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February 2015

Book Review: ONE STEP TOO FAR by Tina Seskis

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

one step too farAt the start of British author Tina Seskis’s debut novel, One Step Too Far, a married lawyer named Emily Coleman is running away from her family and establishing a new identity as the single Catherine “Cat” Brown, who lives in a hovel with a gaggle of roommates. Her personality and wardrobe get a complete makeover, as does her career.

She lands a job answering phones at an ad agency and works her way up to account manager within nine months. Her success is tempered, however, by the dreaded anniversary of the event that sent her on the run. Can she keep up her façade as the date approaches, or will her new life unravel under the strain of her secret?

Seskis slowly doles out the details surrounding the darkness in Emily’s past while keeping momentum, showing the devastation Emily’s husband experiences even as she tries to forget him, and moving back and forth in time to delve into Emily’s family history. Frances, Andrew and Caroline—her mother, father, and sister—are all flawed and often unlikable, but they’re well-fleshed-out characters with clear and plausible motivations who make no excuses for their bad behavior.

The novel is touted as a psychological thriller with a shocking twist. It’s more accurate to say One Step Too Far is a study of a dysfunctional family. The end is not so much a twist as an explanation of Emily’s behavior that will leave readers feeling gut-punched.

Nerd verdict: Absorbing if not Too twisty


Watch Oscar-Nominated Film for Free This Weekend

last days in vn posterLast October, I raved about the Rory Kennedy-directed/produced documentary, Last Days in Vietnam (my review here). Last month, it was Oscar nominated for best documentary feature.

This weekend, from February 5-7, you can stream this film in its entirety at PBS sites. I highly recommend it, but if you miss it this time around, it’ll air on PBS in April to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.



Nerdy Special List February 2015

January always seems like it lasts a year, with post-holiday blues and crappy weather, and I didn’t have many good reads last month. But February is here, bringing with it more promising books.

Here’s what my book blogger pals and I recommend this month. (Previous NSLs can be found here.)

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders by Chris Hoke (HarperOne, February 3) 

wanted chris hokeGrowing up, Chris Hoke struggled with his faith. He felt a calling, but found the traditional avenues of pursuing his faith unfulfilling.

Then a volunteer opportunity in Washington State with an organization called Tierra Nueva changed everything for him. He left his suburban, middle-class life in California—where he was attending college—and relocated to the Skagit Valley in order to work as a prison chaplain, serving gangs and violent offenders. Here he discovered miracles and his true calling.

This is the story of Hoke’s experiences, told through a series of “Wanted posters” that describe the unlikely people who have led him down his intended life path. Wanted is inspiring and eye opening, at turns heart-wrenching and funny. It is stunningly written, thought provoking, and will touch readers in the darkest depths of their souls. While this was the very first book I read in 2015, I can guarantee it will end up on my favorites list for this year. It is that good.

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney (William Morrow, February 10)

lou berneyLou Berney takes a hiatus from his Shake Bouchon series in this standalone mystery set in his hometown, Oklahoma City. Two unrelated and unsolved crimes from 1986 collide in the present day when their survivors go looking for answers.

Wyatt Rivers was a teenager when he survived a mass murder at the movie theater where he was employed. He left Oklahoma City to escape the trauma but his job forces him to return to the scene of his nightmare. Julianna Rosales was even younger when her big sister, Genevieve, left her eating cotton candy at the fair, telling her she would be right back. Genevieve never returned and her loss haunts Julianna so deeply she’s willing to put her own life at risk to find out what happened.

Berney’s written a dark, layered, and psychologically intense story but still manages to weasel in an element of humor. Dialogue is top-notch and sense of place is vivid and authentic. This one’s hard to put down once you pick it up.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The Marauders by Tom Cooper (Crown, February 3)

marauders cooperWhen the BP oil spill devastates the Gulf Coast, the already tenuous lives of the residents of Jeanette, Louisiana turn dire. Featuring a memorably odd cast of characters, Tom Cooper’s debut is smart, dark, and funny. There’s the one-armed, pill-addicted, treasure hunter Lindquist; the pot-smuggling, identical Toup twins; angst-ridden teenager Wes; and a few other misbegotten residents of the deep south. Part crime novel, part ode to Louisiana, this is a novel for fans of Richard Russo and Elmore Leonard.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Hush Hush by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, February 24)

hush hushTess Monaghan is back, and not a moment too soon. Fans have missed her, and readers new to the series will love meeting her as she struggles with a complex case while balancing the practical and emotional demands of motherhood.

Tess is a compelling character because she seems to be a detective—quite a good one—almost in spite of herself. Her case this time concerns a mother who (might have) killed her baby daughter, and while Tess wants nothing to do with her or the case at first, she is drawn in by forces she simply cannot resist, ones grounded in her own history and family.

Lippman’s prose is perfectly balanced, and her cast of supporting characters is a wonder to behold. Hush Hush does not set out to omg-shock you, but instead builds moments of intertwined tension that are resolved with exceptional storytelling skill.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Monday’s Lie by Jamie Mason (Gallery, February 3)

mondays-lieRaised by their government operative mother, Dee Aldrich and her brother Simon had an unconventional childhood, constantly tested in spy game techniques, earning points for being alert and noticing their surroundings. Because she yearns for a “normal” life, Dee gravitates to and settles down with Patrick Aldrich, a “smooth groove in a bumpy road” she meets in college.

Jamie Mason’s firecracker of a second novel begins ten years into Dee and Patrick’s marriage as things are beginning to come unraveled. Dee’s well-honed observational skills alert her to some strange goings-on she assumes are related to her mother’s covert past. As she investigates, Dee becomes more and more uncertain which part of her life the potential danger is emanating from—her operative mother or her “normal” husband.

Monday’s Lie is a smart, skillfully plotted thriller sustained by a perfect mix of tension and character. There were several characters I’d love to revisit, but Dee’s mother, Annette Vess, blew my doors off in particular. Mason infuses Lie with just the right amount of her barb-sharp humor and  turns some beautiful phrases. Highly recommended on all fronts.  (Read Lauren’s full review here.)

From PCN:

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott (Doubleday, February 17)

touch of stardustKate Alcott weaves fact with fiction as she takes readers behind the scenes of the making of Gone with the Wind, via the eyes of Julie, a young woman who comes to Hollywood in 1938 with dreams of becoming a screenwriter. She lands a job as Carole Lombard’s assistant, and gets front-row seats to the drama unfolding on the set of the iconic movie, as well as the love story between Lombard and Clark Gable.

Alcott was married to the late Frank Mankiewicz (his father was Herman Mankiewicz, Oscar-winning writer of Citizen Kane, and his uncle was Joseph Mankiewicz, Oscar-winning writer of All About Eve) so she has insider information that helps her write with verisimilitude about the glamorous days of old Hollywood. Fans of classic movies who lament “They don’t make them like they used to” would enjoy A Touch of Stardust.

One of these books, Monday’s Lie, is up for grabs. For a chance to win a hardcover copy, leave a comment telling me a lie you told this past Monday. Of course, if you didn’t tell any lies, you could start right now and tell me you did.

Giveaway ends next Tuesday, Feb. 10. US addresses only. Winners will be randomly selected and have 48 hours after notification to claim prize before an alternate winner is chosen.

Now start lying your face off!