Michael Kardos Asks Us To Believe In ‘Before He Finds Her’

before he finds her

It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.

–Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio; from the epigraph of Before He Finds Her

Michael Kardos published his debut novel The Three-Day Affair in 2012, announcing himself on the thriller scene with an attention-grabbing hook. After stopping at a convenience store, three old friends watch in astonishment as one of their group pulls a woman out of the store and screams “Drive!” as he throws her into the car. In this book, the implausibilities of the scenario didn’t occur to me as I was reading. Kardos is that good at telling stories, and creating characters reacting naturally in unnatural situations.

Now, in his follow-up, Before He Finds Her, Kardos once again asks readers to suspend their disbelief to get an ultimate thrill. Ramsey Miller, a fatalistic truck driver, murdered his wife in 1991. His three-year-old daughter, Meg, survived. The murderous Miller was never caught. Meg is now Melanie Denison, and under the watchful eye of her aunt and uncle, she has led a sheltered life (why all the “M” names? I’m not sure). Her dad is still out there, a murderer-at-large.

But Meg/Melanie is about to turn 18, and she is tired of living in fear. She wants the tragedy of her childhood to be over. She returns to her hometown, the scene of the crime, and seeks out the journalist who covered the case so many years ago. If the police can’t give her justice and peace, she’ll find some for herself. But what really happened? And if the police weren’t able to solve the crime, can a seventeen-year-old girl do much better? Is the truth lost in time?

If you go all in, put your foot on the throttle and flip the pages a bit too fast until you reach the end, you will love this book. It is how I read, and I finished Before He Finds Her thinking it was nearly flawless. If you are a bit of a skeptic, however, as I am once I finish a book and begin thinking about it a bit more, mulling over it like I do a cup of coffee in the morning, Kardos asks a lot of us. There are several twists and turns here that make the book feel brilliantly plotted, but the plot itself may not be firmly rooted in reality.

With this book, Kardos proves himself here to stay, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. I hope he leaves some of the more unbelievable plot points out next time, as he has shown he can write a tense scene. I’d love to see what he does without the bells and whistles.

Before He Finds Her on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

All The Amazing Movies Based On Books Headed Your Way

Really, who needs to read when you can go watch the movie version of these books? Just kidding. I always read the book first, then go see the movie.

  1. High Rise, based on the novel by J. G. Ballard

Secure within the shell of the high-rise, like passengers on board an automatically-piloted airliner, they were free to behave in any way they wished, explore the darkest corners they could find. In many ways, the high-rise was a model of all that technology had done to make possible the expression of a truly free psychopathology.”
― J.G. Ballard, High Rise

A friend posted a link to this trailer, and I was like “Say what? Is this based on the Ballard novel that has been chilling on my Audible Wishlist forever?” I bought the audiobook and listened to this cult classic of luxury-living turned into tribalistic bloodbath. Now, crisp trailer aside, I have no idea how they will translate this book onto the big screen. Variety has seen it, and they say meh. But will I still go check this one out? You bet I will.

2.  The Girl on the Train, based on the novel by Paula Hawkins

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Emily Blunt on the set of The Girl on the Train

Hollowness: that I understand. I’m starting to believe that there isn’t anything you can do to fix it. That’s what I’ve taken from the therapy sessions: the holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mold yourself through the gaps.
― Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train

Yes, Paula Hawkins’ ever-twisty The Girl on the Train is coming to the movies! No time was wasted adapting this one. Is Emily Blunt not your perfect Rachel? She has a bit of the crazy eyes going on this picture that the role demands. If you haven’t read this hit thriller from last year yet, you still have time before the movie’s fall release date. Read my review of the novel.

3. Me Before You, based on the novel by JoJo Moyes

me before you

A sneak peek at the set of Me Before You, with Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin.

