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Us Against You

Book Review Monday :: Us Against You

My review of Us Against You by Fredrik Backman first appeared in Shelf Awareness for the Professional Trade (so it’s a little longer than most of my Shelf reviews). It was then a starred review in the Readers edition. I’m posting it today with their permission. 

First line: “Have you ever seen a town fall?”

Us Against YouWith each new book, Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called OveBritt-Marie Was Here and Beartown, manages to raise the stakes of exceptionalism. Through Backman’s astute examination of humanity, Us Against You will elicit snickers and full-blown belly laughs. It will rip out hearts, then replace them stronger than before. Most of all, it is sure to prompt readers to examine their lives in order to be better people, if only in microscopic ways.

The depth of this sequel to Beartown seems endless, encouraging several readings. Just one is insufficient to luxuriate in Backman’s splendid style and still catch the multitude of wise gems nestled into this dynamic novel masking itself as an enchanting tale of a hockey team and its community. 

Backman’s omniscient narrator, a resident of Beartown, explains a major theme: “The truth about most people is as simple as it is unbearable: we rarely want what is best for everyone. We mostly want what’s best for ourselves.” Through a series of events involving a range of believably flawed characters and a struggling hockey team, this theme is reinforced repeatedly.

Peter, the club’s general manager, was forced to make an unimaginable decision at the conclusion of Beartown. The fallout from that decision opens Us Against You: the town’s hockey program is dangerously close to bankruptcy; its demise appears inevitable. That is, until an anonymous new sponsor offers to save the team–with certain stipulations.

Ana, a teenager who lives with her father in Beartown, feels more comfortable in the forest than anywhere else. Her father’s alcoholism demands she assume the responsibilities of an adult long before any child should. And her best friend’s struggles with posttraumatic stress disorder require Ana’s empathy, support and love. She regularly gives of herself, but in a moment of weakness triggered by hurt and embarrassment, Ana makes a choice that throws the town into violent turmoil.  

Richard Theo is a politician who presents himself as an advocate for his constituents but is ultimately and deceitfully advancing his own agenda. He knows that “political elections are simple: when everything is going well, when people are happy, then the establishment wins. But when people are angry and arguing, people like Richard Theo win. Because for an outsider to win power requires a conflict. But if there’s no conflict? Then you have to create one.” Theo creates more than one.

Backman juggles these characters, as well as four teenage boys who battle to bring together the Beartown hockey A-team, and a gang of supporters who aren’t opposed to violence to get what they want. His balancing act is masterfully executed with empathy, humor and ingenuity, emphasized by the pitch-perfect portrait of a tired, crumbling small town. Fans of Backman will not be disappointed. His work continues to amaze and captivate, enlighten and thrill. Those unfamiliar with his novels need to pick them up posthaste; Us Against You is a perfect one to grab.

Us Against You is available in hardcover and ebook from Atria Books and audiobook from Simon & Schuster Audio. And if you haven’t read Beartown, that’s now available in paperback.

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Favorite Books: Beartown

Favorites of 2017 – The Rest of the Story!

It is the last day of 2017. I sort of feel like “where did it go?” and then I sort of feel like, “dear God, please get us out of this year already.” It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride, for sure. So here’s hoping we all have a much better 2018. To try to get myself in a positive frame of mind, I’m finishing my favorite books lists from 2017. At least these were a shining spot of the year.

First, my favorite non-fiction. I’ve really started to enjoy reading non-fiction again. I find so many great books on topics I’m fascinated with and want to learn more about. I had a good crop this year and here are the best of the best for me:

Favorite Books: Garden of the Lost and AbandonedGarden of the Lost and Abandoned – I was so inspired by the story of this beautifully selfless woman who finds the best in those who are “lost and abandoned.” If you need a faith-in-humanity story, this is a perfect choice. And it’s stunningly written by filmmaker Jessica Yu. I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness and also interviewed Yu. 

Ghost of an Innocent Man – This is a heart-breaking story of the cancer that continues to plague our “justice” system. It is also an incredible story of determination. I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness.

A Stone of Hope – Another book that deals with the criminal justice system, but in this case a lucky twist of fate kept Jim St. Germaine out of the adult prison system and in a program that rehabilitated him. He’s now an incredible young man making a difference in the lives of others like him and advocating for programs similar to the one that changed his life. Inspiring! I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness.

Favorite Books: A Stone of HopeClimate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet – Environmental issues are a high priority to me. I’m always interested in ways I can live a life that’s kinder to the Earth and will help ensure it’s around for future generations. This book presents both the liberal and conservative viewpoints as it’s written by former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg and former head of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope. Together they show how doing what’s best for the planet is actually best for everyone, even financially. I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness.

Born a Crime – This one was also on my favorite audiobook list. And as I mentioned over there, it actually came out in 2016, but I didn’t stumble on it until this year. I can’t say enough about it. It’s funny, it’s serious, it’s insightful, it’s smart. It’s just plain wonderful. I disliked my next three books after this one because they didn’t make me feel all the emotions this one did. I’ll have to revisit those books at some point, I think. But Born a Crime will definitely stay with me for a very long time. This was a rare title I managed to squeeze in outside my reviewing. 

Hope was a dominant theme in my favorite non-fiction this year. Go figure.


Next my favorite crime fiction. Since this wasn’t as large a percentage of my total reading this year, I’m keeping this list to five as well. Here are my faves:

Favorite Books: The Western StarThe Shimmering Road – Hester Young mesmerized me with her debut, The Gates of Evangeline, so I was excited for this new title. It’s very different and still amazing. It touches on some immigration themes but never gets preachy. First and foremost it’s a great mystery. Love this one. I reviewed it for Shelf Awareness and did a mini-interview with Hester Young. 

Righteous – Another sophomore title. This one is the follow up to Joe Ide’s IQ. I’m hooked on this series. It’s fun and fresh, a hero I can cheer for, smart humor, sharp dialogue. I can’t wait for the next one! I reviewed Righteous for Shelf Awareness.

The Western Star – I show absolutely no signs of tiring of this series. Each book is distinctive in plot, but rich in all the strengths of Craig Johnson’s talents: brilliant humor, crackling dialogue, empathetic characters–and colorful characters–atmosphere that carries you away, rich themes. It’s acutely evident that Johnson loves storytelling. And for me, I love listening. I reviewed this one for both Shelf Awareness and AudioFile Magazine.

Favorite Books: The WantedBluebird, Bluebird – Attica Locke ranks among my favorite contemporary writers. Her works have all captivated me and Bluebird, Bluebird was no different. The internal conflict within her characters is as fascinating, if not more, than the conflict defining the plot. She allows us into their psyches and we’re able to understand them at an intimate level. Locke’s writing style has subtle flair and she makes the amazing complexity seem simple. Timely, rich themes wrapped in a gripping suspense novel. First-rate! I reviewed Bluebird, Bluebird for AudioFile Magazine.

The Wanted – This one slipped in under the wire. Elvis and Joe’s return is a most welcome one. I missed Scott, Maggie and Starkey in this one, but Robert Crais made it up for it with a superb crop of supporting guests and a fascinating plot. While I had nitpicks with the audiobook recording, I was still glued to it with excitement. I’m so thankful that the series that hooked me on the crime genre still makes my heart race. I reviewed The Wanted for AudioFile Magazine


And finally, I have my list of favorite general fiction. This is the largest percentage of my reading these days but not by much. It’s almost an even split between these three categories once the kids and YA are removed, but since this is a slightly larger percentage, I’ve chosen six titles instead of five. And you’ll see that some of the titles in this list could fit into other identified genres (fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, etc), but I don’t read enough collectively in any of those genres to pull out a complete list of favorites. So from the remainder of my reading, here are my favorites:

Favorite Books: BeartownThe Refugees – I don’t read a lot of short stories, but it seems like when I do, they’re amazing. I should really read more. And Viet Thanh Nguyen’s collection is a great motivator to do so. The Refugees is timely, and it’s an incredibly moving look at the individuals, not collective groups we can dismiss but individual people, human beings. And Nguyen’s writing is something to luxuriate in. He does in a short story what some writers aren’t able to accomplish in a novel. I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness.

Ginny Moon – I fell in love with Ginny Moon and you will too. This little girl with a mammoth personality and a bothersome disability is exquisitely drawn in the novel that bears her name. She makes you laugh and cry and worry and celebrate all as if she was .your own precious loved one. Ginny Moon is special and so is this book. I reviewed it and interviewed Benjamin Ludwig for Shelf Awareness

Beartown – Fredrik Backman continues to amaze me with his work. His ability to depict the most intimate elements of character, whether it’s a cantankerous old geezer or a troubled, teenage girl or a young, gay man, is astounding. He understands human nature and that’s universal. He’s funny as hell and despite his deprecating remarks to the contrary, he’s a smart cookie. You can’t go wrong with any of his books, but Beartown’s darker theme will especially appeal to my fellow crime fiction lovers. If you haven’t given Backman a try yet, what are you waiting for? I reviewed Beartown for Shelf Awareness.

Favorite Books: The Color of Our SkyBeasts of Extraordinary Circumstance – This fantasy novel entranced me with the magical beauty of the story and the enchanting writing. The book’s charm made its fantastical elements believable. Instead of saying, “that would never happen,” we WANT it to be able to happen, so somewhere it must be happening. And that somewhere is in Ruth Emmie Lang’s world of Weylyn Grey. I reviewed this gem of a debut for Shelf Awareness.

The Color of Our Sky – Another amazing and powerful debut novel. Amita Trasi created such a compelling tale of female friendship amid extraordinary devastation. Whereas Beasts is fantasy, The Color of Our Sky is realism at its finest. It’s weighty but so very worth it.   I reviewed this book as part of a TLC Book Tour.

This Is How It Always Is – I listened to Laurie Frankel’s book on audio and while I wasn’t over the top about the narration, I adored the story itself. The struggles of a family to protect their own, do the right things and make the right choices are potent. But having the best intentions doesn’t always create optimal results. This Is How It Always Is portrays that in all its splendor. And I reviewed it for AudioFile Magazine


So that’s it for 2017. I lapsed on my recording keeping this year so I don’t have exact totals on what I read, but I’m planning to get back on track for 2018. I’ve already set up my spreadsheet. I miss not knowing those details. I do know I reviewed 73 books for Shelf Awareness and 28 books for AudioFile Magazine. I also participated in 7 book tours. So at the bottom end of what my total could be this year I read 108 books. 

Here’s to at least as many in 2018! I don’t have much in the way of reading resolutions for 2018 except to continue trying to better myself. Non-fiction provides me with education and fiction feeds my capacity for empathy. So I can’t lose unless I don’t read!

I hope your 2017 was a good year for reading. Feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments for everyone to see. And have a very happy (and safe) New Year!

The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes

Book Review :: The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes

First line: “The Silver Fox was waiting for me in a back booth at Wan-Q, the retro nonchic Cantonese restaurant that was two doors down from the rear entrance to the Essex House on West Fifty-Sixth Street.”

The Girl With Kaleidoscope EyesAfter a twenty-year hiatus, ghostwriter Stewart Hoag and his four-legged side-kick Lulu are back. Full disclosure: I haven’t read any of the eight earlier books in this series, but now I want to hunt them down and explore the early years.

Stewart “Hoagy” Hoag is a ghostwriter. Years ago he wrote his own bestselling novel but then the well ran dry. Now he’s helping others get the notoriety, and his agent has a new job for him–one with personal connections. Reggie Aintree is a successful poet, Hoagy’s former flame and the woman he dedicated his single novel to. She also happens to be the daughter of Richard Aintree who also wrote one novel. The difference between Richard and Hoagy is the fact that Richard’s novel is taught in all high school English classes. Well that and Richard vanished after his wife’s suicide; he hasn’t been seen since.

Add into the Aintree family mix Monette, Reggie’s sister. Monette is a media mogul currently separated from her wildly popular actor husband, Patrick Van Pelt. And Monette believes she has just received a letter from her long-lost father. Enter Hoagy whose been summoned to ghostwrite the tell-all that could potentially arise from the return of Richard Aintree. Begrudgingly he packs his bags and heads out to Los Angeles, taking up residence in Monette’s beach house as they await the return of the infamous Aintree patriarch. Let murder and mayhem commence.

Set in 1992, David Handler takes me back down memory lane in The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes through new fangled mobile phones, references and allusions to the decade’s pop culture (90210 anyone?), and the emerging popularity of word processors. But the universal absurdity of celebrity chaos required me to regularly remind myself it was 1992.  Handler’s characters are as colorful as the book’s title and his humorous depictions of Lulu, especially her eating and sleeping habits, exude authenticity. As a dog lover, I appreciate that Lulu isn’t forgotten. If Hoagy’s eating on a restaurant patio, Lulu is laying at his feet. When he’s driving, she’s in the car. She doesn’t just vanish with no explanation of where she is or how she got there.

Some of the police procedure seems a little questionable, but I’m not an expert and the plot isn’t supposed to be a serious crime story. It’s light-hearted and fun with some weightier themes around drugs and relationships that are the real crux of the book.

Handler doesn’t leave his readers wondering what people or places look like nor what meals consist of. But as long as you can get past the excess detail, The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes is an enjoyable, fast-paced mystery chock full of Hollywood, humor and havoc. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m headed to find the earlier books in this series.

The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes is available in paperback and ebook from William Morrow.

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My review is the first of the TLC Book Tour for The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes. You can find out what others have to say about this fun mystery by visiting the tour page at TLC’s website. You can also find David Handler on Facebook.

Favorite Books: The Color of Our Sky

Book Review :: The Color of Our Sky

First line: “The memory of that moment hit me like a surging ocean wave—drawing me into it—the sour smell of darkness, those sobs erupting like an echo from a bottomless pit.”

The Color of Our SkyMukta was born to a devdasis, a temple prostitute,  in her Indian village of Ganipur. Tradition held that as a female off-spring, she too would become a devdasis. Her mother, however, wanted nothing more than to break the evil cycle and free her daughter from this life of daily horror.

Tara was born to upper caste Brahmins from the same village. Because their parents didn’t approve of the marriage, Tara’s parents were forced to elope, fleeing their village to live in Mumbai. But Tara was still afforded all the benefits of her upper caste heritage: an education, a nice home, plenty to eat.

When Mukta’s mother dies at the hands of the villagers, Tara’s father takes Mukta away to Mumbai. He has helped many homeless orphans so Tara thinks nothing of Mukta coming to stay with them. But Mukta stays longer than the other children. Tara’s mother teaches her to clean the house, cook and escort Tara to school. In short, she treats her like a servant. But Tara teaches Mukta to read, she befriends her and the girls grow close.  Until a bomb in the bazaar blows their contented life into a million pieces.

The Color of Our Sky is the story of these two young Indian girls whose families came from the same village. Told in their alternating first person voices from the mid-1980s to 2008, it’s heartbreaking and hopeful, unthinkable and uplifting. Amita Trasi’s story canvas shines brilliantly with the colors of her rich characters, the power of her themes, her beautiful setting and optimism. The dark strokes of evil, hate, greed and desperation also add to the magnetism.

I finished The Color of Our Sky reminded of each human’s extraordinary value. Race, gender, caste or class, age, sexual orientation, none of it makes us better or worse than someone else. Those are simply traits that fate drops in our laps. We don’t control those things. Our compassion, empathy, generosity and kindness are the true measures of a good human being.  We have the power to change these things, and how we choose to wield that power tells the world all it needs to know.

The Color of Our Sky is far from a light beach read, but since we all still have time before the summer season really hits us—at least here in the U.S. anyway—there’s plenty of opportunity to luxuriate in the depth and breadth of this incredible debut from Amita Trasi.

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My review today of The Color of Our Sky is part of the TLC blog tour. You can discover what other bloggers are saying about it by checking out the complete tour schedule here.

Orphan Train

Book review :: Orphan Train

First line: “I believe in ghosts.”

Orphan Train
In 2013 readers first discovered Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train. I was not among them. I guess you could say, I missed that train. And it’s very rare these day for me to be able to circle back on a book I missed when it came out, but this TLC Book Tour for the revised paperback edition of Orphan Train allowed me to do just that. And I’m thankful for the opportunity. What a wonderful novel.

Niamh Power is only nine years old when a fire takes her father and siblings and leaves her mother in a mental institution. It’s 1929 in New York City and the Children’s Aid Society transports orphans west–via train–to families that will take them in. Niamh, a red-haired Irish immigrant, is one of the orphans caught up in this system.

Molly Ayer is in a similar situation in Spruce Harbor Maine in 2011. While there is no longer an orphan train, Molly is stuck in the foster system. Her father died in a car accident and her mother spiraled into addiction issues leaving her unable to care for Molly. She’s close to aging out of the system, but when she tries to steal an old tattered copy of Jane Eyre from the library and is caught, she’s left in a serious predicament: serve community service hours or juvie time.  Molly’s boyfriend Jack manages to arrange the community service time with his mother’s employer, an old woman named Vivian Daly who needs to clean out her attic.

As Molly helps Vivian go through her belongings in the attic, she learns the story of the red-haired Irish immigrant who traveled on the orphan train in Depression-era America, and a special bond forms.

Orphan Train is a beautiful, disturbing, haunting historical novel that spotlights humanity’s basest creatures and its most compassionate.  The story illustrates the power of determination and the human ability to overcome life’s harshest storms with the support of others. Kline’s atmosphere thickly envelopes readers, laying them on an old, moldy, infested mattresses on the ground or trudging them through a snow storm.

Kline has a letter at the opening of the novel indicating that she’s added to a scene that she received many letters about. Not having read the original version, I wasn’t able to discern where this addition was made. It is seamless and causes no bumps in the plot. Those who have read the book previously may want to venture back and see how the addition affects their reading of the women’s stories.

If, like me, you missed the Orphan Train before now, I encourage you to pick it up. This is definitely a train you’ll be glad you jumped aboard.

 

Book review: An Obvious Fact

Book Review :: An Obvious Fact

I‘ve fallen so far behind in getting my book reviews on the blog and I apologize for that. I’ll try to catch up a little here in the coming weeks so you can have some ideas for holiday book gifts. And of course, I’m always a pusher for this man’s books, so if you know someone who isn’t reading them yet, they’d make a great gift for sure. So here’s the most recent Walt Longmire from Craig Johnson–make sure you read the acknowledgements, it’s a bonus story! My review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.

First line: “I tried to think how many times I’d kneeled down on asphalt to read the signs, but I knew this was the first time I’d done it in Hulett.”

Book review: An Obvious FactFor the twelfth novel in Craig Johnson’s highly addictive mystery series, Absaroka County sheriff, Walt Longmire, and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, are in Hulett, Wyoming during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It’s August and bikers from around the world are pouring into the area when one of them is run off the road and left in a coma. The investigating officer calls on Walt to help solve the crime.

While following the clues, Walt encounters hostile biker gangs, an undercover ATF agent, the namesake for Henry’s ’59 Thunderbird and a 15-ton, military-grade MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle. Meanwhile Walt’s undersheriff, Vic Moretti, shows up in her rental car, a bright orange Dodge Challenger. The suspense ratchets to nose-bleed levels and the action races non-stop. Paying homage to what is arguably the most famous orange Dodge, albeit a Charger, Johnson includes a rip-roaring car chase complete with a field full of hay bales. The Dukes of Hazard would certainly be proud.

