[Review] The Fragile World by Paula Treick DeBoard

The Fragile World Book Cover The Fragile World

Literary Fiction
October 28, 2014

From the author of publishing sensation The Mourning Hours comes a powerful new novel that explores every parent's worst nightmare… 

The Kaufmans have always considered themselves a normal, happy family. Curtis is a physics teacher at a local high school. His wife, Kathleen, restores furniture for upscale boutiques. Daniel is away at college on a prestigious music scholarship, and twelve-year-old Olivia is a happy-go-lucky kid whose biggest concern is passing her next math test. 

And then comes the middle-of-the-night phone call that changes everything. Daniel has been killed in what the police are calling a "freak" road accident, and the remaining Kaufmans are left to flounder in their grief. 

The anguish of Daniel's death is isolating, and it's not long before this once-perfect family finds itself falling apart. As time passes and the wound refuses to heal, Curtis becomes obsessed with the idea of revenge, a growing mania that leads him to pack up his life and his anxious teenage daughter and set out on a collision course to right a wrong. 

An emotionally charged novel, The Fragile World is a journey through America's heartland and a family's brightest and darkest moments, exploring the devastating pain of losing a child and the beauty of finding healing in unexpected ways. 

There’s so much to this book, I almost wanted to flip back to the beginning and read it cover to cover again. The Fragile World is beautifully written, so deep and emotive, with raw and real emotions. Paula Treick DeBoard never shies away from the gripping truth within and between her characters.

In 2008, our family lost my youngest brother. He was 22, funny and bright and the accident that took him was so senseless and ridiculous. I’ve so often wished I could go back in time and change the past so he could still be here with us. The tidal wave of emotion that comes after the earthquake of tragedy still ripple through our family. Each of us is forever changed by his sudden, heart wrenching loss. It is with this familiar feeling that I read while biting my fingernail to the nub, of the Kaufman family.

Daniel, child music prodigy and generally the most favorite family member is ripped from life in a freak accident. Almost immediately, I felt as if his mother, Kathleen, shied away from having to deal with the aftermath. She makes Curtis travel to retrieve the body, to deal with the arrangements, to talk to the police. Curtis, on his own, has to stifle his own feelings of grief to move forward. Deep within him, a rage begins to simmer.

By the time that rage explodes, so much has changed– Kathleen no longer lives with the family and younger Olivia suffers from debilitating anxiety, which is only temporarily abated by keeping a meticulous journal of things that scare her, random every day occurrences that could go terribly wrong and take her loved ones away from her.

When Curtis hears that Daniel’s killer– the drunk driver that drove the car that hit the stop sign that fell over onto Daniel– has been released from prison, he decides to mete out the form of justice that would be fair to Daniel. It’s the only way to make the world spin the right way again.

What I enjoyed about this story is how close Curtis and Olivia are– and become in the days leading up to the grim task. Following Curtis’ small mental break, the two set out on roadtrip to visit Kathleen in Oklahoma. The series of poignant and meaningful Daddy-Daughter moments were touching, even when they were cross with each other. Olivia didn’t like to be apart from him. He gave her comfort and made her feel safe and in Curtis’ eyes, he simply had ONE task that would make her feel eternally safe.

The events that close the book puzzle me, however. How Kathleen ends up being the one to take on the heavy burden and how Curtis let her do so… I didn’t see a justification for it. Was he punishing her for basically trying to push Daniel’s death under a rug? For making him deal with the details of life after death?  For leaving the family?

Or did Kathleen feel like it was her duty to take that burden from Curtis?

Wherever those answers lie,it doesn’t change my opinion that The Fragile World is an excellent read– deeply moving, paced well, poetically written. I truly enjoyed it!

[Review] Five Minutes Alone by Paul Cleave

Five Minutes Alone Book Cover Five Minutes Alone
Christchurch Noir Crime Series

Simon and Schuster
October 21, 2014
NetGalley/ Simon & Schuster

In the latest thriller by the Edgar-nominated author of Joe Victim, someone is helping rape victims exact revenge on their attackers, prompting an edge-of-your-seat, cat-and-mouse chase between old friends, detectives Theodore Tate and Carl Schroder. Carl Schroder and Theodore Tate, labeled “The Coma Cops” by the media, are finally getting their lives back into shape. Tate has returned to the police force and is grateful to be back at home with his wife, Bridget. For Schroder, things are neither good nor bad. The bullet lodged in his head from a shooting six months ago hasn’t killed him, but—almost as deadly—it’s switched off his emotions. When the body of a convicted rapist is found, obliterated by an oncoming train, Tate works the case, trying to determine if this is murder or suicide. The following night, the bodies of two more rapists surface. It’s hard to investigate when everyone on the police force seems to be rooting for the killer. There’s a common plea detectives get from the loved ones of victims: When you find the man who did this, give me five minutes alone with him. And that’s exactly what someone is doing. Someone is helping these victims get their five minutes alone. But when innocent people start to die, Tate and Schroder find themselves with different objectives, and soon they’re battling something they never would’ve expected—each other. “Ferocious storytelling that makes you think and feel,” says The Listener (New Zealand). Smart, funny, and breathlessly suspenseful, Five Minutes Alone takes the definition of “crime thriller” to a whole new level.

