Archive for November 2022

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin


What makes a great book? I'm at that point in the year where I'm beginning to reflect on which of the many books I've read this year have been my favorite. Pondering the various titles I've consumed has left me considering what elements make up a great read. I think the essential pieces would be the same for most readers. In fact, in the ten years that I've reviewed every book that I've read, the key components of what makes a good read to me have remained unchanged. The best books have an intriguing plot, consistent pace, and most importantly strong characters. Bonus points go to any book that I can't shake thinking about when I finish it. With my reading year winding down, I didn't expect to have another book that would wow me to the point of considering it my top read of the year. But then my friends at Alfred A. Knopf sent me a copy of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. It might just be the best book I've read this year. 

Sam and Sadie were an unlikely pair when they first met at the children's hospital. Sam was there recovering from a debilitating foot injury resulting from a horrific car crash. He hadn't spoken a word since he arrived. Sadie was there visiting her sister who was fighting a battle with cancer. There's a lot of downtime in the hospital. Recovering from an injury takes time, and Sam had plenty of it. As the healthy child in the family, Sadie also had a ton of time to herself. She encountered Sam playing Super Mario Bros, and the two started a conversation. Over the coming weeks and months, the pair became best friends, bonding over their love of video games. 

Years later their time together became nothing more than a memory. A childhood spat left a rift between Sam and Sadie, and they didn't speak to each other for years. The pair didn't reconnect again until a chance encounter on a subway platform thrust them back into each other's life. It was as if no time had passed at all. Their friendship rekindled, and the two college students joined forces to build upon their childhood obsession. They agree to make a game together. 

There are times when a book seems to come out of the ether to infiltrate our lives. Zevin's novel is that kind of book. I have a quiet familiarity with video games, but I would never dare to call myself a gamer. In fact, my Nintendo Switch is turned off much more frequently than it is turned on. As such, I began reading with a hint of trepidation. Was this material going to resonate with me? As I let Zevin's words take hold of my imagination, I quickly realized that my worries were unwarranted. You see, Zevin has written a novel that, at its core, is about friendship. We follow these characters through three decades of life, feeling companionship, exhilaration, frustration, and heartbreak. By the end, Sam and Sadie are completely known to us, as real as the people we know in our own lives. Zevin shifts perspectives between the main characters, ensuring the plot moves in a way that is authentic and ever-compelling. I was glued to the pages, experiencing the emotions of each moment along with the characters. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a big book filled with big ideas, all grounded through some of the most brilliantly crafted characters that I've ever read. I don't often heap universal praise on a novel, especially one as hyped as this one has been. In this case, though, I feel the praise is warranted. This is a great book.

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

(2022, 55)

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


I recently completed my goal of reading 52 books in a year. This is the fastest I've ever completed this objective, meaning that I read at a pace that exceeded a book a week. For the first time in A Book A Week's ten-year history, I'm left with the luxury of an entire extra month of reading time. I have a few recently published books that I'd like to get to, but first I've pulled a title from my backlogged TBR list. Mexican Gothic made huge waves when it was first released back in 2020. I had freshly started my own bookstagram account, and it seemed like every reader was reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia's book. The wonderful @lindseyreviews passed her copy of the novel on to me, and it has been sitting unread on my shelf ever since. 

Noemí's life has been one of privilege. As the daughter of a wealthy Mexican businessman in 1951, she lives out her days as a socialite, going to grand parties and constantly changing her studies on a whim. Her father has never asked much of her. He allows her to live her life in relative peace. But now an urgent letter from Noemí's cousin Catalina has arrived, and he wants her to intervene. Catalina was hastily married in secret and has since lived at her husband's compound, a dilapidated vestige of his family's glory days. Catalina's letter is vague, but there is no doubt that she is in some kind of distress. Noemí is tasked with visiting her cousin's new home and checking in on her well-being. 

The crumbling walls of High Place stand as battered reminders of the place it used to be. As Noemí enters the country estate, she is greeted by a peculiar cast of characters, each as inscrutable as the next. Each family member who inhabits the manor greets our heroine with a standoffish air of superiority, either unwilling or unable to illuminate the truth behind Catalina's mysterious affliction. The longer she stays in the home, the more peculiarities arise. There is something off about this place. There is something even more off about the people who call it home. As strange happenings begin to unfold around her, Noemí will need to solve the riddle of Catalina's message before she completely falls under the spell of High Place. 

I notoriously put off reading hyped books for far too long, only to fall in love with them years after the hype has passed. With Mexican Gothic, I find myself in that place again. Moreno-Garcia's writing in this book is pure magic. Atmospheric suspense fills each page, tantalizing us along the slow-burning mystery that unfolds with precision. There's a lyrical quality to the prose. The physical location and time period become like the characters themself, as much a part of the overall story as the people who inhabit them. More akin to gothic romance than horror in the traditional sense, Mexican Gothic expertly balances character development with supernatural intrigue. I will admit that I did see the ending coming well before it was revealed, but the ambiance of the writing more than made this one worth the read. Mexican Gothic has got the goods. I totally understand and agree with the hype it has received. 

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

(2022, 54)

Con/Artist by Tony Tetro and Giampiero Ambrosi


I've always thought that my reading mood changes with the season, and that's certainly been true this month. I've mostly put down my usual thrillers in favor of more non-fiction titles. The latest to catch my eye is Con/Artist by notorious art forger Tony Tetro and his co-author Giampiero Ambrosi. Tetro's publisher was kind enough to send me a review copy of the book just ahead of its publication today. I was instantly intrigued by the idea of learning about the dark underworld of the art world. I was surprised to learn just how much crime permeated that field. 

No one sets out to be a criminal. Certainly, the idea never crossed young Tony's mind. He grew up in small-town New York, the kind of place that's heyday was way behind it. He had an affinity for art, honing his skills through school and practice. Still, he never saw art as a viable career option. Real life came at Tony fast. By the age of 16, he was a father. He married soon after and was ready to try to make something out of his life. This yearning saw him move to the west coast. Tony did odd jobs like selling furniture, but this just wasn't enough to support his young family. 

It started innocently enough, the mere spark of an idea that would go on to shape the rest of Tony's life. He turned to his art, crafting a small sketch modeled in the style of a lesser-known artistic master. Armed with this simple drawing and a story about cleaning out his late grandfather's attic, Tony sold the sketch to an art dealer. From that moment on, Tony's life would never be the same. He would go on to meticulously forge are in the style of some of the best-known artists to ever touch paint to canvas. Along the way, he would become filthy rich and have to grapple with all the nefarious implications of criminally obtained wealth. 

Con/Artist reads like a classic gangster movie. Think Goodfellas mixed with Oceans Eleven. Tony Tetro writes with a matter of fact prose that reads like you're listening to an old friend recall his wild story. He doesn't hold back. With the money comes fast cars, lavish vacations, and plenty of drugs. What really struck me was Tetro's reverence for those artists his painting emulated. The thing that set him apart from other forgers was his attention to detail. He meticulously crafted each painting through hours of study and experimentation. Tetro admits that the scientific advancements of today would immediately reveal his works to be fake, but his run in the 70s and 80s is remarkable to learn about. This non-fiction reads like something straight out of the movies, making it an insightful and ceaselessly entertaining read. 

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

(2022, 53)

James Patterson by James Patterson


When I think of authors who have helped sustain my weekly reading goal across the last decade, the first to come to mind is James Patterson. I was first introduced to his books when my Mom gave me her secondhand copy of Mary, Mary. From the very first page, I was hooked. As a typical high school student, I wasn't necessarily excited to read, but Patterson's book changed everything. This book was fun. I tore through his signature quick chapters, breathlessly needing to see what happened next. With the turn of the final page, I felt a sense of accomplishment at having read a book for pleasure and a yearning to read even more. 

Nearly 20 years later, I still get excited by Patterson's writing. I think it's safe to say that I'm also still excited about reading. One of the perks of reviewing as many books as I do has been the connections I've made with other readers and publishers. My bookstagram buddy Katie (@niftyreads) alerted me to Patterson's self-titled memoir and recommended I listen to the audio. The folks at Little Brown, Patterson's long-time publisher, provided me with a copy of the book, so I eagerly consumed the work by reading and listening. Given my history of reading Patterson's stories, it seems rather fitting that his memoir be book number 52 for the 10th year of A Book A Week. 

In James Patterson: The Stories of My Life, the bestselling author reflects on his life thus far through intimate stories that span the breadth of his storied career. While each chapter mostly follows the chronology of his life, Patterson maintains his signature quick pace by having each chapter serve as a short, conversational recollection. The topics are as varied as they are interesting. He writes about his days in advertising, his initial struggles to get published, and even sets the record straight about his controversial use of co-authors. I found his candor to be refreshing. Patterson narrates the audiobook, so listening to it really does feel like you're having a conversation with an old friend. James Patterson continues to hook readers with each new work, and this memoir is no exception. 

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

(2022, 52)

Later by Stephen King


"I don't mean to scare you, but sometimes a scare is the only lesson that works."

For nearly half a century, author Stephen King has delighted readers with his particular brand of horror. I've been enjoying his books for as long as I could stomach them. Some of his more nefarious creations (I'm looking at you, Pennywise) scared me when I read them and have frightened me ever since. His novel Later has been waiting on my shelf for nearly a year. Be it my usual procrastination or perhaps a hesitance to submit myself to the kind of terror only Stephen King can provide, I've waited until I had the perfect moment to read it. Cold weather and the seasonal sickness that comes with it meant I finally had ample time to read it over the weekend. 

Young Jaime Conklin has a secret, something only he and his single mother know about. His mother has enough struggles to worry about without Jaime's secret. She longs for him to just be normal. But Jaime is anything but ordinary. You see, Jaime can see dead people. When he first revealed this gift to his mother, she was skeptical, but Jamie knows things that he wouldn't otherwise know. Only by communicating with the dead is he able to glean such information. For better or worse, the boy has had to learn to live with this curious ability.

Jaime is pretty used to seeing dead people now. At least, he's as used to it as one could be considering the abnormality of it all. He still gets jarred a bit when he sees the battered remains of someone who met their demise in a particularly gruesome method, but he's come to accept his ability for what it is. Jaime has learned to harness his gift to do good for others. He helps a widower recover jewelry from his late wife, he helps a late author reveal the final installment in his anticipated series, and now he's about to help the NYPD try to stop a murderer from continuing his spree from beyond the grave. For all of his good intentions, however, nothing can prepare Jaime for the darkness that he's about to unleash. 

Every new novel we get from Stephen King seems like a gift to the world. Later is no exception. It is a testament to his mastery as an author that King continues to produce fiction that thrills and delights as well or even better than he did decades ago. The power of King's writing has always rested in his penchant for crafting deeply developed characters amongst the wild scenarios that he places them in. The coming-of-age elements that permeate this novel only help to ground the young main character into the more supernatural events that unfold. In that way, Later plays like a cross between The Sixth Sense and The Wonder Years. At a fairly brief couple hundred pages, the novel expertly balances between both building the character and thrilling the reader. It comes together into a novel that is as unputdownable as it is emotionally satisfying. King continues to fire on all cylinders, gifting us with the privilege to experience storytelling as only he can convey. 

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

(2022, 51)

The Wheel of the Doll by Jonathan Ames


What's your go-to genre? My tastes have evolved and varied, but I always return to crime fiction. There's just something about following a character through the process of investigative discovery that I find eternally appealing. It should come as no surprise then that I happily accepted a copy of The Wheel of the Doll by Jonathan Ames from his publisher. This follow-up to his novel A Man Named Doll promised to be an "...irreverent and inventive mystery...", so I knew I had to give it a read. I hadn't read the first book in the series, but I wasn't about to let that stop me from diving right in. 

When we meet our hero, he is physically and emotionally scarred from his last case. All things considered, though, he's ready to hop back into the proverbial saddle. A man named Happy Doll probably doesn't have any other choice but to be optimistic. He's a private investigator who relies on independent cases for his livelihood, so he's willing to listen to the young woman who shows up at his door with an offer for a new investigation. He's not prepared, however, for the way this case will force him to reckon with his past. 

The woman is named Mary DeAngelo, and she's looking for her mother Ines Candle. Happy instantly recognizes the mother's name as an ex-lover of his. The last time the couple was together, she barely survived an attempt at suicide. Happy is saddened to learn that her life didn't get better after that. Mary has been estranged from Ines for a while, but recently received a Facebook message that alleges to be from her. Mary's mysterious husband puts up the funds to pay Happy to find Ines. As he embarks on finding her, he's left with more questions than answers. Old wounds will reopen and new ones are sure to follow. 

The Wheel of the Doll sees Jonathan Ames write a hardboiled private investigator novel that blends echoes of the genre's past while blazing a trail into the future. This is a small, intimate story that takes full advantage of developing the characters and the mystery with laser-like precision. Reading about this down-on-his-luck investigator reminded me of some of the great noir novels, especially as the entire book is set in the shadows of Los Angeles. Ames hints at some of the events that happened in the first novel, but this story is self-contained enough that I never felt lost. There's a sparseness to the work that makes it compulsively readable. I was hooked from beginning to end, unable to pull myself from the pages. The Wheel of the Doll is a novel that knows exactly what kind of story it is trying to tell, and Ames deftly executes it to its fullest potential. 

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

(2022, 50)

A Sliver of Darkness by C.J. Tudor


After three years of facing a global pandemic, there is no denying that our world has forever changed. Each of us can probably point to ways our lives were impacted, both big and small. Author C.J. Tudor has had great success writing original horror/thriller novels. In fact, her fabulous book The Burning Girls was one of my favorite reads of last year. Despite this success, she announced that the novel she had worked on through the pandemic and set for release this year just wasn't turning out the way she wanted it to. Living through the lockdown and facing a few personal tribulations just wasn't conducive to her best writing. Tudor made the decision to completely scrap that work and begin a new novel. In place of that now-defunct novel this year, she has opted to release a collection of short stories. A Sliver of Darkness, out today, sees the author apply her signature suspenseful style to several short stories that should more than satiate her readers. 

As the title suggests, each story in this collection contains an element of darkness, either a twist or a supernatural component that gives each page an edge of suspense. I particularly enjoyed the first story which featured an elderly woman on a cruise. I had just seen a news story about a woman who chose to live on a cruise ship instead of in a senior center. She was full of so much joy, meeting different people and traveling from port to port. The woman in Tudor's story has lived most of her life on the boat and has grown tired from living there. The more we learn about the ship, the more nefarious this particular voyage appears to be. 

I always appreciate short story collections in that they give me a small sampling of an author's capabilities in easy-to-read bursts. I've read each of Tudor's four novels, all of which are fairly different from each other, so I thought I had already seen the full breadth of her authorial prowess. Yes, some of the stories are about what I expected from the author, but others still veered in vastly different directions, showcasing a new layer to her storytelling talent. Each story is preceded by a personal recollection from Tudor sharing how the particular tale came to be. It is in these behind-the-scenes glimpses into the life of the author that A Sliver of Darkness elevates itself beyond similar collections. Tudor reminds us that she has a life outside of her writing, full of events and relationships that have shaped who she is as a person. Through the context of her own life, we better understand the stories that she tells. As most short story collections do, this one left me wanting to read even more from one of my favorite authors. Lucky for me, I won't have to wait very long. Tudor's next novel The Drift releases early next year. 

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

(2022, 49)

Starry Messenger by Neil deGrasse Tyson


Looking out upon the night sky, it is easy to get lost in view of the stars. Throughout history, humans have been fascinated by the stars yearning to know the unknowable. As much as we know about this giant blue orb we call home, there is still so much to discover. That's where people like Neil deGrasse Tyson come in. Dr. Tyson is an acclaimed astrophysicist who has dedicated much of his career to sharing his vast knowledge with the public at large. His latest book Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization sees the scientist attempt to make sense of many of the issues that currently divide us. He views these issues such as politics, religion, gender, etc. through the macro lens of the universe.

The problems that seem to plague civilization are nothing new. At least, they aren't new from the perspective of centuries of history and scientific study. From the start of the book, Tyson posits that the issues we face as a society today can be better understood by both understanding the historical perspective of those issues and by allowing the factual scientific consensus on many topics to help inform our thinking and actions on them. Through this thorough dissection of each issue, Tyson hopes that we will be able to think differently about the topic and maybe even come to a better understanding as to why different viewpoints may exist. 

I was instantly drawn to the idea of gaining different perspectives on hot-button topics, so I was pleased to accept a copy of Starry Messenger from Tyson's publisher. Tyson has a way of distilling complex subjects down to their core, making even the most sophisticated themes digestible to average readers. At under 300 pages, the book packs a lot of content into a light package. I found myself reading through a topic each day, taking time in between to ruminate on what I had discovered. Tyson's views aren't perfect, and even he admits that sometimes his words and thoughts don't accurately describe the nuances of the thing he is trying to speak to. Just look at some of his more controversial tweets as an example. Despite his clear mastery of the science behind many things, Tyson never pretends to have all the answers. Rather, he uses Starry Messenger as a means of getting readers to think more deeply and critically about multifaceted subjects. Only through this kind of reflection can we gain a higher understanding of our universe and the issues that we face. 

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

(2022, 48)

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