Game, Set, ‘Sudden Death’

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It isn’t a book about Caravaggio or Quevedo, though Caravaggio and Quevedo are in the book, as are Cortés and Cuauhtémoc, and Galileo and Pius IV. Gigantic individuals facing off. All fucking, getting drunk, gambling in the void. Novels demolish monuments because all novels, even the most chaste, are a tiny bit pornographic. —Álvaro Enrigue, Sudden Death

The sudden death referred to in Álvaro Enrigue’s new novel (translated by Natasha Wimmer) is not the literal kind. Mystery and true crime buffs, look elsewhere. The title refers to a tie-breaking round in tennis. Sudden Death is indeed a literary tennis novel, the story of a fictional sixteenth century match between a Spaniard, the poet Francisco de Quevedo, and an Italian, the artist Caravaggio. The match is a duel of sorts, which the poet proposes after a night of hard-drinking. Neither can remember exactly why they are on the court fighting for their honor at the novel’s opening, and both are suffering from hangovers. The ball used in the match, which bounces with unusual lightness and spirit, is made of the seductive, curly locks of the beheaded Ann Boleyn.

This is a big book in a small package. Enrigue envisions history’s bigger figures, often making them endearingly small and human. It is also a book of exactitudes, a book that narrowly focuses in on history’s larger sweeping tides. Enrigue builds a disjointed but hinged world in which Ann Boleyn’s executioner, the lover of conquistador Hernan Cortés, and cardinal Carlo Borromeo all bump and whirl up against each other, influencing the world around them and bouncing their balls off each other’s rackets in one grand historic tennis match.

Sudden Death is a bold, lovely, but choppy read, which lobs its ideas fast and low. The crescendo of an ending alone makes the entire novel worth reading.

This review was originally published on the San Francisco Book Review on April 8th, 2016. Check it out there and read my other reviews, which I don’t always cross-post, if it strikes your fancy.

Sudden Death on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ Author Jessica Knoll In Phoenix Today

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A friend’s mom and I were recently talking books. We were talking Gone Girl–doesn’t everyone? She mentioned that its clever social commentary frequently gets overlooked, and so many other thrillers just don’t include this. The myth of the cool girl, and all that.

Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive picks up where Gone Girl left off, with biting commentary on the modern day woman and the myths surrounding her, wrapped up in a thriller. Although Ani seems to have the perfect job, the perfect fiancé, and the perfect life, an uncontainable past looms behind her. Even a picture perfect life can’t fix her history. But what can?

Although Luckiest Girl Alive has been out for a while, and is now out in paperback, there have been all sorts of new revelations surrounding the book. Author Knoll recently wrote an essay in which she declared that the (spoiler alert?) rape scene in her novel was inspired by her real life experience:

But as I gear up for my paperback tour, and as I brace myself for the women who ask me, in nervous, brave tones, what I meant by my dedication, What do I know?, I’ve come to a simple, powerful revelation: everyone is calling it rape now. There’s no reason to cover my head. There’s no reason I shouldn’t say what I know.

Film rights for the book have been acquired by Lionsgate and Reese Witherspoon’s tour-de-force production company Pacific Standard, at the helm. This is the company that brought you book-to-screen versions of Wild and Gone Girl, so be prepared for a blockbuster.

Jessica Knoll will be at Changing Hands in Phoenix tonight, Tuesday, April 12th, at 7pm.

Luckiest Girl Alive on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

She Never Calls, She Never Writes…

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Why hello there! I know, I know, I’ve been out of touch. It’s been a few weeks. I thought I’d use this book reviewing interim to give you a brief update about me. And then, we’ll get on to the books. As always.

Why have I skipped a few posts, you ask? In short, life is good. I’m exercising. I’m wearing yoga leggings more often that I should, drinking juices, and I’ve lost ten pounds. Just a tiny (TINY!) bit of Scottsdale’s jock-iness is rubbing off on me. This city is nothing if it is not in love with its gym time.

And I’ve joined the millions of (un)happy singles who are online dating! That is right. So much of the time once spent alone with a book in bed is now spent swiping through strangers, and texting random people that could actually be serial killers. Just trying to find out if their pets have interesting names, if they obsessively drink water and iced coffee as much as I do, and (most importantly) if they even READ, bro.

