Tag Archives: adult

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! Book Cover This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!
Jonathan Evison
Algonquin Books
September 8, 2015

With Bernard, her husband of fifty-five years, now in the grave, seventy-eight-year-old Harriet Chance impulsively sets sail on an ill-conceived Alaskan cruise that her late husband had planned. But what she hoped would be a voyage leading to a new lease on life becomes a surprising and revelatory journey into Harriet’s past.

There, amid the overwhelming buffets and the incessant lounge singers, between the imagined appearances of her late husband and the very real arrival of her estranged daughter midway through the cruise, Harriet is forced to take a long look back, confronting the truth about pivotal events that changed the course of her life. And in the process she discovers that she’s been living the better part of that life under entirely false assumptions.

In This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! Jonathan Evison has crafted a bighearted novel with an endearing heroine at the helm. Through Harriet, he paints a bittersweet portrait of a postmodern everywoman, her story told with great warmth, humanity, and humor. Part dysfunctional love story, part poignant exploration of the mother-daughter relationship, nothing is what it seems in this tale of acceptance, reexamination, and forgiveness.



“This is Your Life, Harriet Chance” is unlike any other book I have read.  It combines a series of past events presented in the style of the game show “This is Your Life”, the ghost of a recently deceased husband, and a family whose dirty laundry is slowly being hung out for all to see.

This is definitely a meandering book and will best be appreciated by those who enjoy simply being along for the ride.  It jumps all over between past and present.  Even the flashbacks are in no particular order.  The nature of Harriet’s past ranges from pure to scandalous, with everything in-between.  In short, it’s a life that isn’t sugar-coated when looked back upon.  The current family issues that are mixed in do a wonderful job of showing how our past can help shape our futures while not necessarily defining them.  I can’t help but wonder what I would see if I looked back on my life in the same manner.

Overall, “This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!” is an enjoyable read for someone who enjoys the slice-of-life writing style.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Content Warning:

As this is an adult book, there are no content warnings.

Ask Him Why

Ask Him Why Book Cover Ask Him Why
Catherine Ryan Hyde
Lake Union Publishing
December 15, 2015

From the bestselling author of Pay It Forward comes the stunning and emotional story of a young soldier’s unthinkable act…and the bonds of a sister and brother’s love.

Ruth and her little brother, Aubrey, are just teenagers when their older brother ships off to Iraq. When Joseph returns, uninjured, only three and a half months later, Ruth is happy he is safe but also deeply worried. How can it be that her courageous big brother has been dishonorably discharged for refusing to go out on duty? Aubrey can’t believe that his hero doesn’t have very good reasons.

Yet as the horrifying details of the incident emerge, Joseph disappears. In their attempts to find him, Ruth and Aubrey discover he has a past far darker than either of them could imagine. But even as they learn more about their brother, important questions remain unanswered—why did he betray his unit, his country, and now his family? Joseph’s refusal to speak ignites a fire in young Aubrey that results in a disastrous, and public, act of rebellion.

The impact of Joseph’s fateful decision one night in Baghdad will echo for years to come, with his siblings caught between their love for him and the media’s engulfing frenzy of judgment. Will their family ever make their way back to each other and find a way to forgive?



“Ask Him Why” is a very complex and emotionally taxing book about the price of war on both those fighting it and those close to them.  It’s also a very real examination of the nature of the press and how it can tear people apart.

The story is split between the events of a soldier returning from war to his family, including two younger siblings, after being dishonorably discharged and a period of reflection on the past that takes place a decade later.  I won’t spoil the reasons for the discharge, but the children are left in the dark while their parents and brother deal with a press that is brutal in their treatment of the very difficult situation in which he found himself.

The plot was good but there was a bit of  a problem with the pacing in the middle. That is my only reason for giving it four stars instead of five.  The ending picks back up nicely.

I recommend “Ask Him Why” to anyone willing to ask themselves difficult questions, most importantly “what constitutes the right thing to do in war” and “how can we judge the difficult decisions of others in such difficult circumstances?”   I, for one, will be looking at media coverage of certain stories through a new awareness.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Content Warning:

As this is an adult book, there is no content warning.

It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History

It Ended Badly Book Cover It Ended Badly
Jennifer Wright
Henry Holt and Company
November 3, 2015

A humorous, well-researched pop history of the disastrous love lives of prominent historical figures, from Lord Byron to Elizabeth Taylor If you are lying in bed right now, a pint of ice cream in one hand, a bottle of scotch in the other, and this book clenched between your teeth (one tooth is missing from last night's bar fight), with tears streaming down your face over how much you loved, loved, loved your ex, let me commend you on how well you are coping. You could be doing so much worse. So much worse. You could be beheading your ex, or castrating strangers, or starting an exciting new life with a sex doll. YOU ARE A HERO. In It Ended Badly, New York Observer columnist Jennifer Wright guides you through thirteen of the worst breakups of notable figures in history--from Emperor Nero (sadist, murderer several times over), to Viennese artist Oskar Kokoschka (he of the aforementioned sex doll), to Norman Mailer (public stabbing). With her conversational tone and considerable wit, Wright digs deep into the archives to bring these terrible breakups to life. It's fun, pop history that educates, entertains, and really puts your own bad breakup behavior into perspective. It Ended Badly is for anyone who's loved and lost and maybe sent one too many ill-considered, late-night emails to their ex--reminding us that no matter how badly we've behaved, no one is as bad as Henry VIII.



“It Ended Badly” is one of the perfect kinds of books.  Not only do you get to learn something, but you also get to laugh.  Educational Entertainment:  What’s not to love about that?

There are thirteen true tales of love gone wrong that will have you grateful for the relationship you have, as well as the ones you no longer have.  At least they didn’t end THAT way.  “It Ended Badly” is also a perfect gift for a friend or a loved one who is suffering a recent heartbreak.  By the end of the book they will be laughing so hard they’ll forget what was wrong in the first place.

I recommend “It Ended Badly” for pretty much any adult who loves history or a unique book of humor.  Five enthusiastic stars!

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat

Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat Book Cover Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat
Jen Mann
Ballantine Books
October 13, 2015

For fans of Laurie Notaro and Jenny Lawson comes an uproarious and oddly endearing essay collection for anyone trying to survive the holidays in one piece.

When it comes to time-honored holiday traditions, Jen Mann pulls no punches

In this hilariously irreverent collection of essays, Jen Mann, nationally bestselling author of People I Want to Punch in the Throat, turns her mordant wit on the holidays. On Mann’s naughty list: mothers who go way overboard with their Elf on the Shelf, overzealous carolers who can’t take a hint, and people who write their Christmas cards in the third person (“Joyce is enjoying Bunko. Yeah, Joyce, we know you wrote this letter.”). And on her nice list . . . well, she’s working on that one. Here, no celebration is off-limits. The essays include:

• You Can Keep Your Cookies, I’m Just Here for the Booze
• Nice Halloween Costume. Was Skank Sold Out?
• Why You Won’t Be Invited to Our Chinese New Year Party

From hosting an ill-fated Chinese New Year party, to receiving horrible gifts from her husband on Mother’s Day, to reluctantly telling her son the truth about the Easter Bunny, Mann knows the challenge of navigating the holidays while keeping her sanity intact. And even if she can’t get out of attending another Christmas cookie exchange, at least she can try again next year.



“Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat” is a memoir in essays about Christmas and other holidays.  It will make you laugh, cry, cringe, feel sorry for the author, and ultimately, make you feel nostalgia.

Most of the stories had me actually laughing out loud.  Some of them made me snort.  Quite a few of them left me wondering if we may be related.  The point is: We have all been in her shoes, and we have also all been in the shoes of one of the other poor souls.  No holiday is perfect, but it’s the funny stories of things gone that leave us longing for more.  It’s this very fact that makes the book much more than a collection of funny stories.  It has heart, and it is bound to touch the hearts of everyone with a fondness for holidays and families, in spite of all of the hassle they bring.

“Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat” is well-written and a quick read.  Sitting down with it will be a perfect break from the upcoming holiday rush.  Also, it will make a great not-so-subtle gift for all of the “holiday overachievers” in your life.  (Watch me get three copies.)

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.



When It Was Just A Game: Remembering the First Super Bowl

When It Was Just a Game Book Cover When It Was Just a Game
Harvey Frommer
Taylor Trade Pub
September 9, 2015

The first Super Bowl in 1967 was actually called The World Championship Game, and pitted the upstart American Football League, represented by the Kansas City Chiefs, against the National Football League, represented by the Green Bay Packers. This book consists of oral interviews with many of the surviving players and/or their children, as well as the recently discovered unpublished memoirs of Chiefs coach Hank Stram.



As a diehard Packers fan (I bleed green and gold), I’m not entirely sure I can be completely unbiased in reviewing “When It Was Just A Game”.  What can ever be better than a comprehensive history of the first Super Bowl?

