Tuesday, March 13, 2018

This Could Hurt

A shrewd novel of corporate culture examines how a group of HR employees faces fallout from the Great Recession.

Corporate America during nine months of the Great Recession is the setting of This Could Hurt, Jillian Medoff's shrewd and deeply affecting fourth novel. Ellery Consumer Research--with offices in New York City, Raleigh and Atlanta--is a cutting-edge, boutique market research firm for clients like Walmart and General Motors. Medoff roots the story amid the company's shrinking human resources department in New York, offering a well-drawn ensemble cast of flawed characters who orbit around Rosalita "Rosa" Guerrero, the 64-year-old HR chief.

Rosa is a seasoned old-timer--personally and professionally. She is bossy, but fair. Her take-charge, no-nonsense approach serves as a "voice of clarity and calm" in her quest to advocate for and boost the morale of those in her department despite drastic corporate cutbacks. Rosa's predicament grows more complex when she's forced to fire the v-p of operations--a trusted confidant of Rosa and her right hand--who was being groomed as her successor, but was embezzling from the company.

His departure leaves an open door for the rest of the HR staff, most of whom are scrambling to find ways to stay employed under the corporate restructuring and downsizing.
Medoff (I Couldn't Love You More) has a spot-on grasp on the often cutthroat nuances of office politics--especially within the high-stakes uncertainty of the Great Recession. She skillfully reveals the modus operandi of the staff as they vie to keep their jobs. Sharply drawn intimate details about the lives of each character add even greater depth and broaden the timeless appeal of this very smart, thoroughly absorbing story.

This Could Hurt by Jillian Medoff
Harper, $26.99 Hardcover,  9780062660763, 384  pages
Publication Date: January 9, 2018
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (January 23, 2018), link HERE

To read the long-form review of this novel as featured on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade (December 7, 2017), link HERE

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Sigrid Nunez: A Love Letter

The Writers Life
Photo by Marion Ettinger
Sigrid Nunez is the author of seven books and many short stories and essays, and she teaches writing. She's received a Whiting Award, the Rome Prize in Literature and a Berlin Prize fellowship. In Sempre Susan, Nunez wrote a revealing memoir about Susan Sontag, an American writer, filmmaker, teacher and political activist who played a significant role in Nunez's personal and professional life. In her new novel, The Friend (see my review below), Nunez explores the bond between a grief-stricken woman and a dog she reluctantly agrees to foster after the death of her mentor and friend.

Suicide, writing and dogs form the basis of this novel.

Yes, in recent years I happened to learn that a number of people I knew had been obsessing about suicide. Not that they were actually planning to do it, but it seemed to be always on their minds. And in fact, very sadly, one of those people has since taken his own life. So that was one very important thread. Another thread was my work as a writing teacher and the idea of literary mentorship. And then I've always been interested in human-animal companionship. I saw a way to explore all these subjects in one novel.

Did you know from the start that a dog--Apollo--would be the cornerstone of The Friend?

I can't remember exactly at what point Apollo became such an important part of the story, but he's based on dogs I've known in real life.

What's been your experience with dogs?

I've always loved dogs. It was one of the great "unhappinesses" of my childhood that we lived in a place where no dogs were allowed. Later, around the time I went to college, my family had a Great Dane, and I had a dog whose sire was a Great Dane when I was in my 20s.

Is your history with Great Danes why you chose to create Apollo as a Harlequin Great Dane in the novel?

I was drawn to the idea of an exceptionally large and visually striking animal.

Many of your novels are written in a very intimate, first-person point of view. Do you find it easier, more accessible, to write in this voice?

It's not really a question of what's easier or more accessible but rather which point of view best suits a particular story. In The Friend, for example, from the beginning I knew I wanted an intimate, first-person voice. To be more precise, I wanted the narrative to sound like a letter, and not just any letter but a love letter. That was the tone I was going for: intimate, hushed, urgent. 

An unnamed speaker narrates The Friend. And many other characters are also unnamed. Why?

To name or not to name a fictional character isn't a choice that I make beforehand. It's something intuitive that comes with the writing. In writing The Friend, any time I thought about inventing a name for a human character it struck a false note, and I was immediately compelled to get rid of it.

The Friend is rooted in the challenges of a writer's life. There's a quote in the book: "Some would say that, after all, the one sure way for an artist to know his work had failed was if everyone 'got' it." What's your feeling about this idea?

I would say that if everyone likes and approves of a certain work, it can't be very interesting. Oscar Wilde was right: "Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself."

How did writing The Friend differ from writing Sempre Susan?

In many ways, writing the memoir was easier than writing the novel for the simple reason that I didn't have to invent anything. I already had the story and the characters. But in other ways the process was much the same: a struggle to find the right words and the right order of words to make the narrative as effective as possible.

Your novels are unified by themes of death and grief and an inherent lack of understanding between people, yet a sincere need for protagonists to try to understand people and circumstances anyway. What draws you to these ideas and why?

These are some of the most important aspects of human experience, matters that touch us all. It seems to me only natural that this would be the material a novelist would want to grapple with and that people would want to read about.

If you could not be a writer and/or teacher of writing, what career path would you choose?

This is something I touch on in The Friend. My love for animals has always been very strong. I love all animals and am fascinated by animal behavior. I may very well have missed my true calling. I often wish I had pursued some career that had to do with the study, care or training of animals. I think I would have found much fulfillment in such work.

What can readers expect from you next?

I'm about 50 pages into a new novel, which has a narrative voice very similar to that of The Friend.

Will the new novel include another dog?

No. No animals this time--at least, not yet.

This interview is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this Q&A on Shelf Awareness for Readers (2/2/18), link HERE 

The Friend

A writer who lives in isolation takes in her deceased mentor's dog, and the two of them come to grips with death and loss--and each other.

Sigrid Nunez (Sempre Susan) has not graced the literary world with a novel in almost a decade--but the wait has surely been worth it. In The Friend, she takes readers on a reflective journey through a labyrinth of grief, loss and loneliness. This meditative, beautifully written novel reads as intimately as a memoir. It is narrated by a sensitive intellectual, an unnamed woman--a writer and teacher--who lives an isolated life in a tiny, barely 500-square-foot, rent-controlled New York City apartment.
The suicide of her mentor--a writer and teacher, one of the narrator's closest and oldest friends--forces her to grapple with the role he played in her life, the meaning of his life and death, as well as her own existence in the world. When she is ultimately asked to take in the deceased's dog--a 180-pound Harlequin Great Dane named Apollo--she is reluctant. The narrator lives alone and works mostly at home. Although she prefers cats, the affection and devotion her mentor had for Apollo sways her decision. Despite her building not allowing pets, she agrees to take the dog temporarily. His entrance adds a new dimension to the landscape of loss, as he mourns his master in his own way. But, as the narrator says, "You cannot explain death to a dog."
The pain of the narrator's bereavement is dealt with through remembering and writing. But the bond she forms with the dog--how they adapt to each other and a world darkened by an aching void--forges this thought-provoking, philosophical story. Ultimately, The Friend ponders the meanings of loyalty, love, friendship and a buoyant creative spirit. --

The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez

Riverhead Books/Penguin, $25.00 Hardcover,  9780735219441, 224  pages

Publication Date: February 6, 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (February 2, 2018), link HERE

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Collared: An Andy Carpenter Novel

An abandoned border collie revives a child abduction case and the career of a devoted defense attorney.

Andy Carpenter is an independently wealthy defense attorney in Paterson, N.J. He's also an exasperating husband, a newly adoptive father and a devoted animal lover. In Collared, the 14th installment in David Rosenfelt's dog-centric mystery series, Andy and his crackerjack investigative team go back to work. This time, a border collie with a limp is abandoned at the rescue shelter owned by Andy. When the stray is scanned, the embedded identity chip reveals he is actually Cody, a dog whose hair sample DNA proved the lynchpin in a prior kidnapping case.

Who left the dog at the shelter and why? Andy and his cohorts--including his long-suffering wife, an ex-police officer--resurrect a three-year-old case involving Cody, whose owner was Jill Hickman. At the age of 35, Jill--a successful, single businesswoman--adopted a one-month-old child she named Dylan. When Hickman's nanny took Dylan and Cody for a walk, the nanny was brutally assaulted, and the child and the dog both disappeared. The "DNA dog," as Cody was nicknamed, ultimately led police to the suspected kidnapper--a once top employee from Hickman's company and also her former fiancé--who was found guilty of the crime, though Cody and Dylan remained missing. With Cody's re-emergence, hopes rise for all involved. Might Dylan, too, still be alive?

Short chapters and dialogue-driven prose are hallmarks of
Rosenfelt's (Hounded) suspenseful, long-running series. This installment is crafted with an intriguing premise, witty recurrent characters and a well-conceived mystery that unravels with surprising twists.

Collared: An Andy Carpenter Novel by David Rosenfelt

Minotaur Books (Macmillan), $26.99 Hardcover,  9781250055354, 336  pages

Publication Date: July 18, 2017

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (August 18, 2017), link HERE

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Misfortune of Marion Palm

An embezzling wife and mother's life is turned upside down when she suddenly goes on the lam.

For Marion Palm--the intriguing criminal antihero of Emily Culliton's clever, satirical first novel--life didn't turn out the way she'd imagined, and it takes a darker turn when she's forced to go on the lam. Marion, a 30-something, unassuming wife and mother, is married to Nathan, a narcissist and would-be poet who is dependent on a dwindling trust fund. She is also the mother of two daughters--ages eight and 13--who are plagued with adolescent problems and dramas. Restlessness and dysfunction burden all the Palms. However, over the years, Marion--and $180,000 she managed to embezzle from her part-time job in the development office of her daughters' private school in Brooklyn--has been the glue that's kept the family together. The money didn't buy them happiness per se, but it managed to finance trips to Europe and fund state-of-the-art appliances for their brownstone. When Marion learns the school is to be audited by the IRS, she panics, ditching her family and running away with the last $40,000 of her secret, stolen stash. But where will she go, and what will she do?
Marion's sudden disappearance affects all in her orbit: her family, police and detectives, her coworkers, fellow parents and a disgruntled school board. By unraveling The Misfortune of Marion Palm from various points of view, Culliton creates a richly entertaining, well-drawn mosaic of a complex woman, her motivations and her madcap, illuminating adventure.

The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton
Knopf, $25.95,  9781524731908, 304 pages
Publication Date: August 8, 2017 
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (September 12, 2017), link HERE

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Little Old Lady Who Struck Lucky Again!

Five senior residence escapees from Sweden set off on a zany criminal adventure involving stolen gems.

The League of Pensioners, led by Martha Andersson and four feisty, resourceful retirees in their late 70s and 80s--escapees from a Stockholm senior residence--are back. The stolen millions from their previous Robin Hood-style art robbery, the caper featured in The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, benefited the conniving quintet and funded retirement homes, cultural institutions and supported other "less-fortunate members of society."

This second installment of their adventures is set six months later. The group has been keeping a low profile in Las Vegas while coordinating a casino heist. During their planning, they accidently cross paths with dangerous jewelry store thieves and, through a series of laugh-out-loud mix-ups and mishaps, the pensioners come into possession of a cache of stolen diamonds and other gemstones worth millions. When the "Outlaw Oldies" ultimately decide to return to Stockholm, a significant portion of their windfall--stuffed inside walking sticks that are crammed into a golf bag--goes missing at the airport. This launches Sweden's geriatric most-wanted on a suspenseful, bumbling mission to steal back what was already stolen, while trying to sidestep customs officials, the Swedish police and a host of quirky characters--including a biker gang and a fortune teller.

The well-drawn strengths and weaknesses of Ingelman-Sundberg's devious yet charming criminal masterminds work together to benefit mankind. They also deliver a hilarious story.

The Little Old Lady Who Struck Lucky Again! by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg, trans. by Rod Bradbury

Harper Paperbacks, $15.99,  9780062663702, 368  pages

Publication Date: February 7, 2017

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (August 11, 2017), link HERE

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Vivian Maier: A Photographer's Life and Afterlife

A fascinating glimpse into the life of an eccentric, legendary photographer whose work came to prominence only after her death.

