Friday, August 26, 2016

Book Reviews: Summer 2016

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch


“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.


Firstly, this book was completely unlike anything I've ever read before.  It had a good syfy element to it, but in a smart "physisict-with-too-much-time-on-his-hands" kind of way and not a gimmick.  The science seemed plausible, which lent a fantastic edge to what was mainly a story about a man who deeply loved his family.  Jason is a physics professor of no notable praise but who loves his wife and teenage son, then he gets kidnapped into an alternate timeline and has to figure out a way back.  But it's mostly a story about the road not taken and a man's love for his family.  I've recommended it to just about everyone I know who would remotely enjoy it because it is still hard to describe the plot without it seeming like somehow you've heard it before, when once you begin reading it's really so unlike other alternate reality novels you can hardly call it that.  And the ending... it was ideal, not anything you can really claim issue with--it just worked perfectly. The characters are deep, complex, kind (mostly), and ultimately overwhelmingly real.  Just a fantastically written book.

Great Small Things
By Jodi Picoult
(Due out October 11, 2016)


Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years' experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she's been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don't want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy's counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other's trust, and come to see that what they've been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.


This book blew me away.  Just from the description you knew there were going to be tough issues and it would be gripping, but within the first two chapters this book speaks to so much.  I found myself flying through it while simultaneously finding the subject matter often almost difficult to read because of the depth of the issues it addressed.  You expect the parts told by Turk, the white supremacist father, to be colored with deplorable racial ideology.  But Picoult also manages to show the paradoxical life that black people, even educated people, struggle with daily.  Double meanings, side glances, difficult and (arguably) inappropriate questions asked by people who “are not racist”.  How color shapes all our lives, and pretending it doesn’t is living a fallacy.  All of this revolving around the awful death of a tiny infant that couldn’t have been prevented and the difficult case that the white lawyer, Kennedy, has to fight for her black client—all while insisting race cannot be brought into a courtroom.  That justice needs to be blind.  But the end result is a moving illustration of what we are all currently experiencing in this country: justice is not blind.  Equality does not mean equal for everyone.  And life, regardless of race, is always fragile and complex and filled with uncertainty. The moral repercussions in this book left me discussing it from the moment I finished it; I can’t wait for people to read this incredible story and grapple with their own unacknowledged prejudice with eyes wide open.

The German Girl
Armando Lucas Correa
(Due out October 18, 2016)


A stunningly ambitious and beautiful debut novel, perfect for fans of Sarah’s Key and All the Light We Cannot See, the story of a twelve-year-old girl’s harrowing experience fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany with her family and best friend, only to discover that the overseas asylum they had been promised is an illusion.

In 1939 before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. Her family moved in Berlin’s highest social circles, admired by friends and neighbors. Eleven-year-old Hannah was often taken by her mother for an afternoon treat at the tea room of the beautiful Adlon Hotel, both dressed in their finest clothes. She spent her afternoons at the park with her best friend Leo Martin. But, in an instant, that sunlit world vanished. Now the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; their fine possessions are hauled away, and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. The two friends make a pact: come what may, they promise to have a future together.

As Hannah and Leo’s families desperately begin to search for a means of escape, a glimmer of hope appears when they discover the Saint Louis, a transatlantic liner that can give Jews safe passage to Cuba. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart from Hamburg on the luxurious passenger liner bound for Havana. Life aboard the ship is a welcome respite from the gloom of Berlin—filled with masquerade balls, dancing, and exquisite meals every night.

As the passengers gain renewed hope for a bright future ahead, love between Hannah and Leo blossoms. But soon reports from the outside world began to filter in, and dark news overshadows the celebratory atmosphere on the ship; the governments of Cuba, the United States, and Canada are denying the passengers of the St. Louis admittance to their countries, forcing them to return to Europe as it descends into the Second World War. The ship that had seemed their salvation seems likely to become their death sentence.

After four days anchored at bay, only a handful of passengers are allowed to disembark onto Cuban soil, and Hannah and Leo must face the grim reality that they could be torn apart. Their future is unknown, and their only choice will have an impact in generations to come.

Decades later in New York City on her eleventh birthday, Anna Rosen receives a mysterious envelope from Hannah, a great-aunt she has never met but who raised her deceased father. In an attempt to piece together her father’s mysterious past, Anna and her mother travel to Havana to meet Hannah, who is turning eighty-seven years old. Hannah reveals old family ties, recounts her journey aboard the Saint Louis and, for the first time, reveals what happened to her father and Leo. Bringing together the pain of the past with the mysteries of the present, Hannah gives young Anna a sense of their shared histories, forever intertwining their lives, honoring those they loved and cruelly lost.


I love books about the complicated times surrounding WWII and had only vague recollections of a boat forced away from the U.S. full of Jewish Germany's fleeing the early war.  I really enjoyed the beginning and depth of the Berlin stories told by Hannah early in the book; the imagery of the sighs and smells of the city were so vivid and alluring.  You could sense both Hannah and Leo’s lives begin to change as they ventured the city and watched their parents crumble under the new regime and it’s threats to them.  Anna’s stories in 2014 New York were also great at showing parallels in their mothers, their captive situations, and strive for a return to normalcy.  Throughout the book you continued to see how the author weaved Hannah’s early life with Anna’s wishes for hers, and as they met it was obvious they would change each other profoundly as only family can. Historical fiction is a fantastic look back, and Correa really showed a fantastic look into Havana an unknown part of the war, and Cuba’s part in the Saint Louis story.  Fantastically vivid storytelling.  

The Delphi Effect
Rysa Walker
(Due out October 11, 2016)


From the award-winning and best-selling author of TIMEBOUND comes the first book in a thrilling new trilogy! 

It’s never wise to talk to strangers…and that goes double when they’re dead. Unfortunately, seventeen-year-old Anna Morgan has no choice. Resting on a park bench, touching the turnstile at the Metro station—she never knows where she’ll encounter a ghost. These mental hitchhikers are the reason Anna has been tossed from one foster home and psychiatric institution to the next for most of her life.

When a chance touch leads her to pick up the insistent spirit of a girl who was brutally murdered, Anna is pulled headlong into a deadly conspiracy that extends to the highest levels of government. Facing the forces behind her new hitcher’s death will challenge the barriers, both good and bad, that Anna has erected over the years and shed light on her power’s origins. And when the covert organization seeking to recruit her crosses the line by kidnapping her friend, it will discover just how far Anna is willing to go to bring it down.


I was a big fan of the first two TimeBound books and so enjoyed this new start from Rysa Walker.  Much like TimeBound, I loved having a strong female protagonist who could be feminine while not weak.  Ana is a fierce young woman, forced to carry a “gift” of having dead hitchhikers inside her psyche who she has to help before they will move on .  She’s smart, funny, engaging, and easy to like.  Her best friend Deo is both a little brother and a best friend, and their cooperative dynamic is a really great part of the book.  The book unfolded really well, explained her gift and it’s complications, and also gave her some unlikely friends whom she will definitely need in subsequent books in the series.  She starts out the book independent but often isolated because of her gift, but this book manages to integrate her into a wider selection of people she is somehow connected to and must solve the mysteries related to how they can do what they do.  There are a lot of moving parts but the ending leaves you both satisfied and excited to find out where Anna, Deo, and her new allies are going to go to get their answers and stop the experiments and murders of children with these talents.  Another great read by Walker.