Rounding out a dozen books with his beloved sheriff, not to mention short stories and novellas, Johnson hasn’t lost a step. An Obvious Fact is fresh and exciting, while still maintaining all the attributes that make this series so popular. It’s witty and complex with pop culture weaved into clever Sherlock Holmes literary references. The brilliantly colorful, snappy dialogue remains second to none. And dynamic characters surprise and delight readers with their charm, authenticity and depth. The most obvious fact is not deceptive at all; Craig Johnson writes a mighty fine story.

Book Review - Fredrik Backman

Book review :: And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer

First line: “There’s a hospital room at the end of a life where someone, right in the middle of the floor, has pitched a green tent.”

Book Review - Fredrik BackmanIt isn’t Black Friday yet, but I have my first literary gift recommendation for 2016. Fredrik Backman’s new novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, is stunning. This beautiful little book is a gem of a read that will be devoured in a couple of hours at most, but will demand to be read over and over.

Backman’s amazing stroll through the lives of three generations–father, son and grandson–will make your heart smile through the tears your soul cries. He paints a debilitating disease using his magnificent brush of creativity. In phrases only he could compose (and Alice Menzies deserves accolades for her astounding translation), the man who brought us Ove, Elsa and Britt-Marie, tells a mesmerizing story of minds that betray before the bodies wears out. A story of sons and grandsons who have to say goodbye to someone who’s still with them. In his letter at the book’s opening, Backman says, “This is a story about memories and about letting go. It’s a love letter and a slow farewell between a man and his grandson, and between a dad and his boy.”

Parts of the book take place in the man’s mind, a lovely little town square that he says gets smaller every day. The faces of the people that pass are fuzzy. They look familiar but he simply can’t focus in on exactly who they are. The man’s grandson, Noah, sits with him in his mind. “Noah’s feet don’t touch the ground when his legs dangle over the edge of the bench, but his head reaches all the way to space, because he hasn’t been alive long enough to allow anyone to keep his thoughts on Earth.”

The man’s wife also visits him in his mind. She’s been dead awhile now. “Her hair is old but the wind in it is new, and he still remembers what it felt like to fall in love; that’s the last memory to abandon him. Falling in love with her meant having no room in his own body. That was why he danced.”

While the heart-breaking dementia invades the man’s mind, Backman helps the reader experience his glorious life–his blessings as well as regrets.

This gorgeous, little volume has less than 100 pages and includes delightful, color illustrations throughout. After you get a copy for yourself–this is one you’ll want to keep, but really what Backman don’t you want to keep!?–snag some extras to tuck in stockings, to share with friends and family who might be experiencing something similar, or just to gift to someone you care about. I’d add a package of tissues to the gift though. You won’t get through this one without crying.

Book review :: Rise the Dark

Don’t fall over because I’m posting a review today. I don’t mean to cause any cardiac problems for anyone. 😉 Today’s review for Michael Koryta’s Rise the Dark first appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Of course it also appeared there in a more timely fashion, but for those who missed it, I’m posting it here today with their permission.

First line: The snow had been falling for three days above six thousand feet, but it had been gentle and the lines stayed up.

book review - rise the dark

Markus Novak, no longer investigating for the Florida-based Death Row defense firm Innocence Incorporated, is taking on the intimately personal case that has plagued him since his introduction in Michael Koryta’s Last Words–the murder of his wife, Lauren. Garland Webb, the man accused of killing Lauren, is out of prison, and Novak is determined to exact justice for both Lauren and himself. He just has to find the monster first.

Webb’s trail leads Novak back to the scene of Lauren’s death. Then it takes a sharp turn, introducing him to an honest-to-goodness Pinkerton PI and sending them both to a place Novak swore he would never return, Red Lodge, Montana. Here Novak’s past collides with his present, and he uncovers the truth behind Webb–who is just the tip of a terrifying iceberg–as well as the meaning of words left on Lauren’s notebook before she was murdered, “Rise the dark.” As Koryta raises the dark on his determined protagonist with a brilliantly sadistic villain, Novak races time to prevent a global crisis.

