Saturday, September 13, 2014

All We Had

In All We Had artist and sculptor Annie Weatherwax has delivered a stunning debut novel in which she’s beautifully demonstrated her incredible talent and gifts by painting with words a portrait on the page of a simple life filled with love and struggle that was poignant, funny and equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking. Weatherwax delivered each stroke using the original, brutally honest and memorable voice of our 13-year old narrator, Ruthie Carmichael. Ruthie has at times been both parent and child in her relationship with mom Rita, who gave birth to Ruthie at 16 and was now only 29. Ruthie and Rita have always known struggles, frequently sitting on the precipice of homelessness, yet thankfully “with her movie star looks and Oscar-worthy acting, voila!” out of nowhere Rita would miraculously produce an instant boyfriend and a new place for them to live.

It was June 2005 and Rita had just lost her Walgreens job when she produced Phil, a 1-800 wall-to-wall carpet installer whose apartment smelled like carpet glue. Ruthie adored her mom regardless of her track record with men (most of who were jerks; Phil, quite possibly brain damaged). Rita was fierce and smart and according to Ruthie “she could spot an asshole from a thousand miles away and her favorite word by far was fuck.” Truth was that when life was just Ruthie and Rita, it felt like magic. After getting tired of Phil and his crappy TV with coat hanger antenna, Ruthie and Rita decide to skip town in a beat up 1993 Ford Escort with Phil’s DVD player and old laptop in tow to pawn for some much needed getaway cash.

It takes little thought for Rita to come up with their destination, Boston, since despite having been in and out of shelters, boyfriends houses and places of their own which never lasted, Rita always made sure Ruthie never missed school and as such, she just knew one day Harvard would come knocking with scholarship in hand. Of course, as the saying goes, the best laid plans often go awry, so after sponge baths in gas station bathrooms, sleeping in the car, and spending nearly all their cash, their Escort actually lands them in Fat River instead of Boston at Tiny’s Grub ‘n’ Go!, where they intended to only fuel up and steal a couple diet cokes and powdered Donettes for the road, but after their Escort craps out and the two are left stranded, a tearful confession to Mel, Tiny’s owner, lands them a gig as waitress and dishwasher and before long maybe enough money to pay the bills.

For Ruthie, Fat River becomes the first place she can truly call home and her co-workers, Peter Pam, the transgender waitress with broad shoulders, blonde wig with perfect flip curl and handlebar mustache; and Arlene, the head waitress with hot flashes so bad she has to run into the walk-in freezer to cool off, her beloved extended family. Soon Ruthie and Rita move out of the back room of the gas station into a place of their own, that soon enough sweet-talking mortgage broker Vick entices Rita to buy and which thanks to our now infamous subprime mortgage crisis places them once again on the brink of disaster and fighting for survival, though this time the price of survival might change their lives forever.

I loved All We Had! I know, I know, it seems like I love everything I read, but what can I say, I’m just darn good with my reading choices. Anyway, this novel was infused with so much honesty, warmth and love, that you truly can’t help but fall in love with it and all of the characters that comprise this small perfect world of Fat River and Tiny’s Grub ‘n’ Go which Weatherwax has created. It truly is a story of love, if not a love story; depicting the kind of deep, abiding, palpable love that can exist not only between two lovers, but also between a mother and child.

Ruthie was so beautifully written and as our narrator so powerful in the depths of her honesty. In its every line, the reader can feel the depths of Ruthie’s love for Rita; the kind of love that sees you through your darkest hours, because while love might not always conquer all (despite popular belief), it makes the “all” that much more bearable because you’re sharing it with that one person that truly matters. As for Rita…poor, poor Rita, my heart broke for her heartbreak, and I felt the weariness she carried at just 29 from a lifetime of disappointments and tribulations (from foster care to pregnant at 16, to being a single parent fighting the good fight with everything at her disposal, even if it was just her beauty and sexuality). Say what you will about Rita’s morals or decisions, she was a good mother, who tried her very best.

Do yourself a huge favor and read this wonderful novel from this amazing new author. All We Had is a gritty, witty, and haunting story that will touch your heart (and stay there) as you read every line and every page long into the night in this unforgettable page-turner.

Friday, September 5, 2014

One Kick

Oh my gosh, this was such a great book! One Kick is 306 pages of pure adrenaline; a true pedal to the metal non-stop action thrill ride. Cain’s latest is a page turning thriller which, no lie, reads like the screenplay for a new Hollywood blockbuster, featuring edge of your seat excitement and a roller coaster ride for your emotions, fraying your nerves and playing havoc with your heart. One Kick is the first installment in the new “Kick Lannigan” trilogy from best-selling author Chelsea Cain and if this is how we start, well then I’m just giddy with anticipation for books 2 and 3.

