“Manhattan Beach” by Jennifer Egan

Genre:         General Fiction (Adult)Manatthan Beach

Pub. Date:   Oct. 3, 2017

Publisher:    Scribner

Here is the thing about this author, Jennifer Egan: she is brilliant, I might go as far as to say there is a something Shakespearean in her writing, complete with betrayal and tragedy. But like Shakespeare, for me, she can be hard to follow. I did read her 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” “Goon Squad” has a complicated narrative with each chapter written as a tweet, or a music chart, or a PowerPoint presentation. In other words, her writing style is unique in this work.

In “Manhattan Beach” the author writes a traditional novel. The story spans from the years of the Great Depression to WWII. We meet the Kerrigans, a Brooklyn family, and learn of their successes and failures. There is twelve-year-old Anna, her adored father, Eddie, her mother and severely disabled little sister. They are a Brooklyn Irish family that is barely scraping by in the 1930s with a strong father-daughter bond. Sounds familiar right? But this is not “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” There is another protagonist, the New York gangster, Dexter Styles. The father works for him. The book’s title comes from the gangster’s wealthy home on Manhattan Beach.

This is a hard review for me to write because the book is clearly well researched, which is always a plus. The feel of the novel is realistic, as are the characters. Furthermore, I love historical fiction and as a native New Yorker, I was drawn into the story with its sharp observations of NYC in this time frame. Maybe it is the plot that bothered me? There didn’t seem to be a steady tempo. I felt as though I was reading three different stories about the girl, the father and the gangster. It is when Egan flashes forward several years that I began to have trouble with the storyline.

Anna at 19 is working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Her father has mysteriously disappeared. She alone is the breadwinner. She elbows her way into a job as their first female diver. She also sleeps with Dexter (who initially doesn’t realize whose daughter she is). Of course, there is a disastrous outcome. The affair’s beginning seems so unlikely that it reads absurd. No matter how talented the author is, this just feels like way too much soap for my taste. I cannot talk about the father’s fate for it would be a spoiler, but that also is a bit hokey.

So what do you say about a book written by an extremely talented author, in your favorite genre, with interesting characters that keeps you hooked until it doesn’t? I am not sure. (I wish I could quote to explain, but the publisher doesn’t allow this since the book is not yet published). Maybe, I need to brush up on my own skills. Or, maybe, it would have read better as interconnected short stories. Either way, I can safely recommend that you read this book if you wish to get lost in the world of the past, the Navy, a young woman breaking into a man’s field, speakeasies, nightclubs and the end of Prohibition. As well as a lovely family saga, expect your heart to break for them. Just don’t be surprised when things start getting far-fetched.

This is an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) book.  I received this novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read

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“Dunbar” by Edward St. Aubyn

Genre:         Adult Literary FictionDunbar

Pub. Date:   Oct. 3, 2017

Publisher:    Crown Publishing

This is my third Hogarth Press novel.  Hogarth Press was founded in 1917 by Virginia and Leonard Woolf. In recent years Hogarth Press launched the Hogarth Shakespeare project in which much admired novelists are retelling the Bard’s stories in contemporary times.  “Dunbar” is the re-write of “King Lear” by Edward St. Aubyn.  I confess, before this novel I have never heard of Aubyn, though he is the author of eight novels and in 2006 was nominated for the Booker Prize for “Mother’s Milk.”  Other than “Vinegar Girl,” which is based on “The Taming of the Shrew,” I have not read any other of Shakespeare’s plays.  I did see the 1983 film version of “King Lear” with Laurence Olivier.  And like most, I am aware that the play is about an aging King who invites disaster when he steps down giving his power to his two corrupt daughters while rejecting his third, loving and honest daughter. In other words, they were the original dysfunctional family.

What’s the modern version of a 16th-century kingdom?  Why, a corporate empire, of course with CEO Henry Dunbar (Lear) written as a Rupert Murdoch-like multi-billionaire.  In “Dunbar,” the evil daughters/sisters are plotting a hostile takeover of the company, and have their sedated dad placed in a sanatorium while they prepare for the takeover.  In the interim, the youngest, loving daughter, who has been treated unfairly by her dad, is suspicious of her elder sisters and trying to uncover her dad’s whereabouts.  She alone is worried about her father.  We first meet Dunbar while he is in the sanitarium, where his fellow inmate, a former comedian, is plotting their escape.  The comedian can only speak when he is doing exaggerated voice imitations of others.  His mania is exhausting to read.  I personally found the similarities between the novel’s comedian and Robin Williams way too close for comfort.  I am not sure if that is the author’s intent, but that is how I read the character.  The two do escape. Now the daughters, both good and bad, are in hot pursuit of finding their father first.

Moral of the story; one cannot have the luxuries of living like a king without the responsibilities.  The parallels of the famous play and this novel are excellently drawn. The most powerful part of “Dunbar” is his emotional awakening and reconciliation with his youngest daughter.  So when tragedy hits, and she dies, I found myself feeling for her father.  That felt real.  As did the Dunbar character, even though his drugged brain read like an acid trip, which was hard to keep up with.  But the good, ever-suffering youngest daughter is so saccharine that she got on my nerves. Everyone has at least one mean bone in their body. The other two sadistic, nymphomaniac daughters, who have a taste for sexual perversion and their henchmen, are also too one-sided to be believed.  These two characters struck me as comic villains.  For some reason, I see them as an R rated “Cruella De Vil” from the Disney movie, “101 Dalmatians.”  The author has keen wit, using black humor throughout the story.  There are some good laughs for a tragedy. Still, I did not feel that “Dunbar” could stand as a novel in its own right.  If I didn’t know I was reading a re-telling of one of the Bard’s plays I would not have finished the book.  For these reasons, I am a bit disappointed in this latest Hogarth Press.  Still, the author is clearly talented and I admire his courage to take on Shakespeare.  I recommend you read this one only if you are addicted to this Shakespeare project.

This is an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) book.  I received this novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read

“The Vengeance of Mothers (One Thousand White Women)” By Jim Fergus

Genre:         Historical Fiction

Vengence of Mothers

Pub. Date:   September, 12, 2017

Publisher:    St. Martin’s Press

When I read this historical novel I wasn’t aware that it is a sequel.  I did have the feeling that I was missing the first part, but I wasn’t at all confused, meaning one can read it alone.  Set in the 1800’s the book begins with the journals of two sisters, the Kelly twins,  who were part of the Wives for Indians Program that sent “undesirable” women from prisons and asylums to marry Native Americans of the Cheyenne Nation as a means to encourage assimilation.  The Kelly sisters were part of the original story, “One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd.” In “Vengeance” the reader learns that their village is destroyed by U.S. soldiers while they were waving a white flag, in a raid that leaves their children and husbands dead.   The title of the novel comes from the sisters’ desire for revenge on the US Calvary. The second journal we read in this story belongs to Molly McGill, another woman sent to marry into the Cheyenne tribe. But when Molly arrives in the West, the program is virtually defunct, and the group of Cheyenne she was sent to meet is now on the run.  Originally, this batch of women was held as hostages by the Native Americans.  When given their freedom they decided to stay. Living with the Cheyenne would be as equally dangerous and as hard a lifestyle yet still desirable than to returning to prisons or asylums.

I have learned that the first novel “The Journals of May Dodd” has been made into a movie.  I have also learned via Wikipedia that “the spark for this novel was an actual historical event that occurred in 1854. A Cheyenne chief did request the gift of 1000 white women as brides but the offer was rejected by the U.S. Army.”   This is an okay read though obviously written by a man for the author’s generalizations on women falling in love are stereotypical.  When Molly realizes she is falling for her Cheyenne captor, I felt it could have been a scene from the 1920s silent movie, “The Sheik” starring Rudolph Valentino.  However, I did enjoy learning about the Native Americans’ ways of life. Because of this novel, I intend to read more hoping it all will not be too similar to another movie named, “Dances with Wolves,” where Kevin Costner plays a disillusioned Civil War lieutenant who comes to realize that it is he and his government and not the Native Americans who are the real savages.  I say this because (although I agree with the statement), I would like to learn something new about the tribes other than that they seemed to be a more decent set of human beings than the whites who destroyed them.

This is an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) book.  I received this novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read

“If The Creek Don’t Rise” by Leah Weiss

Genre:         General Fiction (Adult)If The Creek Don't Rise

Publisher:    Sourcebook Landmark

Pub. Date:   August 22, 2017

The year is 1970.  We follow the story of our heroine, Sadie Blue, a young Appalachian girl in North Carolina.  When I accepted this ARC book I was afraid that it might be too similar to the book and movie “Bastard Out Of Carolina,” which was an okay book focusing more on childhood sexual abuse than Appalachia.   I’m happy to report that this novel is different, displaying a masterful use of writing that I didn’t find in the former book.  We meet impoverished people living in dirt floor shacks without plumbing or electricity, mostly all are starving. Moonshine is treated as a matter of life and death.  Might as well have a sign saying “These here are Roy’s stills’,enter at your own risk!”  But then again, most of the characters cannot read.  Roy is an abusive young husband, who “made the alligators look tame” (thank Elvis for the expression). In this character-driven raw story, Sadie is Roy’s pregnant teenage wife, who was abandoned as a child.  Sadie was raised by her unloving grandmother, who has her own husband issues. Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective, and they all add new pieces to understanding life in Appalachia.

We also follow the story of the town’s new teacher, Kate Shaw.  All the other teachers have been harassed out of town.  She is over 6 feet tall with cropped hair and has a mannish way about her.  She was dismissed from her previous job at a posh girls’ boarding school in North Carolina for not following their strict protocol.  She accepted this position because she had nowhere else to go. No one expects her to last a week.  She is brought into town by Preacher Eli Perkins.  A kind soul who usually fails, but never ceases to try to broaden his congregation’s minds and bring them a better lifestyle, he also becomes smitten with Kate. The reader is in on the joke of his naiveté.  The preacher’s sister, Prudence, is a hateful woman and does all she can to sabotage the new teacher, including sending her miles out of her way to walk to the teacher’s shack.  This might not sound too cruel, but the reader needs to remember that Kate has never experienced wilderness, wild animals and women smoking corn pipes before.  And, they all speak in a language that barely resembles English (I had trouble following their words). We do eventually learn where Prudence’s hatred comes from.  It is up to the reader to decide whether this excuses her actions.  Another voice and my personal favorite character is the mystical and wonderfully eccentric Birdie, who claims the crows can talk to her through their thoughts.  She even has a pet crow who lives on top of her literal bird’s nest head of hair.

Sadie is a sweet and naturally intelligent girl.  She longs to learn to read but is forbidden by Roy, who beats her for no reason other than boredom.  “The face in the cracked mirror shows another loose tooth, a split lip, and a eye turning purple. I don’t see me no more in that slice of looking glass. It’s a strange feeling thinking the face in the mirror is somebody else.”   The townsfolk aren’t blind to Sadie’s struggles, and almost all like her, but feel there is nothing they can do to intervene between man and wife.  She is even abandoned by her grandmother, although she sees the bruised Sadie every Sunday at church.

This tale is so good that I was surprised to learn that it is a debut novel.  Weiss has published many short stories, but this is her first novel. She catches and weaves together compelling voices from a part of America that many of us are not familiar. It reads like a song by Loretta Lynn, who is Sadie’s idol. Roy once catches her having fun while singing along with Ms. Lynn on their radio, one of their few possessions.  He immediately smashes the radio to destroy her only form of pleasure.  But have no fear, for Birdie and Kate are keeping an eye out for Sadie.  I don’t want to ruin the ending but these two women are not afraid of intervening in a marriage.

Weiss wrote deeply human characters whom I will not easily forget.  In fact, her novel has me thinking about how hatred can begin.  The characters’ isolation from 1970 American culture leaves them at a disadvantage.   They are a racist people simply because this is their reality. The limitation of their world traps them, reminding me of all the hate groups that are in our current headlines.  How easy it can be to create a child who grows to believe that it’s a man’s right to beat his wife or hate anyone different from themselves.  The author’s roots are simple and deeply southern.  She is a mountain girl at heart. Weiss didn’t start writing till her mid-fifties, making her my idol.   She states that this book is from her mom’s memoirs.  What a haunting, insightful, story her daughter has created giving this reviewer an insightful education in the history of the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains.

 

This is an Advanced Review Copy (ARC

This is an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) book.  I received this novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read

“Mrs. Fletcher” by Tom Perrotta

Mini-Review

Genre:         Adult General Fiction

Publisher:    Scribner

Pub. Date:   August 1, 2017

If there is such a thing as naïve pornography, this is such a book. The author, Tom Perrotta is a comedic writer. I have enjoyed his previous work, but this one fell flat somewhere in the middle. The story begins with Mrs. Fletcher, a divorced single mom, on the day her spoiled white privileged son is leaving for college (you know he is going to make a great frat boy). His mom hears his girlfriend giving him a goodbye gift, fellatio. She also hears her son blurt out derogatory things about women in the midst of sex. Now his mother thought she was doing a great job when she went way out of her comfort zone and asked her son in a drug store if he needed condoms for college, but she is shocked to realize her kid has boorish manners towards his girlfriend.

