What We’re Reading Now: LONE WOLF

Lone Wolf: An F.B.I. K-9 Novel #1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Sara Driscoll

Published in August 2017 by Kensington Books

Reviewed by Kirsche Romo

In the first of her FBI K-9 novel series, Sara Driscoll takes us into the world of the FBI’s Forensic K-9 unit. The story opens with Meg Jennings and her tracking Labrador, Hawk, pursuing the scent of a teen girl’s murderer in the woods of Maryland.

Meg and her sister Cara have always been dog lovers. Cara operates a dog obedience training school, and their parents are lifelong animal advocates, running an animal rescue in Virginia. Meg and Cara have spent their lives saving animals and nursing them back to health. After they moved in together as adults, they adopted several dogs with the goal of turning them into working dogs – providing therapy or being trained in the art of search and rescue, like Hawk.

Before Meg and Hawk can recuperate from their Maryland tracking assignment, they are again called into action. A bomb has exploded at the Department of Agriculture Building in Washington DC, and their mission is to find and rescue as many people buried under the rubble as possible, including a group of school children who were there on a field trip.

Upon investigation, the FBI makes a chilling discovery – the method used to place and detonate the bomb is unlike any ever seen before.

The bomber soon contacts a well-known Washington journalist with a cryptic message voicing his anger with the government and making it clear his goal of vengeance is not yet complete. Meg and Hawk team up with the FBI to diligently work to stop the bomber.

But how many more bombs will the killer set off before his revenge is complete? Will Meg and Hawk, and the rest of the K-9 team, be able to track him down before any more lives are lost?

Reading Lone Wolf, I enjoyed getting a first-hand glimpse of the world of K-9 teams and the methods used for tracking, detection, and search and rescue. Driscoll has also inserted terms relevant to K-9 search and rescue procedures at the beginning of each chapter to help clarify jargon for readers.

Lone Wolf was an interesting and enjoyable read and will appeal to dog lovers and those who love a fast-paced mystery. I’m looking forward to what Driscoll has planned for book two of the series.

K.L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues, loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets, but HATES the word normal. Her historical novel, Life Before, is about two women separated by a century who discover they’ve shared a soul. Web: KLRomo.com or @klromo.

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What We’re Reading Now: HAP AND LEONARD: BLOOD AND LEMONADE

HAP AND LEONARD: BLOOD AND LEMONADE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Joe R. Lansdale

Published in March 2017 by Tachyon Publishing

Reviewed by David Eric Tomlinson

The swampy bottom-lands of East Texas are the setting for Joe R. Lansdale’s most recent installment in the Hap and Leonard chronicles, Blood and Lemonade. It’s a “Mosaic Novel” of short stories, in which the older Hap Collins – a soft spoken, liberal-minded tough guy in a backwater town – and his best friend Leonard Pine – black, gay, and even tougher – reflect on the formative moments of their decades-long friendship.

Hap and Leonard are an odd-couple sort of crime-fighting team. Upon meeting, as teenagers – at a brawl, of course, where Hap holds a gun on a mob so that Leonard can get a fair fight against a single opponent – they immediately take a shine to one another. Nobody in this part of Texas understands their bond – not their uncles, not their lovers, not their supposed friends. The two of them couldn’t care less.

Lansdale writes convincing violence. The details are accurate and specific, and he has a great spatial awareness which keeps the reader grounded in any unfolding action. But he’s at his best when revealing the inner lives of his characters, such as when Hap sees Leonard a few days after that first introduction:

“As I came along the sidewalk, I saw Leonard coming toward me. He saw me and smiled. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, but when I saw him I knew I had missed him. He was like a stray dog that wandered in and out of my life, and I felt like when we were together that something missing was fulfilled.”

Racism is the unifying theme to this collection: how it segregates and divides towns, dehumanizes some while empowering others, breeding cycles of retributive violence.

Lansdale’s redneck Hardy Boys come up in this rough-and-tumble, working-class landscape, where “Dad was always greasy because he always worked,” where any argument worth having usually ends in bloodshed, and where racial tensions were high.

