Saturday, December 16, 2017

Say Nothing: A Novel by Brad Parks

Say Nothing. Brad Parks. Penguin Publishing Group. March 2017. 448 pp.  ISBN#: 9781101985595.

Judge Scott Sampson, his wife Alison and their two children, Sam and Emma, are a happy, peacefully content family.  They’ve moved out to a farmhouse in Virginia so that they can maintain that quiet lifestyle without the pressures of urban living, especially with the frenetic atmosphere of government workers in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C.  But the Judge’s family life is about to totally unravel with a hair-raising series of events that keeps the reader’s pulse raised to the very last page.

Judges are expected to be the epitome of neutrality, capable of examining the facts and circumstances of a case and apply the objective law to those situations.  But what does a Judge and his wife do when their children are kidnapped and they are told to await each new message, letting no one else know what is happening?  They say and do “nothing.”  For the lives of Sam and Emma are clearly at stake! 

The first case the Judge is asked to rule on is what should be a simple drug seller case.  Obeying the kidnappers means making a decision that immediately opens up Pandora’s box of the legal world.  Judge Sampson is now under the scrutiny of higher Judges and even politicians.  To keep his children alive, the Judge says “nothing.”  Alison’s family know but promise silence although they are so enraged one wonders how long that will hold true.

The second case heading for Judge Sampson’s decision concerns a patent of a drug that will be life-saving for those who get to try it.  Its very nice to see all the details of the case laid out so that one understands the intricacies of such cases and so that one can see how much complication Judge Sampson must wade through to come to a legally acceptable decision.  The plot thickens substantially at this point.  One of the children is freed but the other one is undergoing terrible acts that will probably scar her for life.

The story evolves to a mind-numbing, horrific conclusion which is very realistic and not like your standard crime novel.  This is a story you will never forget, one that will want to make you read more of any writing of Brad Parks!  Well done, Mr. Parks!

City of Sand by Tianxia Bachang

City of Sand. Tianxia Bachang. Random House Children’s Books. November 2017. 256 pp. ISBN#: 9780553524109.

Tianyi is an unusual girl who doesn’t want to do anything that other “good” girls do.  Unknown to her family, her grandfather left her half a book about what westerners would call “grave robbing.” Then she studies the art of feng shui meant to guide her to correct tombs that will provide blessings in wealth rather than curses all too possible in other gravesites. In China, after all, there are ghosts, snakes, and other nefarious creatures that could kill quickly, neatly and without anyone else knowing. 

From the beginning, Tianyi and her friend, Kai, work well together.  Kai may not have the academic skills Tianyi has from her grandfather’s book but he is an adventurer and can be trusted with any sharing.  Their first encounters with ghosts and/or reanimated corpses is hair-raising but fun that readers will love.  After a while, they realize they need to travel with others of like mind and even better skills.  They thereafter join the archeological expedition of a Professor Chen and the American who is financing the project, as well the Professor’s entourage, to find Jingjue City, one spot on the Silk Road sacred tombs may be found with accompanying cultural artifacts.

No spoilers here!  Suffice to say that numerous adventures follow with some truth, some lies, and some betrayals pitching the action forward.  In some ways, the action goes nowhere, with little of importance discovered at first, and this may frustrate some readers.  But for the most part, the this is a Young Adult novel for those who love to read about myths, legends, adventures and foreign locales.  A bit of a vague ramble about life in a different world few of us could imagine yet get the chance to enter in these contemporary legendary pages!

Blindsided by Louise Henry

Blindsided. Louise Henry. Black Ink Romance. December 2017. 192 pp. ASIN#: BO77WRRMYB.

Sophie Campbell is very good at her job of being Chief Communications Officer at City Hall.  She would love to get the job of managing City Hall but that notion disappears when Marcus, a drop-dead-gorgeous guy, gets the position. 

Add to it that Sophie’s mother is heavily into drinking and bugging Sophie about everything under the sun.  Marcus and Sophie are a pleasure to read about as they have a true love (physically) – hate (cutting conversation remarks or responses) relationship.  The dislike actually blinds them to seeing the great qualities each has for the position they occupy. 

Now, the most unlikely of plots ensues.  Marcus had broken off his engagement before he came to City Hall.  Now it turns out that Sophie’s mother is reuniting with her other daughter whom she hasn’t seen in years.  Add Sophie couldn’t care less and wishes she never had to meet her long-lost sister.  Oh, the surprises get better when Marcus realizes that Sophie’s sister, Veronica, is his ex-fiancĂ©.  And Sophie’s Mom couldn’t be more endearing toward all.

Sophie, after enduring all she can, toughens up after one brief fling with Marcus.  The future is highly questionable; However, Sophie manages to handle her mother, Veronica, Marcus and even her best friend so they understand she is in control of her own life and is not surrendering it to them when she does occasionally ask for help. 

A lovely romance develops after some deserved snap and crackle conversations and too many misunderstandings and exposed secrets.  While the coincidence of Veronica strains credibility quite a bit, it still holds and doesn’t really become the mainstay of the conflict.

Sophie is a spunky, competent gal with just enough lusty femininity to make a romance work well.  Nicely crafted and recommended for a satisfying romance read!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone. Kristin Hannah. St. Martin’s Press. February 2018. 448 pp. ISBN #: 9780312577230. 

Leni Allbright’s father, Ernt, is a Vietnam War veteran who returns from the war with PTSD that gradually threatens Leni and her mother.  He sees everyone as a threat, can’t keep a job, drinks too much and repeats the cycle of paranoia and violence toward his wife, Cora. 

A dream arises for Ernt, to get away from the influence of government and rich people that smothers the lives of those who yearn to live a free, unencumbered life.  Ernt sees Alaska as the land that can enable the family to start a new life.  From this point onward, we see an amazing juxtaposition of what life could be and what life is.  The reader also yearns for the dream to become reality.  It will do so but not until events escalate to a crescendo of beauty and horror. 

For Lena falls in love with Alaska, its gorgeous scenery depicted in descriptions that make the reader want to live there and its feisty, strong residents who support each other in good and hard times. Ernt seems happy for a brief period of time but then succumbs to his fears. 

No spoilers here but suffice to say that after more brutality than one person can bear, Cora commits a startling act that will change their future forever.  Leni will complete, yet change, the cycle of love, forgiveness and honesty, returning to call Alaska “home.” 

Kristin Hannah is a very talented writer who deserves more public acknowledgment and praise.  The pace of this complicated plot is exquisitely crafted, mixing love for one’s environment with the need to deal with veteran post-war issues that shake and threaten the solidarity of a united community.  Stunning historical fiction that is highly recommended.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Thursday Night Club and Other Stories of Christmas Spirit by Steven Manchester

The Thursday Night Club and Other Stories of Christmas Spirit.  Steven Manchester. Fiction Studio Books. November 2017. 192 pp.  ISBN#: 9781945839160.

Izzy and Ava host a weekly Thursday Night Club get-together with Jessie Cabral, Ava, Randy and Kevin.  They’re College Senior students who work hard at their studies and play just as hard, goofy friends who love nothing better than a good prank on each other, harmless fun that lightens their work load. Some have risen from poverty and are paying their tuition by the skin of their teeth but they don’t focus much on the hardship part of it all.  They are loyal to each other and beyond that focusing on meeting the directions of their various professors.  One professor in particular is a philosophy teacher who is highly demanding but how isn’t specified.  Jessie Cabral is probably the only remarkable student among them, preferring to be out on the streets doing something kind for someone in need but never flaunting it in anyone’s face. 

 “Pay it forward” is a phrase that has been put into action over the last few years, but what this group agrees to do following an awful tragedy they are now living with will far exceed that temporary phase.  They will make another bet to see who can do the greatest good to another human being but they must remain anonymous. 

What follows is inventive, spontaneous, and a true blessing to each recipient of the deeds these students initiate. 

Two other stories are added to what was originally published as a novella that add to the reader’s experience of enjoying a true Christmas Spirit.  In A Christmas Wish, a grandmother teaches Brian and Steph that if they truly wish and envision that wish their dream will come true.  Brian is a miracle that embodies the truth of the Christmas Spirit, a man who was deemed unable to live any kind of meaningful life.  Steph has a newfound realization that she is afraid to see become reality.  Readers will love the outcome of these two situations and admire the true Christmas Spirit.