Immediately after this incident they get in the car to drive to his campus (of course she packed everything and brought it all in the car by herself while he was receiving his gift”. I did laugh at loud while reading her contradictory thoughts on what to say to her son. She knows she needs to tell him that disrespecting women is not the type of man he should want to be. But then again, she doesn’t want to ruin the ride, which she was hoping would be a bonding time for them. But then again, he falls asleep, should she wake him or not? Around and around again her thoughts go as if they are stuck in her washing machine’s spin cycle. Clearly, the book does open with a bang.

After a few days of empty nest syndrome, she accidently discovers online porn. It starts off innocently enough. On campus she meets her son’s roommate (she is very disappointed because he his is a carbon copy of her son and not a boy who will help her own kid grow). Well, it seems the roommate sent her a text with only initials, “MILF.”  She has no idea what this means, of course she looks it up online. It is here where she finds endless MILF porn theme websites. And so her addiction begins.

This is when she decides to become a 2017 Mrs. Robinson, not only by watching porn but by also living it. Unfortunately, for me this is also when the book went from a bang to a whimper. Perrotta’s spot-on suburban satire stays throughout the book, but the plot becomes overkill after a while. How many times did I really want to read about her branching out sexually?  She plays around with being straight, gay or bisexual with her young partners.    All while having the same contradicting type of thoughts she experienced while driving her son to college.  Stuck in the spin cycle. It becomes tiresome. This is a funny book about sex and morality that is way too predictable for my taste. Not Perrotta’s best, but then again (as Mrs. Fletcher would wonder) maybe it’s just not for me.

 

This is an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) book.  I received this novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

 

Find all my reviews at https://books6259.wordpress.com/

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read

 

 

 

 

“Watch Me Disappear” by Janelle Brown

Watch Me DisappearGenre:        Mystery & Thrillers

Publisher:  Random House

Pub. Date:   July 11, 2017

Mini-Review

This novel focuses on a close-knit family.  Often thought of as a perfect family (and we all know there is no so such thing), which consists of a father, mother and teenage daughter.  The mother has been missing for a year and is presumed dead.  The dad is convinced that his wife died on a weekend hiking trip that she went on alone, while the daughter holds on to hope that she is still alive.  Especially now that she has been having visions of her mom, which may be real or just a side effect from a brain trauma that will heal itself with time and medication.  So daughter and dad are at odds.  Except the dad has recently learned that his wife has been lying to him about other weekends when he thought she went hiking with a friend.  He wonders, for different reasons, that maybe his daughter is correct and his wife is still alive. So he and his daughter begin a hunt to find their missing loved one.  There are many similar novels out there but this one manages to succeed in feeling real, dad and daughter’s honest confusion, did she die, did she just leave us? A tough question to think about particularly while they are still dealing with their grief.   Did they ever know the wife/mom at all if she is someone capable of walking away from her family? The reader will meet a host of intriguing characters, you will meet a psychic, the missing lady’s ex-boyfriend who happens to be a hippy ex-con, a grandmother who never met her granddaughter and all of them add to the mystery of just who the wife/mother really was. Even though I guessed the ending of the story, I found the tale to be a page-turner with many twists. It is not the kind of book that keeps you up at night thinking about the characters still, it is a good beach read.  I have never really met a person similar to the protagonist, have you?

This is an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) book.  I received this novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read

“Manipulated Lives” by H.A. Leuschel

Genre:         Adult Fiction

Publisher :  Indie BookManipulated Lives

Pub. Date:  June 8, 2016

Mini-Review

The author approached me to review her book and I accepted. This book consists of five short stories. All have one narcissistic character abusing each protagonist. When I saw the cover with the image of a distraught young woman, I was afraid I had a YA book that often contains poor writing. My thoughts seemed to have been confirmed when I read that the first story was entitled “Tess and Tattoos.” But I was wrong. Tess happens to be an old woman in a nursing home. This was my favorite out of the collection having a twist I never saw coming. I enjoyed them all and thought that the author has fine skills. My only criticism is that I wished she had included other stories with a different theme in the collection. After awhile, for me, the same subject matter became monotonous. The abuse on the victims lost its punch. Maybe that is because I have a clinical background and am tired of reading about the disorder. Still, the author does a great job on nailing narcissism. Overall, each story was engrossing and I recommend buying the book. If you are not familiar with the term Narcissistic Personality Disorder, these novellas are an eye-opener.

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read