The Last One, by Alexandra Oliva****

thelastoneThose that occasionally hole up on their days off and binge on reality TV shows will love this book; those that don’t will love it too.  This reviewer has never watched a single episode of “Survivor” or any other reality-survival show, and yet once I began reading this novel, it elbowed aside all the other books I was reading till I was done. Thanks go to Net Galley and Random House Ballantine for the DRC, which I received in exchange for this honest review.

In an interesting twist, readers are told up front that part way through this competition, most of the other contestants, along with the cameraman, producer, and a number of other support staff that would ordinarily be in charge of extricating her or announcing her victory, will die. Our protagonist, whom the show’s producers call “Zoo” because she has a job involving animals in real life, won’t know that the show is over, because the people in charge of telling her will be gone.  And so the suspenseful aspect of this story for readers is at what point does the competition actually end, and once we are sure it’s over, when will Zoo figure it out? What will she find when she finally makes it home, assuming she does?

 

The production team tries to get everyone out, but they’re on Solo Challenges and widespread. There were contingency emergency plans in place, but not for this. It’s a spiral like that child’s toy; a pen on paper, guided by plastic. A pattern, then something slips and—madness. Incompetency and panic collide. Good intentions give way to self-preservation.

 

Oliva is a champ when it comes to examining media and its effect on the thinking of ordinary people living in the real world, and in this case, even in a virtual one. And as the competition begins, we see how real people are being warped and cast as characters for a viewing audience; a sympathetic  contestant’s ungentle words during a stressful moment are edited out; an introverted, serious individual is billed as arrogant, and so his small acts of kindness will be cut from the final film.

It’s an unreal sort of reality programming, stories retold to make them more saleable to the viewing audience. Oliva nails the way that mainstream media manipulates our thinking; it’s one reason I watch so little television, but it’s not a book that will ruin your favorite shows for you.

Those looking for an absorbing beach read or a thriller to curl up with at the family cabin could do a lot worse.  This guilty pleasure becomes available to the public July 12, 2016.

The Fat Artist and Other Stories, by Benjamin Hale*****

Happy release day! Today this title and another winner, Everyone Brave is Forgiven,  hit the shelves. I don’t reblog all titles upon release; only the ones I really like. Don’t let the cover scare you away, because once I had gotten into the title story, I understood why this was exactly the right cover art. Happy reading!

Seattle Book Mama

thefatartistI like short stories. My Goodreads library tells me I have munched my way through 89 collections and anthologies; yet I can tell you that there is nothing even remotely similar to what Hale offers here. Thanks go to Simon and Schuster and Net Galley for permitting me to view the DRC for the purpose of an honest review. You should get a copy May 17, 2016 when it is released, so that when it is immediately banned by various school boards you will know what they’re screaming about.

The ribbon that binds these brilliant, bizarre tales is that each of them features a social outlier as a protagonist. We start with the airline flight from hell in “Don’t Worry Baby”; you have doubtless flown at least once on a flight with a small child whose mother you long to smack upside the head for her dreadful parenting skills, but…

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Note of Thanks; I’ll Be Back Soon!

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This week marks this blog’s second anniversary! I note with satisfaction that although my number of followers has climbed slowly, it has climbed rather than fallen. Thank you for making the journey with me.

The blog still hasn’t made money, and this week, as I took some seriously cute photos and vid clips of our new beagle puppy, I realized that if I threw the clips up on YouTube or converted my blog from books to beagles, I could probably find a much quicker income. And just as quickly I decided not to do that. There are already so many entertaining puppy blogs and videos, and if I did that, I could not also make the time and energy to do this. Nevertheless, here’s one picture to show you what I’ve been up to:

Ox day 1

For another few days things will be slow here at Seattle Book Mama. I am teaching our new family member not to eat the cables, walk on tables, nor attempt to access the kitchen counter. He has lived the first months of his life in a kennel, and so when I brought him home Tuesday, it was the first time he had come to live in a house. And for a breed reputed to have a low IQ compared to others, I have to say he’s coming along nicely.

So there will be new posts soon. I have finished reading Love for Lydia; Chancers; Friendly Fire; and Grant and Sherman, by Charles Bracelin Flood. In other words, a romance; a memoir that also deals with addiction and the criminal justice system in the US; biography blended with history of Vietnam War; and another memoir that deals with the American Civil War. And when I curl up at night, the books that have my attention are historical fiction (French Revolution); literary fiction; and mystery. All told, it’s a good cross sampling of much of what I’ve been doing, and so you can expect more of it soon.

Thank you again for your support these two years, and you can expect this note to be replaced with a new blog entry within the next week.

Donna Davis

Seattle Book Mama

Miller’s Valley, by Anna Quindlen*****

Happy release day! This title shines among the 2016 releases I have read so far, and it’s been a great year for fiction. If you haven’t ordered a copy, I urge you to do so.

Seattle Book Mama

MillersValeyMiller’s Valley is an intimate, poignant story so personal that it is hard to remember that it’s fiction rather than a memoir. Thanks to Net Galley and Random House for the DRC. Though I usually read several DRC’s at a time, this was the one I saved for the end of the day, for that time when the phone stops ringing, the dogs quit barking, the family doesn’t need my attention, and there’s nobody at the front door. During those deep, silent hours I immersed myself into the life of Mimi Miller, hypnotized as if my best friend were perched on the bed spilling out her secrets.

If you love good literary fiction, you have to read this book!

The Millers are a family of working farmers. Day by day, inch by inch, water is claiming their land. Shifty business is going on between a developer, who wants to build…

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My Life on the Road, by Gloria Steinem*****

I’ve been thinking a lot about Steinem since the recent unfortunate episode on a TV talk show. I was heartsick. What woman gets past 80 without a single regrettable senior moment? But most of us will be fortunate enough to have a spouse, partner, adult child, or other companion who will take us aside and suggest we rethink what we’re doing or saying. “Mom, I’m getting a little worried. Can we check your meds? What do you think?”

But Steinem doesn’t have that sort of support system. The women that were closest to her for a long, long time are already dead.

So I republish this blog post asking you to think, not about the single magic moment, for which she later apologized, but instead, for all the amazing accomplishments and selfless deeds she has done on behalf of women, and for her willingness in a time when most of white America kept to itself, to learn at the feet of women of color.

Because this is her legacy; her real one.

Seattle Book Mama

mylifeontheroadFeminist heroes are everywhere, but if I had to name half a dozen women that were at the core of the feminist movement that followed closely on the heels of the Civil Rights movement and the movement to end the US war in Vietnam, Steinem’s name would be among them. In fact, hers might be the first name out of my mouth. It was she who coined the salutation “Ms”, and who founded Ms. Magazine. When I saw she had written a memoir, I knew I had to have it, and when Net Galley and Random House gave me the DRC, I was delighted. But this is one of the few books that if I’d had to, I’d have been willing to pay full jacket price in order to read. Heroes are thin on the ground these days, and we treasure those that still walk among us.

My reading records…

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Dang Near Dead, by Nancy G. West**

Note to the reader:  A small drought sometimes occurs between publication times; the spring galleys are out now, and I am happily reading them. The review below was written during the brief time (less than 4 months during 2013) during which I was reading and reviewing DRCs, but had not yet begun my blog. Below is an unfavorable review for a badly written book, but here’s the stand-up thing about the publisher: because my review was so specific in areas I saw needing remediation, Henery Publishers auto-approved me to read their galleys after I wrote it. You’ve got to admit, that’s great.  In a few days, I will have current reviews ready for you to read, but in the meantime…

dangneardeadDear god. What was I thinking?

I had a case of the blues, and I noted my reading material was all on the dark side: Nixon, Goebbels, the Battle of Antietam…maybe I needed something to lighten things up a bit, something fun, something a little bit fluffy. I spotted this title on Net Galley, and I knew it was a risk that it would be too cutesy-pie for my taste. But upon reflection, I had enjoyed cozy mysteries by Sophie Littlefield (A Bad Day for Sorry) and Sarah Shankman (Digging Up Momma; The King is Dead), and I noted that West had won a Lefty award for humorous writing. Why not give it a try?

Why not indeed.

How can one writer manage to stuff every stereotype–many of them sexist–into one really dumb book? I don’t say these things lightly. I write here and there myself, and I try to remember that writers have feelings too. But honestly…references to needing time (on a trip to a Texas ranch) “to primp before the barbecue” and another character noting that since the clown keeps his makeup in the cooler to keep it from separating, that maybe they should keep theirs in there too…really?  Maybe it was intended to be humorous, but it fell wide of the mark. Actually, the clown was the only redeeming character in the book.

The protagonist, Aggie, has a thing for the sheriff; has this been done to death already or has it not? When spotted in a compromising situation, she distracts him by kissing him, then pushing him away. Does yes mean no, or does no mean yes?

Every overused plot device will at some point be used successfully by someone else. The previously mentioned Littlefield has done the leading-the-sheriff-on routine and done it well at times. But to use a device that is essentially old and tired, a writer needs to be so exemplary–and now I am thinking of James Lee Burke–that we completely forget that the schtick has been used before, because we are so deeply engaged by the characters and the situation in which they find themselves.

I have never thrown an e-reader. It is a good way to break an expensive device. I didn’t do it this time either…but I came close.

Recommended exclusively for the brain dead, just in time for Halloween.

The Disappeared, by Roger Scruton***

thedisappearedThe Disappeared was published in UK, and is now available to readers in the USA. Scruton shines a spot light on victims of domestic violence, trafficking, and rape. It’s a timely issue, and no one can read his story and walk away unmoved. Thanks go to Bloomsbury Reader for inviting me to read and review the DRC free in exchange for an honest review. This book is available to the public tomorrow, February 26.

The stories evolve around three women’s stories; we have Sharon, Muhibbah, and the reader is the third, with the narrative switching to the second person, a woman being abducted and raped on board a ship: “…you are nothing but female meat.”

The default for the second-person character is female, which I found gutsy and laudable. Unfortunately, positive treatment of women in this novel begins and ends here…and the second-person character is going to be raped right away.

Justin and Stephen are the two goodhearted men that are trying to assist Muhibbah and Sharon, both of whom are being cruelly abused at home. In each case, it is an immigrant that is doing the abusing. And here I winced.

On the one hand, I can see that Scruton is letting us know that the cultural mores of Islam should not be considered a legitimate excuse for domestic abuse. He clearly can’t do that without including a Muslim woman. Yet if we could have some positive depiction of a Muslim individual somewhere within the text to cut across the stereotype that is so widespread, and which this novel tends to embrace, it would make for better literature and a fairer accounting. Because not all Muslim families hurt their women. I have taught Muslim girls in Seattle that are well educated and whose parents permit them to choose what their futures will hold. Scruton’s depiction of only sneaky, violent, and abusive Muslims makes for a two dimensional telling, which is a shame, because his academic background and word-smithery indicate he is capable of better things.

The central part of the novel slows, and here the plot drags when the writer tries to do too much with a single story. Justin lapses into philosophical musing, which would perhaps work for mainstream fiction or romance genres, but not as much for a suspenseful, missing-woman mystery or thriller. The character worries about the environment, and a lot of detail is given to wind farms and solar panels that not only fails to move the plot forward, but brings all action to a halt. He loses himself in heavy metal music, and several pages are suddenly devoted to hard rock. What? Why? Scruton is by trade a philosopher above all else, but to write a strong thriller, the message has to be driven home through story only. A drifting inner narrative in the midst of what has been action, action, and more action leaves the reader feeling cheated.

Toward the end of the novel, the pace quickens once more, and ultimately the three narratives are braided together at the story’s end in a way that is masterful.

Spoiler: don’t read past this point if you want the ending to be a complete surprise.

I find myself perturbed at the gender stereotypes that seem to belong to another era. Women here are either victims, sex objects, or both. The only female professional is one that steps in as a bureaucrat and foils the rescue effort one of our two male heroes is attempting. In addition, I found myself wondering why neither man can use his position and authority to lend comfort and aid without either becoming sexually involved with the girl or woman he is trying to help, or wanting to do so. The 16 year old girl that can’t get over her crush on the older male teacher and immediately drops her clothes for him despite his reticence sounds like something out of a men’s magazine. No, no, and no.

Scruton is an experienced writer, and is eloquent in painting a portrait of abused women hidden in plain view in the major urban centers of Western, developed nations. If he can cut across stereotypes and introduce greater complexity as he develops his characters, the next novel will be even better.

Try Not to Breathe, by Holly Seddon*****

Reblogging this one because today is its release day. Hugely original.

Seattle Book Mama

trynottobreatheTry Not to Breathe is the sort of book that steals into your senses and takes over your life until it is done.I was invited to read and review this title by Net Galley and Random House Ballantine. My thanks go to both.  I fed it to myself into intentionally small bites at first, because I read several hours before I go to sleep, and under no circumstances did I want this story anywhere in my dreams. On Friday I hit the halfway mark, and immediately realized that Seddon’s novel would occupy my Saturday, period.

It’s a story that will make you put the cereal in the fridge and the milk in a cupboard. But on the other hand, it’s a terrific book to be snowed-in with.

Our premise is that Amy, a fifteen year old girl that was savagely beaten by a party unknown, has been unconscious in the…

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Bonita Faye, by Margaret Moseley****

It’s release day! Reblogging Bonita Faye. Fun and full of adventure.

Seattle Book Mama

bonitafayeBrash Books has a new release, and it’s exactly the kind of novel you’d want to take to a warm sandy beach, or perhaps just to curl up with while the snow falls. I was permitted an advance glimpse, courtesy of Brash Books Priority Reviewers Circle. It was originally published in 1997, but due to be released again February 23, 2016. You’re in for a good time with this one.

Bonita Faye is our protagonist, of course, and although her story has been compared to Fannie Farmer’s work, I found her to be more of a female, less extreme version of Forrest Gump. The narrative begins in a dialect that is semi-literate; the setting is partly in Poteau, Oklahoma and partly elsewhere. Bonita Faye is born poor and without any real source of support, but rises above it through means that are both ingenious and at times, very funny. Although…

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Missing Pieces, by Heather Gudenkauf****

Seattle Book Mama

missingpiecesSarah and Jack Quinlan are called to his family’s home in Penny Gate, Iowa when Jack’s aunt is in a serious accident. Julia is not just any aunt; she has been his surrogate mother following the death of both his parents in a car accident. At least, that’s what he tells Sarah. But as she soon finds out, she has been misled about Jack’s early life; in fact, she’s been lied to. What she has to find out on her own is where the lies end and the truth begins.

Thank you twice, once to Net Galley and again to MIRA publishing house for the DRC, which I received in exchange for an honest review. This book is available for purchase February 2, 2016.

Gudendauf is an experienced writer with two best sellers under her belt already. Her expertise shows. One revelation after another darkens the novel, creating an ominous…

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