Archive for May 2022

The Island by Adrian McKinty


Last year I finally got around to reading The Chain by Adrian McKinty. It was one of those books that were super hyped around the time of its release, so I bought it as quickly as I could. Then, as is far too often the case, it sat unread on my shelf. I kicked myself for waiting so long to read it! The Chain has one of the best and most original hooks of any thriller that I've ever read. I felt that the novel stumbled a bit near the end, but it made me excited to read whatever McKinty would come up with next. Lucky for me, I wouldn't have to wait long. McKinty's latest thriller The Island released earlier this month. Even luckier for me, his publisher sent me a copy of the book to review. 

Heather fast-tracked her life when she married the handsome widower Tom. Suddenly she had everything she could have ever dreamed of, the wealthy husband who adored her, a dream home, and even Tom's two children. Her life seemed set. As the newly formed family embarked on a globe-spanning vacation to Australia, nothing could have brought them down. It wasn't all sunshine and roses, though. Heather felt a sense of being unworthy of everything she had. She hadn't really earned this life. Heck, she wasn't even an actual mother, something her two stepchildren were always keen to remind her. But this trip, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit another continent, seemed like the perfect chance to cement her place in this new life. 

The trip isn't without its commitments. Tom has to speak at a conference later that day. Before work invades play, though, Heather is determined to show the kids some fun. On the top of the young pair's list is seeing real live koala bears. The family happens upon a man who promises views of wildlife on the private Dutch Island, a remote piece of land just off the coast. He says that his family has lived and sustained the island for years. As long as Heather promises to stay away from the family's compound, they can drive the perimeter of the island and view the wildlife there. Everything about the island feels wrong, but Heather sets her unease aside for the sake of the family vacation. They are only on the isle for a short period of time when a tragic accident occurs, setting into motion a series of events that will turn this family vacation into a horrible nightmare. 

I knew from reading his previous novel that Adrian McKinty wasn't afraid to concoct shocking and disturbing scenes, but nothing could have prepared me for the horror he imagines in The Island. This new novel lacks the killer hook of The Chain, but that doesn't detract from the wild thrill ride at all. Without a clear direction right out of the gate, McKinty slowly lures the reader into a seemingly normal story about a dysfunctional family getaway. Only once we are fully invested in the scenario does he reveal his cards, turning a typical family drama into a bizarro horror-thriller akin to a cross between Deliverance and The Most Dangerous Game. You'll need to suspend your disbelief with this one. Very little of the action would be plausible in a normal world. If you can let go of your inhibitions, The Island will play out as an unrelenting and shocking adventure that will have you turning the pages as quickly as you can read. McKinty grounds his wild story in characters who give readers just enough heart to latch onto them. With The Island, McKinty proves that The Chain was no fluke. His ability to write a crazy fun thriller is on full display. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2022, 21)

Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach


The loss of a child brings the kind of inconsolable grief that defies comprehension. I was glued to the news yesterday as the reports of a horrific school shooting broke across the US. This too common occurrence hit me with sadness, frustration, and hopelessness. It probably didn't help that I was nearly finished reading a book that hit very close to the subject matter. Alison Espach's Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance deals with the tragic death of a child and its impact on the family. When I accepted a copy of the novel from the publisher, I was drawn to the summery image on the cover, unaware of what the book was actually about. Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance is an ode to the family bond and the power of love in spite of despair. It amounts to a literary journey that is far more emotional and impactful than your typical summer read. 

It is safe to say that Sally Holt idolizes her older sister, Kathy. Sally loves that her sister seems to know everything about everything. The pair are inseparable as they spend that last summer together. Sally soaks up every moment and bit of information as she prepares to start her first year in high school. Kathy develops a crush on Billy, the attractive boy who has drawn the eye of many of the local girls since his daredevil antics back in the fifth grade. Before the end of the summer, Billy and Kathy officially begin dating, and they reluctantly let Sally tag along. It isn't unusual then that Billy and Kathy give in to Sally's begging and agree to take her to school. By the end of the day, Kathy will be dead, and Billy and Sally will be left to pick up the pieces. 

The next fifteen years see Sally learning to live in her sister's absence. She has lost the one person she could trust, confide in, and just be herself with. Sally can't help but blame Kathy's death on herself. She was the one who insisted Billy and Kathy drive her to school that day. Had she not done so, her sister may still have been alive. The impact of Kathy's death doesn't stop with Sally. We see Billy struggling to accept his hand in the tragedy, turning away from his bright future to a self-destructive path that no one can stop him from following. The parents of both girls are equally impacted. Their relationship devolves into one party unable to accept the reality of their loss as the other simply wants to move past it. All of this comes together to form a somber coming of age story that you can't help but absorb. 

Everyone deals with heartbreak differently. Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance sees Alison Espach present her own contemplations upon grief and loss through the eyes of a young woman directly in the process of dealing with it. By having the younger sister of the tragically lost girl narrate the novel, we are provided with an intimate view of a family and community dealing with their agony. Despite the melancholy subject matter, I was struck by how funny the book could be. The dichotomy between grief and humor seems to go hand in hand. After all, there cannot be darkness without light to compare it against. Espach never dares to pretend to have any answers. Grieving is such a personal process, that it would be impossible to say whether this is the right or wrong way. Instead, she writes an intimate novel that allows her characters to naturally go through life, making decisions that seem authentic to each of them. This is a powerful novel that delves into subject matter that may not be everyone's ideal reading material. Still, I'm glad to have read and experienced this thoughtfully written narrative. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2022, 20)

Karl Lagerfeld: A Life in Fashion by Alfons Kaiser


The late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld was nothing if not a recognizable persona. His monochromatic look, tailored suit, tinted glasses, and powdered ponytail helped him to become a kind of living logo for his brand. With a quick sketch, he was able to capture the look of the moment, perfectly encapsulating everything about his vision with immaculate precision. But who was Karl Lagerfeld? Who is the man behind the acclaimed fashion houses? The answer to that question may not be as easy to come by. Beyond the public facade of high-brow elegance and timely trends lies a man who valued his personal life and rarely revealed anything about himself that didn't further his brand. Even his date of birth was clouded by his own noncommittal origin story. In Karl Lagerfeld: A Life in Fashion, author Alfons Kaiser attempts to unveil the man behind some of fashion's most iconic moments. 

The earliest sections of the book reveal Kaiser's deep research as he debunks many of the tall tales that Lagerfeld told about his early years. From the year of his birth (yes, he was older than he claimed to be), to the way he interacted with his family and schoolmates, it is clear that Lagerfeld embellished the story of his life to fit the narrative that he conjured for himself and his image as a designer. The reality is this. Karl was born to a family that made a name for itself in the evaporated milk business in Germany during the brink of the second world war. He wasn't particularly close with either of his parents, and he was always a bit different than the other boys his own age. It is hard to imagine Karl Lagerfeld as anything but the icon that he became. Even so, he was the last of his friend group, including Yves Saint-Laurent, to find success. Once he did find it, though, he would enjoy a rich career in the industry that spanned over half a century. 

Professional accolades, friendships, and feuds scatter the pages of Kaiser's detailed biography. The sheer scope of Lagerfeld's career is placed on full display in the work, which is quite astounding considering the industry he worked in. Fashion has always been something of the moment. Styles come in and out with a regularity that can often leave designers behind. Lagerfeld's staying power and ceaseless quest for relevancy is a remarkable feat. I was struck by how different Lagerfeld's public persona was from the man he was in his private life. He fiercely guarded his privacy, only confiding in his close friends, confidants, and his romantic partner of many years. Karl seemed to have been a loyal friend who went out of his way to take care of those around him. I have a mixed response, then to this work as a whole. It isn't that the reporting on Lagerfeld's life is bad. In fact, the writing is well researched and highly empathetic. Still, I can't help but feel that parts of the work pry more into Lagerfeld's life than he would ever have wanted to be revealed. Nevertheless, the brilliance of Lagerfeld's work and the genius of the man he was is carefully portrayed in this book. 

For more information visit Amazon and Goodreads

(2022, 19)

Let's Not Do That Again by Grant Ginder


With each passing day, Americans seem to grow more politically divided than ever. Gone are the days of reaching across the aisle. Coming together for a common good is all but finished. No, these days the division is the point of it all. American politics has devolved into a tic for tac system that thrives on outrage at the actions of the other side. Yes, that outrage is often warranted, but it leaves the political system broken nonetheless. It is inevitable that this disconnect would make its way into our personal lives. I know many family members whom I don't see eye to eye with. It is this political/personal conflict that drives the action in author Grant Ginder's latest novel Let's Not Do That Again. 

Nancy Harriman is running for the US Senate. She's a career politician who has spent years in the public spotlight. She began her illustrious political life as the wife of a US congressman. After his sudden and untimely death, an incident that she continues to claim she had absolutely nothing to do with, Nancy inherited his seat. Now she's risking the comfort of that House of Representative position by going for broke and running for a coveted Senate seat. Winning would bring a much-needed majority to her liberal party and mark a pinnacle in her already groundbreaking career. Late in the campaign cycle, what looked like a sure-fire win is starting to look less certain. Her opponent is gaining traction and is leaving Nancy and her advisers scrambling to make up ground. With so much on the line, Nancy can't afford any missteps. 

Nick and Greta Harriman have strict instructions not to screw things up. They're used to it at this point. As the grown children of a US Congresswoman, they know they have to toe the line. Nick has always had a great relationship with his mother. He's a literature professor who is currently working on a musical based upon the life of Joan Didion. Being the gay son of a liberal politician has only helped prove his mother's passion for the social issues that her constituents care about. Greta has been less politically useful. She's smart and beautiful, but completely unmotivated to achieve anything. She spends her days working as a salesperson at the local Apple Store, perfectly content with doing nothing more. It comes as a shock to both Nick and Nancy when they see video footage out of Paris of an extremist protestor throwing a bottle of champaign into a bistro window. It isn't just the violent passion of the protest that goes against everything Nancy politically stands for, but the fact that the woman in question is none other than Greta! Nancy sends Nick to Paris to sort things out by saving his mother's campaign and his sister before it is too late. 

Let's Not Do That Again sees Grant Ginder write a novel that wears many hats. It is at times a searing political satire in the same vein as Veep or Parks and Recreation. Ginder relishes in showing political ineptitude, cynicism, and all-around disfunction. He dares to show the farcical side of politics,  a piece of the puzzle that is easy to forget about amongst the more serious and often damning revelations that have come out of our government in recent years. At other times, Ginder draws from the rich tradition of tightly wound political thrillers. Beneath the humor of his novel is the story of an intricate political campaign and the people working for and against it. To me, the book is at its best when it wears the hat of intimate family drama. Ginder's characters each stand on their own as fully thought out people. The relationships between mother and children, siblings, and young adults dating each other help to drive the action of the novel while grounding it in reality. In the deft hands of Grand Ginder, these elements come together to form a novel that is humorous, timely, and deeply affecting. Let's Not Do That Again is a novel for this time, of this time, and a book that will ultimately stand the test of time. 

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this novel to review!

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2022, 18)

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