Book Review: Birthdays of a Princess by Helga Zeiner

birthdaysAnother from ireadabookonce.com:

This book is billed as a “psychological thriller”.  Add “emotional” and “disturbing” to that list as well.  Here is the synopsis:

Almost from age one, Tiara has been a star of the American Child Beauty Circuit. When she grows too old to win anymore, her mother leaves Texas and returns to Vancouver. Tiara is twelve years old, she refuses to attend school or interact with other children, becoming more and more reclusive. Her relationship with her mother deteriorates and they become estranged.

 One morning, three years later, Tiara’s mother is shocked to find her daughter the subject of a big story on the morning news. A violent assault has just occurred at a local coffee shop and it seems Tiara is the perpetrator. The brutal and seemingly unprovoked assault lands her in the Burnaby Secure Youth Centre for a court ordered psychological assessment.

 When the police investigate the incident they begin to slowly unravel her confused and dark childhood. They discover her history as a child beauty queen star, managed by her mother and aunt while living in Texas. It also becomes increasingly apparent that explicit photos of Tiara were taken and posted to many internet sites The photos seem to capture Tiara over many years and lead the detectives to wonder whether she is the victim rather than the perpetrator.

 Tiara herself cannot provide any insight. She has buried the memories of her childhood deep in her sub-consciousness, and even if she could remember, she is deeply traumatized and unresponsive. Any attempts by the authorities to probe result in more withdrawal and unexplained expressions of grief and anger.

 Carefully guided by the adolescent forensic psychiatrist in charge at the Secure Youth Centre, she begins to write a journal, anchoring her memories on her birthdays as she remembers them. At the same time, her mother tries to explain the past from her own perspective, insisting she only wanted the best for her daughter and refusing to acknowledge any responsibility at all for what Tiara has experienced. It becomes very obvious that Tiara has been greatly damaged by her childhood.

 

Slowly the two story-lines merge until they arrive at the moment when mother and daughter recall the trauma that eventually leads to the attack. Tiara begins to understand the horrific nature of her abnormal childhood. She allows the psychiatrist to read the notes in her journal, subconsciously guiding him toward the truth.
But the truth is not clear cut. Tiara is guilty of aggravated assault. Even the detectives can’t find motive to explain her action, which means the judicial system has no choice but to keep her locked up as a dangerous juvenile criminal. Tiara remembers much of her past but she has no idea why she stabbed a strange woman in a coffee shop. Her mental isolation doesn’t allow her to confront this important question. Only the psychiatrist, with the assistance of the detectives who keep digging in the past, might be able to unlock the secret buried in her soul.

And they are successful, but in a way they never expected. When Tia remembers all that had happened and what had motivated her to attack another human being, the final answer, the solution to the puzzle, surprises them all.

I need to clarify that I usually steer clear of this subject matter.  I am still dealing with lingering PTSD as a result of my own sexual assault(s) in high school.  There is a term that we survivors use for things that cause us to have a flashback or nightmares.  We call them triggers.  And I do want to stress that this book is one major trigger for anyone who has suffered any kind of sexual assault or exploitation.

That said, it is right on the money regarding PTSD type symptoms.  For that reason, I kept on reading.  I wanted to see if the portrayal of Tiara’s symptoms was accurate.

This book starts with the assault that she commits, a heinous crime where she stabbed a woman repeatedly in the face, dislodging an eyeball and putting her in a coma.  The story then slowly weaves back and forth between Tiara’s journal entries while in custody and the investigation from the law enforcement point of view.  It also peeks in on her mother and her memories and issues.

To help the psychiatrist treating her understand why she committed a gruesome assault, Tiara starts writing down memories, starting with her birthdays.  She starts an entry for each of her birthdays and often the months leading up to it.

Through this technique, she is able to remember.  Remember a lot.  And the memories aren’t pretty.  I found this quote to be 100% accurate:  “I have turned on a tap and now the memories are gushing out under enormous pressure.”  That is almost exactly how I described it.  I went 8 years with ignoring the memories and hoping they would just go away.

Through these memories, the reader realizes just how disturbing Tiara’s childhood was.  Absolutely heinous crimes were committed against this poor girl.  You almost feel that she is justified in committing her crime, once you learn the identity of her victim.

