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The Bookseller: A Novel
The Bookseller: A Novel
by Cynthia Swanson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.76
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE BOOKSELLER is a fun ride, an e-ticket for readers of all kinds., March 16, 2015
As Cynthia Swanson, the debut novelist of this trippy tome, has said herself: “In real life, we don’t get to experience ‘the butterfly effect’ --- that is, we cannot know what might have been, had a single, outwardly small circumstance been altered…. But it’s impossible to know truthfully what our parallel universe might be like.” In THE BOOKSELLER, Swanson tries to apply that “what if?” moment to the life of Kitty Miller, a happily single young professional who experiences another life in her dream world and wonders if that is the place where she is really supposed to exist.

Yes, I was confused at first, too. Dreams are dreams, and they don’t usually make it over the line into the world of reality without mental illness or the help of drugs. However, like the movie Sliding Doors, THE BOOKSELLER attempts to find a portal between real life and dream life that leads into the perfect future for this character. Swanson has also mentioned that she set this trip into chaos theory in the early ’60s in order to take advantage of the ways in which women’s lives were beginning to change back then. The novel tries to find literary ways to prove this strange and dissonant theorem. Basically, the hypothesis is that nothing is as permanent as it appears. But does that make one thing more real than another? Find out.

Kitty is a woman whose life doesn’t fit the intense strictures of the world she comes from --- she is not married with kids but is living a fulfilling life as a bookstore owner, as a woman in the 1960s who lives with complete control over her every move. There is no one else there --- friends and family, sure, but no special love, no man to whom she has tied her sails. Instead Kitty enjoys her life without issue. Until she finds herself creating a dream alter ego and then decides to attempt to reconcile her reality with that tantalizing alternative to which she turns in at night.

In her dreams, it is 1963. Kitty is no longer Kitty but Katharyn Andersson. She is married to Lars, a good man with whom she shares a special love. With gorgeous kids, a perfect and elegant home and loyal friends, life is everything Kitty once believed she wanted. But this is her dream life, not her real life, and over time it becomes something even more.

Kitty considers herself falling into an imaginative rut, retreating at night into this world of her own making. However, as that life becomes more and more golden, Kitty realizes that perhaps that is the life she should be living. And how will she go about manifesting that if this is true? That’s where THE BOOKSELLER kicks into high and imaginative gear.

One of the benefits of this twisted puzzle of a book is the array of literary experiences that are mentioned and that make some imprint on the characters, since this is Kitty’s real-life occupation. If you love books, and I bet you do, you will be thrilled by the books of the era that make appearances here, from Salinger to Cold War classics like FAIL SAFE. Every title that is mentioned manages to set a context for the overall arch of the drama here as well as remark on the context of the time. In a changing world, it becomes only natural that Kitty imagines a new horizon for herself as well.

I don’t know how much more I can tell you in order not to ruin the surprise of the book. I think that any reader is going to find this adventure from first-timer Swanson a real kick and a treat, especially when we are all imagining a world far away from the nasty winter that continues to hang on. When spring arrives, it is time to imagine new possibilities for your own life. You can share that desire for the unknown and the new with Kitty as she tries to choose between the life of her everyday and the life of her nighttime.

THE BOOKSELLER is a fun ride, an e-ticket for readers of all kinds.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano.

Dark Rooms: A Novel
Dark Rooms: A Novel
by Lili Anolik
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.76
69 used & new from $7.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Anolik delivers a shadowy, often sensual look at rebellion, passion, secrets and first love., March 16, 2015
This review is from: Dark Rooms: A Novel (Hardcover)
When we think of siblings, we imagine the elder guiding the younger, arriving at milestones first. For Grace and Nica, the roles were reversed: Nica, younger by one year, is the more socially mature and confident teenager who, in many regards, seemed much older than the quiet Grace. The sisters, the main characters in Lili Anolik's first novel under her own name, are different not just because of their personalities but because of the way they have been treated by their parents. Nica was the subject of their mother's increasingly voyeuristic photographic portraits, and Grace, rarely the subject of that art, was closer with her father. When Nica, just 16 years old, is murdered in the woods abutting the private high school where the girls attend and their parents work, Grace begins a troubling journey to understand her sister and find the killer.

Because the suicide note of another student right after Nica's death offers a vague apology, the police and the the school community believe the case to be closed, but Grace is not convinced. Before she starts looking more closely at Nica's life and death, however, Grace spends months in a drug-induced haze from which she emerges pregnant with no memory of who the father could be. She decides to give herself to the end of her first trimester to find Nica's murderer and then have an abortion. Anolik takes Grace, and readers, on a fast-paced hunt for the killer as Grace mourns her sister, falls in love, learns several disturbing truths about her family, and wrestles with the symptoms and implications of her pregnancy.

Grace teams up with Damon, one of Nica's romantic entanglements, and together they try to work out who would've had the opportunity and motive to shoot Nica and let her bleed to death in the woods. Suspects are many, from ex-boyfriends to teachers and even family members. Grace and Damon, both grieving the loss of Nica, turn to each other for comfort, despite their feelings for Nica and the complicated event that may come to ruin them both. In the end, it is not really the murderer who is the most terrifying figure, but the person who was meant to protect and nurture Nica but was unable or unwilling to do so.

DARK ROOMS has an intriguing premise and some interesting twists and reveals, even if Anolik's delivery is a bit clumsy at times. The character motivations are not always clear or believable (for example, when overlooking or minimizing rape and murder in favor of the relationships that benefit from the oversights). Still, the characters are realistically complicated and flawed; for many readers, that may be enough to balance out their actions.

In DARK ROOMS, Anolik delivers a shadowy, often sensual look at rebellion, passion, secrets and first love. Even with some missteps, it is an entertaining, sometimes gritty and often engrossing novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman.

Rebel Queen: A Novel
Rebel Queen: A Novel
by Michelle Moran
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.71
65 used & new from $10.38

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars With the current call for more diversity in all genres, REBEL QUEEN is a good start in that direction., March 16, 2015
This review is from: Rebel Queen: A Novel (Hardcover)
Most female-focused historical fiction concentrates on Caucasian heroines in Western countries. That’s one reason why REBEL QUEEN, the latest from Michelle Moran --- best known for her stunning novels about powerful women, like Nefertiti and the real-life Madame Tussaud --- is so refreshing.

The titular ruler is Rani (Queen) Lakshmi of Jhansi, a small but prosperous state in northern India. When the British begin making inroads into her realm, the Rani is faced with an unthinkable decision: surrender to the enemy, or risk all that she holds dear. Moran spins a lively tale of court intrigue, female empowerment and tragedy set against a fascinating backdrop, but her mostly one-dimensional characters drag down an otherwise solid narrative.

REBEL QUEEN introduces us to Sita, a young girl in the small village of Barwa Sagar. Her father, a former soldier for the British, has taught her to read and write, but the custom of purdah, or female seclusion, still prevails, much to her frustration. When her mother dies and her cruel grandmother threatens to make Sita and her younger sister temple prostitutes, the girls’ father is determined to provide a future for them. Step one: Sita will become a Durgavasi, one of the Rani’s elite, all-female guards, in order to provide for her family.

Despite the overwhelming odds against her --- and hundreds of other candidates she’ll have to outperform --- Sita manages to master every military skill with scarcely a hiccup. She proudly becomes a member of the Durga Dal. In fact, she’s absolutely perfect for the job, except when she makes the wrong friends at court and speaks out of turn. But Sita eventually figures it out and becomes the Rani’s BFF.

Then the British begin to threaten Jhansi. It’s only at that point that the Durga Dal become truly interesting, as their lives --- and that of their liege lady --- are in danger. As the Western tide crashes on Indian shores, it’ll be up to the Rani and her soldiers to save their kingdom --- and the lives of everyone they love. Moran paints such vivid pictures of village and court life in Jhansi that the reader is easily transported into the book’s pages.

These descriptions can drag on when paired with the novel’s poorly developed villains. Dadi-ji, Sita’s grandmother, and a cruel Durgavasi, Kahini, are the two chief antagonists. Unfortunately, their motivations and story arcs are flatter than a carpet in the Rani’s palace. Kahini reads like a Mean Girls character transplanted into 19th-century India, while Sita’s grandmother acts like a puppy-free Cruella de Vil. Meanwhile, Sita is a bit too much of a goody two-shoes for Moran, who is capable of creating better characters but doesn’t deliver here.

With the current call for more diversity in all genres, REBEL QUEEN is a good start in that direction. Although flat characters detract from excellent descriptions and an engaging setting, this book is ultimately a worthwhile read.

Reviewed by Carly Silver.

Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica
Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica
by Matthew Parker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.13
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Parker paints a colorful portrait of the paradise where Bond first drew breath, and where Fleming flirted with self-destruction., March 16, 2015
One of Ian Fleming’s teachers wrote to his mother that “He ought to make an excellent soldier, provided always that the Ladies don’t ruin him.” Fleming, who was a storied womanizer (and a good solider) in real life, established a fictional alter-ego who was always successful with “the Ladies” and an expert at Cold War-style spy-craft. In this highly readable book, Matthew Parker, who came upon Goldeneye, the Fleming retreat in Jamaica, while working on THE SUGAR BARONS, paints a colorful portrait of the paradise where James Bond first drew breath, and where Fleming flirted with creation and self-destruction.

Famously, Fleming, visiting Jamaica on an espionage assignment for the British Navy during World War II, vowed to return and did so, building a villa he called Goldeneye on a high hill overlooking the ocean. “Each year, Jamaica had soaked into him, with its creative spirit and cocktail of luxury, melancholy, imperialism, sensuality, danger and violence.” By 1953, he had tapped out his first novel at Goldeneye: CASINO ROYALE introduced Bond --- uncomplicated, unflappable, undaunted by danger. Bond would become an English icon and the books’ international favorite, while Fleming would go on smoking 3+ packs of cigarettes a day, drinking to dangerous excess, and writing a new Bond thriller every year. Together with NoëlCoward, who also moved to Jamaica, Fleming, though always something of a loner, would help make Jamaica the happening place for the beautiful people: Kathryn Hepburn, Errol Flynn, Michael Redgrave, Lucien Freud, the Oliviers, and Fleming’s wife-to-be, Ann Charteris.

But this is a story about the place as well as the man. Fleming (through the eyes of Bond) saw Jamaica as a sensual playground, peopled by simple, dark-skinned natives with an innate willingness to please those of lighter skin. Dodging the dreary English weather for a few months each year, Fleming was not keen to acknowledge the complex issues of race and rights roiling in his island refuge. Still, Parker points out, during Fleming’s years there, Jamaica was a nation aching for, pushing for and ultimately achieving independence.

Jamaica provided the setting for several Bond books, and Dr. No was also filmed there. It became the archetype, in Fleming’s imagination, of all that was right about an empire for the imperialists: a carefree realm where evil could lurk but always be brushed aside with a round of really stiff drinks delivered by smiling servants. While there, Fleming had a long-term affair with Blanche Blackwell, perhaps the only woman who ever really took with the lonely man from a cold climate, while Ann, who considered the Bond tales pornographic, had a lover back home. Both, perhaps typical among their peers, struggled with addictions and bouts of melancholy.

Bond’s creator died in his mid-50s, having perhaps done everything he wanted and lived a life that, to many, would be enviable. Goldeneye, his kingdom by the sea, became a posh tourist inn. Bond, of course, lived on; as Parker notes, at the time of Fleming’s passing, “his books had sold thirty million copies and been translated into eighteen languages.”

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott.

Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral
Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral
by Mary Doria Russell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.96
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Russell has done extensive research into the events at Tombstone, and makes the effort to be true to the facts., March 16, 2015
"This is the West, sir," observes the newspaper editor at the conclusion of the movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Perhaps no other legend of the West has been as manipulated and misunderstood as the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona on October 26, 1881. It conjures a torrent of gunfire as marshals and marauders duel in the frontier town with guns blazing.

The reality is far different. This was not a gunfight in the true meaning of that term, and it did not take place at the O.K. Corral. It actually occurred six doors west of the Corral and was a 30-second confrontation between feuding groups in the Tombstone community. When the shooting began, the two groups were six feet apart. Some of the combatants ran from the fight, and when the shooting ended, three were dead and three were wounded.

The shooting at the O.K. Corral has spawned legends, movies, and an entire town of re-enactors and museums in Tombstone, Arizona. Countless books have delved into the actual history of the event. Ironically, Mary Doria Russell’s EPITAPH is perhaps the best compilation of the personalities and events surrounding the incident at Tombstone. Yet even her novel devotes a scant four or five pages to the actual gun battle. The shooting did not end the conflict between the Earps and Clantons. As a good historian would, Russell completes the saga by providing drama and detail to the post-shooting events. Great nonfiction can often cause readers to think they are reading a fictional account. In many ways, EPITAPH does the opposite. Readers may well feel as though they are reading a thoroughly researched and well-written actual history.

Two characters are the linchpins of EPITAPH. Wyatt Earp is the law enforcement legend of the West. His life history is two parts myth to one part fact. His name evokes the epitome of American sheriffs of the Old West. But some of his most strident admirers may be shocked to learn that he was a proponent of many anti-gun measures in the communities where he worked. In Earp’s time, Tombstone had very strict gun laws, much stricter than today. The Tombstone shooting was in part caused by Earp’s enforcement of a local law that prohibited carrying firearms in public. The second important character in the novel is one who in later years would help create the legend of Wyatt Earp: his eventual wife, Josephine Marcus. She met Earp in Tombstone and eventually lived with him in San Francisco. As Earp’s common-law wife and widow, she published I MARRIED WYATT EARP in 1931, two years after Earp’s death. It helped create the legend of Earp that many now accept as fact.

The extensive cast of characters critical to understanding the Tombstone events are also present in EPITAPH. Doc Holliday was the subject of a previous novel by Russell, DOC. Johnny Behan, the sheriff of Cochise County and Josephine’s erstwhile lover, plays an important role in the saga, as do the McLaurys and Clantons. Russell has done extensive research into the events at Tombstone, and even though she is writing a novel, she makes the effort to be true to the facts. The characters and plot are not perfect, but EPITAPH tells the story with a precision that will entertain readers who love both the legend and the true account of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy: A Novel
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy: A Novel
by Rachel Joyce
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.14
64 used & new from $11.26

5.0 out of 5 stars Full of wisdom and heart, this book will overwhelm its readers with a deep sensitivity., March 16, 2015
Miss Queenie Hennessy is nearing the end of her days. She has moved from her beach house and beloved sea garden to a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed in the north of England. As she waits for the end to come, Queenie writes a letter to Harold Fry, the one man she ever loved. But Harold could only be a friend, for he was married and Queenie would never come between a husband and wife. Nonetheless, a terrible thing happened those many years before and Queenie fled, taking a shameful secret with her. Now, she just wants to thank Harold for his priceless friendship. But Harold surprises her with a letter of his own, in which he tells her to wait for him; he’s on his way.

Many readers will recognize Harold from THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, wherein he makes a journey on foot from the south of England to Miss Queenie’s hospice. Yes, Harold is walking the length of the country. He has gotten it into his head that, as long as he walks, Queenie will stay alive. And, while he walks, she decides to finally confess everything in one last letter, which she will have him read when he arrives.

As Harold continues on his journey, he picks up postcards along the way, showing landmarks and pictures of towns and pretty scenes, and sends them north to the hospice, always telling her to wait for him. Meanwhile, the patients and the nuns of St. Bernadine’s Hospice have gotten wind of Harold’s pilgrimage and look forward to his posts with eager expectation. It is almost as though Harold’s journey has given these broken people something to live for --- like grumpy old Mr. Henderson, who thinks Harold is a bit of a tosser, at least out loud, and goofy Finty, who insists on making banners and planning a welcome party. But there’s an undercurrent of pride as they await the daily news of Harold’s progress. And, as the days and weeks pass, everyone --- patients and staff alike --- seems to be rooting for Miss Hennessy’s friend. Does the undertaker’s hearse come a little less frequently now, too?

For Queenie, it is a chance to redeem herself after things got so complicated 20 years ago, and she made what she believes were bad choices. It is a chance for her to find the peace that has forever eluded her as her life draws to a close. It is Queenie’s long-hoped-for chance at self forgiveness. For Harold, it is a way to keep his old friend alive, for he believes she will wait for him.

THE LOVE SONG OF MISS QUEENIE HENNESSY is destined to change your world. One can’t help but see life, and the end of it, differently after experiencing this novel. Full of wisdom and heart, it will overwhelm its readers with a deep sensitivity. Queenie can’t have Harold, and she knows it. But, rather than rail at the gods over the injustice of an unrequited love, she discovers she is happy simply loving. Queenie can teach us much about being satisfied with what we have and how to atone for what we make go wrong. Rachel Joyce has written a near perfect novel, one that I dare you to finish dry eyed.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers.

Endangered (A Joe Pickett Novel)
Endangered (A Joe Pickett Novel)
by C. J. Box
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.36
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5.0 out of 5 stars Box consistently combines plot and character development with near-poetic descriptions for one of the best series in any genre., March 16, 2015
Someone recently asked me if I would be reading ENDANGERED, C.J. Box’s new thriller featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. My response was something along the lines that I would be reading Pickett novels as long as 1) Box continued to write them, and 2) I was on this side of the veil to read them. I am totally serious on both counts. Box consistently combines plot and character development with near-poetic setting descriptions to present what is one of the best ongoing series in any genre. ENDANGERED is the latest example of this.

The title is both appropriate and an understatement. It begins with news that any parent dreads receiving. Joe and Marybeth Pickett have not had it easy raising their ward, 18-year-old April, but have steadfastly done so with love in their hearts. This selfless act on their part has been particularly difficult since April, upon attaining her majority, has been touring the rodeo circuit with Dallas Cates, a bronco-riding superstar from a family with whom Joe has had difficulties in both his official law enforcement capacities and otherwise. When the Picketts learn that April has been discovered in a ditch, beaten almost to death, it is as if their world has come to an end.

Joe is ready to enact a more than appropriate revenge, knowing in his heart that Cates is responsible for the reprehensible deed that has put April in such dire straits, even as she barely clings to life in a hospital bed. However, it appears that it would’ve been all but impossible for Cates to have injured April in the place and manner in which she was found. But if Cates is not guilty, then who is? There is another suspect who is all but eliminated by Joe, whose plate is already full with his official duties as he attempts to identify who is behind the seemingly meaningless slaughter of almost two-dozen protected birds.

Meanwhile, Joe’s uneasy friendship with Nate Romanowski takes a new turn when he is led like a deadly wolf to slaughter in an ambush that leaves him clinging to life and Liv Brannan, his love interest, in extremely dire straits. These somewhat disparate storylines gradually come together with Joe being the focal point and moving factor, at times almost in spite of himself. From an intellectual standpoint, Joe is not always the sharpest blade in the drawer, which he will be the first to acknowledge. As the Bible states in 1 Corinthians 8:2, anyone who claims to know all of the answers doesn’t really know very much. Joe is aware of his limitations and makes up for them with a quiet but dogged resoluteness. As the book’s conclusion reveals, a little help from your friends doesn’t hurt.

In some ways, ENDANGERED pushes the reset button on the Pickett series. Box has not been afraid to advance the lives of his characters in the past, and by the end of this book, it is obvious that he can move the storyline in a number of different and interesting directions. The good news is that it appears we can look forward to new Pickett novels for some time to come; the only downside is that we may have to wait a year or so for the next one. Until then, though, we have ENDANGERED, one of the best entries in the series to date.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub.

The Fifth Gospel: A Novel
The Fifth Gospel: A Novel
by Ian Caldwell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.19
95 used & new from $8.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A fun and eye-opening read, THE FIFTH GOSPEL deserves to be discussed in the same breath as Dan Brown's work., March 16, 2015
In 2004, two young authors and former college buddies penned a novel that spent nearly 50 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. THE RULE OF FOUR received mixed reviews, and its popularity spread primarily through word of mouth. The inevitable comparisons to Dan Brown's legendary THE DA VINCI CODE were made, which was a high standard to live up to. Then, inexplicably, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason faded from sight.

It is obvious to me that during this 11-year hiatus, Caldwell spent time doing much research and honing his skills as a writer. The end result is the brilliant THE FIFTH GOSPEL, a controversial novel that is certain to cause much discussion and, hopefully, a place at the top of the New York Times bestseller list where it rightly belongs.

Filled with enough historical and theological intrigue to please the biggest fans of this genre and enough action to please nearly everyone else, THE FIFTH GOSPEL is destined to be one of 2015's finest novels. At the heart of this pulse-pounding effort is a lost gospel that is sought by many --- specifically our two protagonists, each of whom are Vatican priests.

Just a few short months ago, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Orthodox churches met to discuss a mutual enemy: ISIS. THE FIFTH GOSPEL finds an ancient rift that split the two largest Christian sects and traces it all the way back to the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. The novel breaks down the four gospels of the Bible in a very intelligent way, outlining the many discrepancies between the history recounted by the four apostles who penned them. What the book proposes is an alleged fifth gospel --- one that unites all four of those found in the Bible and gives clear answers on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The two brothers, Simon and Alex Andreou, are well-developed characters who are easy to cheer for. You also will find yourself holding your breath and wincing as they escape one pitfall after another in search of one of the most controversial relics in the history of the world --- the Shroud of Turin.

With the existence of the actual Shroud of Turin in question, a radical religious scholar is murdered just when he is about to display the purported item. It is then up to the Andreou brothers not only to solve the murder of their friend, but also to seek out the truth behind the existence of this fifth gospel and preserve it at all costs.

A fun and eye-opening read, THE FIFTH GOSPEL deserves to be discussed in the same breath as Dan Brown's work and also calls to mind Umberto Eco's THE NAME OF THE ROSE. There is also reference to recent Roman Catholic history as we learn about Pope John Paul II's dying wish for the Catholic Church. Sit down, dig in, and prepare for many hours of uninterrupted reading as you most assuredly will get lost inside this novel.

Reviewed by Ray Palen.

Bettyville: A Memoir
Bettyville: A Memoir
by George Hodgman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.77
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hodgman subtly describes the simple joys of everyday life at home...while sharing his quiet observations of the natural world., March 16, 2015
This review is from: Bettyville: A Memoir (Hardcover)
“Where am I? Not in my apartment; there are no sirens, horns, or streaks of neon shining through the blinds. This is not Manhattan, not Chelsea, not West Twenty-third Street. I am home, in Paris, Missouri, population 1,246 and falling. Living here, I say to myself, for just a few more days or weeks. For now. Until Carol, the good-hearted farm woman who helps watch out for Betty, recovers from surgery on her rotator cuff. Or until my mother can be admitted to an assisted living facility. Until there is rain, or Betty’s spirits mend, or I get a regular job again. Until something happens on Sherwood Road, and my mother is gone, and I must close up shop.”

This tenderhearted, contemplative memoir opens with George Hodgman returning to his native Missouri to celebrate his mother Betty’s birthday. The brief visit turns into an extended stay when Hodgman unexpectedly finds himself assuming the role of her primary caretaker.

“Age is taking everything away,” Hodgman writes, referring not only to his 90-year old mother’s health --- her blurred vision, fading hearing and dementia --- but also her gradual loss of independence. After backing her car into a ditch, Betty must surrender her driver’s license. “Accustomed to fending for herself” around the house, she slaps the air, getting testy with her son when he comes too close or tries to offer help. Although Betty’s “will remains at blast-force strength,” the aging parent resembles “a lost girl with sad eyes,” whimpering, moaning or crying out loud in the middle of the night.

Fully admitting that “caring for things --- flowers or people --- has never been [his] strong point,” Hodgman is absorbed with worry, concerned about doing right by his mother. Chronicling the daily challenges of being an “unlikely guardian,” he half-jokingly ponders if his “12-step group might pass some sort of humanitarian injunction allowing [him] to ingest one tiny Xanax on an emergency basis.”

Throughout the book, Hodgman subtly describes the simple joys of everyday life at home (“a bowl of fresh strawberries remains a thing of beauty”), while sharing his quiet observations of the natural world. “The sky is our sea here, our object of contemplation in all its moods and shades,” he says, adding, “My father loved to watch, in the autumn, the long scarves of lonely birds, flying finally together, toward home.”

Living away from New York City (“its stories, castoffs and characters of dubious reputation”), distant from the drama of the publishing world, exiled from his gay social circle, Hodgman returns home with fresh eyes, yet peers through the lens of his past. The dutiful son intimately imparts his wistful coming-of-age story, recounting his sexual awakenings and profound longing for acceptance. In BETTYVILLE, he explores “the real country” --- not just Missouri’s lush, rolling fields, but the Mississippi’s rolling brown waters with its strong emotional undercurrents of silences, loss and love.

Reviewed by Miriam Tuliao.

World Gone By: A Novel (Joe Coughlin Series)
World Gone By: A Novel (Joe Coughlin Series)
by Dennis Lehane
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.01
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I read it one sitting, and was transported from 2015 back to 1953 to a realm that still seems more concrete than reality., March 16, 2015
The five-year drought for novels from Dennis Lehane ran from 2003, when SHUTTER ISLAND was published, to 2008, when THE GIVEN DAY released. That period seems so remote now. Rumors abounded; some said that Lehane had hit a dry well, while others assured --- nervously --- that he was busy on an epic work that would surpass his instant classic, MYSTIC RIVER. Events since then have demonstrated the latter to be the case, with the publication of the first two volumes in the Joe Coughlin historical crime trilogy, a new installment in his Kenzie & Gennaro series, and 2014’s brilliant THE DROP.

Now we are favored with WORLD GONE BY, the third and best volume in the Coughlin trilogy, which should lay to rest any lingering doubt about Lehane. It is a work of dark and stark genius, an unforgettable tale of grim honor tinged with sorrow.

WORLD GONE BY begins several years after the conclusion of LIVE BY NIGHT, with a widowed Joe Coughlin living with his seven-year-old son, Tomas, in Ybor City, just northeast of downtown Tampa, Florida. Coughlin is no longer a mob boss, but continues to hold a position of prestige and influence, due primarily to his ability to advise and guide such mob luminaries as Meyer Lansky and the imprisoned Charles Luciano in a manner that increases their fortunes far beyond anything they otherwise might imagine. Coughlin is highly valued as a result, which makes it all the more puzzling when he learns from an unlikely and unexpected source that he has been targeted for extermination by someone in organized crime’s hierarchy for reasons unknown. The hit is supposed to occur on Ash Wednesday, which gives Coughlin eight days to eliminate the threat while hopefully discovering who is behind it.

Those who have read THE GIVEN DAY and LIVE BY NIGHT, the first two volumes in the trilogy, know that Coughlin is not afraid of getting his hands dirty, which he does to varying degrees over the course of WORLD GONE BY. Yet, some instinct warns Coughlin that all is not entirely right, even as his most trusted henchmen, above and below him, urge him to get out of Dodge --- Ybor City, actually --- until the dust settles and the smoke clears. When Ash Wednesday arrives, however, Coughlin’s world rearranges itself yet again into a sequence of stark and bloody tableaus that play out in the finality that only sudden violence can occasion.

Coughlin finds that he must be called to account for his actions. Among his few remaining assets are his ability to think ahead and not resort solely to murder --- though he is not above using the latter, either --- when the opportunity arises. The only question is if he will be able to do enough to extricate himself from the consequences of the life he chose decades before. It might be a matter of too little, too late, as layers of duplicity are slowly scraped away, and the sins and omissions of all, friend and foe alike, are laid bare, as a rough justice comes to call with finality.

So how good is WORLD GONE BY? I read it one sitting, and from beginning to end was transported from 2015 back to 1953 to a reality that still seems more concrete than the one in which I presently live. Let me put it another way: I finished reading the last few pages and felt as if someone on a starless night had hit me over the head with a shovel and pushed me into a deep, deep pit. I’m still falling. It simply doesn’t get any better than this. But please don’t just take my word for it. Buy WORLD GONE BY and read it again and again and again.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub.
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