“Are we on the same page?”

I’m having trouble coming up with words to describe how perfect I think this novel is.For my money, Paul Cleave is utter perfection. His latest novel, Five Minutes Alone, is yet another five star read in a long line of four and five star reads.

I so appreciate the level of detail that Cleave takes his novels, and yet they seem to fly by so quickly. I’m not buried in minutiae, I’m engrossed in the story. I’ve been waiting for the return of Tate for a couple of books now, so it was nice to see a familiar face, so to speak. I’ve also been wondering what was up with Bridget, who’s just awakened from a vegetative state, and I had forgotten that  (spoiler) Schroder was shot in Joe Victim.

The return of the love/hate relationship between Schroder and Tate is the thread that ties this novel together. Tate has returned to the police force following a short stint in a coma himself; Schroder, due to the bullet in his brain that can’t be removed, that will probably kill him, can’t work. When rapists and murderers start coming up dead, Tate knows immediately who’s responsible… but he’s never going to give him up. He can’t. This person knows too much about him and could destroy him, and he’s just getting back on his feet. And oh, by the way, Bridget has some news.

Tate’s job, throughout this novel, is to solve the case… without solving the case. Which is difficult when his partner Rebecca is whipsmart. Tate needs to stay a step ahead of everyone, including the Killer, who’s been granting victims of crime what they’ve always wanted: “Give me five minutes alone with him.”

I’d like to thank Simon & Shuster/Atria Publishing for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this fantastic novel. If you enjoy fast paced, gritty thrillers and you’ve never read Paul Cleave before, beg/borrow/buy everything he’s ever written. Start at the beginning. You won’t regret it!

[Review] XL Love: How the Obesity Crisis Is Complicating America’s Love Life

XL Love-How the Obesity Crisis Is Complicating America's Love Life Book Cover XL Love-How the Obesity Crisis Is Complicating America's Love Life

Social Science
Rodale Books
August 19, 2014

With two out of every three Americans overweight or obese, it’s all hands on deck—scientists are studying how excess fat changes physical and mental health, demographers are calculating how it’s shortening life spans, and economists are debating the impact it has on America’s productivity and global competitiveness. But how weight affects intimacy and sexuality is barely discussed. Yet it’s a question of high importance for the tens of millions of Americans who are overweight or obese and having difficulty sexually and romantically. It is changing and complicating the mating game and married life alike; stunting the ability of young people to find happiness; and tipping some heavy, but otherwise happy, couples into divorce. For many, a larger body has meant a more troubled mind: a decline in sexual quality, an increase in self-loathing, and a tendency to let these factors stand in the way of love. In XL Love, Varney travels the country and tells the personal stories of men and women who are experiencing what millions of others feel every day, along with the stories of those who are in the business of helping them: physicians, researchers, scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and more. Analytic and immersive, personal and eye-opening, XL Love tackles the question: How is sex changing in America as the shape of Americans changes?

I’m not much for non fiction… if I read it, I have to sit down and read the entire book in one sitting. I’m never going back to it later. Doing that with XL Love was no problem. I have highlights on every page. I nodded and mmhmmm’d through every story, seeing myself and my life throughout the pages of this book. And I agree with a reviewer on Amazon that said reading this book was like reading the transcript of a really interesting episode of This American Life.The author intersperses some beautiful, descriptive writing around anecdotes from people who are overweight and want to lose weight. Coupled with the stories is the science behind weight loss, sex and obesity.

I was drawn to this book by a recent snippet posted at Salon.com about dating after weight loss, being concerned about your partner wanting you after either being refused for so long while your libido went dormant, or because you have so much loose skin as to actually feel uncomfortable and unattractive. There is a phenomenon, which Varney writes about called The Whore Syndrome, in which a person presented with so many new choices doesn’t know which one to choose and so, eager and energetic, they choose them all. This happens frequently after weight loss surgery, when a patient might be feeling new found confidence, attractiveness and a return to lustful thoughts and feelings.

I was most interested in the section on teens- what’s considered fat vs thick among black girls vs white girls and black boys vs white, Latino and Asian boys. Forming relationships at a young age helps us mature into healthy young adults, but 2 of every 6 Americans being obese affects this rite of passage. Everything from the shallow attitudes of teen boys (even those who are heavy themselves saying NFC– NO FAT CHICKS) to risky behaviors that heavy teen girls might engage in. Are fat girls really easy?

Varney explores this, in depth. I found her description of a college girl with normal self esteem being destroyed after going away to school to find that men valued her less and felt she deserved someone less attractive because she was overweight. I, too, would fall for a young man– even an average looking young man and just when I thought he might reciprocate, he asked me for a phone number for one of my thinner, pretty, whatever-er friends. That’s a tough lesson to learn and hard to UNlearn.

She goes further to discuss weight gain and loss and how it affects marriages. What does it mean when a husband or a wife loses weight? Is the need to lose weight not simply about healthy but inherently tied to the desire to find a mate?