The thing about being catapulted into a whole new life–or at least, shoved up so hard against someone else’s life that you might as well have your face pressed against their window–is that it forces you to rethink your idea of who you are. Or how you might seem to other people.
― Jojo Moyes, Me Before You

Thank goodness the movie gods from above have decided to adapt Jojo Moyes’ novel Me Before You. As if we all didn’t cry enough when we read the book, we can go into theatres, gather, and do a group cry together. If you haven’t read the book, pick it up and prepare to have your heart opened up in strange nooks and crannies and then smashed. This romance will give you all the feels, all the sniffles, all the tears. Emilia Clarke will play Lou, and Sam Claflin will play Will. If I read less, or replaced some of the time I spend watching The Bachelor with time watching feature films, I may have an idea of who either of those two people are. Read my review of the novel.

4. She Who Brings Gifts, based on M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts

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Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, and Glenn Close filming She Who Brings Gifts.

“You can’t save people from the world. There’s nowhere else to take them.”
― M.R. Carey, The Girl with All the Gifts

Uhm, could the little Sennia Nanua be a more amazing Melanie? Talk about perfect casting for the little gal who single-handedly brings humanity to all zombies as she innocently explains how she wants feels hungry for her teacher, but she really doesn’t want to eat her because she loves her. Awww.

the girl with all the gifts

Sennia Nanua as sweet little zombie Melanie.

I’m not sure why they changed the title on this one though. To me, The Girl with All the Gifts has an oomph that She Who Brings Gifts lacks… Not to mention it brings a whole who vs. whom issue into the situation! Was it to separate the movie from last year’s The Gift? I’m not sure. Call it whatever you want–I’m excited about this zombie thriller.

5. Alice + Freda Forever, based on the book by Alexis Coe

alice and freda forever bigger!

Some of the great artwork from Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis.

“In the mind of the public, she seemed endowed with an almost supernatural power to commit heinous acts, no matter the time or place.”
― Alexis Coe, Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis

I’m cheating a bit with this one, as I don’t know if it’s actually being filmed yet or the project is just in the works. I loved Alice + Freda Forever, Alexis Coe’s true story of a lesbian romance and murder in 1890’s Memphis. A movie adaptation of this true crime/historical nonfiction book has quite a bit of potential. The book takes place at a memorable turning point in history, with haunting drawings and snippets of primary source material. Acclaimed director Jennifer Kent, of The Babadook, is tied to the project. I can only imagine what life she could bring to this already rich and tragic tale. Read my review.

What movie adaptations are you dreaming about for this year? When will we see The Goldfinch? What about A Little Life? How would all those plays from Fates and Furies be acted out? Readers, we can only dream…

Jenny Lawson Makes Us All ‘Furiously Happy’

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Without the dark there isn’t light. Without the pain there is no relief. And I remind myself that I’m lucky to be able to feel such great sorrow, and also such great happiness. I can grab on to each moment of joy and live in those moments because I have seen the bright contrast from dark to light and back again. I am privileged to be able to recognize that the sound of laughter is a blessing and a song, and to realize that the bright hours spent with my family and friends are extraordinary treasures to be saved, because those same moments are a medicine, a balm. Those moments are a promise that life is worth fighting for, and that promise is what pulls me through when depression distorts reality and tries to convince me otherwise.
― Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Despite the above quote, which represents the more meaningful aspects of Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson‘s second memoir is hilarious. She’s hilarious in the same way a person sliding from tipsy into totally wasted is hilarious. She’s funny in the same carefree way a toddler is funny, just wandering way out there past social norms to the unexpected. Lawson is like a wildly manic, taxidermy-loving bus driver taking all her readers on a thrill ride through her emotional landscape, her relationship with her deadpan husband Victor, and her quest for a taxidermied camel.

Lawson writes in a style all her own, a very modern, pulled-from-the-blogosphere stream-of-consciousness. The book is full of her struggles against spellcheck, constant asides, and interjections. Although the effect is jarring at times, it is 100% Lawson. Her personality is quick and jumpy, sliding with ease from a joke into a serious discussion of depression. The momentum of her language matches her message here. The concept of being ‘furiously happy’ as a push back against the suffering of mental illness, a crazy sort of joy that pushes you to do more and feel more because you also experience the dark side of life, comes across in the seemingly endless energy Lawson throws into every joke.

Such a unique style, such a unique person, can take some getting used to. Full confession here, I tried to read Lawson’s first memoir, the much raved about Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, and her writing style bothered me so much I stopped. I was shocked that such a praised book was written in such casual starts and stops, and I didn’t get very far before giving up. But after reading Furiously Happy, I think I understand the spirit behind Lawson’s tone, and I want to go back to Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.

And, second full confession here, without even realizing it, I’ve been living my life the Lawson way. I too am a furiously happy person! I also struggle with anxiety and depression, as well as chronic pain, but drink a ton of coffee and am so chipper I often frighten people with my wide smiles and cheerful hellos. I love to live life big and full, because I’ve seen way down those dark nooks and crannies. So all of Lawson’s philosophies in this book (okay, maybe not the taxidermy stuff as much) had me saying yes, definitely, yes.

If you’ve ever felt like the craziest person in the room, Lawson is here to tell you that she’s felt that way too. And instead of getting upset about it, she’s going to find a taxidermied raccoon, crawl out from under that table, and then get furiously happy.

Furiously Happy on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Further reading:

Judy Batalion Takes On History, Hoarding, And Family In ‘White Walls’

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In White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess In Between, Judy Batalion recounts growing up amidst stuff. Where normal kids cuddled on their mother’s bed for story time, mountains of detritus left no room for little Judy to snuggle up to mom. Tuna fish cans stacked like a great wall through her kitchen; newspapers, free magazines, and library books towered next to the sofa; records overflowed from shelves onto the floor.

Judy’s mother hoards as if fighting off the deprivation of her history, a woman born to Jewish Polish immigrants struggling for survival as they fled the Holocaust, fled the Nazis, leaving behind friends, neighbors, and their homeland. This isn’t inexplicable hoarding, but hoarding grown out of a time of having nothing, starving in camps, standing in breadlines. Judy finds herself, as a third-generation Jewish woman, separated from the Holocaust’s physical hardships but living amidst its emotional aftereffects.

All the dysfunction of Judy’s childhood–her over-anxious and self-absorbed mother, a house filled with so much stuff it had little room for love–bubbles to the surface when Judy, as a successful young woman, finds out she’s pregnant. Although she’s left her home behind, her mother’s mental health is in decline. How can she be there for a mother who has been largely absent? And will Judy, like her mother before her, continue to pass down the trauma she inherited from previous generations? Can she overcome the anxieties of a childhood drowning in unneeded junk, and of a mother (and now grandmother) unlike any other, to her own child?

Judy writes pretty prose, posing questions about her own experiences that she answers through relayed experience without extended navel-gazing. White Walls is funny, as Judy, also a comedian, has a crack-up sense of humor and a gift for one-liners. It is tragic at other times, as Judy, along with her brother and father, seek a court order to hospitalize her mother against her will.

I’ve read books about crazy moms (Chanel Bonfire, Oh The Glory of It All) and books about hoarding (Coming Clean, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things) but this one explores the heartbreak of mental illness, a struggle to overcome generational trauma, the shame of hoarding, and the anxieties of motherhood all in one free association, full disclosure, flash-back style relay between motherhood and childhood, between then and now.

White Walls on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Cecilia Ekbäck’s ‘Wolf Winter’ Is A Gothic Survivalist Thriller

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“Wolf Winter,’ she said, her voice small. ‘I wanted to ask about it. You know, what it is.’

He was silent for a long time. ‘It’s the kind of winter that will remind us we are mortal,’ he said. ‘Mortal and alone.”
― Cecilia Ekbäck, Wolf Winter

Each Halloween, I like to read a horror novel. This year marks the second in a somewhat accidentally created tradition, in which I review a macabre and magical novel centering around wolves during the Holiday season. These books just patter on up to me during this time of year, wintery and wild, all gleaming teeth and snow-capped mountains and freezing temperatures. It seems a natural progression, from horror during Halloween into the mysteries of the wild during Christmas, which is based on such ancient traditions.

Last year I reviewed William Girardi’s Hold the Dark post-Christmas, a quiet tale of death and cold in the midst of Alaskan wild. You had all year to check it out.

This year, I read Cecilia Ekbäck’s Wolf Winter, a book about the type of winter that changes a family. A book about the type of winter you just don’t come back from, as a person, as a community. It’s a book about the cold and the things that belong to it, wolves and ghosts and rumbling stomachs.

Frederika and Dorotea have moved to the Swedish Lapland with their mother, Maija, and father, Paavo. They’ve left Finland’s ghosts for the new frontier of Sweden. Sweden presents its own spirits, however, as the girls stumble upon a body as they herd the family’s goats.

Frederika especially is haunted by their grisly discovery, and by the mountainside itself. She feels it in a way only the people indigenous to the land, called the Lapps, seem to understand.

I’m not one for magic, but this is a magical book that worked for me. Wolf Winter embraces the supernatural without ever losing touch with the grim truth of reality, placing it firmly in the gothic tradition. The frostbite and starvation and desperation come on strong, as this tiny family struggles against a big cold in a little cottage nestled against a mountain. But there’s something more nestled against that mountain, with that family. Something insidious, something growing louder. Frederika hears the mountain beating to a steady rhythm. She begins to see things.

The local priest investigates the murder, the small group of townspeople on the mountain grow ever more anxious as they wonder who amongst them is a murderer, and then it begins to snow. Wolf Winter is a thriller, historical fiction, survivalist tale, and ghost story all smashed into a dough and baked into one big beautifully monstrous cookie.

Wolf Winter on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

The Nightingale: How War Affects Women, How Women Affect A War

the nightingale

I started listening to Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale on audiobook and stopped several times this year. I would get through the first few chapters, as an older woman relays a tough childhood in France, then lose interest. I read a lot of books, I don’t really push through if they don’t capture my attention.

Recently, however, Audible named The Nightingale Audiobook of the Year, so I decided to give it another listen. And this isn’t a poor orphan story, but a war story. It’s a World War II story. And most importantly, it’s a lady story. A novel about how war affects women, and how women affect a war.

Author Hannah read about the roles of French women in the resistance during World War II, most notably Adrée de Jongh, who smuggled fallen airmen out of France through the Pyrenees mountains. She also read about women who quietly sheltered Jewish children or were forced to house German soldiers, and realized she had to tell these stories.

Her research helped her create The Nightingale‘s Vianne Mauriac, whose husband has left their small village to fight at the Front. While he’s gone, it is up to Vianne to tend to her small daughter, and find some way to survive with German soldiers who invade her home. Vianne’s younger sister, Isabelle, was rebellious before the war started. Once it begins, she is determined to join the resistance in any way she can.

Both these women will be tested in endless, exhausting ways. Isabelle flees from Paris in a gigantic, desperate swarm of refugees. Vianne’s best friend and next door neighbor is Jewish, and Vianne witnesses stricter and stricter restrictions placed upon her. I don’t often read historical fiction, but this book kept me going, equal parts horrified, intrigued, and entranced. I listened to this audiobook in the same time period that I watched Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, and it was Nazi overload. I would not recommend it. I’m now grateful I’m not living in Nazi-occupied France or Nazi-occupied America on the daily.

My main issue with the book, as powerful as it was, is the message that women after wartime don’t talk about their tragedies and triumphs. I guess you’ll have to read the book to know what I’m referring to here, but that a mother could keep such a large secret from her son seems odd to me. I’d be interested to know how everyone else felt about this message. I wonder if Hannah absorbed this from her research, that earlier generations were simply more stoic about doing what needed to be done? Anyways, check it out! Report back with your thoughts.

Also, movie rights for this one have been picked up so… that’s exciting!