Kathleen Lannigan (aka Beth, aka Kick) was only six years old when she was kidnapped by Mel and Linda and used as the star in the “Beth movies,” touted as the most successful series of child pornography films on the net. Five years later (where the book starts), Beth only has memories of her beloved dog Monster to serve as the key to her true identity when the FBI rescues her, making her a news sensation and cash cow for her media hungry mother. Now 21 and going by the name Kick, she lives on her own terms and refuses to be a victim ever again, training herself to pick locks, shoot guns, do martial arts, and so much more.

Haunted by her past and obsessing over two recent cases of local missing children, Kick has a disturbing visit from John Bishop, a mysterious former weapons dealer intent on recruiting her to help in trying to bring the children safely home. Suspicious of his motivations and coping with some initial friction between the two (they mix like oil and water), Kick nonetheless agrees to help, driven by her own dark memories and sense of guilt. Relying on Bishop’s unprecedented access to information not even available to law enforcement and seemingly unlimited personal wealth, Kick starts to dig for the truth, soon uncovering one or two skeletons in Bishop’s own closet, and as they come ever closer to the truth and rescuing the missing children, Kick will find that all roads lead back to her own troubled past and mind.

One Kick was easily one of the best action thrillers I’ve read in a very long time. It is a book you will not want to put down once you start. While it’s a thriller in the truest sense of the word with barely a chance to catch your breath throughout each riveting page, it also offers a great story and most importantly an unforgettable protagonist. One Kick is filled with twists, turns and some startling revelations which perfectly lay the groundwork for what will undoubtedly make this both a best-selling series and Hollywood movie.

It goes without saying that the key to a successful series based on one central character is of course to have a fully developed, real and believable character with whom readers can both relate and sympathize; in this regard, Cain has a sure-fire hit in Kick Lannigan. Kick is genuine, real and basically a kick-ass heroine. While scarred by the horrors of her childhood, she is not broken and refuses to be defined by her experiences. I wish I could have one-tenth of her resilient courage, grit and determination, and though some readers might questions some of her character’s decisions, personally I thought they felt true to Kick and the experiences that shaped her. Bishop was as expected a heady mix of sexy, dangerous, and mysterious but I also found him uncomfortably unethical and sketchy at times, which is why I’m going to reserve final judgment on him for later in the series.

I will offer kudos to Ms. Cain on her tactful handling of such a dark and sensitive subject as pedophilia, pornography and child trafficking. There were passages that were difficult to read just because of the subject matter, but honestly Cain never offered lurid or sordid details for sensational purposes so the story never felt exploitative. Even with Kick, though parts of the narrative offer flashbacks to her (Beth’s) time with Mel, the reader is thankfully never made privy to the exact nature of the abuse.

One Kick is a definite must read if you’re looking for a book that offers a helluva of a plot, plenty action and at times heart-wrenching emotion. It is a tale of revenge and redemption with a few Glocks, throwing stars, and nunchucks thrown in for good measure.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Necessary Lies

Necessary Lies by best-selling author Diane Chamberlain is a historical fiction novel fraught with the charged emotions of the 1960s; a story of hope, courage and redemption that exposes some frightening truths about our collective American history. Set in 1960 North Carolina, Necessary Lies focuses on Jane Forrester and Ivy Hart; two young women worlds apart whose lives are on a collision course with destiny.

Fifteen year old Ivy lives, along with her sister Mary Ella, nephew William, and grandmother Nonnie, as tenants in a small dilapidated home on the small tobacco farm where they toil for barely any income from sunup to sundown. Poverty and need help introduce them to young Jane, the new social worker in charge of their welfare case. Even with welfare the small family barely has enough to eat, relying on the kindness and generosity of the Gardiner family (the farm owners) for scraps and leftovers to make ends meet. Ivy is overwhelmed not only by their financial struggles but also the responsibility of caring for her ailing grandmother, mentally unstable sister, developmentally delayed nephew and her own epilepsy. Ivy’s sole escape comes from those treasured moments when she sneaks away from home at night and meets up with Henry Allen, the Gardiner’s son, and the two can share in their love’s joy and dream of the day when they can run away together to California, get married and raise a family.