Many emotions rolled through me while reading this book.  Sadness, anger, frustration, despair.  I already didn’t like pagents and I can’t stand to see the tiny little outfits young cheerleaders and dancers wear.  This book solidified the fact that my child will never, ever be in a pagent.  Ever.

This book is a bit of a mystery and thriller in addition to the issues regarding sexual assault.  I read it in two days.  It kept me drawn in and the character of Tiara is so real.

I’m sure those who haven’t had similar experiences might find this book informative, and it accurately portrays what survivors go through.  But if you can’t stomach lurid details it might be wise to skip it.

Book Review: John Dante’s Inferno: A Playboy’s Life by Anthony Valerio

This was an interesting look at the life and times of John Dante, who has the distinction of living in the Playboy Mansion for 26 years.  Here is the synopsis:

The life of one of the Great Lovers of all time, John Dante lived the life of a bachelor’s fantasy, going from his humble beginnings in a small Italian village to the Playboy Mansion, where he lived for 26 years with Hugh Hefner and 40 of the most beautiful women in the world. John Dante was a key figure in the first years of the Playboy empire, hiring Bunnies, training Bunny Mothers, and managing the Playboy jet. He befriended some of the most popular and important figures of our time, including Hugh Hefner, whom John paints as a “fascinating, complex man,” as well as Shel Silverstein, Lenny Bruce, Don Adams, James Caan and myriad other personalities and stars. A first hand, inside look at the phenomenon of Playboy from the second-in-command.

Being in my early 30s and heterosexual, I have absolutely no base of knowledge regarding the Playboy empire, other than that reality show that was on E! years ago.

However, the entire concept has intrigued me.  I’m not offended by women who are willing to pose nude for money.  I’m more of an equal opportunity kind of gal.  If you got it, flaunt it.

But looking at the history of the 20th century, it is puzzling.  How did a society that began with women who wore long skirts and high necklines as the expected norm end with something as prevalent as Playboy?

This book sheds light on how we got from point A to point B.

The story of “John Dante” aka “Giovanni Aimola” is fascinating and women play a major role.  “At a very early age I had a tremendous affinity to women, and it seems to me now in retrospect that at every decisive crossroad of my life, a woman was there to direct my path”.  This statement kicks off the first chapter.  And the rest of the book follows in line.

What makes this book so different from any other one like it is that the author takes this statement and weaves in the story of John Dante’s namesake, Dante Alighieri.  For those of you unfortunate to have not read “The Inferno”, I highly suggest it.

It is essentially a long poem about Alighieri’s tour through hell.  He visits each level and the idea of “suffer according to the nature of your sin” is meted out in fantastic detail.

Along with describing his young life, his first sexual experience at age 13 (warning, it was with a teacher), and a recall of John Dante’s mob affiliation, the story of opening night at his nightclub is related.  John Dante opened and operated “Dante’s Inferno” in Chicago in 1957.

The club featured beautiful women, for the first time in fishnet or mesh stockings, leotards and high heels.  The club also featured music and also offered a virtual tour of Dante (Alighieri’s) version of hell.  The place was decked out in five foot posters of the levels of “The Inferno”, the poem, not the club.  The posters were outfitted in phosphorescent paint and had small blue lights under them to make the images stand out.

At this incredibly novel and inventive club, John Dante met Hugh Hefner.  And a lifetime of women, money, and travel ensued.

One thing I did have issue with throughout the book is that it is sometimes difficult to discern the timeline of events.  The author will start out chapters with a fantastic story, and then fill in the background with the details of the story which aren’t always linear.

The author’s prose is at times suffocating.  There are only so many ways you can describe a situation, a person, a house, a club.  And Mr. Valerio finds them all.  In the same sentence.

Given the subject of the book, I was preparing for John Dante to describe his many sexual encounters (think in the thousands).  But I wasn’t ready for the graphic descriptions of orgys, fetish and anal sex.  The latter is particularly ruminated on for an uncomfortable length of time in the middle of the book.

I did appreciate the insight into the “Playboy mansion” and the celebrities that were often feted at the expense of Mr. Hefner.  Most of the celebrities are unknown to me, again, that pesky Regan area birth date interfering.

I give this book 3 stars.  It was interesting, it held my attention, and the ingenious way the levels of hell in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno are used to illustrate particular areas in John Dante’s life is incredible.

It does shed some light on that particular time in history and the role of women during the sexual revolution.

-MA

Book Review: It Never Was You by William E. Thomas

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This is another book I reviewed for I Read a Book Once.com.

This is book number 2 in the Cypress Branches Trilogy, following  Pegasus Falling.  As before, this author does an excellent job in hijacking emotions.  Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Harry Williamson is an ex-merchant seaman, a successful businessman and a loving family man. When he disappears from a ferry in the middle of the Irish Sea, his grieving family are left with more questions than answers. 

Who on earth is Mary Robinson? 
Why did Harry leave her a small fortune in his will? 
Had he been unfaithful to his beloved late wife, Lesley?

As they delve into his past, they discover he’s been harbouring a secret which threatens to tear apart the very 
fabric of their family history. 

What unfolds is the heartbreaking story of a quiet, middle class merchant seaman and his unexpected, tragic relationship with a beautiful and exuberant waitress from the Liverpool docks as they struggle to reconcile their feelings for each other with the ever changing attitudes of post-war Britain. 

The follow up to the acclaimed Pegasus Falling, It Never Was You continues Thomas’s epic and panoramic saga of how ordinary people coped with some of the most extraordinary and devastating events of the 20th century.

I read the first book, Pegasus Falling in a few days.  The characters, the writing and the emotion packed into that book absolutely enthralled me.  Here is the link for the review of Pegasus Falling.

As it was billed as a “trilogy”, I expected book two to pick up where book one ended.

Not so.  This book starts in modern day as Harry’s children are attempting to figure out what led to the death of their father and why he bequeathed part of his estate to a woman they have never heard of before.

Then there is a jump to the past.  Harry is a merchant seaman during WWII.  Harry rescues three other seamen before collapsing and nearly dying in the frigid water.  You learn just enough about two of the rescued seamen to hate them.

Then the character of Mary is introduced.  Her ordeal is tragic.  I had always heard about the class divisions in the U.K., but this book illustrates it perfectly.

Mary meets Harry, and the love story begins.

But can their passion for one another survive the class differences so prevalent during this time period?

Hampering their efforts to maintain a solid relationship, Harry is scheduled to be out at sea for a long period of time.

During one particularly long voyage, Harry meets Lesley, who was prominently featured in book one of the trilogy.  They seem perfect for each other.  Of the same class and education, they get along famously and begin an affair.  But when their ship docks, they agree to part as friends.

Reuniting with Mary, they both visit the hometowns of the other party and their class differences stand out starkly.

And here is where the emotion comes in.

While visiting Harry’s parents, Mary learns of a particular harrowing ordeal in her fiance’s past.  This ordeal also featured someone prominent in her past as well.  Up until this time, she had no idea that this person was known to the both of them.

This information sets in motion complete chaos in their relationship.

Mary and Harry don’t effectively discuss the common piece to both of their pasts.  Harry makes assumptions and ends up hurting Mary very deeply.  Mary makes assumptions as to Harry’s desires and makes the decision to effectively cut off ties.

The end of the book leaves more questions unanswered.

The way this book was written, you already know some pieces to the puzzle.  You know that one of the prominent characters from the first book eventually met and married Harry but it is unknown how their relationship evolved.  Hopefully this mystery is answered in the next book.

The strong emotion that featured prominently in the first book is back.  Again, Mr. Thomas had me crying toward the end of this book.

My only criticisms are again with the language.  As an America, I am not accustomed to reading dialogue that features English accents.  Mary’s “scuse” vernacular was very difficult to follow at times.  I could decipher most of the slang and the idioms used, but it was difficult at first.

I enjoyed learning about a place in the world that I don’t know much about.  I knew there were class differences that plague virtually every society since the dawn of time, including my own family, but I didn’t know how dramatic the differences were until I started reading about Mary and Harry.

It is unlike any other “historical fiction” type novels out there as it weaves in elements from the first book without it being a continuation of the story featured in the first.  I love how known characters from the first book pop up in the second.  I also loved seeing another dimension to a featured character from the first book.

You do not have to read Pegasus Falling to enjoy this book.  It can stand alone as a novel.  But I do recommend reading it in order to get familiar with the writing style of Mr. Harris, and to understand fully the characters that show up in the second installment.

Again, I will be eagerly awaiting the final installment.

Aside

Book Review: Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff


frozen in time 
This is a book reviewed for ireadabookonce.com, and possibly the most widely known author I have reviewed.  I was thrilled to review it.

I am a huge fan of anything that is about World War II and survival under the most trying circumstances.  This book was right up my alley.  Here is the synopsis:

Frozen in Time is a gripping true story of survival, bravery, and honor in the vast Arctic wilderness during World War II, from the author of New York Times bestseller Lost in Shangri-La.

On November 5, 1942, a US cargo plane slammed into the Greenland Ice Cap. Four days later, the B-17 assigned to the search-and-rescue mission became lost in a blinding storm and also crashed. Miraculously, all nine men on board survived, and the US military launched a daring rescue operation. But after picking up one man, the Grumman Duck amphibious plane flew into a severe storm and vanished.

Frozen in Time tells the story of these crashes and the fate of the survivors, bringing vividly to life their battle to endure 148 days of the brutal Arctic winter, until an expedition headed by famed Arctic explorer Bernt Balchen brought them to safety. Mitchell Zuckoff takes the reader deep into the most hostile environment on earth, through hurricane-force winds, vicious blizzards, and subzero temperatures.

Moving forward to today, he recounts the efforts of the Coast Guard and North South Polar Inc. – led by indefatigable dreamer Lou Sapienza – who worked for years to solve the mystery of the Duck’s last flight and recover the remains of its crew.

A breathtaking blend of mystery and adventure Mitchell Zuckoff’s Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II is also a poignant reminder of the sacrifices of our military personnel and a tribute to the everyday heroism of the US Coast Guard.

This book reminded me of Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resiliance and Redemption”.  Much like that book captivated me, this one did as well.

I grew up in the northeast, so I know cold.  But not this type of cold: “Cold in Greenland is almost a living thing, a tormenting force that robs strapping men of strength, denies them rest, and refuses them comfort.  In time, it kills like a python, squeezing life from its victims.”

Mitchell Zuckoff paints such a vivid picture of the landscape.  The ice, the snow, the crevasses.  The day to day torment of living on a glacier with a thin skin of aluminum to block out the wind and cold.

This book is absolutely thrilling.  From the dual stories of the men marooned on this barren wasteland alternating with the push for an expedition to find artifacts, both stories are equally compelling.

I honestly feel that these types of true stories should be required reading in high schools.  The strength and fortitude exhibited by the soldiers in WWII helps to illustrate just how much has been sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy now.

The “greatest generation” is truly that.  I will always read books of this nature, and I look forward to Mr. Zuckoff’s sequel to this story, the one where the ending includes the team bringing the Duck home.

I give this book four stars for the way the information is presented and weaved into the story from today.  Mr. Zuckoff’s writing is impeccable and draws the reader in and keeps them interested throughout.  Although the reader knows that some of the crew survived from the very beginning, the reader just wants to know how, and what their lives were like after.

Highly recommended for those who have an interest in history, aviation, or a tale that takes place in one of the most inhospitable locations on the planet.

Book review: No Alternative by William Dickerson

This is a book I reviewed for I read a book once.com:

William Dickerson presents an interesting commentary on the culture and music of the mid-90s.  From amazon.com:

NO ALTERNATIVE is a coming-of-age drama that drills a hole into the world of suburban American teenagers in the early 90’s.

Thomas Harrison is determined to start his own alternative band, an obsession that blinds him to what’s either the mental collapse, or the eruption of musical genius, of his little sister, Bridget. Bridget boldly rejects her brother’s music, and the music of an entire generation of slackers, by taking on the persona of an X-rated gangsta’ rapper named Bri Da B.

NO ALTERNATIVE probes the lives of rebellious kids who transition into adulthood via the distortion pedals of their lives in an era when the Sex, Drugs & Rock’n’Roll ethos was amended to include Suicide in its phrase.

I picked this book because the time period intrigued me.  I was the tender age of 12 in 1994, the year the action of this book takes place.  Also, I love music and love reading about the influence of current events and culture on the songs of that time period.

Has it really been nearly two decades?

This book slammed me back into the mid-90s. I was half-tempted to find my flannels and baby doll tees.

But underneath all of the nostalgia, there is a deep current of social commentary that shines through from each chapter:  “We want so desperately to be fooled into believing that as long as we build a perfect white picket fence along our property line, everything will be perfect behind it”.

Thomas is a senior at an exclusive all boys Jesuit high school.  His idol, Kurt Cobain, committed suicide six months before the narrative begins.  Thomas, like every other Generation Xer, longs to be in a band and make music.  After his period of mourning, he dusts off his drums and sets out to start a garage band.

His sister, meanwhile, has no love for grunge.  She likes gansta rap, the more offensive the better.  She finds a keyboard one day and starts writing and performing her own music.

Bridget also has mental issues and in the 90s, antidepressants were becoming mainstream, and kids were being put on them at alarming rates.

Their parents are upright pillars of society.  Their father is a judge sitting on the Supreme Court of New York, and their mother is an aging hippie.

The different layers of teenage angst, social commentary, history and music blend together to create the story that alternates from the story of Thomas and Bridget to a dissertation on Generation X.

I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Thomas’ school.  My husband graduated from Salasianum in 1997 (the alma mater of the Vice-President).  He could be the one telling these stories about what it was like in an all-boys school in this time period.  I frequently had to stop reading and ask him about a passage or quote that I thought would ring true for him.

But the universal truths of adolescence are also prominent: “In high school, much like prison, your reputation means your life.”

Thomas meets a girl.  The girl is the product of very controlling parents.  You can use your imagination to fill in the blanks.

The issues with her, his rejection from his first choice for college, difficulties with his band and probably some genetic disease history combines inside Thomas with tragic results:

“Thomas is cursed with only remembering the lows, remembering the pain, the suffering, the embarrassment and never remembering the highs that often precede or follow the lows.”

This character is so authentic, his emotions and state of mind are so real that you want to hug him.  You want to tell him “it gets better, just wait and see”.

I can say that being in my 30s, but reading this book reminded me of what it is like to be 17.  Especially a teenager with depression.  I could literally look in my journals that I wrote when I was that age and it would sound very similar to this book.

My only criticisms are with the language and flow of the phrases used throughout the book.  This was not an easy read.  Sentence structure is very “clunky” at times, and I found myself having to reread passages several times to understand what actually happened.

I love it when authors make me reach for the dictionary, but if it is occurring every other paragraph, that takes the reader out of the narrative and interrupts the flow.

I also am thankful to the author for writing about the ultimate subject of this book.  It is a difficult subject to write about, but through his characters, you can see how it can occur in any family.

Book Review: A Spoonful of Sugar by Brenda Ashford

spoonful of sugar

This is a book I reviewed for I Read a Book Once:

I really liked this book.  I was intrigued by the plot summary because I currently have a kindergartner and I love memoir.  Also, it was very interesting to read about a different culture’s philosophies on child rearing, especially in a very difficult time in the history of British people.  Here is the plot summary from amazon.com:

Brenda Ashford is the quintessential British nanny. Prim and proper, gentle and kind, she seems to have stepped straight out of Mary Poppins. For more than six decades Nanny Brenda swaddled, diapered, dressed, played with, sang to, cooked for, and looked after more than one hundred children. From the pampered sons and daughters of lords ensconced in their grand estates to the children of tough war evacuees in London’s East End, Brenda has taught countless little ones to be happy, healthy, and thoroughly well bred. In this delightful memoir, Brenda shares her endearing, amusing, and sometimes downright bizarre experiences turning generations of children into successful adults.

From the moment Brenda first held her baby brother David she was hooked. She became a second mother to him, changing his nappies, reading him stories, and giving him all the love her warm heart contained. Knowing a career caring for children was her calling in life, Brenda attended London’s prestigious Norland College, famous for producing top-notch nannies. It was a sign of privilege and good taste for the children of the well-to-do to be seen being pushed in their Silver Cross prams by Norland nannies, who were recognizable by their crisp, starched black uniforms with white bib collars, and their flowing black capes lined with red silk. And what skills were these trainees tested on daily? Lullaby singing, storytelling, pram shining, bed making, all forms of sewing, cooking simple meals, and dispensing first aid—including knowing the best way to help the medicine go down.

In A Spoonful of Sugar, Brenda recalls her years at Norland and her experiences during the war (after all, even if bombs are dropping, there’s no reason to let standards slip), and recounts in lovely detail a life devoted to the care of other people’s children.

Sprinkled throughout with pearls of wisdom (you can never give children too much love, and you should learn how to sew a button, for goodness’ sake), this delightful memoir from Britain’s oldest living nanny is practically perfect in every way.

The beginning starts out very slow.  Although I appreciated the knowledge about Ms. Ashford’s specific training, I wanted to get into the meat of the book, her experiences with children.

I loved the beginning of the chapters which included a nursery rhyme, tips on child-rearing and sometimes a recipe for a British dish.

In particular, the tips on child-rearing have already helped me with my child.  I love the fact that Ms. Ashford believes in raising children with love, not strict discipline.  Her school’s motto:  “Love never faileth” is demonstrated time and time again throughout her interactions in the book.

I particularly found interesting her experience running a nursery during World War II. I literally felt tired just reading the descriptions of her schedule for the day which also graced the beginning of every chapter.

Also, Ms. Ashford’s long career illustrated the changes that have occurred in Western society throughout the 20th century.  When Ms. Ashford graduated Norlan in 1939, children were expected to be seen and not heard.  Additionally, children were often segregated from much of family life.  Parents often “visited” their children in the nursery for maybe two or three hours per day.  All of the care of the children, from bathing, to feeding, to playing was carried out by the nanny.  Newborns were often kept in the nanny’s room for the first few months with the nanny having the parents perform a few feedings per day.  This is just the way it is done, especially at that time in Great Britain.

Nowadays, especially in my own case, my child slept with me in my room for the first four months.  I was responsible for day to day care and took my child to another location to be cared for while I worked.  I would have loved having Nurse Brenda help me out during those first three months because I can no longer recall them.

One issue I do have with the book is the language issues.  This book looks like it was written for American audiences or at least modified for this purpose.  The spellings of particular words are in American English, such as neighbor and neighbour. With the recipes included in the book, the measurements of different ingredients are given in the units customary to the United States.  However, strictly British lingo is used throughout.

I could determine that “nappies” are diapers, and a “pram” is a stroller, but some words I couldn’t figure out.  I tried using my dictionary, and sometimes it would help, but at other times, the term was not found.  I would have appreciated a type of glossary, or just the American equivalent inserted next to the word in question in parentheses.

I enjoyed this book immensely, I loved the way it was written like you were sitting next to the author and listening to her review her life.  This book is highly recommended if you like memoir, history and those who have an interest in child-rearing.

I also wish Nurse Brenda was available for on-call duties to assist me with my spunky child.

You can head on over to I Read a Book Once and enter the drawing for a chance to win a copy of this book.

Book Review: Too Dark to Sleep by Dianne Gallagher

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This is another book I reviewed for I Read a Book Once:

This is an incredible piece of work that grabs on and doesn’t let go, much like the dark that stalks the main character. I am very happy that this is going to be a series, because the characters, the plot, the writing is superb. Here is the synopsis from Amazon.com:
Avid readers of crime fiction, noir or psychological thrillers will find Too Dark to Sleep a fresh take on their favorite genre. This is the first book in a gripping new series and not to be missed. Maggie Quinn was the top homicide detective in Chicago’s Area One before she suffered a devastating loss. Now struggling to face each day, Quinn becomes obsessed with solving her last case for the department that now bars her from wearing a badge. But is she targeting the right person or is Quinn’s tormented mind pushing her to ruin the life of an innocent man?

I don’t read too many from this genre, but from my limited experience, I can tell this book is different.
The main character, Maggie Quinn, is deeply troubled, still grieving an immense loss, and is afraid of the dark. But, she has the best solve rate out of any of the detectives in her office, and is the best they have.

