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October 2017

Book Review: THE CHILD FINDER by Rene Denfeld

As the titular character in Rene Denfeld’s The Child Finder, Naomi does exactly what her job description says: find missing children. Madison disappeared three years earlier, at the age of five, and her parents have approached Naomi. The family was in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest to cut down a Christmas tree when the little girl walked away—and seemingly off the edge of the Earth. It’s impossible for Madison to have survived in the wilds and frigid cold by herself. Turns out she didn’t.

The story alternates between Naomi’s point of view and Madison’s, although Madison has been calling herself the snow girl, after her favorite fairy tale. The child’s living conditions—more like survival conditions—are disturbing, but her resilience is a marvel and Denfeld uses restraint in describing the most difficult scenes.

Besides Madison’s case, and another one involving a mother incarcerated because she can’t remember how her baby disappeared, Naomi must also confront mysteries in her past. She was found at the edge of the woods when she was nine and has no clear memories of what came before.

Haunted by what she doesn’t know, and believing her work is atonement for something, Naomi wonders why people have children when it means potentially inviting so much pain. But while Child Finder is indeed gut-wrenching, its compassion goes a long way toward healing readers’ aching hearts, showing that love is always a risk worth taking.

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


This is Spinal Crack: Joe Ide’s RIGHTEOUS

Here we are doing another Spinal Crack chat already. Lauren and I are shocked it didn’t take us another 1.5 years.

We were motivated by a book we both loved, Joe Ide’s Righteous (out Oct. 17), the follow-up to last year’s IQ, which won Shamus, Macavity, and Anthony Awards for Best First Novel. Righteous was one of our selections for October’s Nerdy Special List, but Lauren and I wanted to delve more deeply into it.

Read on for our thoughts, and find out how you can win copies of both books.

Lauren: I know we are both excited to start this installment of Spinal Crack, but since I’ve given up sugar and other bad (i.e, GOOD) food for two weeks, gimme your master snack menu.

PCN: I have my standbys: chips and salsa and some pepper-jack cheese thingies.

L: Dude. I can’t live vicariously through the same damn snacks every time. Get some variety.

PCN: Lemme see what else I can find…there’s an old pouch of Swedish Fish in my bag! Wait, why did you give up snacks for two weeks? Are you a savage?

L: Because the state of the world wasn’t awful enough as it was. Tell you what will make me feel better. