“Fensetter Falls” by Jack Young

Genre:  General Fiction/HumorFensetter Falls
Pub. Date:  May 14, 2019

I am starting to wonder if I am the only person who has read this novel or even heard of Jack Young.   After finishing the book I googled the author to learn that he has written two other novels. When I googled “Fensetter Falls,” I could find it on sale in all the usual places, but not one single review on any of the standard reviewer websites. So, I may be the first to tell you that this is a dark comedy.  At times it is very funny.  At other times it drags out.

So here is what we got: Two over-the-top wealthy brothers who have never worked a day in their lives.  They also happen to hate one another.  One is an obnoxiously pious (and probably insane) clergyman wannabe.  The other is an obnoxious drunk who is a woman chaser.  They come home to New Hampshire for Thanksgiving to learn that the family estate is now broke and so are they.  We meet their mother who lives in denial regarding the mental health of her religious son. Their father is simply a dirty old man who enjoys nothing more than to cop a feel on any attractive female. Then we meet a woman from NYC who is a gypsy con-artist raising her streetwise, twelve-year-old nephew.  They both move in with the family.  Throw in a tax lawyer who loves Fensetter Falls, which is her hometown.  And, the sweet local cop who is trying to get the attention of the gypsy but he is clumsy with his interactions with females. There is also the lovable town’s sheriff who will remind you of Barney Fife. Oh, I almost forgot, you will also read about a near-sighted hitman who is sensitive in his own weird way. He too moves in with the family. The mother views him as an Italian, cultured European.  Now keep that all straight in your head. Actually, Young does a good job of balancing all his kooky secondary characters into the plot.

The whole story is a hoot. However, at times there is excessive detail similar to a comedian’s monologue that goes on too long and ceases to be funny.  For example, I really didn’t need to read more than a few sentences on when the religious brother (in middle age!) discovers masturbation. Or how all the male characters enjoyed the size of the con artist’s breasts.  However, there are laughs to be had in the tale. I think what I enjoyed most about this novel is that the author seems to be having so much fun, which allowed him to write a completely unbelievable, yet witty, satire.

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

Order “Fensetter Falls” on Amazon

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/
https://www.pinterest.com/martienreco…\
https://www.amazon.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

 

 

Advertisements

“The Institute” by Stephen King

Genre:  Horror FictionThe Institute
Publisher:  Charles Scribner’s Sons
Pub. Date:  September 10, 2019

I haven’t read the great storyteller, Stephen King, in over twenty years. “It,” (the one where the preteens are against the evil clown) was the last book of his that I read until this one.  Still, I was a fan of his early work.  I enjoy his style of blending the “coming of age” genre with almost believable “horror.”  As a teen in 1974, I read “Carrie,” (who can forget that bloody prom dress) before it became a movie two years later.  His latest novel is similar to “Firestarter,” (the hunted little girl with telekinetic abilities) as well as to “It.”  In other words, it is a story of innocent preteens confronting evil. That is what caught my eye.  Writing about kids is vintage King.  One of my favorite stories by the author is “The Body.”  You may remember the film version, “Stand By Me.”  Set in early 1960, four 12-year-old boys, all from abusive families, tell their parents they will be camping out because they consider it to be a rite of passage. They really are searching for the rumored dead body of another boy.  The horror here is from their youthful imaginations and their living conditions at home. Few writers have King’s ability to create credible preteens. These four boys make corny off-color jokes about Goofy and Mickey, the sort of things that boys talk about before they discover girls. Probably, it is the coming of age part of his books that I enjoy so much.

“The Institute” is set in the present, located in, but where else, Maine, which is King’s home state and the location of most of his novels. The plot emulates “Firestarter,” and “It.” In this one there are no ghosts, devils, clowns, diabolical invaders or magical kingdoms.  The horror comes from the average people who run the place which is similar to “The Body.”  The actual institute may or may not be a secret government project.  Their purpose is to kidnap children with psychic powers and use them to dispatch of targets who are considered dangerous to human survival.  This makes the tale mostly believable.  Think “The Manchurian Candidate.”  They use the kids until they cease to exist.  As one of the kidnapped girls explains to the newbie kid, “The Institute, is like the roach motel.  You check in, but you don’t check out.”  She also tries to sooth the new boy’s fear by reprimanding the other boys who are ignoring him and playing basketball, “don’t you remember how weird it is to wake up here in what looks like your own room?” The author ensures, maybe one too many times, that these kids’ fates are similar to those children near certain US borders. Although I agree with his views on Trump, I am tired of finding the theme in my fiction.  Still, it is terrifying to read about the kids, who are hostages in the institute, who will eventually end up looking like a character from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”  Plus, the woman in charge of the “school” is portrayed as a perfect Nurse Ratched.  She represents how one can desensitize themselves to torture allowing them to dehumanize the children. Basically, King is questioning the theory that the ends can justify the means.

So, once again King writes on the battles between good and evil, just like he did in “The Stand,” (where a super flu virus makes for an apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic tale).  Like many other King fans, “The Stand” is still my favorite.  Maybe this is because in 1978 it was a fresh story. In 2019, the author seems to be rewriting his most popular books. I say, So what?  This reviewer enjoyed the blast from the Stephen King past.   From reading the book’s blurb, I knew just what it was about the book that I was looking forward to reading: a coming of age story in the most severe of situations. I wasn’t looking for something fresh.  I wasn’t looking for a literary read.  I was looking for King going back to his roots.  And that is what I got.  Sometimes, “The Institute,” unlike “The Body,” has 12-year-old slang that is questionable.  Do kids say “necking” anymore? Would they really be able to sing Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart?”  If both are not true, I do not care, it worked in this story. Plus, I would have been disappointed if he left out his trademark musical references.

In between the terror, King teases us by poking fun at himself and how long he has been at his craft. There are a pair of seven-year-old girl twins at the Institute who are reminiscent of the twins from, “The Shining,” (You know the film. “All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy”).  When one boy in the institute meets them for the first time he thinks that they are just like the twins “in some old horror movie” but he couldn’t remember the name of the film.  If you are looking for something new from the Lord of Darkness, this is not it.  If you go in knowing this, you will enjoy this creepy read about a boy who one day wakes up in a bedroom that looks just like his, but isn’t.

Purchase on Amazonhttps://amzn.to/2msKrG0

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/
https://www.amazon.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord
https://www.pinterest.com/

“The Secret Wife of Aaron Burr” by Susan Holloway Scott

Genre:  Historical FictionThe Secret Wife
Publisher:  Kensington Books
Pub. Date:  September 24, 2019

Susan Holloway Scott has written a well researched, epic tear-jerker novel that was inspired by a real-life enslaved woman, Mary Emmons. You will not find her in the many biographies of Aaron Burr. She has been forgotten by history. The author weaves together truth and fiction to tell her story and that of the American Revolution. The novel is told through Emmons’ voice to highlight the cruelty and hypocrisy of the founding fathers. They fought for liberty and freedom while they owned slaves and continued to own slaves even after they won their freedom from the English.

This is not your typical slave story of life on a big plantation. We meet Mary when she is a child in India. At the age of eight, her uncle sells her to a French woman. Her owner is unbearably cruel. Holloway Scott’s writing will make you cringe for the child. She is whipped many times and wore a collar around her neck worthy of any instrument of torture. She is then bought by the husband of Theodosia Provost of New Jersey. This is how she came to live in the American colonies. Theodosia is a kinder, but not a kind owner. When Theodosia husband dies she later marries Aaron Burr.

Mary is very bright and since she is brought to the colonies on the eve of revolution she becomes politically astute by reading the newspapers. She is taught to read by a black freeman friend who will later become more to her than a friend. The love scenes between them are tender, sweet and sad as she is not a free woman. This is when she sides with the rebels over the loyalists  because she longs for her own freedom believing their promise that if they win then all blacks will be freed.

