Volume 22 Number 1

"If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads.”

Sherman Alexie
Oct – December 2018

Hooked On Books

Editor's Note:

1.Do you have a favorite author to recommend?

2. Do you have a favorite book that everyone should read?

Writer Advice welcomes reviews of recently published books. Be balanced, be fair, and pick a book you want to honor. Let your voice come through. Submit your reviews of approximately 250 words to Lgood67334@comcast.net. Unless there is a byline, the reviews in this issue are written by B. Lynn Goodwin.

 

 

BLEAK HARBOR
Written by Bryan Gruley and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN-13: 978-1503904682
Thomas & Mercer

Manipulation Creates Mayhem

 

Excessive manipulation? Kidnapping? Disappearance combined with threats?

What lengths will a person go to in order to extort money? And why? The motives will surprise you in Bryan Gruley newest book, Bleak Harbor.

When 16-year-old Danny (not Daniel) disappears, and a picture of him tied to a chair turns up on the household computers, his parents are horrified. Baffled by the requests for money they obsess about getting the ransom. They can’t go to Danny’s wealthy grandmother, who dislikes the boy because he is emotionally immature and obsessive, as children with autism often are. Poor Danny still grieves for his dog, Paddle, who was put down months earlier.

His parents, a dad who sells legal pot and a mom who is the daughter of the manipulative woman, are drowning in guilt about Danny’s problems. In addition the mom, Carey, has a guilty secret of her own. She’s been seduced and by the less-than-honest man she works for. Will this come out when the perpetrator requests ransom? Who is behind this plot, and will any of it work? And what is really wrong with Danny’s grandmother, a descendant of the town’s founding fathers who has money to burn?

Author Bryan Gruley is a life-long journalist who is proud to have shared in the Putlitzer Prize awarded to the staff of the Wall Street Journal for their coverage of the 9-11 attacks in New York City. His complex mystery is full of shady characters and a twisted yearning to be noticed and accepted. There are lots of characters but this is a page-turner and worth the time of those who have a family member who has autism as well as those who love a thriller. As my husband would say, “Follow the dollar,” but there is a lot more here.

 
 

EDUCATED
Written by Tara Westover and reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN #: 978-0399590504
Random House

What Does It Mean to Be Educated?

 

What does it take to overcome the insurmountable? No, that’s not an oxymoron. It’s the question that Tara Westover answers in her stirring, heartbreaking, eye-opening memoir, Educated. For that matter, what does it mean to be educated? For one thing, it means being exposed to a world beyond your home and family of origin. It means having enough knowledge and sense of self to process information and make choices about what is right for you.

Tara Westover was home schooled. Sort of. She was brought up in a culture that prepared her to do manual labor, do kitchen chores, marry, take care of a husband, and raise his children. And I do mean his children. She was brought up a girl with no rights, no confidence, and no ability to stand up for herself until she taught herself enough information to get a 27 on the ACT, which meant she was qualified to attend Brigham Young University. She asked some questions that showed what she didn’t know and eventually the professors discovered her potential and her incredible level of poverty. They helped her find her way to Cambridge and Harvard. Much more importantly, though, they helped her see herself as a unique, capable, bright, creative woman with a great deal to contribute to the world.

Westover’s unique story has captured the hearts and mind of all kinds of readers. Readers identify and empathize with both her struggles and her triumphs. They applaud her for her mind, her courage, and her ability to process and dig deeply until she clearly differentiated between family stories and her true self. Despite all that her father put her through, she still loves him, but she now has the right to disagree, to stay away, and to lead her own life. What a triumph of will this story is!

ALL THE BEAUTIFUL LIES
Written by Peter Swanson and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN # 978-0062427052
William Morrow (April 3, 2018)

How Could Such a Good Man Die?

What will a person do to protect himself from the consequences of his or her actions?  It’s a fascinating subject, especially when explored in the capable hands of author Peter Swanson in his latest suspense novel, All the Beautiful Lies.

Days before his college graduation, Harry Ackerson’s stepmother, Alice, calls with the shocking news that his father tripped, fell, and died during a walk on a cliff overlooking their seaside home. The police think its suicide. But why? His dad was a successful bibliophile with two bookstores, a beautiful wife, and a son about to graduate from college.  Harry skips his graduation and returns to bury his father, help Alice pick up of the pieces of her life, and work in his father’s bookstore. Something is amiss though.

When Harry meets Grace McGowan, who is new to the area and seeking a job in his father’s bookstore, he becomes suspicious. His suspicions increase when Alice makes her desires known. With no one to talk to, how will he figure out the facts that no one is talking about?  

Swanson is extremely skilled at dropping new elements into the plot at exactly the right time. He keeps us wondering and guessing as his characters’ actions and motives unfold in layers. This is a tightly-written, high-tension drama, filled with surprises that will make you gasp.

Peter Swanson is the author of three previous novels: The Girl With a Clock For a Heart, an LA Times Book Award finalist; The Kind Worth Killing, winner of the New England Society Book Award, and finalist for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger; Her Every Fear, an NPR book of the year. His stories, poetry, and features have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Atlantic Monthly, Measure, The Guardian, The Strand Magazine, and Yankee Magazine.

All the Beautiful Lies is highly recommended for anyone curious about the mysterious behaviors of seemingly innocent people and for anyone who loves suspense.

 

MY REAL NAME IS HANNA
Written by Tara Lynn Masih and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
Published by Mandel Vilar Press (September 18, 2018)
 ISBN-13: 978-1942134510

The Story Lives On

When teenage Hanna says, “It’s hard to keep the human spirit down,” towards the end of My Real Name is Hanna readers will nod. Her spirit is like Anne Frank’s, but her story is quite different. It’s the untold story of a real Ukranian family, a carefully researched and emotionally authentic tale about what it took to survive the Holocaust.

Author Tara Lynn Masih brings the Slivkas to life. They are a resilient family determined to escape Jewish annihilation in the Ukraine during World War II. Hanna helps us appreciate the hardships so many families faced when the Nazis came near. Sadly, this is still a timely subject though there is much more resistance to persecution these days.

Thirteen-year-old Hanna has a job working for her next-door neighbor, who makes painted pysanka eggs for the Christians, who use them at Easter. The Nazis are a distant threat. Schoolyard bullies are worse until they come to wipe out all the Jews in the community. The fathers have planned for this moment and the whole, extended family goes into hiding beneath the earth.

They’ll live in a series of underground caves with minimal food and water and even less light. The men continue to provide, searching for food and allies at night; each time they go out the tension escalates. Could you survive under these circumstances? It’s one of the many questions the book brings up.

Written for seventh grade and up, this story should generate interesting classroom discussions and all kinds of inventive book report projects. If parents read My Real Name is Hanna with their children, it should stimulate talk about family values, cultural values, and help adolescents feel grounded in who they are and where they came from.

If I were still teaching, I’d embrace this book and even encourage students to act out scenes from it. It’s accessible and immediate historical fiction as well as a quick, easy read.

Pick up a copy and share it with your kids or grandkids. You’ll be pleased by all the ideas it generates.   

Tara Masih grew up on Long Island's north shore, in the small harbor town of East Northport. After graduating from C.W. Post College, she moved to Boston and earned an MA in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College, where she taught freshman composition and grammar and tutored students with writing problems. She has worked as a publisher's assistant to Pym-Randall Press; as an assistant editor to STORIES literary magazine; as an editorial assistant at Little, Brown's college division; and as a book editor at Bedford Books/St. Martin's Press.

This review originally appeared on Story Circle Network, http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org/availablereviewcopies.php. The book is recommended for those who are seventh grade and above.
 

WALK A CROOKED MILE
Written by Susan McBride and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN # 978-1477848647
Thomas & Mercer

Timely!

Susan McBride’s Walk a Crooked Mile was a timely book to read in September of 2018. While Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavenaugh and his accuser / victim / survivor Christine Blasey Ford were in the headlines, fictional fifteen-year-old Kelly Amster dealt with a more brutal attack at a similar party. Both incidents had far-reaching consequences.

When a lifeless teen girl is found at the base of the old water tower, Detective Jo Larsen is one of the first to be called. Though it looks like a case of suicide, Jo has doubts. Why would a fifteen-year-old jump off a water tower instead of calling a friend? Why wasn’t there anyone to save her?

As Jo interviews Kelly’s mother and her peers, she knows some facts are being withheld. Something evil happened to Kelly Amster in the small town of Plainfield, Texas—and it literally sent the young girl straight over the edge.

Haunted by holes in her own childhood, Jo digs into shadowy corners uncovering secrets that the town’s richest boys lie about. Jo needs to let the world know what happened to Kelly, and she sets out to discover what happened and hold the kids at the party responsible.

Remember your teen years? Sound like a scenario you can relate to? Hard to believe that McBride’s plot is a coincidence when it connects so closely with issues in Washington. From the first chapter you’ll feel the impact of the action. McBride’s writing and her empathy for the under-dog bring the story to life. It’s a call to action as we as an absorbing mystery. Finding an emphasis on motivation rather than who-dun-it was a pleasure.

Susan McBride is the USA Today Bestselling author of Blue Blood and the Lefty Award-winning, Anthony Award-nominated Debutante Dropout Mysteries from HarperCollins/Avon. Her second bestselling series with HC/Avon, the River Road Mysteries, debuted in May 2014. A darker mystery featuring Texas police detective Jo Larsen, Walk Into Silence, was released in December 2016 by Thomas & Mercer and hit #1 in the US and UK (and #3 in Australia) for paid Kindle. Walk a Crooked Line is the second book in the series.

I look forward to reading more Jo Larsen books, and you will too.