By comparison, twenty-two year old Jane is a small town girl who made good by marrying a successful young doctor. Despite society’s expectations for her to just stay home and take care of her home and husband, Jane is an idealist yearning to make a difference in the world. Determined to succeed in her new social worker role, Jane is quickly warned to keep her ideals in her mind and heart, and to learn to put sentimentality and feelings aside, yet she can’t help but to connect on a human level with her client’s fears and sorrows –both with Lita Jordan and her kids, a black family on the same Gardiner farm and the Hart women. Drawn in by both families, but especially by Ivy’s wistful hopes, Jane uncovers some shocking facts not only about their plight, but also about the power she holds in her hands to change their lives forever. As tragic events unfold and secrets are revealed, Jane will struggle between right and wrong and make a decision that will change all their lives forever.

Despite having only read one other book by Diane Chamberlain, I’d stake my money on the statement that this novel has got to be one of her best. A moving story with vividly drawn characters, Necessary Lies was a compelling, poignant and unforgettable book that opened my eyes to an injustice which lives in our past, namely the government’s use of the Eugenics Sterilization Program during the time of our tale.

Wiki defines eugenics as “the belief and practice of improving the genetic quality of the human population.” From 1929 to 1975 North Carolina sterilized over 7,000 of its citizens. The eugenics program targeted the “mentally defective” or “feebleminded” in mental institutions and was considered “for the public good;” but in the 1950s the program shifted to focus on women on welfare. The program permitted social workers to petition a Board on behalf of their clients to have them sterilized – men and women; boys and girls alike. While many social workers used the program to petition in consideration of a client’s best interest, there were still too many egregious and tragic abuses that permitted countless unnecessary and unwanted sterilizations making this program a dark stain on our nation's conscience.

As the story's narrators, both Ivy and Jane were wonderfully written to offer the reader an evocative insight into the hardships that each woman faced; Ivy’s struggles with poverty and lack of education, and for Jane, the courage it took to face the strictures of society at that time. I was irate and heartbroken at the countless injustices depicted in the tale, while thoroughly enmeshed in our two protagonists story and their struggles as I rooted for each – for Jane to do what was right, not necessarily expected or expedient and for Ivy to reach her dreams.

Necessary Lies is an emotionally-gripping and riveting story that informs and enlightens. A fictional moral tale that haunts with the real truths shared.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


David Rosenfelt’s Hounded is the latest installment in the Andy Carpenter series. Despite the fact that this is the twelfth book in this seemingly popular series, this was actually my first book by this writer. While someone more familiar with the impressive list of characters (and there are many) would probably enjoy the book a little more given their familiarity with character histories and quirks, I nonetheless found the book offered a compelling, entertaining and enjoyable read that could easily stand on its own merit without having read the entire series.

In Hounded, Andy Carpenter is a multi-millionaire defense attorney, who along with his girlfriend, Laurie Collins, an ex-cop and investigator is tasked with coming to his good friend’s, policeman Pete Stanton, rescue. While attending a crossword championship with his secretary Edna, Andy and Laurie get a mysterious phone call from Pete asking that they go to a nearby address, which turns out to be the site of a murder. Pete calls in a favor and asks if they would take care of the murder victim’s, Danny Diaz, orphaned eight year old son and basset hound in order to avoid them getting thrown in to the system. Soon Pete needs a much bigger favor from Andy when he’s accused of Danny’s murder. Turning to his unorthodox group of friends and allies, including his accountant and computer hacker Sam Willis, his former client Willie Miller and his mobster friends, and scary bodyguard Marcus, Andy starts to dig for the truth and finds that truth is stranger than fiction in this engaging and fun mystery.

I really enjoyed Hounded. It was a funny, fast-paced and relatively suspenseful mystery and legal thriller. Andy’s character offers the perfect mixture of sarcasm, wit and genuineness that makes you easily relate and fall in love with him. What seemed early on like a straightforward whodunnit actually proved to be an intriguing and original conspiracy that kept me guessing throughout (though I did figure it out three-quarters of the way through). A great measure of how much I enjoyed the book is the fact that upon finishing it, I went to the library and took out the first book in the series Open and Shut, which proved equally gripping with just as much humor and heart.

Author David Rosenfelt proves an interesting character in his own right. Having read two of his books, I went to his website and noted that actually all his books feature a dog in some aspect or another of the tale and as with his main character, dog lover Andy Carpenter, Rosenfelt himself created the Tara Foundation (the name of Andy’s beloved golden retriever), which has rescued almost 4,000 dogs many of them Goldens.

Hounded was a charming, witty and stimulating story featuring a wisecracking and lovable protagonist that will win over old and new (like me) fans alike.