun?

But overall I found it a fascinating story.  The author has taken on distinctly different issues and handled them wonderfully. I rated it 3 1/2 stars. A four star has to really keep my attention enough to ignore the repeated buzzing timer on the stove.

Readers of Jon Krakauer’s tragic true life story of Chris McCandless in Into the Wild will find this fictional survival story much to their liking.

One final note. The descriptions of the elk hunt are quite graphic.  Although handled in an expert manner, they may upset some readers.

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Flight of Dreams

Flight of Dreams

Flight of Dreams

by Ariel Lawhon
Doubleday Books, Feb 2016
ARC e-Reader (978-0-385-54003-2)
Hardcover: 222 pages (978-0-385-54002-5)
Genre: Adult/ Historical Fiction

 

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge
by Doubleday Books through NetGalley
in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

 “Oh, the humanity.”

On May 6, 1937, a lavishly outfitted Zeppelin, the Hindenburg ended its 3-day journey from Frankfurt, Germany to the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey. The disastrous conclusion of this flight is well known.  What is not well known is what occurred on the Hindenburg throughout its journey across the Atlantic.  The cause of the fire that destroyed the airship is unknown and many scenarios laid out but none can be proved.

The author has tossed out her idea of what happened and takes us along on the journey to that inevitable end. Most amazing was the author’s knowledge of the Hindenburg itself!  The attention to detail brings each scene to life.

Lawhon has placed the passengers and crew back on the Hindenburg in Frankfurt and created a fictionalized account of their daily lives over the three-day flight.  The story focuses on the Stewardess, Emilie, the Journalists, Gertrud and Leonhard Adelt, the Navigator, Max, the American, mysterious and unnamed, and the cabin boy, Werner Franz.  Other secondary stories of real people are channeled through the story bringing the Hindenburg alive much like James Cammeron’s, The Titanic.

The story is narrated in the third person and sprinkles known facts throughout each chapter.  For example, Werner Franz, the 13-year cabin boy, was known to have received his grandfather’s watch and had it with him on the flight.

Each chapter drops us into a current conversation or situation that leads to further and further intrigue and innuendo.  Everyone has a secret, a hidden agenda or a blind eye.  Along the way you will learn to love, despise, pity, respect and understand the humanity aboard the fated airship.  And like every well written mystery, a startling conclusion.

Don’t fail to read the author’s note at the end of the story.  Fascinating and informational.

Highly recommended.

 

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Salt To The Sea

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge
by Philomel Books through NetGalley
in exchange for my honest opinion.

cover salt to the sea

Historical Fiction of  Deadliest Sinking

Salt To The Sea

by Ruta Sepetys
Philomel Books, February 2016
ARC e-Reader provided for review
Hardcover: 400 pages ( 978-0-399-160301)
Genre: Young Adult/Historical Fiction/Europe

One of my father’s cousins said, “Ruta, you love hidden history. You love historical secrets. I have a story for you.”  And she said those two words: “Wilhelm Gustloff… I had passage on that ship.”

The day of the voyage, fate intervened and my father’s cousin did not get on that Wilhelm Gustloff. And as a result, she survived. 

Ruta Sepetys, author.  Interview with mashable.com on January 24, 2016

Salt to the Sea brings to life a virtually unknown true maritime tragedy in Eastern Prussia in 1945 during the waning years of World War II.  The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff still is the world’s deadliest maritime disaster exceeding the loss of life on the better known Titanic and Lusitania combined.

The deaths of these 10,000 passengers is made even more gut-wrenching as we learn through Sepetys’ fictionalized account that the majority of those on board were political refugees seeking refuge and hope for a better life.  Over 5000 were children.