The Nightingale on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Kali’s 10 Best Brackish Books of 2015

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Alright, here it is. A best books list. I was going to do a traditional best books list, including all the books, but I haven’t even finished A Little Life. I got to the part after all is revealed where a weak Jude must be scooped out of his chair by Willem after a wonderful dinner with friends. Jude peeks back to the hearty laughter and gives a pathetic little wave. And I was just like, “I’m going to put this aside for a bit.” I set it aside, and didn’t pick it back up.

Clearly there’s a type of book I love most. If you’re a reader of the blog, you’ve caught on to that. A guy at work exclaimed the other day, “You have a fascination with criminals!” And maybe I do. I like my books a little salty, a little lurid, enveloped in a whole lot of darkness with a few well-deserved twists. That means that most of my faves fall somewhere between literary fiction and thriller, walking a tightrope of noir and psychological horror. Some were released in other countries before this year, but it’s a blog, and I make up my own rules.

Without further ado:

  1. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh eileenThis book has all the things I hold dear to my heart. A slightly unhinged narrator. A wacky alcoholic family member. A boy’s home for adolescent offenders. A beautiful woman with dishonorable motives. And a bunch of raw nervous energy. You can read my original review.
  2. The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango the-truth-and-other-lies-9781476795553_hr The Truth and Other Lies is bitingly funny. Its cool narrator, a man taking credit for his wife’s blockbuster novels, steers the plot headlong into disaster. My original review.
  3. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
    head full of ghostsI see this one becoming a cult classic, if anything published by William Morrow and nominated for a Goodreads Reader’s Choice Award could ever be considered cult. The one word used to describe this horror novel is meta. This is a horror novel fully aware of horror novels, and films, and all the better for it. My review.
  4. Disclaimer by Renee Knight disclaimer I absolutely loved the premise of this one so much I had to go out and get a copy. A woman picks up a book and begins to read the story of her life. She notices the disclaimer in the front, that one that ensures the story isn’t based on true events, is crossed out. Who wrote the book? How did it get to her? My review.
  5. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins the girl on the train Unless you were living under a rock this year, you are familiar with this one. It was a runaway hit, hailed as this year’s Hitchcock-ian Gone Girl. Rachel watches an ideal couple each morning from the commuter train. When the wife of the couple shows up missing on the news, Rachel places herself into the investigation. Read my original review.
  6. Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates black chalk This is a bit of a cheat, as I had a copy of this last year. Random House UK released this in 2014, but it was released in the US this year by Picador with a beautiful new cover. Black Chalk brings a psychological Hunger Games to Oxford University. Six incredibly close friends agree to a game run by the mysterious ‘game soc’ club at their school. The game becomes more involved, taking over their lives, as the students begin to lose control. My review.
  7. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi The Water Knife Let’s throw a little bit of near-future climate fiction on here, shall we? The Water Knife is brilliant because it pushes what is happening now just a bit farther, and magnifies it into something shocking. States are battling for water rights, and water knives slip through the night to bomb water plants and kill the right people, ensuring powerful cities stay wet. If you like drinking water, read this book. My review.
  8. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby bone gap And also we’ll add a tad of magical realism to the list. Bone Gap is a bright and crisp and beautiful young adult novel. I haven’t reviewed it because I’m just not sure what to make of it. As a lover of straight-shooting mysteries and thrillers, its more fantastical elements disappointed me. But does that mean I still don’t think about its lovable, well-crafted characters? Its charming little town? No, of course not. A part of me may always be in Bone Gap.
  9. Missoula by Jon Kraukauer missoula This isn’t even fiction. This is an exposé of the rape culture on America’s college campuses, with a focus on Missoula, Montana. It is shocking, and an absolute must-read. My original review.
  10. The Cartel by Don Winslow the cartel How many ways can people die in one book? Books about cartels love to explore this question. I became weary of all the descriptions of death, but at the same time understood it was part of the rough and angry territory of a sprawling epic of the Mexican drug war. Proceed at your own caution–the characters here are masterfully crafted, but also masterfully executed. My original review at the Manhattan Book Review.

Cuddle up with a cat and a comforter, cozy up with some cocoa and your Kindle. You’ve got a lot of books to get through. Happy reading!