I find myself relating to so many of the stories in this book, specifically those about dating post extreme weight loss. I understand the science of attraction– people go for what they think they can get and either they think very highly of themselves or they’re self aware enough to ‘stay in their lane’. So when a person feels like they could attract someone good looking… but they don’t… *sigh* I was hoping to read some anecdotes about a person that had to look past dropping a ton of weight to find love and happiness. Those that had post weight loss intimacy issues were already married or dating.

This book is only six chapters long but six LONG chapters. She covered so much and yet I felt she could have covered more. I could have done with a few breaks but over all this was an incredibly enjoyable, entertaining and educational book.

View all my reviews

[Review] You by Caroline Kepnes

You Book Cover You

Simon and Schuster
September 30, 2014

Love hurts…

When aspiring writer Guinevere Beck strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe works, he’s instantly smitten. Beck is everything Joe has ever wanted: She’s gorgeous, tough, razor-smart, and as sexy as his wildest dreams.

Beck doesn’t know it yet, but she’s perfect for him, and soon she can’t resist her feelings for a guy who seems custom made for her. But there’s more to Joe than Beck realizes, and much more to Beck than her oh-so-perfect façade. Their mutual obsession quickly spirals into a whirlwind of deadly consequences . . .

A chilling account of unrelenting passion, Caroline Kepnes’s You is a perversely romantic thriller that’s more dangerously clever than any you’ve read before.

This. Book.

I can’t even.  This is going to be a rambly gushing review about this book because I am unable to CAN, with forming pithy quotes  and character analyzation.

I got a message from Atria that this book was coming out last week and I thought ehhh, we’ll give it a shot. I settled in with it on Saturday afternoon and read it straight through, which happens infrequently, if you can believe it.

First of all, there’s a TON of pop culture in this book.. a lot of musical references, HEAVY references to twitter and facebook, something I find abhorrent but it kind of works.

It’s also in second person present tense, which I became accustomed to rather quickly. The first quarter of the book was a bit dry and ho hum…. knowing that things get awfully crazy later kept me hanging on so I’ll tell you the same. Just………just hang on, reader.

I started out feeling kind of sorry for Joe. He seems like a nice guy– intelligent if a bit ‘trying to hard to show it’, what with mentioning all the time that he didn’t go to college. Endearing, kind of a romantic– the little things mean a lot to him, like a passage in a book or an inscription or the way the perfect girl looks at him. And he works hard, always putting forth the effort, showing interest without seeming like he’d literally bend over backward for this girl.

Except that he would. Joe is desperately obsessed with Guinevere (who goes by Beck because that’s a totally cool hip name to go by when your name is Guinevere). She walks into his bookstore and into his heart and takes up space and doesn’t leave, except she doesn’t know she possesses this space. Over time, Joe moves from endearing and thoughtful to slightly creepy.



But here’s the thing. I don’t much feel sorry for Beck. She’s so oblivious and she’s such a user and I don’t think she knows herself at all. During an intensely retrospective part of the novel, she comes completely clean about the fact that her efforts to obtain an MFA are  fraudulent. She can’t write and never really could and all of her pieces are mostly diary entries– dreams and fantasies. She uses people– men especially and she is the biggest girl sized lap dog in history.

NOTE TO READER: Just star hating Peach early on and save yourself the trouble!

I really vacillated as to whether or not I sided with Joe, which is crazy. There are parts where he’s so nonchalant about what he’s done, or what he’s about to do…. but then Beck leaves an awesome, romantic date to pander to Peach and her neurotic obsession with her fake stalker.  Joe gives her the world and treats her like a Queen but then she doesn’t answer calls or emails….until she needs him to do something.

I think I concluded that for the majority of this book, these fools deserve each other. But then Beck finds out that Joe has been stalking her and Joe finds out that he’s not the only man Beck has been seeing and things just get really ugly.

You was stellar novel and I HOPE the last page is a nod to a sequel. There’s no way Joe can be contained in one book.

[Review] The Silent Sister

The Silent Sister Book Cover The Silent Sister

St. Martin's Press
October 7, 2014
NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager.  Now, over twenty years later, her father has passed away and she's in New Bern, North Carolina cleaning out his house when she finds evidence to the contrary.  Lisa is alive.  Alive and living under a new identity.  But why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now?  As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family.  Riley must decide what the past means for her present, and what she will do with her newfound reality.

What’d I think? I think this was a superb read! I say this every time I give a book five stars but I really so rarely do. There’s something about a book that makes me block out everything in space and time, forego food and other habits because I just can’t put it down. I NEED to know what happens.

The Silent Sister is vividly written, moderately paced. Parts of this story are told through Lisa’s POV, which was enlightening. Watching the details bob to the surface and the two POV’s dovetail to reveal the huge, devastating mystery was sheer entertainment.

Of all of the characters, I think I felt the most sympathy for Riley’s brother, Danny. Caught between the horrors of war and the tearing apart of his family, his anger and anxiety are palpable, his discomfort jumping off of the page. His deep love for his sister redeems his cold and calculating demeanor and his final act of love toward her was so benevolent, it brought tears to my eyes.

The Silent Sister was an excellent, perfect read. I really enjoyed it.