The Tin Foil Manger is about Nancy, an elderly woman in a nursing home whose children can’t bear to visit her and watch her as Alzheimer’s disease eats away her mind and body.  A caretaker of the home connects both Nancy and her two daughters to a time when Christmas memories were something that united the family with meaning and blessings.  These realities of a past life give Nancy and her daughters the meaning of Christmas that restores living in multiple, fond ways.

The Thursday Night Club… and two other stories is not only a perfect  holiday read but also one for every day of the year and years to follow.  A great read, may it inspire others to live a life with “purpose.”

Right Behind You (Quincy and Rainie #7) by Lisa Gardner

Right Behind You (Quincy and Rainie #7).  Lisa Gardner. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2017. 480 pp.  ISBN#: 9781101984376.

Telly Ray Nash and his sister Sharlah have been brutalized by their father for years.  One night Telly has had enough and takes a baseball bat to his father, killing him and even using the bat on his sister Sharlah.  The siblings are then separated and are trying to put their lives together with families who actually want to adopt them.  One day, however, Telly kills both of his foster parents and wanders off to commit more murder.  Sharlah learns about this from her own foster parents, Quincy and Rainie, who are worried sick that her brother will come after to finish off what he began several years earlier. Quincy and Rainie are former FBI profilers and so they know something of what can be predicted.

The novel then concerns the search for Telly who is on the run.  The author takes the reader into the mind of Telly and Sharlah as the search continues.  The two victims haven’t really pieced together why their violent background unfolded.  Sharlah can’t figure out why her brother turned the bat on her after he finished his rampage on his abusive father.  Both deeply know fear, hate, and love, experiences that don’t make sense, as well as the care their foster parents are unconditionally offering them.  It’s just such a chaotic mental and emotional mess in their minds!

Don’t quit reading because the story enfolds in ways that are imagined by the reader.  Resist the temptation to stereotypically categorize Telly as a wounded killer gone berserk.  There’s far more to this story worth the telling.  Lisa Gardner is a wonderful storyteller who knows how to pace action and tension that keeps the reader riveted to the plot and caring about the characters involved in this nightmarish search and its aftermath.  Well-plotted with multiple characters worth rooting for to come out of their nightmarish experience!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Seven Days of Us. Francesca Hornak. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2017, 368 pp.; ISBN#: 9780451488756.

Olivia Birch and Sean, her new romance, have been working in Monrovia, Liberia, treating a deadly virus, Haag, which seems to resemble the volatile, dangerous Ebola virus.  The tensions and risks seem to have drawn them together.  When they return to England, Olivia and her family are forced into seven days of a quarantine to make sure she doesn’t have the disease or can spread it.  Unfortunately, Sean does have it and is immediately hospitalized and quarantined as well.

Emma and Andrew Birch decide the quarantine will be fine as it’s Christmas time and a great time to have a close family celebration.  Not surprisingly, it’s a week of shocking revelations and conversations that seem to do nothing but clash and then converge due to some measure of self-control and respect for the family.  Dealing with a cancer diagnosis, discovering a son and half-brother, watching a “supposed” romance gradually disappear, acknowledging the sacrifices made for dreams deferred, and so much more fill these pages with alternating tension and fear.  These are not loveable characters except for Emma whose background enables her to gracefully calm almost-explosive moments.  Olivia is having counter-culture shock on return to British life, Phoebe is snarky and jealous of her sister Olivia, George the lover is cold and aloof, and Andrew is having a hard time dealing with the Pandora’s box that’s opened with past secrets.

Still there are many rather sweet moments where the better sides of this family come to the fore, especially in moments of crisis.  Seven days together as a family would probably be a challenge for most families, but this is a story that gives some hints about how to deal with the outrageous and minor idiosyncrasies that emerge when human beings are forced to live in such close proximity with very little to distract them from each other. 

Ironically, this is a lovely, somewhat contrived, contemporary fiction story which this reviewer recommends as an interesting, compelling read!