Drench Yourself In The Sweet, Sweet Sap of Jennifer Weiner’s ‘Who Do You Love’

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People are hard on Jennifer Weiner. I’m probably too hard on Jennifer Weiner. She speaks up for her genre, those books that the literati cast aside as chick-lit. She speaks out against guys like Jonathan Franzen, who have buffooned up into odd caricatures of themselves. She’s like a lone woman speaking out against a vast structure of how literature works today. I play on both teams, I love both sides of this argument. I’m a fan of chick-lit, but I also love some books for plot and others for language and see it as a fact, not as discrimination. But props to Weiner, I think her discussions bring her more into focus in my world, which is great marketing.

All this Weiner-debate got me Weiner-curious, and I decided to pick up her latest release, Who Do You Love. Who Do You Love takes sweetness to Cotton Candy Crème Frappucino level, as Rachel Blum and Andy Landis come together and tear apart what feels like a billion times throughout their childhood, teen years, and then adulthood. They first lay googly love-eyes upon each other, in the now chic fashion of Fault in our Stars, in the ER as children. Rachel, a frequent hospital resident due to a heart condition, strays from her ward at night. Andy, a bit of a shy and neglected ruffian, broke his arm and (scary!) arrives at the ER with no parental escort.

When they reunite on a trip for Habitat for Humanity in high school, love blooms. First love. Tummy butterfly love. They seem perfect together, but life gets in the way (doesn’t it always?). Love tracks these two through life like gum on a sneaker. They always fall back into each other’s arms. Feelings for Rachel follow Andy as he trains for the Olympics, being a gifted runner since he sprinted on his paper routes. Feelings for Andy nag Rachel during awful blind dates with other men. This is a “Will they, or won’t they?” book. A “How many times will they try?” book. And a, “Really, how plausible is this?” book.

But that’s okay. Weiner doesn’t mind taking the love story full nacho cheesy, and it is delicious. (I have no idea why all my metaphors for a sappy love story are food and beverage related. But I can’t stop.) If you are a slightly bitter person seeking fine literature and emotional depth, then pick up A Little Life and stop reading this review already. There’s nothing wrong with that! But if you love love, you will love Who Do You Love. It will remind you of your awkward first loves, your horrible break-ups, and (maybe) make you hopeful for the love-ly miracles still to come. There’s something a little bit magic about an unapologetic romance laying it on thick, playing all your emotional chords like a sad, beautiful symphony. Prepare to laugh, to feel the tears welling up, to get angry, and then be exhausted that this couple is still fighting or not talking or with other people. Prepare to feel all of this, and then go back in for more.

Who Do You Love on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Happy Thanksgiving! Here Are Some Books I’m Grateful For Today…

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Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! Thanksgiving means one thing, and that is gluttony. No, just kidding! Thanksgiving means gratitude. I wanted to take some time to appreciate a few books out of the many on my shelves I’m grateful for. These are random, and there is no order!

  1. , said the shotgun to the head. by Saul Williams — My first of many totally brilliant live encounters with the endlessly talented Williams was a reading of this poem at the now defunct Jack London Square Barnes and Noble in Oakland. At that time, around the book’s release ten years ago, I new I loved Saul because of his brilliant work in the 1998 film Slam. I had yet to discover just how far down the Saul Williams rabbit hole I would go, becoming fully immersed in his spoken word, written words, and music. This book, and that reading of it, were my gateway drug. He stood in front of that small audience and read with such force, his presence and voice booming, and totally rocked my world. I ended up buying two copies of the poem, which is visually striking as well as lyrically beautiful, and pasting them up on my apartment wall like wallpaper.
  2. All the Birds, Singing, by Evie Wyld — I reviewed this strong, unapologetic novel of a strong, unapologetic woman living alone on a British island farm with a dog for the San Francisco Book Review, so check out my full review there. A stranger stumbles into her life, a monster looms perilously in her fields, and her past rumbles quickly towards her. Books rarely make me cry. Sappy books never make me cry, I just don’t feed into emotional-seeking that way. But the power and raw inexplicable feeling of humanness burnt into the end of Jake’s story, those mistakes we make for no reason at all that hurt us so much–her aching portrayal of this brought me to tears.
  3. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard — I’m taking a Shakespeare class right now, in which I read Hamlet, from which this play stems. I’m embarrassed to say I was much more familiar with Stoppard’s play than Shakespeare’s up until this point. I’m looking forward to reading it again, now that I’ve studied Hamlet more. This is a humorous and strange retelling of Hamlet with a focus on these two minor characters. It is a great exercise in world-building, reminding us that each story we read is a narrow lens shining on a very small aspect of a story in a wide, imaginary world.
  4. The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus — Yes, I went there! I dropped some chick-lit on this list. Why? Because it gets people reading. Because not all good books are great literature. And because it takes on some serious subjects: the lengths women are expected to go to for other women in our society, demands of capitalism upon the individual worker today, the privileges of the rich. By the end of the book, when Nan lays it down to the nanny cam, try not to feel exhilarated for overworked women everywhere! I dare you.
  5. “Trauma Plate” by Adam Johnson — This is a short story, and the link is the short story itself. This may be cheating, but this is my list and I’m making up my own rules! I’m not going to comment on it too much here, and I’m not seeking any sort of debate on current issues. If you haven’t read it, read it. Great science fiction mirrors the bizarre social norms of our day, exaggerating them so we can see how strange they are. Great science fiction points out our blind spots. This is a great blind spot.

Alright, I’m off to work! Enjoy your day, all!

Karin Slaughter Takes On Family And Other Gruesome Things In ‘Pretty Girls’

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Karin Slaughter is legit. I say this having only read one of her huge Will Trent/Grant County series, Criminal, which didn’t totally blow me away. Where I did fall in love with that story was in its portrayal of women on the police force in the 1970’s, which Slaughter so intensely described it kept me up at nights, skipping the present-day, Will Trent sections of the book to get back those flashbacks of his mentor’s times on earlier, much meaner streets.

This means I was definitely a fan of Cop Town, Slaughter’s stand-alone novel focusing on women police in 1970’s Atlanta. And when Slaughter’s newest release, Pretty Girls, was announced as another stand alone, I was excited, just as Will Trent fans everywhere were dismayed.

In Pretty Girls, posh, confident Claire’s successful architect husband, Paul, is murdered in a robbery gone wrong. Immediately after his death, things stop making sense for Claire. She’s left in a stark, excessively large home she never wanted. A robbery takes place at Claire’s home during the funeral, and police and the FBI are a bit too interested in the case, a bit too attentive to Claire’s needs.

Meanwhile, Claire’s sister Lydia, estranged from the family, is revisiting old wounds as another young girl goes missing in the media. Where Claire is classy and sophisticated, Lydia is overweight and runs a pet-grooming service. As different as the sisters are, they both are haunted by the the memory of their third sister Julia, who went missing in their childhood.

The sisters’ stories alternate until they intertwine, as they come together to figure out just what the police could want from Claire, and who Paul really was.

The best part of this book, and maybe all thrillers for me, was its tense beginning. Claire, nervous and in mourning, realizes something isn’t right. But what, exactly? Everyone is acting strangely, the husband she relied on is dead, and she is left entirely on her own to discover his dark secrets. Like Stephen King’s A Good Marriage, the idea that you may not know the person you married, the person you sleep in bed next to each night, is terrifying.

There is quite a bit of gore, with some really ugly stuff presented. These scenes are brief, and play a role in explaining character development.

The story complicated itself as it progressed, and it began to lose a bit of steam for me, raising too many red flags of plausibility. I didn’t need that many twists for the book to be good. Despite feeling a bit bogged by the end, this is a finely-crafted thriller, with well-developed and realistic female characters confronting both family issues and much uglier, darker things. I know Will Trent fans are eagerly awaiting Slaughter’s next book in that series, but I’ll be eagerly awaiting her next stand-alone release.

Pretty Girls on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

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