Billy O’Callaghan’s My Coney Island Baby

On a bitterly cold, windy winter day, Michael and Caitlin meet at Coney Island.  It is deserted, shuttered, “…a place for the damned to drift, wait their turn at nothingness.”  They’ve been meeting here for twenty or so years, spending one afternoon a month (first Tuesdays) in a series of worn motel rooms, and this one particular winter afternoon frames the entirety of Billy O’Callaghan’s poignant novel.  This afternoon is no different from all those that came before, but they are growing older, and for all those years, at the end of all those first Tuesdays, Michael returns to Barb and Caitlin returns to Thomas.  Lives are lived, time passes.  We are bound, and the status quo is durable.  But what about endings?  Will there be a hiding place from endings?  Will we even recognize them when they come?

Mr. O’Callaghan is an Irishman with a prodigious gift, the gift of words, words that rasp, tumble, lilt, thunder and ravish.  At times, perhaps, a bit self-indulgent, but if you love the magic of words, this is pure pleasure all the same.  In spite of this bounty, I was not totally invested in Michael and Caitlin as a couple, in their relationship, the doggedness of it.  It just seems so unlikely.  Is “why” the central question, the one we’re meant to ask?  If so, then I’m asking it, but the answer is beyond me.

There are three books of short stories and one other novel, The Dead House, by this talented author, and, based on the richness he brings to the backstories of Michael and Caitlin in Coney Island Baby, I’m thinking short fiction may be his forte, but no matter.  He can write the lights out.

Out now so support your local independent bookseller by ordering here.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by HarperCollins Publishers / Harper via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Soren Sveistrup’s The Chestnut Man

Am I right in thinking that, ever since The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo made such a splash, Scandinavia has become the epicenter of smartly written mystery thrillers?  Maybe it’s the long, cold winters, huh?  Nothing to do but cozy up by the fire, drink hot chocolate, and dream up unspeakable acts of utter depravity.  Then it’s either write them up or commit them, I guess, but scriptwriter and TV producer Soren Sveistrup writes, thank goodness, and he does it well.  His creation, the Chestnut Man himself, is a shoo-in candidate for the Boogey Man Hall of Fame – whip smart, cool as a cucumber, driven by vengeance, and he is human.  Well, he looks human, anyway.  And speaking of deceiving appearances, seedy, sad sack detective Mark Hess, on reassignment for Europol, is sharper than he appears and finally puts it all together after local authorities have botched it.  You know they did.  Mark’s character will pique your interest, and so I’m thinking, hoping, more to come, maybe.  In the meantime, read this one, and if someday you stumble upon a crude doll, a little man made of chestnuts and matchsticks, run……..run like the Boogey Man is after you.

This one won’t be released for a couple of months, September 3 I believe, but it’s worth the wait.  Support your local indie bookstores and pre-order here.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by HarperCollins Publishers / Harper via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Silver, Sword, and Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story

After finishing Silver, Sword, and Stone:  Three Crucibles of the Latin American Story, I felt as if I’d been beaten about the head and ears.  The “brutal calculus” of Latin American history simply clobbered me, left me reeling.  Marie Arana calls her book a mixture of history and reportage, and that approach, I think, is what makes it so readable, but her work is massive in both scholarship and scope:  from the Pre-Columbian to the Perons, conquistadores to Castro, Santiago to Pope Francis I.  Its structure and focus are derived from three major currents, co-equal driving forces of Latin American history, identified in the title as silver, sword and stone.

Silver for wealth:  mineral, agricultural, fossil fuels, and drugs.  Sword for violence:  war, conquest, revolution, terrorism, dictatorships, gangs.  Stone for religion:  the Sun God, ancient sacrifices, Catholicism, missionary zeal, political involvement.  All leading to or resulting in weakened extractive societies and exploitation driven by greed.  For each of the three, Ms. Arana weaves in a humanizing touch, stories of three individuals, living examples of silver, sword and stone in today’s Latin America.  Leonor Gonzales is the wife, now widow, of a sick, impoverished gold miner.  Carlos Buergos, a petty Cuban criminal, fought in Angola and was expelled from Cuba when Castro emptied the prisons of “undesirables”.  Spaniard Xavier Albo, a Jesuit priest from Catalan, has served the Church in Bolivia since he was seventeen and is now in his nineties.

To this day there is a cruelly high economic imbalance between rich and poor in most of Latin America and a pronounced arc toward violence and instability.  Latin American countries and cities are often in the majority on lists of the World’s most dangerous. Exploitation and greed, internal and external, historic and current.  Ms. Arana is both fair and thorough in her examination of these volatile parts of our world, and her timely book is a good balance of scholarship and readability.  Effective and affecting.

Available at booksellers everywhere on August 27, 2019. Shop your local indie bookstore to pre-order.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Greg Keen’s Soho Angel

Title #3 in a series I did not know, the Soho Series, and it is a ton o’ fun.  Of course, if being hung by your heels in an abandoned abattoir and threatened with a bolt gun by a guy wearing a Trump mask is not your idea of fun, well, then….catch you later, OK?  Kenny Gabriel is a down-at-heels PI, the sole employee of OC Trace and Find where he does the leg work for the owner, a morbidly obese agoraphobic named Odeerie, and he drinks himself to sleep every night on Monarch of the Glen.  You see, all kinds of “nice” touches.  There are weird aging rock stars, an ex-roadie, now tattoo artist, named Sweat Dog, and the body?  Oh, it’s been right where they left it for over twenty years.  Unfortunately we will have to wait for #4 to find out if Kenny survives his surgery…….hey, no fair!  In the meantime, track down numbers 1 and 2, Soho Dead and Soho Ghosts.  Promising leads.

Shop your local indie bookstore for all the titles in the Soho series.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Amazon Publishing UK / Thomas & Mercer via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Binnie Kirshenbaum’s Rabbits for Food

This is quite a Bunny you’ve pulled out of your writer’s hat, Ms. Kirshenbaum.  Who is this Bunny?  I don’t want to pry, but maybe bits of you, maybe bits of someone you know, maybe bits of all of us?  She’s too unique, I think, to be everyone who’s ever been deeply, seriously depressed.  Bunny is a writer, married to sweet, conciliatory Albie; she’s a middle child, brutally honest, a “more or less” friend of some pretentiously intelligent folks, and she does not like party hats.  Oh, and she’s also deeply, seriously depressed.  Deep enough to affect Bunny’s hygiene.  Serious enough to cause self-harm in a weird and public way.

Rabbits for Food?  Bunny and this book of Bunny will devour you, and it will spit you out undigested and wondering, maybe for the rest of your life.  From an opening line you cannot walk away from to the enigma of the end.  An end that you know is a sure and certain truth, but, even so and in spite of, you can only hope is true…….and you must wonder what if it is not.  Maybe for the rest of your life.  Ms. Kirshenbaum, I salute you.

Available now from booksellers everywhere so hop on out for your copy or click to shop your local indie bookstore.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Soho Press via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and Edelweiss for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Grace Will Lead Us Home: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness

That subtitle basically says what needs to be said.  Jennifer Berry Hawes gives us an even-handed look at the horror in Charleston on June 17, 2015.  An atrocity that, for a moment in time and shared grief, appeared to unite us in a complete reversal of Dylann Roof’s avowed hope for race war.  Nine innocent lives are lost at historic Mother Emmanuel, and there is a tenth, lost but not innocent:  the shooter, lost to hatred.  Ms. Hawes movingly recounts the anguish of the families involved, and willingly recognizes that, as human beings, we are all flawed.  In the aftermath, there are those who inspire us with forgiveness, others who struggle, family quarrels, and church schisms because, well . . . humans, you know.  The book offers no blinding insights or solutions to our ongoing struggles, but rather, it serves to remind us of the healing power of forgiveness and, for those who believe, the grace of God.  Oh, wait, did I say no insights or solutions?  Could be I was wrong.  A thoughtful read.

Out today, June 4, from St. Martin’s Press.  Shop your local indie bookstore for a copy.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Tope Folarin’s A Particular Kind of Black Man

No one fits precisely into a cubby marked this, that or the other.  No one.  So why do we, much like hermit crabs, try to squeeze into one shell after another to see which one fits, to find the one in which we feel at home?  We all do it, but for young Tunde Akinola there are so many shells, so many identities to try and nothing feels like home.  In this coming of age novel, Tunde grows to be a “particular kind of black man”, a first generation African-American, born in the U.S. to Nigerian parents.  But what is that?

Tunde begins school in Utah where he looks around and sees…..no one like himself.  Utah is mostly white and Mormon.  What, then, is he?  His mother develops mental illness and returns to Nigeria, leaving Tunde and his brother with their father, hard-working, deeply religious and now a single parent.  Enter a Nigerian-born step-mother and her two Nigerian-born sons, a family blended in name only.  His Nigerian grandmother, a voice on the phone, is a constant and steadying influence, but he never meets her face to face.

Small town Utah, next small town Texas, then Dallas, college in Atlanta and Maine, on to D.C.  Son, brother, Nigerian, black, white, juju, pop, Western, Southern, small towns, rural, hip-hop, urban, New England, American, male.  How does a wide-eyed child born into this kaleidoscope find his way, navigate, come to grips…….when, more often than not, exploration is squelched, and welcome is never guaranteed?  And how does one such child grow with assurance into the kind of man he is to become?  What will the essence of this man be?  Tope Folarin’s book is not a “how to”.  It is simply the story of Tunde growing up, but it is revelatory, and, I believe, will leave you changed.  A recommended read.

In bookstores everywhere on August 6 from Simon & Schuster.  Shop your local indie bookstore here.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.