Sepetys, a daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, compelled by her own heritage, has crafted this poignant story of four teenagers caught up in the horrors of this war.  Joana, one of hordes of fleeing Lithuanians, lives in fear of discovery by the Germans and shot as a deserter. Florian, enigmatic and discreet, hides from both the Soviets and Germans.  Emilia, harboring a deep secret, is a young Polish girl squeezed between the invading Soviets and the unraveling Germans. Alfred, a Nazi seaman, is a social misfit with delusions of grandeur serving aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Through these four disparate voices we experience what life must have been like as the war headed toward its inevitable conclusion.  Through these young voices your own senses are assaulted by the inhumanity and the overwhelming helplessness.  Yet in the depths of the deepest despair we are shown that the embers of hope, love and family cannot be extinguished.

This is not an easy read but a necessary read.  With the notoriety of the horrific gas chambers and the beaches and towns of Western Europe, this book puts the lens on Eastern Europe.  Written for a young adult audience, this book will appeal to adults as well.

Highly recommended

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Wild By Nature

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge by Thomas Dunne
Books through NetGalley
in exchange for my honest opinion.

Wild By Nature

“Why do I Walk?”

Wild By Nature: From Siberia To Australia, Three Years Alone In The Wilderness On Foot

by Sarah Marquis
Thomas Dunne Books, 2016
ARC e-Reader (978-1-250-08199-5)
Hardcover: 272 pages (978-1-250-08197-1)
Genre: Memoir/Autobiography

★★★

Wild by Nature was hard for me to review as I saw it from two perspectives; librarian and backpacker.  I am an outdoorswoman and long distance backpacker myself; certainly nowhere near the explorer level as Sarah. When I saw this prepublication announcement I did cartwheels to get my hands on an ARC copy and was rewarded by Thomas Dunne Books.

First let me applaud Sarah for her incredible treks around the globe. This woman is a walking machine and makes Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond look like a trip to Central Park. She demonstrates an inordinate amount of stamina, versatility, adaptability, and perseverance.

Surprisingly the story is not presented as a journal or diary. It felt rambling and disconnected much like the internal strife the author shares with the reader.  She tosses in references to other treks that she has accomplished that feel distracting.

There are frequent references to self-discovery and her search for the meaning of life.  Overall the book will appeal to readers interested in a woman determined to take control of her own life on her own terms.  Her dedication reads, “The story that follows is my story. I dedicate it to all of the women throughout the world who still fight for their freedom and to those who have gained it, but don’t use it.”

Her 3-year trek from Siberia to Australia would have required tremendous advance work and logistics planning. How does a French-speaking Swiss single woman plan a multiyear expedition across six countries in the Middle East? Alone!

Sad to say the book doesn’t really tell you those intricate details. If you were reading and sneezed you might have missed the half page of dialogue on this topic.

Long distance foot travelers reading this story will be interested in her equipment choices, food stores and geographic guidance methods.  I was alarmed to note her low level of concern in all these matters.  She points out the problem reading Asia road maps, “I forge ahead blindly, without a topo[logical] map…I can’t really find where I am on my [road] maps…I like being in the dark, not knowing how many miles I am from the next village, the next water source.” Experienced trekkers do develop excellent guidance skills but they are still at the mercy of the unknown.

Provisioning for adequate nutrition is difficult on a trek.  Sarah is a strict vegetarian and cites resupplies opportunities limited to rice, onions, garlic, oil and hard cookies.  You can’t march long on white rice and hot tea.  It would have been interesting to learn more about her meal planning.

The story jumps and jerks through time and distance.  It was impossible to follow in your mind’s eye was she was facing and what she would be facing next. I never felt as though I was traveling with her; I never felt connected to her journey.

There were moments of very beautiful descriptions of terrain and examples of good, bad and indifferent interactions with the cultural natives. I have told you how I was personally affected by the story.  Other readers will come to the book with a different perspective and find the story completely different.

I am just disappointed in this so-so coverage of an awe inspiring journey by an extraordinary woman.  I yearned to learn more about everything in deeper detail. It doesn’t feel worthy of her blood, sweat and tears.

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