Category Archives: Fiction

Review: The Weight of This World by David Joy

Title: The Weight of This World by David Joy
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 270 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

Critically acclaimed author David Joy, whose debut, Where All Light Tends to Go, was hailed as “a savagely moving novel that will likely become an important addition to the great body of Southern literature” (The Huffington Post), returns to the mountains of North Carolina with a powerful story about the inescapable weight of the past.

A combat veteran returned from war, Thad Broom can’t leave the hardened world of Afghanistan behind, nor can he forgive himself for what he saw there. His mother, April, is haunted by her own demons, a secret trauma she has carried for years. Between them is Aiden McCall, loyal to both but unable to hold them together. Connected by bonds of circumstance and duty, friendship and love, these three lives are blown apart when Aiden and Thad witness the accidental death of their drug dealer and a riot of dope and cash drops in their laps. On a meth-fueled journey to nowhere, they will either find the grit to overcome the darkness or be consumed by it.

Review:

The Weight of This World by David Joy is a gritty and somewhat dark novel about three people who are trying to escape their unhappy lives.

In the poverty-stricken Appalachians, Thad Broom, his mom April Trantham and childhood friend Aiden McCall are attempting to change their lives.  Thad is an Afghanistan veteran who is fed up with the snail’s pace of the VA and unable to forget what happened during his tour, he relies on alcohol and meth to keep his demons at bay.   April is finally free of her abusive husband but she has been unable to move past the damage wrought by the circumstances of Thad’s conception or her parents’ and the townspeople’s reaction to her unwed pregnancy.  Despite his own tragic past, Aiden is trying his best to live an honest life but the downturn in the economy leaves him struggling to find a job. He is also trying to keep Aiden from self-destructing after their drug dealer dies and they make the decision to claim his stash of drugs, cash and weapons. In an ever increasing downward spiral fueled by lack of sleep and too much alcohol and meth, Thad makes a terrible mistake that Aiden desperately tries to fix but can he save his friend from himself?

While at one time Aiden had a loving family, Thad was never that lucky.  April never made any secret that she loathed her son and with her blessing, her husband set him up in his own trailer on their property when he was a child.  After Aiden runs away from foster care, Thad convinces April to make take the necessary steps for him to stay with them and the two boys are thick as thieves even after Thad joins the Army. Aiden remains living on the property and working in construction until the housing market crash puts him out of work.  He is still managing to hold it together even though he is not exactly making an honest living. After he returns from Afghanistan, Thad refuses to get help for his PTSD and instead chooses to self-medicate with alcohol and meth. Following the death of her husband, April is making plans for her future that will impact both Thad and Aiden if they come to fruition.

After the shocking death of their drug dealer, Aiden and Thad make a split second decision to steal his stash but things quickly go downhill when Thad invites a couple of girls to party with them.  Unable to keep Thad under control, Aiden eventually carries through with their original plan to profit off their newfound windfall. However, nothing goes as planned for either men and their situation quickly goes from bad to worse.  Will either of them find a way out from under the crushing weight of their bad choices and abject poverty?

The Weight of This World is a harsh and violent novel that is a heartbreakingly realistic portrait of life in rural America. The characters are difficult to like (even though it is impossible not to feel sympathy for Aiden) and while they are trapped by their own poor choices, they are also victims of circumstances that are out of their control to some degree. David Bell is a gifted writer who exposes the darker side of life but in doing so, he educates readers about how difficult it is to make a living in economically depressed areas in the United States. A very worthwhile read that is quite thought-provoking and very poignant.

1 Comment

Filed under Contemporary, David Joy, Fiction, GP Putnams Sons, Rated B, Review, The Weight of This World

Review: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

Title: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis
Publisher: Hogarth
Genre: Historical (80s, 90s), Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction

Just before Henry Aster’s birth, his father—outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow—reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writing desk of this fiercely brilliant man. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son’s reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again.

Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, THE BARROWFIELDS is a breathtaking debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparative power of shared pasts.

Review:

Set in a rural town in the Appalachian Mountains,The Barrowfields is a melancholy yet interesting debut by Phillip Lewis.

After tragedy strikes their family, young Henry Aster reminisces about his father, also named Henry, who managed to leave his rural roots only to return with his pregnant wife, Eleonore, when his mother’s health begins to fail.  Henry Sr is a prodigious reader with dreams of writing of his own novel and works as a lawyer to support his family. After winning a lucrative case, he purchases a rather spooky house that overlooks the town where he works on his novel while drinking heavily.  Following a tragic loss, young Henry eventually follows in his father’s footsteps as he leaves for college only to eventually return to his birthplace where he must finally come to terms with the events that occurred before striking out on his own.

The flashbacks from Henry Jr about his childhood offer a somewhat bleak portrait of his rather dysfunctional family.  Henry Sr spends night after night writing his novel and drinking which leaves Henry Jr. taking on paternal duties with his much younger sister Threnody.  Most of Henry’s reminiscences focus on his dad with only passing mention of his mom, Eleonore, who is apparently quite devoted to her husband.  After Henry’s paternal grandmother passes away, Henry’s family undergoes a few changes that end in tragedy and culminate with Henry Sr.’s continued downward spiral.

The pacing of the novel picks up when Henry Jr goes to college where he also goes on to law school.  He spends a lot of his time drinking and mooning over  Story, the young woman who has stolen his heart.  However, Story has her own drama to contend with but Henry is a willing participant in her quest to attain answers that no one is willing to give.  It is not until Henry returns to face his own past that he figures out the truth she has searching for.  In the process of coming to terms with his family’s history, Henry attempts to repair his long fractured relationship with Threnody.

Although a bit slow paced, The Barrowfields is an imaginative debut novel.  Phillip Lewis brings the setting vibrantly to life and it is quite easy to visualize the rural town and its inhabitants.  The characters are richly developed and life-like with all too human frailties and foibles.  An atmospheric coming of age novel that leaves readers hopeful Henry Jr and Threnody will find a way to avoid repeating the mistakes that took their father down a somewhat dark path.

1 Comment

Filed under Fiction, Historical, Historical (80s), Historical (90s), Hogarth, Phillip Lewis, Rated B, Review, The Barrowfields

Review: A Million Little Things by Susan Mallery

Title: A Million Little Things by Susan Mallery
Mischief Bay Series Book Three
Publisher: Harlequin
Imprint: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Romance
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the bestselling author of The Girls of Mischief Bay and The Friends We Keep comes a twisty tale of family dynamics that explores what can go terribly, hysterically wrong when the line between friendship and family blurs… 

Zoe Saldivar is more than just single—she’s ALONE. She recently broke up with her longtime boyfriend, she works from home and her best friend Jen is so obsessed with her baby that she has practically abandoned their friendship. The day Zoe accidentally traps herself in her attic with her hungry-looking cat, she realizes that it’s up to her to stop living in isolation.

Her seemingly empty life takes a sudden turn for the complicated—her first new friend is Jen’s widowed mom, Pam. The only guy to give her butterflies in a very long time is Jen’s brother. And meanwhile, Pam is being very deliberately seduced by Zoe’s own smooth-as-tequila father. Pam’s flustered, Jen’s annoyed and Zoe is beginning to think “alone” doesn’t sound so bad, after all.

Friendship isn’t just one thing—it’s a million little things, and no one writes them with more heart and humor than book club sensation Susan Mallery!

Review:

A Million Little Things is a delightfully engaging and captivating addition to Susan Mallery’s marvelous Mischief Bay series.  Although this latest release is the third installment in the series, it can be read as a standalone but I highly encourage readers to pick up the previous two novels in this wonderful series.

Zoe Saldivar has not noticed how solitary her life has become until she is accidentally locked in her attic.  Vowing to make some changes, she tries to reconnect with her best friend Jen Beldon, but with Jen obsessing over her eighteen month old son, Jack, there seems to be little room for friendship in her life.  She is also friends with Jen’s widowed mother, Pam Eiland, who, after listening to Zoe’s problems, decides to play matchmaker between her young friend and her son, Steven.  Their budding romance is going surprisingly well when Zoe receives very unexpected and life-altering news. This complication has a surprising effect on virtually everyone’s relationships including Pam’s relationship with Zoe’s dad, Miguel Saldivar. Will Pam continue to alienate the people her life? Or will she figure out a way to repair her mistakes before it is too late?

Zoe has recently ended her five year relationship and she is regretting some of the choices she made based on where she thought their romance was headed.  While she misses some aspects of her former career, she is not sure she wants to return to it.  While she mostly enjoys her current job, Zoe is uncertain whether working from home is right for her.  She would like to begin dating again, but she has few opportunities to meet men.  When Steven offers to help her with a home repair, she is surprised by how attractive she finds Jen’s brother.  Their relationship is off to an uneventful beginning when Zoe gets very unexpected news that leaves her very uncertain about her future with Steven especially after Pam’s shocking reaction.

Jen has been a stay at home mom since giving birth to Jack and while she has her son’s best interests at heart, she is extremely over-protective of him.  Although Jack is a happy, healthy and well-adjusted little boy, his failure to reach a certain milestone has Jen desperately searching for answers.  She is also quite worried about her husband, Kirk’s new job with the LAPD and she dislikes everything about his new partner, Lucas.  With her anxieties reaching a new high, Jen resents everyone’s suggestion to relax and not worry so much about everything.  She receives advice from a very unexpected source but will she act on it?

Although Pam has been widowed for two years, she still feels married to her beloved husband.  She has a busy, fulfilled life and she loves to travel.  She has a great relationship with her children, but she is very frustrated with Jen’s obsession over keeping Jack safe from anything that could possibly harm him.  When Zoe receives news that turns her life upside down, Pam’s first concern is for what this information could mean for Steven.  Instead of her loving support, she stuns everyone with the advice she gives to her son.  With several of her relationships on very shaky ground, Pam stands by her opinion, but will she eventually change her mind?

A Million Little Things is a touching novel with three interwoven storylines that are heartwarming and thought-provoking.  All of the characters are well-developed with realistic strengths and weakness that are very easy to relate to.  The story arcs are quite diverse and it is quite fascinating watching the various characters try to overcome the problems they are facing. The romance between Zoe and Steven is very sweet and despite outside conflict and a stunning development, their relationship lacks unnecessary angst or drama. Another outstanding installment in Susan Mallery’s  Mischief Bay series that old and new fans are going to love!

1 Comment

Filed under A Million Little Things, Contemporary, Fiction, Harlequin, Mira, Mischief Bay Series, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Susan Mallery

Review: Ashes by Steven Manchester

Title: Ashes by Steven Manchester
Publisher: Story Plant
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 272 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Middle-aged brothers Jason and Tom Prendergast thought they were completely done with each other. Perceived betrayal had burned the bridge between them, tossing them into the icy river of estrangement. But life – and death – has a robust sense of irony, and when they learn that their cruel father has died and made his final request that they travel together across the country to spread his ashes, they have no choice but to spend a long, long car trip in each other’s company. It’s either that or lose out on the contents of the envelope he’s left with his lawyer. The trip will be as gut-wrenching as each expects it to be . . . and revealing in ways neither of them is prepared for.

At turns humorous, biting, poignant, and surprisingly tender, ASHES puts a new spin on family and dysfunction with a story that is at once fresh and timelessly universal.

Review:

In Ashes by Steven Manchester, two brothers heal the rift between them on a cross-country road trip to spread their father’s ashes.

Corrections Officer Jason Prendergast and his college professor brother Tom have been estranged for the past fifteen years when they learn their abusive father has died.  In order to fulfill the terms of his will, they must embark on a cross country trip to spread his ashes in Washington state.  While neither of the brothers is overly enthusiastic about the request, they agree to follow through with his wishes. Their journey is fraught with tension as they disagree about everything from the route to take to the restaurants they choose but they also bond over shared memories from their dysfunctional childhood.  Will Tom and Jason make peace with their fractured past by the journey’s end?

Tom and Jason are complete opposites and their differences become even more obvious during their trip.  Tom is controlled with plenty of self-discipline and he is quite health conscious.   Jason, on the hand, is overweight and enjoys nothing more than a grease-laden meal and a couple beers at the end of a long day.  Tom enjoys the finer things in life whereas Jason is more comfortable in a local diner. Despite these differences, both men have similar parenting styles  and they have relatively good relationships with their children.

As they squabble their way across the United States, Jason and Tom are caught up in memories of both the good and bad things from their abusive childhood.  They also catch up on the paths their lives have taken and they are surprised to discover they do have a few things in common.  Both brothers are taken aback when their preconceived perceptions of one another are sometimes proven wrong.  While some of their discussions do not end well, other conversations result in useful observations that are unexpectedly helpful.  By the end of their journey, both Jason and Tom have made life-altering decisions that are a direct result of their time together.  When they part ways, Jason and Tom have achieved a fragile peace between them but will this be the beginning or end of their relationship?

Ashes by Steven Manchester is an interesting journey of healing and forgiveness for both Tom and Jason.  Some their interactions occasionally devolve into immature schoolboy shenanigans, but for the most part, their conversations are deep and meaningful.  All in all, a remarkable story that will resonate with anyone who has experienced a rocky relationship with any of their siblings.

1 Comment

Filed under Ashes, Contemporary, Fiction, Rated B, Review, Steven Manchester, The Story Plant

Review: Setting Free the Kites by Alex George

Title: Setting Free the Kites by Alex George
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Historical (70s), Fiction
Length: 334 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

From the author of the “lyrical and compelling” (USA Today) novel A Good American comes a powerful story of two friends and the unintended consequences of friendship, loss, and hope.

For Robert Carter, life in his coastal Maine hometown is comfortably predictable. But in 1976, on his first day of eighth grade, he meets Nathan Tilly, who changes everything. Nathan is confident, fearless, impetuous—and fascinated by kites and flying. Robert and Nathan’s budding friendship is forged in the crucible of two family tragedies, and as the boys struggle to come to terms with loss, they take summer jobs at the local rundown amusement park. It’s there that Nathan’s boundless capacity for optimism threatens to overwhelm them both, and where they learn some harsh truths about family, desire, and revenge.

Unforgettable and heart-breaking, Setting Free the Kites is a poignant and moving exploration of the pain, joy, and glories of young friendship.

Review:

Setting Free the Kites by Alex George is a nostalgic yet poignant coming of age novel which takes place on the coast of Maine during the mid seventies.

In 2016, the demolition of a long vacant paper mill is the catalyst for Robert Carter’s recollections of his long ago friendship with Nathan Tilly.  The two boys meet in 1976 after Nathan’s family relocates to Haverford from Texas.  Thirteen year old Robert notices Nathan right away, but he is more concerned about bully Hollis Calhoun than making new friends. Just as Hollis is visiting a new torture on his poor, beleaguered victim, bold and brash Nathan steps in to rescue Robert.  Nathan’s adventurous spirit and indomitable zest for life is the perfect foil for Robert’s more cautious approach to life and the two boys enjoy many fun-filled exploits over the course of their friendship.

The youngest of the Carter sons, Robert is often eclipsed by his older brother Liam who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy.  Their parents dote on Liam while his health deteriorate as his disease worsens.  Robert adores Liam yet he is ever mindful of the very different relationships the two boys have with their parents.  Not one to rock the boat (or break the rules), Robert tries to keep out of trouble and the limelight since his parents have enough to worry about with Liam’s illness.

Robert’s unexpected friendship with Nathan is one escapade after another as the two boys run free and embark on fun-filled days out of the sight of their parents.  Nathan’s unbridled optimism is a stark contrast to Robert’s fears and concerns yet Robert is always quick to overcome his doubts about whatever exploit Nathan proposes.  Even in the midst of heartbreaking losses, they manage to find a way to step outside their grief and find happiness in each other’s company.  Not even the mundane jobs they undertake at Robert’s family amusement park can put a damper on their exploits but even the strongest bonds can be tested when one of the boys discovers his first love.

While the overall story is incredibly heartfelt and enjoyable, there are a few things that occur toward the end of the novel that need mentioning.  Without giving away any spoilers, here are a few observations about the most notable revelations and plot twists.  Late in the story, one of the characters does something that is so out of character that is impossible to believe.  Heavy foreshadowing from the first chapter hints at one of the events that occurs so it should not come as a surprise to readers once it finally happens.  And the final plot twist is an absolute delight and explains an awful lot about one of the secondary characters.

Setting Free the Kites is a very moving novel of friendship that is quite compelling. The coastal setting is harsh yet beautiful Alex George brings it vibrantly to life. Robert and Nathan are wonderfully developed characters that are multi-dimensional and so life-like it is difficult to believe they are fictional.  The storyline is engaging and although each family experiences devastating losses, the boys’ adventures and natural resiliency prevent the novel from becoming bogged down in grief.  Readers will appreciate the touching epilogue that completely wraps up any loose ends.  An extremely heartwarming and engaging story that will appeal to readers of all ages.

1 Comment

Filed under Alex George, Fiction, GP Putnams Sons, Historical, Historical (70s), Rated B+, Review, Setting Free the Kites

Review: The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan

Title: The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

In The Weight of Him Billy Brennan undergoes an unforgettable journey in a startling attempt to resurrect his family and reignite hearts, his own most of all.

At four hundred pounds, Billy Brennan can always count on food. From his earliest memories, he has loved food’s colors, textures and tastes. The way flavors go off in his mouth. How food keeps his mind still and his bad feelings quiet. Food has always made everything better, until the day Billy’s beloved son Michael takes his own life.

Billy determines to make a difference in Michael’s memory and undertakes a public weight-loss campaign, to raise money for suicide prevention―his first step in an ambitious plan to save himself, and to save others. However, Billy’s dramatic crusade appalls his family, who want to simply try to go on, quietly, privately.

Despite his crushing detractors, Billy gains welcome allies: his community-at-large; a co-worker who lost his father to suicide; a filmmaker with his own dubious agenda; and a secret, miniature kingdom that Billy populates with the sub-quality dolls and soldiers he saves from disposal at the toy factory where he works. But it is only if Billy can confront the truth of the suffering and brokenness within and around him that he and others will be able to realize the recovery they need.

Told against the picturesque yet haunting backdrop of rural, contemporary Ireland, The Weight of Him is a big-hearted novel about loss and reliance that moves from tragedy to recrimination to what can be achieved when we take the stand of our lives.

Review:

The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan is a heartbreaking, poignant and uplifting novel of healing.

Following his oldest son Michael’s inexplicable suicide, Billy Brennan wants to make his son’s life and death matter.  Billy’s plan to raise money and public awareness about suicide is not well received by his family yet he does not let their lack of support stop him.  Publicly vowing to lose 200 pounds, he  puts up flyers and pledge sheets around town and embarks on his weight loss campaign.  Despite a few initial setbacks, Billy comes up with a diet and exercise plan that he sometimes struggles to stick to but with his new friend Denis Morrissey’s help, he begins shedding pounds.  While his ambitious undertaking takes a toll on his relationship with his family, Billy remains fully committed to his cause.  Will his efforts to raise money and public awareness for suicide prevention pay off?  Can he meet his weight loss goal?  Will Billy and his family heal from their terrible loss?

In the aftermath of Michael’s suicide, Billy and his wife Tricia are both trying to understand why their son took his own life.  Tricia just wants their life to return to some semblance of normal and she does not understand why Billy would do anything to bring more attention to their family.  Their children are, of course, struggling just as much as Billy and Tricia.  Fifteen year old John is angry and Billy is often a target of his furious outbursts.  Twelve year old Anna tries to play peacemaker as her parents’ relationship continues to deteriorate.  Nine year old Ivor is a lot like his father and harboring numerous regrets over his self perceived failings, Billy tries to help his youngest son make healthier choices.

Billy’s struggles with weight began during childhood and over the years, he has lost weight only to gain it back time and again.  Having finally given up on diets a few years ago, his weight continues to climb as he binges on his favorite foods in secret.  His relationship with food is complicated and at times, turning away from the comfort he derives from it is almost a herculean task  for Billy. The passages that detail Billy’s shame and low self-esteem from his excess weight are absolutely heartwrenching to read but they provide readers with a discerning glimpse into the struggles he is experiencing.

Equally devastating are effects that Michael’s suicide have on Billy and his family.  Everyone processes their grief differently but they are all grappling to understand why Michael took his own life.  No one is able to pinpoint anything in his behavior that should have been a red flag which makes it very difficult for them to move forward in the grieving process.  Trying to articulate their feelings for their loss is virtually impossible and Billy is helpless to bridge the growing distance between him and his family.  Even more bewildering to him is their lack of understanding for his need to raise public awareness in an effort to prevent another family from losing a loved one to suicide.

The Weight of Him is an emotionally compelling novel that is fast paced and engaging. Ethel Rohan handles very difficult subject matter with sensitivity and provides readers with an insightful perspective about the importance of eliminating the social stigma that surrounds both suicide and obesity.  An absolutely breathtaking journey of healing that is sad yet ends on a hopeful note.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

1 Comment

Filed under Contemporary, Ethel Rohan, Fiction, Rated B+, Review, St Martin's Press, The Weight of Him