Category Archives: Book Reviews

Amber’s Blind Date by Casey Summers

Amber goes on a blind date. Her date is blind. Literally blind. This she knows. What she learns is that he’s in trouble, and she gets pulled into it, dragging her two friends along by texting. At first, she desires advice from two friends with wildly different personalities. As the evening takes her to shady places she’d never otherwise be, the story turns into a narration of unexpected events, including druggie roommates, pill parties, and police evasion—all through texts. It’s funnier still when the two friends argue via texts. This is a clever story portraying the ubiquitous nature of current technology use by those who grew up with it. It’s a fun read for a little respite from the tedium (or tragedy) of life.

Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

After Sylvia helps deliver her first baby as an apprentice midwife, Meda, the mother, leaves believing the baby died at the request of the father, her wealthy, white employer. Meda tends to her grief by volunteering at an orphanage, where she takes on the care of two babies and helps raise them. Sylvia assuages her guilt by throwing herself into nursing, obtaining a post at Lazaretto, the first quarantine hospital in the U.S. Though from different socio-economic levels, Sylvia and Meda’s lives brush upon each other slightly throughout the years, though both women are unaware. A wedding party composed of black employees at the Lazaretto is quarantined due to a yellow fever scare. Sylvia must take charge of the ensuing chaos of racial terrorism upon the group on the boat over to the island and deal with white policemen whose purpose is unknown, but who are also quarantined with the wedding party. Meda’s boys end up in the middle and learn the truth of their mother.

McKinney-Whetstone deftly portrays the precarious position of characters in a society that considers them invisible at best, and how they must carefully balance dignity with always a thought toward self-preservation. Though the characters hold their integrity through actions, the dialogue alternates between formal, stiff language without contractions and colloquial dialect, seemingly randomly, and can be distracting from the story. Systemic racism is nearly its own character in the tale, as even refined, strong-willed Sylvia deems it important to pamper the stranded detectives based on their color. Readers of historical fiction, lovers of secrets, and fans of flawed, complex characters will appreciate this novel.


The Girl Without Skin by Mads Peder Nordbo—pub date June 21


Matthew Cave is assigned to report on a mummy suspected to be the first Viking found in Greenland. After the mummy disappears, and the police officer guarding it killed in a most horrific manner, Matthew investigates a story decades old based on the similar style of murder of four local men. The tale grows exponentially as he learns about the murders’ connections to child molestation, kidnapping, politics, and a mysterious, tattooed woman just released from prison. Secrets are revealed, crimes are solved, and living / dead are confirmed.

Nordbo writes a graphic, bones-laid-bare crime novel with the setting of Nuuk, Greenland as prominent as a main character. The Danish / Greenlandic tension is pushed and pulled throughout the story, with national politics and corruption affecting local affairs. Twists and turns abound as new evidence surfaces, but the main source of a policeman’s journal written during the earlier crimes takes the reader back in time for a more intimate feel. A major information dump at the end does its best to feel natural, coming from the appropriate characters. In any case, the tale is multi-layered, with storylines that converge for a revelatory denouement. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from Text Publishing Company through NetGalley.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Macarenhas—pub date February 22, 2019

In 1965, time travel ignites Barbara’s manic depression, and the other pioneers—ambitious Margaret, compassionate Lillian, and social butterfly Grace—leave her behind to form The Conclave, an autonomous organization commercializing time travel. Multiple storylines converge to determine the identity of the woman found dead of four bullet wounds in a locked room. The investigation for this unique whodunit plays out in various timelines with characters’ ages often not corresponding chronologically. There’s manipulation, subterfuge, and espionage afoot throughout the nation and throughout time. The time travel details are concrete, with the fuel posing a danger if not handled appropriately. There’s even a time travel glossary included at the end, which makes one try that much harder to buy into the concept. Macarenhas gives the reader glimpses into the thoughts of characters, providing more depth to a story that might easily go astray with so much time-hopping chapters. Readers who like speculative fiction with compelling characters and complex relationships will appreciate this story that readily lends oneself to suspend belief, a realistic time travel story, if you will. It’s definitely worth the time! Ha! I was fortunate to receive a copy from the publisher through Net Galley.

Reasons to Kill God by I.V. Olokita—pub date tbd

In Brazil, Nazi fugitive Klaus Holland, aka Matheus Esperanca, raises his son by a prostitute with a Jewish kapo from Udenspul, the concentration camp he commanded. The son, Deus, considers the kapo his mother, and after her death, takes mysterious photos from her to a professor in his US university to research his ancestry, where he learns the true identity of his father and the extent of his crimes. Olokita brilliantly uses the concept of god as a measurement of morality, or rather lack of humanity, as Klaus plays God in determining who dies, though his own religious beliefs remain deliciously ambiguous. The character development is so well done that dear reader will be researching names. Although written in third person for everyone else, Klaus is in first person, bringing the reader up close and personal to a man with his own version of right and wrong based on his complete lack of empathy, exploring the idea of how powerful he believes himself. The ending revelation is quite coincidental and is evidenced only by Klaus’ perception, so it’s not clear why it’s readily believed by Deus and his new love Heidi. It’s anti-climactic after the delightful irony of Klaus’ downfall. With so many rumors, legends, and news items, inspiring a plethora of literature, on the Holocaust, this unique story of a fugitive hiding out in South America is a definite must-read. It’s themes rove beyond the simple good vs. evil and the idea that one can distinguish such traits in anyone, with characters revealing the dangers within themselves. I received a digital copy of this fantastic novel from the author for an honest review.

Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach

At 17, David witnesses his father’s public assassination for turning state’s witness, his mother collateral damage, his life spared due to spent ammo. He spends decades piecing together evidence to determine the killer’s identity, all while living his life as an NFL quarterback for the Dolphins, a random lover of the famous dancer Sylphide (who lives across the pond from his childhood home) and her protege Emily—introduced by him, and a restaurateur. His sister parcels out relevant information on rare occasions, spending her grief-stricken adulthood playing professional tennis, fighting mental illness, and searching for her parent’s killer against her boyfriend’s pragmatic advice. As Sylphide moves in and out of David’s life, secrets come unmoored and land at his feet every so often. Roorbach has built a fine cast of complex and extraordinary characters, nuanced to the hilt, integrity intact throughout the novel, all maddeningly non-forthcoming for page-turning tension. It can be awkward to follow the timeline back and forth, and David’s discoveries can be out of sync, as when he realizes his sister’s major secret years after his parent’s demise, and then in a following flashback is explicitly told the secret by his sister herself. No opportunity is missed to reference Emily as “the negress”—was that even used as late as the 70s and into the 80s? Her parents could have been a bit more rounded out as individuals instead of representations. These few distractions don’t detract from a unique story with an intriguing storyline and intense meta sex scenes. Roorbach is almost his own genre. He’s the Mainer Carl Hiassen in his dedication to untangling and tying up multiple storylines and presenting humans in all their glory and warts.

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

Marietta left Kentucky after high school, changed her name to Taylor, and become a mother through an unexpected incident, ending up in Tucson with a single mother roommate and a job as a tire mechanic for a woman who rescues undocumented immigrants. Selectively mute from obvious chronic abuse, her newly acquired daughter Turtle learns to trust Taylor, who learns to trust in her new friendships as she seeks a way to keep Turtle legally and build their life in Tucson.

Kingsolver carefully details a young woman’s journey to find herself, taking everything that comes at her and building a valuable life with it all. She’s brilliant at showing the depth of Marietta’s mother’s love at letting her daughter go and make her own decisions, including changing the name her mother gave her, and Taylor’s love in her determination to keep the daughter who was literally handed to her.

Fans of Willa Cather, Celeste Ng, and Elizabeth Strout will appreciate this novel and Kingsolver.

Something Worth Saving by Sandi Ward—pub date December 18, 2018

Lily loves Charlie more than any other human, for he rescued her when other potential adopters frowned at her limp. She’d been abused by her previous owner and her broken leg healed without veterinarian intervention. Now he’s being bullied and Lily must figure out a way to help him amid the chaos of Dad’s drinking, Mom’s sadness, his sister’s possible suspect boyfriend, and his big brother’s anger. The unique perspective of a cat gives readers a view from inside the family, but with a pure, some might say naive, but definitely less than jaded, outlook. Lily can be as surprised as a person by such things as Charlie’s choice of “mate” being another boy. Ward’s representation of a gender-fluid, gay teenager comes across as natural and inclusive, even as she shows the challenges he must face, especially from his own family. His mother and sister’s acceptance counter his father’s confusion and his brother’s resistance. Of course there’s a romantic interest for mom, who’s separated from dad and planning divorce. However, he immediately touches her intimately and insinuates himself into family issues, coming across as a bit creepy rather than romantic—too much too soon. This is the only part of the story that doesn’t flow organically, a small distraction. This story presents multiple serious subjects that are handled with compassion: alcoholism, addiction, chronic pain, divorce, and gender expectations. Ward takes her family down a path of resolution surprising, yet realistic. Readers who love main characters off the beaten path will appreciate this story; animal lovers will be vindicated.

Gardenland by Jennifer Wren Atkinson

This book is more than expected, with historical references, how gardening has morphed into a recreational activity in our industrial age, advances in gardening—for sustenance and pleasure, and a chronology of gardening literature. It’s about far more than planting, encompassing various philosophies and exploring gardening throughout fiction and non-fiction. I was fortunate to receive this wonderful book about the practicalities, aesthetics, and dreams of gardening from the publisher through NetGalley.

The Girl of the Lake by Bill Roorbach

This collection opens with a tale so convincing dear reader will be googling Count Darlotsoff of the Russian Revolution. Roorbach’s stories ramble along pleasantly, with wit and wisdom, from a unique perspective. Then BOOM! Something astonishing happens, sometimes indicated by a simple line, “And fell into a basement hole,” and sometimes portraying a much larger concept, such as patricide. The tales delve into history—the aforementioned Russian Revolution; plunges deep into socio-political culture—“His father was an important king or chieftain in an area of central Africa he refused to call a country, an area upon which the Belgians and several other European powers had long imposed borders and were now instituting ‘native’ parliaments before departing per treaty after generations of brutal occupation;” and parses human emotions and relationship dynamics—“sharks unto minnows.” There’s even a ghost story, with elements of land conservation, familial squabbles, and burgeoning love. As diverse as the themes are, and as broad the representation of people, one story stands out for its LGBT ignorance, as a main character tells the benefactor of her theater, a widower asking for a kiss, “Marcia had politely allowed just one, then explained that while being a lesbian might not mean she was entirely unavailable, her long-term relationship did.” He then proceeds to win over her wife, and they merrily cavort about town, all three holding hands, doing everything as a threesome. Lesbian relationships are real relationships, and lesbians are not toys for a man’s pleasure. That being said, this is a blemish on a set of otherwise fascinating and weird and brilliant stories. The book is dedicated to Jim Harrison, whose fans will likely appreciate Roorbach’s work.