The book is an excellent resource that covers almost every facet of what went into the epic 1967 game between the Packers and the Chiefs.  It’s packed with facts and direct quotes from people ranging from the players to the fans and everyone in between.  Not the least of it is from the recently deceased legend Frank Gifford.  Reading how it was at the beginning of what has become such a large event is a good reminder of what the game is meant to be at the start of this new NFL season.

“When It Was Just A Game” is the perfect gift for any football fan you may have on your holiday list.  It’s a must-have for any Packers fans out there. GO PACK GO!

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Dexter Is Dead (Dexter)

Dexter Is Dead Book Cover Dexter Is Dead
Dexter, Book 8
Jeff Lindsay
Doubleday Books
July 7, 2015

After seven national bestsellers and eight seasons as one of the most successful shows on television, New York Times bestselling author Jeff Lindsay bids a thrilling farewell to his uniquely twisted and beloved serial killer, Dexter Morgan. Dexter Is Dead is the definitive conclusion of the character who has become a global icon. Dexter Morgan has burned the candle at both ends for many years. Blood spatter analyst . . . husband . . . father . . . serial killer. And now, for the first time, his world has truly collapsed. Dexter is arrested on charges of murder. He has lost everything--including his wife, his kids, and the loyalty of his sister. Now completely alone, Dexter faces a murder charge (for a crime . . . ironically . . . he did not actually commit). His only chance for freedom lies with his brother, Brian, who has a dark plan to prove Dexter's innocence. But the stakes are deadly, and the epic showdown that lies in Dexter's path may lead, once and for all, to his demise. Jeff Lindsay's trademark devilish wit and cutting satire have never been sharper. Dexter Is Dead marks the end of a beloved series, but is also Dexter's most satisfying and suspenseful outing yet.



As “Dexter Is Dead” is the last novel in the beloved Dexter series, and I have seen reviews that contain massive spoilers, I am going to keep this review brief so those of you who haven’t been so rudely spoiled will stay that way.

“Dexter Is Dead” is the perfect ending to a wonderful series.  The characters, as always, are well-developed.  The plot makes sense.  Everything comes to a logical conclusion.

The only thing left to say is this:  Thank you, Mr. Lindsay.  You’ve given all of us the true gift of an incredible character that graced the pages we read and the television screens we watched.  We’ll miss you, Dexter.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.



Content Warning: 

As this is an adult novel, there are no content warnings.


The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs Book Cover The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs
Matthew Dicks
St. Martin's Press
September 8, 2015

Caroline Jacobs has lost herself. She's a wife, mother (to a tattooed teenage daughter she avoids), Sears Portrait Studio photographer, and wimp. Asserting herself, taking the reins, or facing life head-on are not in her repertoire. So when Caroline suddenly cracks and screams "Fuck you!" at the PTA president, she is shocked. So is her husband. So is the PTA president. So is everyone. But Caroline soon realizes the true cause of her outburst can be traced back to something that happened to her as a teenager, a scarring betrayal by her best friend Emily. This act changed Caroline's life forever. So, with a little bit of bravery flowing through her veins, Caroline decides to go back to her home town and confront Emily. She busts her daughter Polly out of school, and the two set off to deliver the perfect comeback, which is twenty-five years in the making. But nothing goes as planned. Long buried secrets begin to rise to the surface, and Caroline will have to face much more than one old, bad best friend. A heartwarming story told with Matthew Dicks' signature wit, The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs is a deceptively simple novel about the ways in which our childhood experiences reverberate through our lives, and the bravery of one woman trying to change her life and finds true understanding of her daughter, and herself, along the way.



“The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs” is story about a rather shy and reserved woman who unexpectedly breaks out of her shell at a PTA meeting.  This triggers a set of events that lead her back to her hometown to face her past.

The beginning of the book was pure gold, and I’m fairly certain anyone who has ever dealt with the leaders of various youth and charity organizations has at one point wanted to tell them what Caroline did.  Her search to change the way she handled things in the past is also very relatable.  Who hasn’t wanted to confront a former bully as an adult?  I absolutely loved that part as well as all of the main characters.  We’ve all either been one of them or know them.

Unfortunately, I found that it seemed the novel would have been better suited as a novella or a short story.  Many of the characters and details seemed like filler and were not well-developed.  It dragged down the flow of what would otherwise have been a very well-written work.

Overall, “The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs” is a book that I can neither recommend nor not recommend.  If it sounds like you may enjoy it, by all means give it a try.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.



Content Warning:

As this is an adult book, there are no trigger warnings.


Eden (An Archer and Bennett Thriller)

Eden Book Cover Eden
Archer and Bennett, Book 2
Candice Fox
August 25, 2015

“A new murder mystery star—Candice Fox may just be your new literary addiction.”—Primo Life

“I fool myself that Eden has a heart—that she would at least have trouble killing me...”

Most homicide detective teams run on trust, loyalty, and the shared desire to put killers behind bars. Frank Bennett's partner, Eden Archer, thrives on darkness and danger. She has a rare talent for catching killers - but her idea of justice has little to do with courtrooms.

Now three girls are missing, and Eden is going undercover to a remote farm where the troubled go to hide and blood falls more often than rain. Frank’s job is to keep an eye on his partner while she's there - but is it for Eden's protection, or to protect others from her? Walking a tightrope between duty and desperation, Frank confronts a threat from Eden’s past—the sadistic crime lord Hades, who raised her. Suddenly, the hunter is the hunted. And a killer’s vicious desires are about to be unleashed . . .

The breathtaking new thriller from the author of Hades, winner of the Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut Crime Novel, establishes Candice Fox as a suspense writer of international renown and undisputed power.



I was beyond thrilled when I saw there would be another novel in the Archer and Bennett series after reading the excellent debut, “Hades”.  “Eden” did not disappoint.   Candice Fox is at the top of the class when it comes to gritty crime thrillers.  And when I say gritty, I do mean gritty.  This is far from a cozy mystery.

As I had hoped, we get more backstory for Eden’s father, Hades, and it is so well-written that the flashbacks alone could make a complete and satisfying novel.  The complexities of Eden are further explored, as well, and Frank grows much more as a character in this novel than in the previous one.  There are a few secondary characters who are introduced who are also so well-developed that you keep wanting to know more.  Also, the underworld of crime could be considered a character in and of itself.  It’s described as if it is a living and breathing thing that looks out for itself and none of those actually involved.  Characterization in “Eden” is nothing short of superb.

It’s difficult to say much about the plot without spoiling it because everything is connected, even if you don’t realize it.  The pace is steady and makes it difficult to find a stopping point.  Make sure you have a few uninterrupted hours before you begin.  And the ending…. wow.  It more than delivers.  No plot failure here.

The only complaint I have is the jumping of points of view.  There is first person, third person limited past, and third person limited present.  All three of these are different characters.  While it worked in the chapters that were dedicated to one character, some chapters combined all three, and that was a bit of a struggle to get my brain to switch gears.

If you like crime thrillers and don’t mind the blood and gore, I highly recommend “Eden”.  Please note that this is most definite NOT a young adult book.  On occasion I review adult novels, and this is one of those times.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Content Warning:

I normally don’t give content warnings for adult books, but I do feel compelled to warn that there is some animal abuse and racial slurs in “Eden”.  They are part of the plot and not gratuitous, but please keep this in mind if you are triggered by those things.







Let Me Explain You

Let Me Explain You Book Cover Let Me Explain You
Annie Liontas
July 14, 2015

A powerful debut novel about a Greek American family and its enigmatic patriarch from a riveting new voice in contemporary literature.

Stavros Stavros Mavrakis, Greek immigrant and proud owner of the Gala Diner, believes he has just ten days to live. As he prepares for his final hours, he sends a scathing email to his ex-wife and three grown daughters, outlining his wishes for how they each might better live their lives. With varying degrees of laughter and scorn, his family and friends dismiss his behavior as nothing more than a plea for attention, but when Stavros disappears, those closest to him are forced to confront the possibility of his death.

A vibrant tour de force that races to a surprising conclusion, Let Me Explain You is told from multiple perspectives: Stavros Stavros, brimming with pride and cursing in broken English; his eldest daughter Stavroula, a talented chef in love with her boss’s daughter; her sister, the wounded but resilient Litza; and many other voices who compose a veritable Greek chorus.

By turns hilarious and deeply moving, this multigenerational novel delivers a heartfelt meditation on the power of storytelling and family, the relationship between fathers and daughters, and also the complex bond of sisterhood. Annie Liontas explores our origins and family myths, hunger and what feeds us, reinvention and forgiveness.



“Let Me Explain You” is a difficult book to review.  On one hand, the writing is beautiful and tragicomic.  On the other, it can be outrageously offensive.  I’ve given it four stars, but please be sure to thoroughly read my review and any others you may find to see if it’s a good fit for you.

At its heart, “Let Me Explain You” is a story about the American Dream, reality, and the hot mess that makes up most families, whether we want to admit it or not.  It begins with Stavros Stavros Mavrakis (actual name) writing an email to his ex-wife and daughters, announcing that he will be dying in ten days.  As the reader will soon come to learn about Mavrakis himself, it is in parts tender, sad, and downright mean.  That’s the tone for the entire book.

While parts had me laughing out loud, others made me want to choke Mr. Mavrakis, and some made me want to cry.  To me that’s wonderful writing.  The sections about the interactions between the family were my favorites, because we all have those relationships that are love/hate.  Or, at times, hate/hate.  It was all very realistic with excellent character development.

Unfortunately, the main character is pretty much the equivalent of your racist uncle at a holiday dinner.  He has opinions, he does not care if you like them,  he believes everyone needs to hear them, and at some point you realize he is in reality a bitter old man who is lonely.  So, if you can have a conversation with “that uncle” and still be able to see some good in him, you will probably enjoy this book.  If you avoid family dinners because of him, then avoid it.

As for myself, I found “Let Me Explain You” an excellent debut novel and look forward to reading more from the author.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Content Warning:

As this is an adult book, there are no content warnings.

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

The Oregon Trail Book Cover The Oregon Trail
Rinker Buck
Simon and Schuster

In the bestselling tradition of Bill Bryson and Tony Horwitz, Rinker Buck's The Oregon Trail is a major work of participatory history: an epic account of traveling the 2,000-mile length of the Oregon Trail the old-fashioned way, in a covered wagon with a team of mules—which hasn't been done in a century—that also tells the rich history of the trail, the people who made the migration, and its significance to the country. Spanning 2,000 miles and traversing six states from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean, the Oregon Trail is the route that made America. In the fifteen years before the Civil War, when 400,000 pioneers used it to emigrate West—historians still regard this as the largest land migration of all time—the trail united the coasts, doubled the size of the country, and laid the groundwork for the railroads. The trail years also solidified the American character: our plucky determination in the face of adversity, our impetuous cycle of financial bubbles and busts, the fractious clash of ethnic populations competing for the same jobs and space. Today, amazingly, the trail is all but forgotten. Rinker Buck is no stranger to grand adventures. The New Yorker described his first travel narrative,Flight of Passage, as “a funny, cocky gem of a book,” and with The Oregon Trailhe seeks to bring the most important road in American history back to life. At once a majestic American journey, a significant work of history, and a personal saga reminiscent of bestsellers by Bill Bryson and Cheryl Strayed, the book tells the story of Buck's 2,000-mile expedition across the plains with tremendous humor and heart. He was accompanied by three cantankerous mules, his boisterous brother, Nick, and an “incurably filthy” Jack Russell terrier named Olive Oyl. Along the way, Buck dodges thunderstorms in Nebraska, chases his runaway mules across miles of Wyoming plains, scouts more than five hundred miles of nearly vanished trail on foot, crosses the Rockies, makes desperate fifty-mile forced marches for water, and repairs so many broken wheels and axels that he nearly reinvents the art of wagon travel itself. Apart from charting his own geographical and emotional adventure, Buck introduces readers to the evangelists, shysters, natives, trailblazers, and everyday dreamers who were among the first of the pioneers to make the journey west. With a rare narrative power, a refreshing candor about his own weakness and mistakes, and an extremely attractive obsession for history and travel,The Oregon Trail draws readers into the journey of a lifetime.



I should be upfront and say that this review of “The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey” may be skewed because the author, Rinker Buck, did something in writing it that I have always wanted to do.  He took a piece of history, researched it, and then set out to live it.  This is basically a historian’s dream.

There are actually two parts to the book:  the journey itself and the history of the Oregon Trail.  I’ll begin with the journey.  The time and effort Mr. Buck took in researching and developing his plans for the trip are astounding.  Quite a bit of time went into planning the journey to avoid modern civilization as much as possible, and even the wagon was purchased in Missouri and authentic.  The author has a true way with words.  The descriptions of the scenery along the way are breathtaking, and the stories of what happens along the way make you feel as if you are riding along shotgun.  Conversations with his brother add a very real familial element to it all.  The only downside is it can drag a bit at times, but then again, I’m sure the journey did as well.

The second part of the book is the history of the original Oregon Trail, and as I said above, it is thoroughly researched.  This part could have stood on its own and still been a fascinating read.  None of it is dry, as some history books tend to be, so it is actually perfectly suited for someone who wants to sneak in a little actual American History with a good story.  Sort of the way you can trick kids into eating peas by pureeing them and dumping them into something better.  (Not that I myself have an aversion to peas or history.)

“The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey” is an excellent book from both a historical and an autobiographical standpoint, but it’s more than that.  It’s a good and entertaining story for high schoolers and up.  Even those who don’t like nonfiction or history will like this one.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Content Warning:

As this is an adult book, there are no content warnings.