By far the most wonderful gift online dating has given me thus far is interesting conversation fodder for work. I think this is a legitimate gift. I’ve been going on dates, meeting humans. Just fellow people spinning around on this big planet, trying to find that one person who completes them so totally then can get off this crazy train called dating and settle down. No pressure though! I’ve met men wearing footwear, some of it reasonable. Some of it, not so much!

What does this have to do with books, Kali? This is what you are asking me. And I am hearing your cries. There is only so much reading one can fit in a day full of school and exercise and work and texting strangers about their hobbies. But I’m reading, as always. Here and there, on audiobooks and before bed and on lunch breaks.

Another very small but exciting point of note. I have finally busted through the glass ceiling of book reviews, and made it into the Goodreads top 1,000 reviewers. Praise jesus, I’ve only been working at it for several years of my life.

So, let’s get into some book talk. I’m finishing up the bizarre and brilliant Jesse Ball’s A Cure for Suicide, expect my review soon. I absolutely need his new book, How To Set A Fire And Why. Whoever first gets me an ARC can have one of my cats. Just kidding! You can have my firstborn child instead. I just finished the shocking Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover for school, and this is an old but good nonfiction exposé and worth checking out if you haven’t heard of it. I’ve been waiting to cross-post my review of Sudden Death, a cerebral historical literary tennis novel (oh yes!) by Álvaro Enrigue, from the San Francisco Book Review. And once it is published there, I will repost it here for your reading pleasure. And Animal Money. Have y’all heard about Animal Money yet? I might be reading it forever with the amount of books I have on my plate, but it is out there in the best of ways.

‘Area X’ Meets ‘And Then There Were None’ In Abby Geni’s ‘The Lightkeepers’

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Abby Geni’s The Lightkeepers is part Area X trilogy, with a swirl of And Then There Were None. It is a bit Jon Krakauer meets Alice Seobold. The novel takes place on the Farrallon Islands, a brutal and isolated archipelago off California’s coast. Nature photographer Miranda arrives to the islands, to join a small crew of biologists already living together in a small building, dorm-style.

The islands are a strange and foreign landscape, isolated and wild, adrift from the world. The biologists are single-minded and obsessed, as one would have to be to leave society behind and become completely immersed in nature.

As with Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X trilogy, the descriptions of the natural landscape here are intoxicating, delightful, both dangerous and wondrous. Pouring rain and scabbing rocks and diving, squawking birds are ever-present. Living on the island there is no way to escape its looming, wild nature. But those that found Area X too weird will appreciate The Lightkeepers, as its struggles, however powerful and awesome they feel, are all of this earth.

Some of the struggles are natural, and some are man-made. One of this book’s messages is that we, humanity, are also part of this wild world, just like the waves beating against the rocks. I’m not sure how much of a spoiler this, as the summaries seem to mention it, but if you want to go in a bit more cold, stop reading here. Still reading? Okay. Let’s continue.

I mention Alice Seobold because Miranda is raped by one of her fellow biologists shortly after her arrival to the island, after a night of hard-drinking. Geni crafts this plot delicately, chronicling Miranda’s very intimate struggle. The external aftermath of the incident, as well as the dramatic change to Miranda’s psyche, is explored.

This isn’t a cheerful book, but if you read the blog often, you know I’m not the biggest fan of the cheerful ones. It is lonely, haunting, and powerful. It reads like a quiet dream of an alien landscape, at once totally strange but totally familiar. Read it.

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

Lose Yourself In Lisa Lutz’s ‘The Passenger’ – Review and Giveaway

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When I found my husband at the bottom of the stairs, I tried to resuscitate him before I ever considered disposing of the body. I pumped his barrel chest and blew into his purple lips. It was the first time in years that our lips had touched and I didn’t recoil.

The Passenger, Lisa Lutz

Thus begins Lisa Lutz’s newest thriller, The Passenger, in which a woman tries on identities like new clothes. The novel is broken into sections based on the identity our protagonist assumes, beginning with Tanya Dubois, a woman on the run from her past and her husband’s body, left lumped at the bottom of the stairs.

Tanya Dubois, aka Amelia Keene, aka a handful of other names throughout the book, creeps like a chameleon through the story, trying on identities and glancing back into a history that is slowly revealed to the reader. She acts as a woman adrift, unmoored by circumstances and reacting to situations as they arise, ever a survivor, always a ghost in society’s gigantic machine.

When Tanya aka Amelia meets another woman like herself, a blank slate looking to wipe her past clean, they twist forever into each other’s fates. This is a book about women on the run, and women who get tired of running. This is a chase novel, as I found myself chasing down this woman’s identity just like other characters in the book. Our heroine pushes bravely on, her world collapsing behind her, each step heading further into trouble. She has a penchant for bars, ever-debating what her new identity would drink, and she seems to struggle to make right in a world gone terribly wrong.

The comparisons to other hot thrillers with shifty heroines, the Gone Girl and Girl on the Train set, are impossible not to make. Both books are name-dropped on the dust jacket of my copy. So if you liked those books, then absolutely, check this one out. But too many comparisons limit The Passenger’s own strange and shifty identity. There is something mesmerizing about watching our protagonist step through a house of cards just before its fall, again and again. We may love to read about women gone wicked and wild, but Tanya/Amelia is less that than a shell, becoming whatever her surroundings require of her.

This isn’t Lisa Lutz’s first novel, but this is the first time I had heard of her. I will definitely be checking out her previous work. If you are in my area, Lisa Lutz will be making an appearance at The Poisoned Pen on Tuesday, March 15th.

I’m lucky enough to have an extra copy of The Passenger to giveaway, see the Rafflecopter widget on the Kalireads.com Facebook page.

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

 

 

Hackers Go Head To Head In Drew Chapman’s ‘The King Of Fear’

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When we think terror attack, we think bombs and guns, loud noise and explosions. But in Drew Chapman’s The King of Fear, terror gets a makeover. Something wicked this way comes, and it comes in the form of a single nefarious young man, and he heads directly into the heart of capitalism. His aim isn’t a single tower or certain gathering of people, but our thrumming monetary system and the sense of order it provides.

Garrett Reilly is the sort of genius savant we now expect from our thrillers—a tortured soul, haunted by a heavy history and his brilliant mind. He recognizes patterns in the stock market and in his daily life, and lately he’s seeing strange wisps and echoes of something big brewing. Big money movement that doesn’t make sense is swirling in his periphery vision.

Ilya Markov is the villain to Reilly’s hero–a young chameleon of a conman, a terrorist who may be working for a European country or may be going rogue. He’s a hacker with his eye on the system itself. Markov has big plans for America, and it is up to Reilly to stop them.

The King of Fear is actually a sequel, to The Ascendant, and normally I’m hesitant to pick up sequels without reading the first in the series. But I wasn’t left too out of the loop here. Drew Chapman is not only a novelist, but also a film/TV writer, and this shows in the book’s breezy action and memorable, but likable characters. The King of Fear is a fast, easy read for days lounging by the pool or nights you are looking for an alternative to all the terrorist-fueled TV shows on the air nowadays.

The King of Fear on Amazon.com/Indiebound.org

 

BLOG TOUR: Is Fiona Barton’s ‘The Widow’ The Next ‘Gone Girl’?

The Widow

Fiona Barton’s debut novel The Widow echoes Karin Slaughter’s Pretty Girls, Stephen King’s A Good Marriage, and Lisa Lutz’s upcoming The Passenger. How well do we know anyone, especially those closest to us? How well can we know ourselves?

In The Widow, a kid was kidnapped. Years ago now, back in 2006, a toddler, Bella, disappeared from her yard when her mom looked away.

Now, it is 2010. Our namesake widow, Jeanie Taylor, is grieving the loss of her husband, Glen. Reporters are knocking at her door. Glen’s death matters because he was the main suspect in Bella’s kidnapping and assumed death. The courts never proved him guilty. Jeanie always stood by his side.

The story of then and now, the desperation of the kidnapping and the slow burn of the time to come after, is told through alternating perspectives: the widow, the reporter, the detective, the mother, etc.