The reader will learn so much more about Burr then what most remember of him: the duel that killed his rival Alexander Hamilton and ended Burr’s political career. The author shows as many sides of Burr as she could find. This reviewer appreciated the length of pages in the endnotes. Burr was a very interesting man—loving, determined, unbending and most of all commanding. Holloway Scott also gives us much detail regarding the two children that he and Mary had together. The reason for this is that the author found more facts on them than she could find on their mother.

Of course, the author takes liberties in Mary and Burr’s highly complicated relationship. He was her master and she was his slave. They loved one another in a way that is hard to understand. One immediately thinks of Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with Sally Hemings, his slave mistress of forty years. The author does a good job of showing how Mary and Aaron loved one another without minimizing the imbalance of power.

If you enjoy romance in your history—maybe a tad too much for those who do not (such as myself)—you will enjoy “Secret Wife.” But make no mistake, you will experience the undeniable pain that comes with war. You will also feel as if you were part of the American Revolution, getting more than a glimpse into the personalities of the famous men behind the Boston Tea Party. You may also chuckle at these constantly bickering men who drafted the Constitution. They can remind you of current times in the White House.

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

Purchase “The Secret Wife of Aaron Burr” on Amazon

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/
https://www.amazon.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

 

“Temper” by Layne Fargo

Genre: Mystery & ThrillersTemper
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Pub. Date: July 2, 2019

In this book, the theater is written as a bloody place on and off the stage, though I’m not sure why it is marketed as a mystery and thriller. It is more of a psychological drama. Think of a less kinky “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Or a not as well written version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” In a Chicago community theater, you will meet Malcolm. He is one of the theater’s co-founders, director and always one of the play’s main characters. Fargo does a good job of portraying Malcolm as a darkly charismatic creep. He has a reputation of being a merciless director doing whatever it takes for his fellow actors to give the performance he wants from them. Then there is Kira. She is the actress who finally lands the role of a lifetime in a two-person play. Guess who is her director as well as her costar?

Do you know what the term knap means in the theater? I didn’t until this novel. During a slap scene, one of the actors whacks a part of their body so the audience hears the sound of skin hitting skin. The purpose is so that no actor actually gets hurt—except when one is working with Malcolm. Kira is supposed to pretend to slap him in the face and do the knap on her bare thigh, which is not in the audience’s view. He makes her rehearse the scene for hours in a row. So she, herself, black and blues her thigh. One of her ex-boyfriends sees the massive purple bruise and angrily asks, “Did he do this?” The author is clever here. What can she say, “no, I did it to myself.” Of course not, she would sound like a fool. So instead of answering, she changes the topic by seducing him. Fargo gives Malcolm many other nasty tricks up his sleeve. He invites another of Kira’s ex-boyfriends to the opening-night rehearsal without filling her in. The purpose is to bring out her old rage at the man so she can use it in the play. No “red room,” but still lots of punishment.

If those two weren’t enough to keep the reader busy, Fargo adds in the character of Joanna. She is the other co-founder of the theater, its manager and Malcolm’s roommate. She is also his enabler. Joanna has always wanted his sole attention and views the actress as a threat. Did I mention that for over a decade she has sexually longed for him? They sleep in the same bed but do not have sex. Did I mention that the sexual tension between Malcolm and Kira is through the roof: Nothing happening between them either. Though Kira does have sex with her bi-sexual male roommate, and Joanna does have sex with another woman, and Malcolm is having sex with every other woman in the Chicago but those two —“Payton Place” 2019.

Clearly, Malcolm is the bad boy and these two women bend to his wishes. I’m guessing there are no “pink hats” in either Kira’s or Joanna’s wardrobe. This doesn’t really fly in today’s MeToo times but it does make for a decent psychological suspense story. “Temper,” is the kind of book you read just to be entertained. No real thinking required.  There are better ones out there. Still, I did appreciate Fargo’s surgeon-like precision with her characters. I bet if I read this one in the summer on a beach I may have enjoyed it more. If you are looking for a quick read with lots of twists, then I recommend Fargo’s debut novel.

PURCHASE “Temper” on Amazon

Find all my book reviews at:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr
https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/
https://www.pinterest.com/martienreco…\
https://www.amazon.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

 

 

 

“Temper” by Layne Fargo

Genre: Mystery & ThrillersTemper
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Pub. Date: July 2, 2019

In this book, the theater is written as a bloody place on and off the stage, though I’m not sure why it is marketed as a mystery and thriller. It is more of a psychological drama. Think of a less kinky “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Or a not as well written version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” In a Chicago community theater, you will meet Malcolm. He is one of the theater’s co-founders, director and always one of the play’s main characters. Fargo does a good job of portraying Malcolm as a darkly charismatic creep. He has a reputation of being a merciless director doing whatever it takes for his fellow actors to give the performance he wants from them. Then there is Kira. She is the actress who finally lands the role of a lifetime in a two-person play. Guess who is her director as well as her costar?

Do you know what the term knap means in the theater? I didn’t until this novel. During a slap scene, one of the actors whacks a part of their body so the audience hears the sound of skin hitting skin. The purpose is so that no actor actually gets hurt—except when one is working with Malcolm. Kira is supposed to pretend to slap him in the face and do the knap on her bare thigh, which is not in the audience’s view. He makes her rehearse the scene for hours in a row. So she, herself, black and blues her thigh. One of her ex-boyfriends sees the massive purple bruise and angrily asks, “Did he do this?” The author is clever here. What can she say, “no, I did it to myself.” Of course not, she would sound like a fool. So instead of answering, she changes the topic by seducing him. Fargo gives Malcolm many other nasty tricks up his sleeve. He invites another of Kira’s ex-boyfriends to the opening-night rehearsal without filling her in. The purpose is to bring out her old rage at the man so she can use it in the play. No “red room,” but still lots of punishment.

If those two weren’t enough to keep the reader busy, Fargo adds in the character of Joanna. She is the other co-founder of the theater, its manager and Malcolm’s roommate. She is also his enabler. Joanna has always wanted his sole attention and views the actress as a threat. Did I mention that for over a decade she has sexually longed for him? They sleep in the same bed but do not have sex. Did I mention that the sexual tension between Malcolm and Kira is through the roof: Nothing happening between them either. Though Kira does have sex with her bi-sexual male roommate, and Joanna does have sex with another woman, and Malcolm is having sex with every other woman in the Chicago but those two —“Payton Place” 2019.

Clearly, Malcolm is the bad boy and these two women bend to his wishes. I’m guessing there are no “pink hats” in either Kira’s or Joanna’s wardrobe. This doesn’t really fly in today’s MeToo times but it does make for a decent psychological suspense story. “Temper,” is the kind of book you read just to be entertained. No real thinking required.  There are better ones out there. Still, I did appreciate Fargo’s surgeon-like precision with her characters. I bet if I read this one in the summer on a beach I may have enjoyed it more. If you are looking for a quick read with lots of twists, then I recommend Fargo’s debut novel.

PURCHASE “Temper” on Amazon

Find all my book reviews at:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr
https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/
https://www.pinterest.com/martienreco…\
https://www.amazon.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

 

 

 

“Maggie Brown & Others: Stories” by Peter Orner

Maggie Brown

Genre:  Literary Domestic Fiction
Publisher:  Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date:  July 2, 2019

A writer friend of mine, Diane Ledet, author of Bookwinked recommended this book to me.  I am grateful for her suggestion since she introduced me to an author who captures the human condition so well in just a few short sentences.  This is the sort of book I love to read. Regarding his 2001 book, “Esther Stories,” the NYT Book Review said that  “Orner doesn’t simply bring his characters to life, he gives them souls.”   The same could be said about his latest book, which includes a novella and 44 short stories.  And by short, I mean short.  Many of the stories are around two pages long.   Still, they get under your skin.  All of the stories tend to be melancholy with an emphasis on what it means to be alive.

