Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach
by
Jennifer Egan

Rating:

How exciting to choose a book you know nothing about and immediately love it! I had seen Manhattan Beach on display at the library where I work, and the other library book club had already read it, but I never asked my work friend what it was about. And I blindly selected it for my own book club. Talk about being a pantser!

Manhattan Beach has a 3.8 star average rating on Amazon, with over half of the reviewers giving it a 4 or 5, but the rest of the reviews are 1-3 stars. This book is a winner with most and not so much with others. Well, it’s a winner with me! It’s full of complex characters, twisting plot lines and overlaid with the conflict between doing the right thing and doing what you have to do, with heavy consequences on both sides.

Set in New York during the Depression and World War II, the story begins in 1937 with Anna Kerrigan as a young girl. In these early years, Anna has a strong bond with her father, Eddie and she shadows him on mysterious work errands. At home, her mother cares full-time for Anna’s crippled younger sister, Lydia, a source of guilt, shame, resentment and love in different measures for each of them. On one errand, Anna meets the powerful Dexter Styles and without knowing why, senses an important connection between the men.

Eight years later, Eddie is missing and Anna has a job measuring parts at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, the hub of wartime repairs and preparations. And then she meets Styles again at one of his nightclubs. Determined to understand his relationship to her father, Anna sets off on a dangerous course in both her personal life and at work, where she has become the first female civilian diver. In this section, Egan includes interesting descriptions of how divers trained and worked, a dangerous activity and much different from resort dives of today!

What I liked best about Manhattan Beach is the way the author allows the reader inside the heads of her characters. I understood them much better, knowing how they made their decisions and I sometimes liked the ones with questionable morals more, because I could see their predicaments. Several of them grapple with the ethics of their work, and a few will do whatever it takes to protect their family. I particularly liked the slow reveal of Eddie’s character, who travels with many of the wrong people, but has a lifelong desire to do what’s right.

I also enjoyed the way Egan describes New York during this time period. It’s loaded with regular people, gangsters, bankers, and laborers, trying to get by in any way they can and, even when they are at cross purposes, there’s a sense of unity to win the war. Who gets by and who has the upper hand can quickly change, and that’s what kept me happily reading to the finish.

I highly recommend Manhattan Beach to readers who like historical fiction and big stories with strong female characters.

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When “silent” characters find their voices – books with silent characters

Silence is never forever, especially in stories about characters who’ve been keeping quiet. These three “Silent” books are good examples of how quickly lives can turn upside down when a character finds her voice. From a patient who refuses to speak, to a sister who has left her family, to a wife who is tired of looking the other way, stories with characters like these are always great reads!


The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides  – Alicia Berenson does something strange after she kills her husband. She stops talking. Not another word. Nothing to the London police, to her lawyer, and still now, years later, nothing to the doctors at the Grove, the psychiatric ward where she lives. The only clue to explain her actions is a self-portrait, painted a few days after the murder.


The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain – When buried family secrets surface, one thing is certain: once revealed, nothing will be the same. Riley McPherson has grown up believing her older sister Lisa, a talented violinist, committed suicide. She’d always thought that her sister’s depression was the reason. But that may not be what happened.


The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison – What’s beneath the surface of a seemingly happy relationship? Jodi and Todd have a smooth way of being together and it’s worked for twenty-some years. They’ve never officially married, but it doesn’t matter. This is a marriage and they have a nice rhythm, live a very nice life and have everything they want. Then we get to know them a little better…


Have you read any books with “silent” characters? Leave the title in the comments!

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Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down
by
Jason Reynolds

Rating:

Will knows what he has to do when his older brother is shot dead because, in his neighborhood, the only rules are don’t cry, don’t snitch and get revenge. Less than twenty-four hours after Shawn is killed, Will sets out to take care of the guy he’s sure pulled the trigger.

But at fifteen, Will has never had to step up like this. He’s never even touched a gun. Can he do what the rules say? In a one-minute ride down the elevator of his building, Will is visited by the ghosts of friends and family who have died by gun violence, all part of a senseless cycle of lost futures. He must decide what to do when he reaches the lobby, follow the only rules he knows or break the pattern.

Reynolds tells this excellent story in verse. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by the author, and followed along with the print copy. Seeing the specially formatted words on the page and hearing the author’s narration was a great combination. Reynolds explains in an interview at the end of the audiobook how he wanted to narrate his story to make sure his words were emphasized in way he intended.

Long Way Down has received much deserved praise. It’s a Newberry Medal Honor Book, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, a Printz Honor Book and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner for Young Adult Literature. It was also longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in addition to receiving numerous other awards.

Long Way Down is a short read and listen. The audio is a little more than ninety minutes, including the interview at the end in which Reynolds tells of his own loss, his experiences in detention centers and his conversations with others caught in the trap of gun violence. It’s a short and powerful story, one that the author hopes will make readers empathize with other people’s situations. I recommend it for both Young Adult and adult readers.

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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient
by
Alex Michaelides

Rating:

Alicia Berenson does something strange after she kills her husband. She stops talking. Not another word. Nothing to the London police, to her lawyer, and still now, years later, nothing to the doctors at the Grove, the psychiatric ward where she lives. Before the murder, they lived the good life. Alicia was a well-known artist and her husband, Gabriel, was a famous photographer. Now she sits silent. The only clue to explain her actions is a self-portrait, painted a few days after the murder.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist and he’s been obsessed with Alicia’s case from the beginning. So he jumps when a job opens up at the Grove. The doctors have given up on her, but Theo is determined to get Alicia to speak. Despite warnings from his boss, Theo digs so deep into Alicia’s psyche he may not be able to free himself.

What a great set-up for a suspenseful psychological thriller! I tore through this fast-paced story because I was both engrossed in the plot and anxious to see what Michaelides’ characters would do. The story is told from both Theo’s and Alicia’s perspectives, with Theo as the narrator and through Alicia’s journal entries. Readers will need to do some work, however, because they won’t get the full story from either, not until the finish where a final and unexpected twist explains it all.

Although plot driven, The Silent Patient is also a look at different psychologies and how vulnerable children are to their circumstances, especially in relationships to their parents and other family. Both Theo and Alicia suffered miserable childhoods and were subjected to pain and rejection. Through his story, the author asks important questions about nature versus nurture. Would his characters be different people if they’d had better childhoods?

Michaelides also cleverly ties The Silent Patient to the Greek play, Alcestis and the tragic choices that are made between Alcestis and her husband. I enjoyed this parallel very much and how it explains Alicia’s behavior.

The Silent Patient is the author’s debut novel and the type of book you want to start and finish in the same day. I recommend it to readers who like the fast pace of a thriller with the bonus of interesting characters and ideas.

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Audiobook: Dear Martin by Nic Stone, narrated by Dion Graham

Audiobook: Dear Martin
by Nic Stone, narrated by Dion Graham

Rating:

Here’s a really great Young Adult audiobook about the complicated dynamic of American race relations and its impact on high school senior, Justyce McAllister, an African Amercian student on scholarship at an elite school in Atlanta.

Justyce has thrived in the protected environment of his private prep school and is looking forward to a successful Ivy League future. But everything turns inside out when he’s wrongfully arrested for trying to help his drunk, ex-girlfriend get home. Until his arrest, Justyce didn’t think racial profiling was something that could happen to him. But the sting of this treatment begins to open his eyes to the more subtle prejudices expressed by some of his classmates. Even his best friend, Manny, who is black, but has grown up in privilege, disappoints Justyce.

To make sense of these feelings, Justyce begins a Dear Martin project, writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Be like Martin,” he tells himself. The letters help at first, but events soon go out of control. Justyce faces racial tension on many sides: from his classmates, from his mother, and from the kids in his Atlanta neighborhood who live to survive.

In addition to the injustice of racial profiling, Nic Stone does a terrific job showing the many sides of this sensitive issue, including questions of privilege, affirmative action, the use of violence as well as acceptance and forgiveness. She also ties Justyce’s experiences to recent racial profiling cases, showing how even a young black man in a prep school is not protected from this dangerous thinking.

Conflict builds to frightening levels and violence results in a heartbreaking loss for the students at his school. As Justyce prepares for college, he will need to take these events with him and decide how to carry himself in a world that may never be completely free of prejudice.

I particularly enjoyed the audiobook presentation. Dion Graham is an excellent narrator, taking on a wide range of characters and telling an important story that is also entertaining and has feel-good charm. Stone tackles a complicated subject and helps explain the many sides in a way that I think teenagers can understand.

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere
by
Celeste Ng

Rating:

Nothing is left to chance in Elena Richardson’s life. Her family has lived for generations in Shaker Heights, a planned community outside of Cleveland, Ohio. And Elena has spent her adult life meeting the goals to match her life to the Shaker Heights model: marriage, career, beautiful home, and children. Raised in affluence and taught to help others, she makes a point of being generous.

Mia Warren and her teenage daughter, Pearl, live the opposite way. Low on money, they move from town to town where Mia waits tables and works on her art. When she needs new inspiration, they pack up and leave. But this time, Mia is determined to give Pearl a more grounded life.

The story is set in the 1980s and begins with a Richardson family crisis. Then Ng rewinds to explain how it all began:

It seems like the perfect arrangement when the Warrens move into the Richardsons’ subsidized rental. But the threat of change looms as their lives intersect. A fast friendship develops between Pearl and Elena’s son, Moody, and Pearl is soon fascinated with the Richardson family, believing Elena is the consummate mom. Elena’s kids are equally drawn to Mia, who shows them a different kind of parenting.

The kids can’t articulate these differences, but they form the slow-burning backdrop to the biggest story in Shaker Heights—an intensely debated adoption case. The baby is one-year-old Mirabelle McCullough, or May Ling if you ask her birth mother, Bebe Chow.

As the judge’s hearing approaches, the town takes sides and the question of motherhood figures into all of Ng’s characters. The McCulloughs are sure they can be the best parents to baby Mirabelle, but doesn’t Bebe Chow deserve to have her daughter?

Several side stories between the Pearl and Richardson kids highlight the intensity of high school years in which friendship, romance, hormones and fitting in figure prominently. Ng includes plenty of sibling rivalry to reveal the complicated dynamics in the Richardson home.

In addition to motherhood, Ng questions the motives of Elena’s good works and asks, “What is the best way to live?” Throughout the story are themes of sacrifice and life choices. Readers will see how some of her characters figure it out and wonder what fares for others.

I highly recommend Little Fires Everywhere. It’s a terrific story of complicated family dynamics. You’ll want to read it all at once to know how it works out!

And for those of you who are wondering, Shaker Heights is a real place. You can read about it here and here.

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2018 recap – a year of change

Fred H. Rohn

This year was a time of great excitement for me, as I helped my father, Fred Rohn, publish his second book, Encounters – Relationships in Conflict. My father was ninety-two when the book was finished, and working on it together was a special time for me. He had been writing short fiction about relationships for most of his adult life and wanted to compile these stories into a collection.

2018 has also been a time of sadness, as my father passed away in June, just weeks after his book was published. During the last few months of his life, we had long discussions about where Encounters fit into the book world and how to promote it. We were both very excited about launching it and acting as our own book publicists.

   

These plans are now my own and, during this transition, I have begun to think about how I will honor my father and what place Encounters and his memoir, A Fortunate Life will have in the indie author market.

Thank you to those who have read and reviewed his books, and shared your enthusiasm on your blogs and on social media. Your comments mean a great deal to me.

My father was also very excited about this video interview, which was published by the Madison Eagle in January 2018. You can view it here or on YouTube below.

 

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Blue Monday by Nicci French

Blue Monday
by
Nicci French

Rating:

Before I tell you why I loved this terrific book, I want to give you a little background about the novel and the authors. Published in 2011 and set in London, Blue Monday is the first in a series of eight mystery thrillers featuring Frieda Klein, a highly regarded psychoanalyst who, in this story, becomes entangled in a kidnapping investigation. Nicci French is the pseudonym for married suspense writers, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Together they have written over twenty books. You can find out more about Nicci French and the Frieda Klein series here.

Blue Monday’s story begins with Alan Dekker, one of Klein’s patients, who is tormented by disturbing recurring dreams of a young boy. Dekker is desperate to have a son of his own and the boy in his dreams eerily resembles recently kidnapped five-year-old Matthew Faraday. What’s the connection?

“This is the place where you’re allowed to say anything. There are no limits,” she tells Dekker. But is that really the case? In no time, Frieda finds herself in the middle of the investigation, led by Chief Inspector Malcolm Karlsson. He wonders if Matthew’s disappearance is related to a similar kidnapping twenty years earlier. A concrete evidence detective, he must then rely on Klein’s unconventional methods, and giving into her ideas may take them down the wrong path.

Getting to know Klein is not an easy task. Only happy when in control, professionally and personally, she relies on long late-night walks through deserted London neighborhoods to clear her head. Readers get to know her as she manages relationships with several secondary characters, including Sandy, a new love interest who wants a bigger commitment.

One of the things I enjoyed about Blue Monday is that it is a character-driven mystery. The authors’ characters are both interesting and complex, with their own sets of problems. They give the reader plenty to think about as they come into contact with what I’ll call the authors’ mood influencers: the dark London streets, deserted neighborhoods, gray fog and mist, all connected by the various rivers that run into and through the River Thames. In addition, I especially liked reading about Klein’s apartment, a safe spot she fiercely protects against intrusion.

I won’t spoil the story by revealing the authors’ clever and changing plot development. Twists and turns to the very last pages make Blue Monday a highly entertaining book. Some hanging details and a whopper development at the finish set the scene for the next book, Tuesday’s Gone. I’m looking forward to working my way through this series.

I recommend Blue Monday to readers who enjoy interesting characters and the challenge of unraveling a smart mystery.

And what’s the meaning behind the book’s title, Blue Monday? It “is about beginnings but also about the difficulty of beginning, its pains and regrets and fears. It also happens to be the title of two (very different) great songs—by Fats Domino and New Order,” explain the authors. (Read the full interview at penguinrandomhouse.com.)

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Those Girls by Chevy Stevens

Those Girls
by
Chevy Stevens

Rating:

Three teenage girls are on the run when they leave their small town of Littlefield in western Canada to escape an abusive past and start new lives in Vancouver. Can they forget the violence they suffered?

In this fast-paced thriller, Dani, Courtney and Jess Campbell never stop running from what happened in Littlefield, and the horrors they meet when their truck breaks down in Cash Creek. Dani’s the leader, Courtney’s the pretty one and Jess has the brains to do great things. But they must all work together to survive.

The scars of their abuse take different forms, probably the most interesting part of the story, as the three girls try to build normal lives in Vancouver. It looks as if they may succeed until Courtney’s boyfriend turns out to be bad news and she decides the only way to get rid of the past is to confront it head on.

But new dangers await the girls, now women. It’s a race against time culminating in a shocking finish.

Themes of female empowerment run strong in this battle between good and evil, as well as the importance of family and friends, and readers will have no trouble deciding which side to take.

A note of caution: Those Girls contains many detailed violent scenes and readers may question how necessary these descriptions are. I think that, while some of the early events establish the author’s characters, later scenes seem over the top. In addition, readers will need to let go of reality during the final showdown between the women and their abusers. It’s better just to go along for the ride than say, “That would never happen!”

I recommend Those Girls, with this warning, to readers who enjoy thrillers and stories about women overcoming abuse.

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For more stories about female empowerment and overcoming abuse, check out this audio book review of Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens, narrated by Rachel Fulginiti and Caitlin Davies.

Exposed by Lisa Scottoline

Exposed
by
Lisa Scottoline

Rating:

Simon Pensiera, one of the top sales reps from OpenSpace, the biggest office cubicle manufacturer in the area, has lost his job. After only one month of missing his quota, he’s sure he has been wrongly fired and that his termination is because of his young daughter’s leukemia and the high cost of treatments, including an upcoming bone marrow transplant. His boss, Todd Eddington, is worried about the insurance policy and tells him, “These expenses are going to kill us this quarter. It’s really too much. We can’t keep this up. They’re going to raise our rates.”

In comes Mary DiNunzio, Simon’s childhood friend from South Philly. She’s a lawyer now and has just made partner at Rosato & DiNunzio. There’s no question she’ll take the case, until Bennie Rosato tells her there’s a conflict of interest. OpenSpace is a subsidiary of their biggest client and Bennie isn’t about to jeopardize her relationship with Dumbarton Industries or Nate Lence, the company’s CEO and Bennie’s classmate from law school.

Pretty soon it’s Rosato versus DiNunzio and Mary must decide what to do. Her entire South Philly neighborhood, including a very sick little girl, is counting on her and she must find a way. And then, a shocking murder puts the wrong person in jail and Mary and her partner in danger. Can they solve the murder and fix things for Simon and his little girl, Rachel?

There are several subplots, including Mary’s relationship with the super-aggressive and take-no-prisoners Bennie, who used to be her boss. Both Mary and Bennie have significant others, which spices up the story a bit. Scottoline also describes Rachel’s illness, her treatments and preparation for a bone marrow transplant. Rachel is surrounded by a large, supportive family and neighborhood, which contributes to the author’s feel-good description of family and relationships. Much of the book is set at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and is a worthy shout-out to the great care she receives.

I had not read a Lisa Scottoline book until now. Scottoline has written twenty-nine novels and Exposed is the fifth book in Scottoline’s Rosato & DiNunzio series. The author provides plenty of back story and Exposed can be read as a standalone.

I went in with an open mind, however, I can’t say I enjoyed this book much. It was an easy read, but I found the plot far-fetched, a little boring and the characters stereotypical. In particular, Scottoline’s South Philly characters are over the top, especially her hard-of-hearing father whose dialogue is displayed in ALL CAPS. Scottoline also devotes the first half of the book to a dry legal debate about conflict of interest, so readers need to wait patiently for the action to begin.

In addition, editing mistakes, including repetitive phrases, dialogue and physically impossible descriptions, make me feel like this book was cranked out without much polish. I wish I could say I liked this book. I know the author has a huge fan base, but for me, Scottoline is a one and done.

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