She also has a father who works for the “Outfit”, read mafia, and is still helping out his daughter from behind bars.
The police request her help when a probable serial killer strikes again. Maggie was the detective that worked the first two, and her police chief is consulting her to help solve the case.

I loved the description of how Maggie processes a crime scene. Her techniques, the way her mind works. I am a fan of Forensic Files, but most of these shows do not go into the exact details that the detectives use to solve the crime.
The stigma of mental illness is very present in this book. Maggie is literally devastated after her loss, and her father is now paying a nurse to live full time with her. The nurse makes sure she eats, sleeps, changes clothes and is protected from herself.

This leads to complications when Maggie goes back to her office on a consultant basis. Her involvement in the case causes objections from some of her former coworkers. She is paired with a new detective who has his own issues.
Together they work to catch the killer that leaves absolutely no trail. Who enjoys taunting the police, and will go to any lengths to maintain his reputation, his lifestyle and his habit of murder.

The one thing that was difficult to me, that I will state here for others who also have this issue, is that Maggie is devastated after the death of her daughter. I knew this going in, but decided to give it a go anyway. I have a daughter near the same age as Maggie’s, and at times it was difficult reading about her grief.
I enjoyed the manner of writing. The way Ms. Gallagher describes Maggie’s condition. I love the way she builds the suspense.

This is written in such a way that the reader isn’t actually sure about the perpetrator until the last chapter. While other books in this genre outright tell you who the killer is, and the book is spent trying to prove it, in this book, the reader is provided with a good amount of reasonable doubt.

Throughout the book the reader is second guessing Maggie, looking for other possible killers along with her and feels the frustration she feels at not getting “her man”.

I also appreciated the peek into the corrupt politics of Chicago that is portrayed. It is very interesting to see how things work in this (hopefully fictional) metropolis.

The ending was unpredictable and a little unsatisfying. I guess I was looking for the rainbows and kitten happy ending for her.

I understand that this is first in a series, and I am looking forward to seeing Maggie develop as a character.

Definitely a must read for anyone that likes this genre.

Book Review: The Missing File by D. A. Mishani

This is a review I wrote for ireadabookonce.com:

My first thoughts after reading this book?  Wow.  Here is the synopsis from the back cover:

Detective Avraham Avraham must find a teenage boy who has vanished from his quiet suburban neighborhood.

Police detective Avraham Avraham knows that when a crime is committed in his sleepy suburb of Tel Aviv, there is little need for a complex investigation. There are no serial killers or kidnappings here. The perpetrator is usually the neighbor, the uncle, or the father. As he has learned, the simplest explanation Missing Fileis always the answer.

But his theory is challenged when a sixteen-year-old boy named Ofer Sharabi disappears without a trace while on his way to school one morning. There is no simple explanation, and Avraham’s ordered world is consumed by the unimaginable perplexity of the case.

The more he finds out about the boy and his circumstances, the further out of reach the truth seems to be. Avraham’s best lead is Ofer’s older neighbor and tutor, Ze’ev Avni. Avni has information that sheds new light on the case—and makes him a likely suspect. But will the neighbor’s strange story save the investigation?

Told through dual perspectives, The Missing File is a crisp, suspenseful tale that introduces an indelible new detective and offers an evocative portrait of suburban life and tension with a universal reach. As it draws to its startling conclusion, D. A. Mishani’s twisting mystery will have readers questioning notions of innocence and guilt, and the nebulous nature of truth.

I was seriously blown away by this book.  The writing, the suspense, the foreshadowing…it was absolutely riveting.

I read a variety of books, and I occasionally read about crime/mysteries.  This one was different than any other book I have read before.

First, I loved the fact that it was set in Israel.  Like the main character says “there are no detective or mystery books written in Hebrew”.  I love learning about different part of the world and how they work in terms of crime, government and everyday life.  I learned so much about this part of the world, just from this book.

I appreciated the author’s use of foreshadowing.  He inserts a little nugget of information in your brain that might not be resolved for several chapters.  But that nugget stays in your brain while you are reading the build up to a resolution.

I liked how the story was told from dual perspectives.  How the same events were reconstructed by two people on seemingly opposite sides.

The ending is so simple, but the way it is written, is so unexpected.

The characters in this book are very well developed.  The reader feels a sort of kinship with the main character, Avi and a sense of revulsion at the secondary main character, Ze’ev.

I am a nurse, so I completely understand the feelings of guilt and the emotions produced when something goes wrong.  There is a sense of responsibility to the person involved.  There is a constant replay in the mind, what did I miss?  What could have been done differently to change the outcome?

The detective in this book, Avi, is extremely dedicated to his line of work.  This case deeply affects him, and I totally identify with that notion.

This is a five star book for me for so many reasons.  For the way it is written, very sharp and concise.  The way the detective methodically attempts to solve the crime.  The vivid descriptions of police work that goes along with a case of this nature.  The emotions evoked at several points in the book.

And I definitely loved the ending that leaves room for more to come. This is an excellent book, very highly recommended.

–AA

Book Review: The Inner City by Karen Heuler

© Kirbyzz | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Kirbyzz | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Here is my latest review for “I Read a Book Once”:

This is the first book that I have reviewed that I couldn’t make it halfway through. Here is the synopsis:

Heuler’s stories dart out at what the world is doing and centre on how the individual copes with it. Anything is possible: people breed dogs with humans to create a servant class; beneath one great city lies another city, running it surreptitiously; an employee finds that her hair has been stolen by someone intent on getting her job; strange fish fall from trees and birds talk too much; a boy tries to figure out what he can get when the Rapture leaves good stuff behind. Everything is familiar; everything is different. Behind it all, is there some strange kind of design or merely just the chance to adapt?

In Heuler’s stories, characters cope with the strange without thinking it’s strange, sometimes invested in what’s going on, sometimes trapped by it, but always finding their own way in.

I consider myself a fan of science fiction, horror and fantasy (the fantasy not so much). But even with my open mind it was difficult to read this book.

This is a collection of short stories that seem to be about strange events, people, and animals. The first story is somewhat intriguing, about a fish that talks and grants wishes, but it just ends. I think there is some sort of allegory there, but I must have missed it.

Another of the stories I read, about a woman trying to get a job by just blending in, also seemed sort of an allegory with the main character essentially getting her brain rerouted.

The one story that I really liked, and it is described in the synopsis, is the story regarding a farm that raised a hybrid of dog and human as a servant class. It was kind of creepy reading about how they built the humans (think a pig with rows of ears on it). It was creepier reading about what the potential buyer wanted to do with his human/dog hybrid. It was amusing reading the actions of the human/dog hybrid. And again, it served as an allegory.

I really couldn’t make it much further in the book than halfway. Most of the stories did not hold my attention, they were confusing and while the reader could clearly see the allegory in some of the stories, in others there seemed to be no point at all. It was just odd stories.

I did like the way Ms. Heuler writes, and that, with the dog story is what earned this book a two star rating.

–AA

Ask a Book Nerd

© Chrisharvey | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Chrisharvey | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

The Eclectic Bookworm (at least the Amanda half) also writes for a site called I Read a Book Once. On this page, there are several other like minded folks who are just as nerdy as EBW.

Jonathan (the sites founder) has started a column called “Ask the Book Nerd”. He asked all of his contributors about the books that got them started in their book nerd pursuits.

Question:

Is there one specific book you read while growing up that you can point to as the reason you have become an avid reader? If yes, what was it? If no, what prompted you to become a reader?

Answer:

When I was 11 or 12 I read my first book by Stephen King, and I was hooked.

I read the complete unabridged version of The Stand. I was mesmerized. The entire concept, the character development, the battle between good and evil, it all fascinated me. In the nearly 20 years since I have always been in search of books that captivate me in the same way.

I took a hiatus from my King fest after I read It, and to this day I am cautious when walking near sewers and I hate clowns.

I finally went back to King last year read 11/22/63, and followed soon with Under the Dome. He has softened around the edges a bit, but he is still my favorite author.

You can read the answers from the other Book Nerds here.

What about you, is there one book or series that you can pinpoint as your “jumping off” point in reading?

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