Critics (and publicists) are hailing The Widow as the new Gone Girl. So many things have been hailed the new Gone Girl that it seems like a blanket announcement used for a new thriller with an unreliable female protagonist. So is The Widow the new Gone Girl? I would say it is, as much as The Girl on the Train was before it. It takes risks, but only in its muted sensibilities. With all of Gone Girl‘s dark exploration, The Widow edges just a bit darker, pushing towards the mind of a (potential) pedophile and the woman who may or may not love him.

An important thing to remember about Gone Girl is that Gillian Flynn’s narrator was so unreliable (spoiler alert) that some of the book was a lie. The language, the tone, the action itself. This is wonderful for a twist, but difficult to do without a dramatic plot device to rely upon. Gone Girl relied on a planted diary, and in many ways it was just a new version of S.J. Watson’s thriller Before I Go To Sleep, which relied on diaries and (the more dramatic) amnesia. This desire for a twist so big it can’t be plotted within a traditional narrative, post-Gone Girl, has caused authors to push further, and brought us the alcoholic blackouts of The Girl on the Train, a diary-in-reverse in the miraculously appearing novel of Disclaimer, and amnesia post-accident of In a Dark, Dark Wood. But The Widow reminds us that in our post-Gone Girl world, we don’t need our thrillers to come with wilder and wilder surprises each time, girls bopped on the head and blinded to the truth until the last pages. Barton drops smug, unpleasant hints of an ugliness beneath the surface throughout the novel, and it still chills the spine.

The Widow is intentionally rigid and tightly wound, like each of the personalities in the novel which have been so affected by the crime, and it doesn’t deviate from this uncomfortable structure. Where Gone Girl bent full in, giving us all the emotion, The Widow pulls back, reminding us just how much emotion lies beneath the surface, and just how much society demands us to hide.

In a world drowning in advertisements of perfect women, airbrushed and smiling, the popularity of this sort of monster-in-disguise book makes sense. We aren’t all closet psychopaths, of course, but I think we all feel a dissonance between what exists in private and what pop culture suggests we should look like, act like, and feel like.

Whether or not The Widow reaches Gone Girl-level hysteria, this is a thriller that demands attention.

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

 

Take A Very Long Walk In The Woods With Diane Les Becquets’ ‘Breaking Wild’

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Lions and elk estrus and bears, oh my! A survivalist thriller with two heroines, one lost in the Colorado woods and another determined to find her, Diane Les Becquets’ debut novel Breaking Wild is unlike my usual diet of thrillers and mysteries. And I’m okay with that. Any book that has a blurb from my girl Tana French on the cover has my full attention.

Amy Raye is a hunter, a woman who likes killing elk with a bow during hunting season, when men are running around spooking elk with their guns. She’s a woman whose husband doesn’t let her store guns in the house. Although I’m not too familiar with hunting culture in general, Amy Raye seems like an anti-stereotype to me, a tough and unapologetic woman who believes in herself and her capabilities far past society’s expectation for women. Amy Raye is determined to bag an elk herself on the last day of the season, and she heads off alone in the early morning. When she doesn’t make it back to camp, the local authorities are called in.

Pru could be Amy Raye’s double in many ways, and I confess I got their story lines confused in the beginning of the book. Pru is a single mom, a park ranger with a dedicated search dog Kona, who can’t help but think about the woman lost out in the cold even when she comes in from the search.

In alternating chapters, we learn about each woman’s past, the things that have shaped them into such strong characters, their secrets, and their regrets. These backstories are interlaced with the actual search for Amy Raye, as she struggles to survive in grisly circumstances.

The first half of the book moves slowly, as it describes Amy Raye’s hunt, and her missteps. Although this feels tedious at times, it may be necessary to give the book its gravity and plausibility. I’m just not sure I felt the urgency between the history of the characters and the current search. I found myself disliking the back and forth between the characters and their histories. Sometimes it feels like a stall static to build tension, and this was one of those times.

If the idea of hunting freaks you out so much you simply can’t read a book about characters who do it, then you might want to skip this one. If you loved Gary Paulsen books as a kid, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Descent by Tim Johnston, or that movie where the guy cuts off his own arm, you might want to check out this book.

Breaking Wild on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

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

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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

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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.

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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

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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…