Because Lansdale’s novel was released as part of a marketing effort to promote the new Hap & Leonard TV series on Sundance, I wound up watching the first few episodes. In one scene, the aging but unflappable Hap – his once chiseled body now bloated with drink – is confronted by his ex-wife Trudy:

“What happened to you, Hap?”

“Life.”

To survive such an imperfect society, Hap and Leonard form a quirky, yet perfect friendship. Against all odds, it endures.

David Eric Tomlinson has been a member of the Writers’ League since 2013. He was born and raised in Oklahoma, educated in California, and now lives in Texas. You can learn more about his debut novel THE MIDNIGHT MAN at www.daviderictomlinson.com

What We’re Reading Now: WE ARE ALL SHIPWRECKS

WE ARE ALL SHIPWRECKS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Kelly Grey Carlisle

Published in September 2017 by Sourcebooks

Reviewed by Jordan Smith

Kelly Grey Carlisle’s poignant, heartrending book is a must-read for anyone who enjoys memoirs or who hopes to write a successful one themselves.

When Carlisle was an infant, her mother left her in a dresser in a hotel room. Then, her mother was murdered.

This fact alone would make Carlisle’s life atypical. Yet her unique childhood was only beginning. Raised by her maternal grandfather, Carlisle’s Los Angeles childhood was spent living on a docked house boat. The source of her grandfather’s income? An adult video store.

As Carlisle grows up, she yearns for more information about the mother she never knew. Her progression to womanhood is accompanied not only by the typical disillusionment of teenage years, but the realization that the narratives she’s been fed about her mother’s history may not be entirely true – and that she may never be able to find the truth.

And yet Carlisle’s story is far from bleak. She writes lyrically, but with rawness and accessibly, on the wonders of childhood and on her connections with a fascinating and flawed cast of family and friends. Some of the most moving parts of the book are Carlisle’s descriptions of how she begins to find herself through the physicality of joining the swim team and the joys of expressing herself through writing.  For all the uniqueness of her upbringing, Carlisle’s memoir is still inherently relatable to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, or who has longed to know more about themselves and where they came from.

Carlisle effortlessly pivots between immersing herself and the reader in the world of her child-self, to reflecting on those experiences as her adult-self. Particularly affecting is the way Carlisle writes about the concepts of memory versus imagination — try not to be moved as she imagines interacting with the mother she doesn’t remember.

In her weaving together of imagined and actual experiences, Carlisle deftly engages with questions at the heart of all good memoirs: what do we remember, what in our memory is actually true, and why does it matter?

Jordan Smith is WLT’s Member Services Manager. In her spare time, she writes the gluten-free food blog Small Comforts Kitchen, obsessively listens to the Hamilton cast recording, and pretends she’s Wonder Woman while trying to get better at weightlifting. She is currently at work on two novels, as well as a narrative nonfiction book about female motorists in America at the turn of the century.

 

What We’re Reading Now: WAIT TILL YOU SEE ME DANCE

WAIT TILL YOU SEE ME DANCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Deb Olin Unferth

Published in March 2017 by Graywolf Press

Reviewed by Mary Pritchard

Do you have ten minutes to read a story?  Perhaps five? Or even two?  If you think you can carve out time to digest one paragraph, to 3 pages, to 23 pages, there is a short story in Deb Olin Unferth’s Wait Till You See Me Dance that will fit your time slot. These stories are worth whatever time you can give them.

Unferth’s stories are appealing because they engage the person who finds herself unlikeable; the mother who can’t deal with “[turtles], teenagers, basement apartments”; the wife who thinks “longingly” of the man she might have married when her own husband doesn’t want to take an adventurous walk.  Most of us — man or woman — have been there. Irony flickers throughout each story.

The title story, “Wait Till You See Me Dance,” covers a trip with an unappreciative acquaintance, as well as experiences that anyone who has been an adjunct professor will find relatable. Some stories are in first person, others in third person limited, while “Stay Where You Are” has an omniscient narrator.  Are you thinking of curing your obsession with screens: the computer, the phone, the TV, the movie house?  Read “Online” before taking the plunge.

While reading Unferth’s stories, you’ll more than likely have moments where you laugh and say, “Oh, yes, I’ve been there.”

 

What We’re Reading Now: THE ROAD TO JONESTOWN

THE ROAD TO JONESTOWN

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Jeff Guin

Published in April 2017 by Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by Amanda Moore

In The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, Jeff Guin tells the story of the rise and fall of Jim Jones and the church he founded. In the 1970s, Jim Jones and members of the Peoples Temple left the U.S. to start a new community in Guyana, South America called Jonestown. On November 18, 1978, gunmen from the Jonestown community murdered several unarmed civilians who had come to investigate, interview and communicate with members of the community. A U.S. congressman, two CBS crew members, a photographer and a Jonestown defector were killed in the attack at a remote airstrip at Port Kaituma. Shortly after notice of the attack, the local authorities dispatched a small group of Guyana military soldiers to investigate. They assumed that they would find heavily armed civilians at Jonestown and prepared for an attack once they arrived. Instead they found the remains of over 900 dead men, women, and children lying in and around the Jonestown compound. This haunting description is how the story begins.

Guin describes the upbringing of Jim Jones in the small town of Lynn, Indiana, and his early interest in the Christian faith. Over time, Jones became less focused on religious doctrines and more fascinated with the persuasive style of religious leaders and their ability to captivate the congregation. His study of how religious leaders attracted members and secured their allegiance became an obsession. In his pastoral role, Jones would often call upon individuals during the church service to claim they were healed from various ailments as a way to attract and recruit new members to his church. His followers thought that he was a mind reader, but he would often use members to find out information about congregants before he spoke to them.

Throughout the book, Jones is portrayed as a complex and unpredictable individual. During a time of civil and political unrest in America, Jones led efforts toward encouraging integration among churches and businesses for African Americans. Jones’ church, The Peoples Temple, became influential in local politics both in Indianapolis and San Francisco through its multi-racial congregation. Local leaders praised the Peoples Temple for its commitment to social justice and community outreach. Although these efforts appeared to be genuine, Guin describes how Jones’ true motivations were self-serving and insincere.

The members of The Peoples Temple were expected to commit every facet of their lives to the church and its cause for social justice. Members were asked to cash in life insurance policies, to donate their wages and salaries, and to give personal belongings to the Peoples Temple. Jones’ persuasive rhetoric and the initial inclusiveness of the Peoples Temple convinced hundreds of people to leave their families and communities behind to live in South America. Many individuals followed Jones expecting to create a better life while helping others and embracing socialistic ideals. Some of his followers believed that Jones was a god and knew what was best for them.

After a short time, the dream of Jonestown began to unravel. Ex-members of the Peoples Temple spoke to the media about Jones’s mistreatment of his followers. Concerned relatives began raising serious concerns with elected officials in government because they believed their family members were kept in Jonestown against their will. Both U.S. and Guyanese courts ordered Jones to appear in court and respond to legal proceedings filed against him. Jonestown could no longer stay disconnected from the outside world. The end result was a community of people being led by a leader who lived in a constant state of extreme paranoia.

There are many unanswered questions regarding the events at Jonestown. With an impressive amount of research and personal interviews with former members, government officials and survivors of the Jonestown tragedy, Guin attempts to answer these questions. His narrative style allows the reader to feel as if he or she were actually there to witness the events at the beginning, the middle, and at the tragic and senseless end.

MEMBERS REVIEW: Good as Gone by Amy Gentry

“You’ll find yourself having to remember to breathe.”

-Reviewer Tony Burnett on Amy Gentry’s Good as Gone

GOOD AS GONE

 

good-as-gone

by Amy Gentry

Published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

reviewed by Tony Burnett

Eight years after Julie was silently abducted from the bedroom next to her young sister while her mother and father slept downstairs, the remaining family dynamic has persevered. Though they each carry their own private burden of guilt, the family has not quite imploded. When a young woman shows up at the door claiming to be Julie, the joy is overshadowed by the opening of old wounds, especially as Julie’s mother, Anna, begins to suspect the woman is not her daughter.

Amy Gentry’s debut novel, Good As Gone, takes the genre of domestic suspense to a level of intensity rarely experienced. The superb writing explores not only the depth of the characters but the extremes of their ability to cope with the unknown or, in some cases, not to cope with what is known. The narrative perfectly balances the scalding plot progression with a definitive internal conflict of a family whose tender scars are ripped wide open.

The point of view moves through the members of the family as well as the chameleon-like identities “Julie” has assumed for the sake of survival. This complex character examination is a powerful study of identity and cohesion when challenged by the extremes of physical and emotional stress. Gentry presents her protagonist’s unlikely manifestations with the humanity required to make the reader not only believe but empathize with the conviction required to keep the pages turning. The Northwest Houston setting is so accurately portrayed as to coax the reader into feeling he is a neighbor in the cul-de-sac on the next subdivision over.

The novel explores cultural mores and relationships ranging from homeless street survivors, through back alley blues bar divas, to the garishly pristine power and greed of the largest mega-church pastors.

If you are fascinated by the depths of depravity human beings will assume to control others, this story will amaze and horrify you. Good As Gone is a must read for fans of Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, Kim Addonizio, and B.A. Paris. I rarely encounter a novel that grabs my attention to the extent that all other concerns fall by the wayside. You’ll find yourself having to remember to breathe.

 

MEMBERS REVIEW: The Memory of Us

THE MEMORY OF US

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by Camille Di Maio

Published in 2016 by Lake Union Publishing

reviewed by Kirsche Romo

In her novel The Memory of Us, Camille Di Maio carries us away in the love of a lifetime, forbidden by circumstance and overwhelming obstacles.

Julianne Westcott’s life is perfect. The daughter of an English shipping magnate and socialite mother, she has everything she needs and wants. But when she discovers a twin brother, Charles, who was institutionalized at birth – blind, deaf, and mentally challenged – she realizes her life is much more complicated than she knew.

Kyle McCarthy is a landscaper’s son, living within very modest means. Julianne first meets him during a visit with her brother. While taking a break from his landscaping duties, Kyle introduces Charles to the beauty of plants, using only touch and smell.  Her heart is taken with Kyle’s loving, gentle soul. But she soon learns that his heart has already been promised to another – Kyle is studying to be a priest.

Julianne’s best friend Lucille convinces her that it would be a sin to seduce a boy bound to God. But even though she tries her best to forget him, Kyle never leaves her thoughts. By chance, they see each other numerous times over the next year, and each time, Julianne feels her attachment to him growing stronger.  He is handsome, funny, and kind.  All the things a priest should be.  But all the things a husband should be as well.

Even if Kyle weren’t promised to the Church, his situation in life is far beneath the approval of her parents. They would never accept her marriage to a boy without station. Julianne would surely have to choose between him and the life she’s always known.

As time passes, Julianne and Kyle battle the devastation that World War II brings to England, coping with the love and loss each struggles to understand and accept.

Misery loves company, they say, and if the war had brought about misery, it had also created a company of friendships that were forged through common suffering.

It was bewildering to see the everyday aspects of life go on amidst such a ravaged landscape….Perhaps the most unnerving sights were the few children that remained in the city, prancing among this new concrete playground and making toys out of the scraps of someone’s former life.

In The Memory of Us, Di Maio surprised me with twists and turns. Just as I was expecting the plot to take one path, it would turn toward another. The first person narrative brings the reader into the brain of Julianne Westcott, following the longing of her love-torn heart as she tries to deal with her passion for a man she can’t have.

As I read, I was filled with the strong emotion of my past, as well as Julianne’s. I suffered the same struggle as a young woman – falling in love with a man whom the world didn’t see as a perfect match, but loving him none-the-less.  The conflict in the novel makes the reader consider the question: How much would you give up for the love of your life? And how would you deal with the consequences?

The people I’d loved, the people I’d left, their voices came back to me in a rising tide until, overwhelmed, I crumbled down onto the floor and wept with abandon. The tears burned my skin and I made no attempt to wipe them away. I was supposed to suffer – my eternal punishment – because of what I’d done.

For a poignant look into the hearts of forbidden lovers who must question destiny to survive, The Memory of Us will wrap itself around your heart until you cry for what was never had, what was had and lost, and what was never meant to be.

K.L. Romo is a Texas author who loves to write about the human experience, bringing awareness to people living on the fringe. Her recent novel Life Before was released in 2016. She is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas and the Women’s Fiction Writers’ Association. Please visit her at http://www.klromo.com.