Monday, March 30, 2015

Our Endless Numbered Days - Clair Fuller

My review of Clair Fuller's Endless Numbered Days first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission. Hope you enjoy.

First line: "This morning I found a black-and-white photograph of my father at the back of the bureau drawer."

Claire Fuller's beautifully tragic debut novel is a survivalist's story. Peggy, the book's narrator, is eight years old when her father, James, kidnaps her from their London home and takes her to a crumbling cabin deep in the woods. The Cold War rages and James tells her the rest of the world has been destroyed.

Father and daughter work tirelessly to make the ramshackle hut a home: repairing, hunting, fishing, gardening. Fuller's depiction of the pair's life is far from bucolic, however. James is unpredictable and can leave his young daughter shaken and terrified by his explosive outbursts. Always obsessed with survivalism, James meticulously calculates the store of supplies they will need for the winter, but his estimates fall short and they struggle, barely making it through the treacherously cold and potentially deadly months.

Believing for years that no one else is alive, Peggy is startled when she senses the presence of another person during her daily forest wanderings. Finally encountering this third survivor rocks the foundation of the life she and James have so arduously labored to maintain... to survive.

Our Endless Numbered Days is sure to leave readers gloriously disquieted. The perspective of a young, naïve narrator creates both an uncertainty in her reliability and empathy for her helplessness. The unsettling plot twists infuse the story with rich psychological suspense. Through them, Fuller strikes horror, but she also raises hope. This surprisingly satisfying dichotomy will survive in readers' hearts and minds long after the fate of Peggy and James has been revealed.

Our Endless Numbered Days is available in trade paperback (ISBN: 978-1941040010) from Tin House Books.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Quote of the Week

As in the American movies they watched, progress was measured in bases. Since they had never played baseball, and no one knew the rules, there was some confusion about exactly what happened at each base.
Whiskey & Charlie, Annabel Smith

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Couple Quick Blog Notes

Hi all. Hope your spring is off to a great start. Mother Nature isn't sure if she wants us to have spring yet. We're doing a bit of yo-yoing on the thermometer these days. Hopefully the warm weather is coming.

I just wanted to let you know about a few items as I've been working on the structure of the blog lately. You may have noticed the disappearance of the navigation menu below the blog header. I have moved and changed it a bit. It's now at the very top of the blog with dropdown options instead of everything listed separately. So if you're looking for something, check those dropdowns. Among other things, the list of author interviews has been moved there. They now have their own page.

My author photos are gone only temporarily. I wanted to find a widget that would allow them to rotate since the list of them was getting so long. The first option I tried was having negative effects on other parts of the blog, so I had to remove that one. I'm in the process of finding a new one now.

I've been playing with the side bars a bit to get the look I like best. Hopefully I won't mix you up too much being able to find things that were once somewhere else. If you have any problems finding something you're looking for, please let me know.

And last I wanted to give you a heads up that I've added some affiliate links. As most of you know, I started adding a Goodreads link to reviews and I also wanted to start adding some buy links for those who want to purchase a book I'm reviewing or add it to a wish list. Since I'm going to do that I've signed up for some affiliate programs. You'll see some general links to those programs over in the far sidebar as well. Not all the links I'm including are affiliates. I wanted to give a good selection of places and formats--that's my top priority. If any income is generated from the links it will be used for expenses related to the blog--domain name, graphics, etc. As the programs are added I'll update the information on the disclosures pages (which you can find in that new navigation menu!).

I have more fun stuff to get up this week--a new quote some reviews. So stay tuned and happy reading!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Guantánamo Diary - Mohamedou Ould Slahi

First line: "The music was off."

Guantánamo Diary is an astounding memoir of a prisoner in the U.S. detainee camp in Cuba. Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been imprisoned for over 13 years without any charges being brought against him. He not only hand wrote this memoir, originally weighing in at almost 500 pages, but he learned English to do it.

The book itself is heavily redacted and footnoted, which makes the audiobook a tricky beast, but it was produced superbly, allowing listeners to easily follow along to the content. Narrator Peter Ganim has a distinct sound for Mohamedou Ould Slahi's words and a completely different one for editor Larry Siems' notes throughout.

While the content is highly disturbing and should make every American uncomfortable with policies and procedures followed in our "War on Terror," there is also a very endearing human element to the book. Mohamedou's strong ties to his family, the ties he develops to other prisoners in an effort to get through his ordeal, ties he makes with the guards, even. These all reflect his similarities to each and every listener. He expresses his fears and anxieties, his hopefulness and determination. Mohamedou's English is at times awkward and sometimes funny as he uses idioms and cliches, but incredibly proficient for someone who learned the language through such a traumatic experience.

Ganim's presentation of Mohamedou's voice vividly reflects his myriad emotions as the prisoner endures year after year of threats, torture, humiliation and isolation. He easily wraps his tongue around foreign words and names. And he manages to bring a text littered with redactions to life. Listeners will experience an eerie feeling of being in the interrogation rooms and prison cells with Mohamedou.

Editor Larry Siems clearly did a tremendous amount of research into Mohamedou's case. This is reflected in the Introduction and footnotes throughout the book. He ties together pieces of the story that might otherwise be overlooked or misunderstood by listeners, and he assists in understanding sections through the redactions.

Guantánamo Diary is a long audiobook, but an important one. Allowing these voices to be heard is vital, and that's one of the added benefits of this audiobook. As a people we need to be questioning these tactics and approaches. If we simply take the stand that "it doesn't involve me" then we are as complicit as those directly involved in the wrong-doing. We might also think of Martin Niemöller's famous words. Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a brave man to endure what he has and then put his story out for the world to hear. Are we listening?

Guantánamo Diary is available as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 978-1478986942) from Hachette Audio and Blackstone Audio. It is also available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0316328685) from Little, Brown and Co.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Life I Left Behind - Colette McBeth

My review of Colette McBeth's The Life I Left Behind first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission. Hope you enjoy.

First line: "The first thing he notices is the cold."

Colette McBeth follows up her debut novel, Precious Thing, with a suspense-filled mystery told from three women's perspectives: Detective Inspector Victoria Rutter, crime survivor Melody Pieterson and the spirit of murder victim Eve Elliot.

The paths of these women cross when Eve is found dead clutching a chain with a small birdcage pendant. Six years earlier Melody narrowly escaped the same fate--grasping a similar necklace--saved purely by the luck of a chance passerby. David Alden, the man convicted of Melody's attack, is out of prison and the prime suspect in Eve's murder. However, unbeknownst to Melody, who remembers nothing of her assault, Eve had been investigating the case in an effort to clear David of the heinous crime.

As DI Rutter and Melody pour through the investigation files Eve left behind, a tangled web of lies and deceit starts to unravel. David Alden's innocence becomes clear, meaning DI Rutter has to race to identify the true killer before he can finish what he started with Melody.

The Life I Left Behind is a spellbinding thriller with several strong plot twists that will likely have seasoned mystery readers second-guessing their early whodunit predictions. However, the novel is also a compelling look at the devastating psychological effects violent crime wreaks on everyone connected.

The role of DI Rutter is ultimately inconsequential to the overall story and focusing solely on Melody and Eve could have tightened the plot; still McBeth's sophomore novel is a captivating page-turner capable of stealing hours before readers ever notice they're gone.

The Life I Left Behind is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9781250041210) from Minotaur Books and as an unabridged audio download, narrated by Imogen Church, from Headline Digital.

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