Pamela Bannos, a professor at Northwestern University, frames a fascinating portrait of Vivian Maier, the mysterious nanny who was also a gifted, self-taught photographer who chose to remain unknown. The biography also examines the astonishing circumstances and coincidences by which Maier's photographs emerged into the public eye and her meteoric posthumous rise in the art world. Bannos pieces together clues about the woman behind the camera, dispelling myths that have been perpetuated and shaped since her death in 2009.
Vivian Maier was--and continues to remain--an enigma. Eccentric, fiercely independent and intensely private, she was born illegitimately in Manhattan to a French mother, whose own birth was illegitimate. Both Maier's mother and grandmother were live-in servants. That paved the way for Vivian, throughout her adult life, to work as a nanny for several well-to-do U.S. families. This enabled her to support herself while also secretly pursuing her craft as a visual artist for decades. Those closest to her knew that Maier liked to take photographs, yet no one knew the extent of her passion and drive--and the scope of her talent. It was only near the end of Maier's life that her work was discovered: photographs, thousands of negatives and more than 1,000 rolls of undeveloped film.
Bannos's engrossing, meticulously researched biography sensitively reconstructs Vivian Maier's very private life in conjunction with her posthumous legacy as a visionary photographer. Many questions remain and always will. However, Bannos's comprehensive narrative ensures that Vivian Maier's story and the treasure trove of her work will live on. 

Vivian Maier: A Photographer's Life and Afterlife  by Pamela Bannos

University of Chicago Press, $35.00 Hardcover,  9780226470757, 352  pages

Publication Date: October 10, 2017

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (November 3, 2017), link HERE

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Story of Arthur Truluv

An 85-year-old childless widower, a misfit 18-year-old girl  and a never-married 83-year-old woman form a life-changing friendship.

In The Story of Arthur Truluv, Elizabeth Berg (The Dream Lover) focuses on contrasting characters whose lives share common threads of loneliness and isolation: Arthur Moses is an 85-year-old grieving the loss of his beloved wife, Nola Corrine. A retired parks groundskeeper and an amateur gardener, he rides a bus everyday to the cemetery and eats his brown bag lunch graveside with Nola. There, he takes comfort in cleverly conjuring visions of the dead in surrounding, underground graves--"Nola's neighbors"--and he imagines the lives they might have lived. The simple gesture of a hand wave brings Maddy Harris--an 18-year-old with a nose ring, who also finds graveyards comforting--into Arthur's life.

Maddy calls the dead "her people," as her mother died in a car crash two weeks after Maddy was born. The tragedy and its aftermath drove a wedge between her and her father, who, tormented by his own grief, emotionally rejected his daughter and ultimately shaped her into a loner. When forlorn Maddy meets compassionate Arthur, their shared affinity for the dead sparks an unlikely friendship. She nicknames him "Truluv" because he speaks with glowing devotion for his late wife. Gradually added to the mix is Lucille, Arthur's meddlesome, 83-year-old, never married next-door neighbor, who faces a shattering loss of her own.

Berg's vivid characters may be vastly different in age, worldview and temperament, but they express a universal need for love, acceptance, purpose and connection. Tender, colorful strokes of humor dot the landscape of this touching story that deepens with poignancy and profound insights into the perils and glories of the contemporary human condition.

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

Penguin-Random House, $26.00 Hardcover,  9781400069903, 240 pages

Publication Date: November 21, 2017

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (November 24, 2017), link HERE

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Are You a Winner?

Want to win a FREE book/e-book or a $50 gift certificate to Amazon? 


For a limited time, enter for a chance to win a signed book of your choice, an e-book of your choice or a $50 Amazon Gift Card!

All you have to do is like/follow the authors listed below (from Red Adept Publishing) on Facebook and on BookBub, a website devoted to books and authors, readers and daily book deals.

Click on the highlighted "Giveaway" link to enter the GIVEAWAY

Happy Reading! 

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