The opening story, “The Deer,” is one of my favorites in the collection.  A girl watches a deer become stuck in the mud after a mountain lion chases it into a lagoon.  Feeling pinned, she sits down on a log and watches the tide rise, knowing it will eventually be over the deer’s head.   When the water is up the deer’s chest, she finally gets back on her bike and leaves.  She just couldn’t stand to watch anymore. As the reader, I wanted to jump into the pages and rescue the poor creature.  The story’s power comes from the girl’s helplessness in not being able to save the deer.  Most of us have been in that terrible position of watching someone we love suffer and/or die knowing that there is nothing we can do to give them aid. It’s that agony that Orner manages to nail with limited words—very impressive.

The bittersweetness of “Ineffectual Tribute to Len” drew me in immediately. A grad student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop drives all night in a snowstorm to meet one last time with his former boss, Len, who is now dying of AIDS.  The grad student hopes to write a book about Len because he was “one of the first people to notice something, anything, in me.”  I feel confident that all writers will relate to the student who can’t manage to move his manila folder full of notes into a novel.  Still, Orner brings hope into the story.  The student does manage to write a different novel than the one that he intended to write.  He honors Len’s spirit with no mention of the source of the book’s inspiration.   Without spelling it out, Orner demonstrates to his readers how something awful can transform into something positive, even if it is simply a novel of thankfulness.  

Interestingly the story that is my least favorite is the book’s title story, “Maggie Brown.’’  The short revolves around the narrator’s college girlfriend.  “A few years ago I saw her at a Minneapolis airport…She looked right at me, didn’t know me from Adam.”  That line alone perfectly describes the sadness one can feel when they have been forgotten.   My issue is that I didn’t get as obsessed with the characters as I did in the other stories.  Still, it is a very good short.  Maybe, I was simply expecting too much since it is the title story.

My only true criticism with the shorts is that most of them left me so connected to the protagonist that I wished each story was longer.  My wish was granted in the novella of interlinked short stories revolving around the forty-year marriage of Walter and Sarah Kaplan.  The Kaplans are a constantly squabbling Jewish American couple who own a furniture business in Massachusetts. Suddenly I am reading humor and by this time I needed to laugh. The novella can have a melancholy feel, but there are many moments of comic relief that take the edge off.  Orner’s dialogue is similar to the Jewish humor of Philip Roth.   He summarizes life’s annoying and painful moments while mixing it up with zingers.  Walter says, “I dreamed you buried me in the old cemetery out on Fish Road.” Sarah asks, “Fish Road where all the ancient Jews are?”  Walter replies, “You think we’re immune from becoming ancient Jews?”  I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys literary fiction and is willing to think about their own life because Orner will force you to reflect.  I for one will be seeking out his previous work.

 Purchase this novel on Amazon

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/
https://www.pinterest.com/martienreco…\
https://www.amazon.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

 

 

 

“The Arrangement” by Robyn Harding

Genre:  Mystery & ThrillersThe Arrangement
Publisher:  Gallery/Scout Press
Publication Date:  July 30, 2019

Mini-Review

I would only recommend this book to a starving high school and a college girl who is considering entering a sugar daddy/sugar baby relationship because they have seen the movie “Pretty Woman” and believes that film was true to life.  The mystery isn’t until the very end of the book.   It feels like the author does a one-eighty.  Suddenly you are reading a murder-mystery.   Other reviewers enjoyed this novel.  You may too.  But I am surprised that I made it to the last page.  I do give the author some credit for researching and interviewing real-life sugar babies.  Still, the whole story has a feel of teenage drama, ending with a predictable twist.

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

Purchase on Amazon

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/
https://www.pinterest.com/martienreco…\
https://www.amazon.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord