Tag Archives: reviews

Review: You Again: A Novel

One day while sitting in a cab, Abby Willard spots a young woman on the sidewalk, only to realize moments later that it’s a younger version of herself.

From this opening, we delve into Abby becoming slightly obsessed with the younger her, and she begins to go to various places she went to when she was young, knowing she will find herself there. Surrounding the mystery of why she is seeing herself, and why there are gaps in her memory, are various other stories: her soul-sucking job for a big pharmacology company as a graphic designer, her husband’s work woes, her oldest son starting to run with a group of antifa protestors with his new friend Dmitri, who may or may not be what he seems, and her interaction with a detective after her son is arrested.

Amidst all of this, Abby continues to follow the younger her, eventually speaking to her, trying to talk her out of the mistakes Abby knows she will make. Interspersed with this are notes from therapy sessions, and a neurologist reviewing medical records and images – at the outset, we’re not sure what those records are or who they are about.

Along the way, we learn that both Abby and her husband are very talented artists, but both gave up their art when it wouldn’t pay the bills. The younger Abby then starts appearing to older Abby at random moments – proving the oddball nature of this goes both way – offering her own advice to the older Abby.

Events reach a crescendo in the last third of the book, with a fire, a death, and a question about space and time.

The writing is almost stream of consciousness, with sentence fragments scattered widely throughout the book, and this works well with the story, since we are watching Abby experience some very existential questions about herself and the world in which she now lives.

A solid three and a half stars out of five.

Thanks to NetGalley and Ecco for the advance copy.

Before She Was Helen – review

Solid four stars out of five. Warning: there is discussion of rape and a serial rapist, although not graphic.

Clemmie – or, as her neighbors know her, Helen – lives in a sleepy, sort-of retirement community called Sun City. Her next door neighbor Dom texts her every morning to let her know he’s ok. Except today: no text.

Clemmie has a key to Dom’s place – in case of emergency, and something her friends and neighbors do not know. She heads next door into Dom’s place, calling out for him. She doesn’t find him, but she does find a door in the garage that leads to the other attached villa, presumably owned by neighbors who are rarely seen.

Telling herself that she’s just checking for Dom, she enters the third (very empty, almost unlived-in) villa and sees a glass dragon sculpture that she thinks is so beautiful that she takes a picture and texts it to her nephew.

So begins Before She Was Helen, a character-driven mystery set in a limited community area.

Her text puts into a motion a grand mystery: the creator of the dragon is hunting for money stolen from him and tracks down Clemmie/Helen, Dom is missing, no one knows much of anything about the ghost neighbors, Clemmie’s friend Joyce is kicking out her boyfriend (who has been taking money from her checking account in bits and pieces), and all the other neighbors join in the fun when a body is found in Dom’s golf cart, in his garage.

There’s another story as well: Clemmie’s life before she became Helen, as the title suggests, in the 50s. It involves Clemmie being stalked and raped repeatedly by a man, her becoming pregnant tanks to her rapist, and giving up the child to an adoptive couple. When she moves from place to place, trying to escape him, he always finds where she is living and shows up. At one point, he rapes her roommate when he turns up but doesn’t find Clemmie. The rapist is later found dead. The case went cold in the past, and in the present, Clemmie’s nephew texts her that the case is being reopened, adding another worry to her pile.

The book moves fairly seamlessly between the present and the past, both eras containing complex mysteries to be solved: in the present, who among Clemmie’s neighbors are involved in drugs/dealing, and who killed the young man found in Dom’s garage? In the past, how did Clemmie finally escape, and who killed the stalker/rapist?

While none of the characters are very deeply presented beyond Clemmie, I still found it an enjoyable read and was wondering how all the pieces would be tied together, or indeed, if they could be. Answer: yes, they could be, and were.

As noted, this is a character-driven novel: there are no big action sequences or gory scenes beyond some blood in a knife fight that involves the artist and one of Clemmie’s neighbors. If you are looking or gunfights and foot (or golf cart) chases, you won’t find that here. But if you’re looking for a good read of how one woman reinvented herself and how she manages to get through the webs small town communities can weave, this is the book for you.

Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for the advance reading copy.

Day two of the rest of your life

Far too much football and stuff going on to post yesterday.

But from today forward, I’ll be posting daily – mainly to get in the habit of doing it, and also to vaguely complain about shit. I’m kidding. Sort of.

I’m anticipating the good outweighing the bad, although the first quarter will still be migration city, like living on the LA freeways during rush hour for three months.

There are half a dozen books lined up for me to read and review, so I’m using that as my break time to get my head out of the servers for just a short while. Since I read so quickly, I’ll also need to line up the next six, as I’ll finish this first batch by midweek, even with work being nutty. I love Kindle Unlimited and ARCs (advance reading copies), There’s something to be said for being a voracious reader and being able to put together 500-ish words in a review with a short turnaround time for books coming out in just a few months. I’ll admit I’m amazed at some of the stuff that gets published, though, in the very same way I’m amazed that Lifetime can make the same movies over and over (and over and over) and get rave commentary from its base. Someone very cynical could likely create their own cottage industry on the formula for those movies. i wonder how much they pay…..

That’s it for now. i have someone’s PHP script to check and books to read. Until next time, peeps: be well.

A Matter of Will – book review

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas&Mercer for the electronic advance copy. This book is slated for release this summer.

Before I go in, a side note: this is an uncorrected proof. I’m not sure if whoever edits these titles reads the feedback, but please, for the love of anything you hold holy, correct the instances of “shelf company” to “shell company”. I’ve never read anything else by this author, so have no comparisons to earlier works of his.

Will Matthews is a not-so-successful broker (or “wealth manager”) at a finance company – so unsuccessful that he gets dumped on by his boss on an almost daily basis and worries he will be fired at any moment. Enter Sam and Eve, who he meets at a hockey game. Before he knows what has hit him, Sam is sweeping Will off his feet, taking him to lavish dinners, tuxedo-required parties, and parking tens of millions of dollars with him for investing. He basically buys Will a ten million dollar apartment, and makes him sign off as a director of or participant in various shell companies.

Meanwhile, Gwen is a young attorney added to the team defending a Hollywood star, who has allegedly killed his wife. Will and Gwen meet up via a dating app, have a dinner, and another date. They wind up as a couple – it’s true love for both of them.

There’s no real way to go through the rest without spoilers, so I’ll leave it at: everything is not as it seems, and soon after that, Will and Gwen have to start thinking about their very survival, both professionally and personally.

The good: it’s easy enough to read. The author doesn’t wander off into incomprehensible jargon associated with his own profession (law) when some courtroom/lawyer scenes come up. Will is given a fairly good backstory. There’s some infodumping, given as dialogue instead of a wall of text.

The bad: I’m sorry to say I found it to be a weird mashup of The Firm and Wall Street and When Harry Met Sally. Will is so naive as to be implausible, and apparently it doesn’t sound any alarms to him that some random guy he meets wants to invest a fortune with him. .Even worse, the first 50% of the book is very dull throughout this. Not once does Will question anything, and the first half is just Will and Gwen going about their respective businesses.. It looks like the author couldn’t decide on what kind of book it should be, so included everything, and that swamped the entire book. Also: using the actual John Yoo in this? Not good.

The remainder of the book involves some murders, a bit of cat and mouse, and asks the reader to believe that the kingpin of a gigantic criminal organization would tell even the new nominal leader of it about plans, the evidence being held over their head, or allow that person to remain alive, knowing that person is not all in and is hesitant about roping in another young broker, among other things. We then get swept over once more to the legal bit playing out on Gwen’s side, which does nothing for the story. She, too, winds up appearing to be a tad too naive, and the ending is simply far too convenient, wrapping up all the details.

If this book were by an as yet unpublished author, and they submitted it as it is, that author would remain unpublished. It would be fine as a plane or beach read, but I would not recommend it.

Lazy Sunday

It rained.

Not enough to create any major issues or flood any part of the property. Enough to give all the plants what they need. And just enough to make it a pain in the ass to do anything in the gardens. There are many things that need to be done – as there always are – but Mother Nature was apparently sending me a message. Got it.

Since the outside world could wait until tomorrow – where would it go, really? – I spent the day doing work work and reading. I read two today: another in the Cork O’Connor series by William Kent Krueger, and the first of another series by Inger Wolf, a Danish author.

Those of you who read the olde blogge know that I had also been reading the Alex McKnight books by Steve Hamilton as well, switching between those and the Cork O’Connor books. I finished the last (for right now) of the McKnight series last night. He has another coming out in a few months. Overall, I’d say the books are worth reading, although there are some uneven notes in the series – that is, some strain credulity a bit too far. One of the books was just silly and not very good, but I did finish it, as I finished all the rest. On average, on a scale of five, I’d rate the series at about a 3.5. The McKnight character is just sometimes a little too stupid for someone who was previously a cop (in Detroit) for eight years. The supporting characters and the setting are all well drawn, and except for the really unbelievable plot in one of the books, are generally grounded and not complete idiots.

The Cork O’Connor books are good, with several I’d give a five star rating. There are a few instances where the stories get iffy, but on the whole, Cork isn’t an idiot blundering his way through whatever circumstances the stories contain. The next one on my Fire is number eleven, Northwest Angle, and based on the description hearkens back to events in a previous book. As I’ve not yet started it, I don’t know that for certain, but if it is, it should be interesting.

The other book I read today is Dark September by Inger Wolf. The start is good: a dead woman, in the woods, naked and spreadeagled, with a bouquet of hemlock on her chest. The main character is Daniel Trokic(s) (TRO-kitch), a Croatian-Danish homicide investigator. The description on Amazon gives an s to his last name, but in the book, there isn’t one. The formatting for the ebook is good except for transitions. There are many where the first sentence of a new paragraph is jammed up against the last line of the previous one, and there is no indentation. This made some sections of the book confusing. None of the characters are really fully formed, in my opinion, and the Lisa character – joining homicide after working in cybercrime (pedophiles, child sexual abuse) – seems a tad hysterical toward the end. There is also a good dose of saidisms at the end, with “shouted”, “spat”, etc. Tip for authors: if you put an exclamation point at the end of something, that’s a pretty good indicator that the character is shouting. You don’t have to tell us, and you especially don’t need to have them say something else and tag that with another saidism (like spat).

The story itself is not very engaging. It read like someone was talking it out – that is, reading it was like listening to someone saying, “This happened, then this happened, then that…” and so on. The author also tosses music group names into the mix, but does not describe some of them, so it is not apparent what kind of music Trokic actually likes unless you know those groups or feel like looking them up. The ending was rather abrupt, and (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) there is no way the main character would be out, working, with what would probably be a grade four concussion, after getting banged in the head badly enough to need stitches. He also tends to be the cliched one man show kind of guy, going off to do things without informing his team about what he’s doing or where he’s going. He also tends to turn off his cell phone, which is just not believable for someone in charge of a team investigating not one, not two, but three murders. Although the series is tagged with Trokic’s name, I’d say only about half of the chapters are following him around. The others have Lisa as the main viewpoint character.

On a scale of five, I’d give this one a two. My default rating when I’m doing reviews is a one, just for writing the thing. If the writing isn’t truly atrocious, I’ll give another. If the story holds together enough, that garners a higher rating. This one book, I’ll rate at a 2.5. The story is there, and it does pin together somewhat even when people are doing stupid things. The next book in the series (for English markets, I believe) is Frost and Ashes. I say this because the description of the book says it’s book three, but the title and tag say two. Whatever the case, the three books that are available in the series from Amazon are on Kindle Unlimited, so the only investment I’ll be making is the time to read them. We shall see if book two holds together enough to go to book three.

For now, though, it’s back to Cork. Until next time, peeps: be well.