Koryta’s second installment in the Mark Novak series is easily appreciated on its own, but readers of Last Words and Koryta’s standalone Those Who Wish Me Dead will delight in small references to his earlier works. While some of the explanations for electrical processes deter from the thrilling action, Koryta constructs an enveloping atmosphere that artfully merges the landscape’s beauty with the plot’s terror and the darkness of his characters. This dichotomy ramps up the suspense, making Rise the Dark heart-poundingly swift and chock full of explosive excitement.

book review - Dr. Knox

Book review :: Dr. Knox

My reviews are sadly backed up, and it’s overdue to get another one posted on the new site. My review of Peter Spiegelman’s Dr. Knox first appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I’m posting it today with their permission. Hope you enjoy.

book review - Dr. KnoxFirst line: “Mia should’ve been it for the day.”

Dr. Adam Knox means well, but as the saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The good doctor is laying down his stepping-stones at a rapid rate. Knox runs a medical clinic in Los Angeles near Skid Row and lives in an apartment above the clinic. Since his typical clientele isn’t exactly leaving him flush, he moonlights–with the help of his friend former Special Forces agent Ben Sutter–taking hush-hush house calls from people who can’t or won’t publically seek medical help. But these jobs are cake compared to the young boy who shows up at his clinic.

When Alex arrives at Knox’s office, he’s suffering from a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Knox and his capable staff stabilize the young patient only to discover the boy doesn’t speak English and his mother has vanished. Knowing all too well how Children’s Services works, the doctor wants to attempt to find the boy’s mother before calling them. His good intention, however, goes beyond paving a road; it is the key to unlocking the gates of Hell. And not just for himself, but also for everyone he cares about.

Dr. Knox is feverishly suspenseful. Peter Spiegelman ramps up the stakes for Knox with catch-22s and tests of his integrity. He spreads a layer of grime over Los Angeles with manipulation, corruption and filth, successfully blocking out the rays of hope and leaving his well-meaning doctor no options if he won’t play dirty himself. Dark, evocative and riveting, perdition’s never been so inviting.

Book Review :: The Innocents

Since I’m a little behind on sharing my reviews from Shelf Awareness, let’s try to catch up, shall we? The Innocents by Ace Atkins first appeared as a starred review in Shelf for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission.

innocentsFirst line: “Lillie Virgil stood high on a north Mississippi hill at daybreak listening to old Ruthie Holder talk about the man who’d run off with her grandson’s Kawasaki four-wheeler and her brand-new twelve-gauge Browning.”

Quinn Colson returns to Jericho, Mississippi after training an Afghani police force in the Middle East. Lillie Virgil is acting sheriff; Quinn’s father, Jason, has grand plans to turn Quinn’s farm into a dude ranch, while his girlfriend Anna Lee is moving to Memphis, and a teenager consumed by raging fire walks down the middle of the road in a desperate final effort for help. The sixth book in Ace Atkins’ series may be his darkest one yet.

Quinn thought he was finished policing in his hometown when the community voted him out as sheriff. But the gruesome homicide of former high school cheerleader Milly Jones has all of Mississippi watching the investigation, and Lillie needs as much help as she can recruit. The suspect list is long—Milly’s strip club boss she short-changed on tips, the drug dealer she refused to sleep with, her drunkard father who feels disgraced by her employment—and the flames devoured any significant forensic evidence that could identify the killer. As Quinn and Lilly dig through the ashes for answers, they find far more than they bargained for.

The marriage of Quinn’s law enforcement and complex interpersonal relationships make this series an addictive read. The Innocents shines a glaring spotlight down the darkest alleys of small-town Mississippi, but does so with the compassion of one who loves the region and wants to reveal the diamonds along with the dregs. Seasoned readers will likely predict the outcome early, but the journey there is the true joy in this gem of a crime novel.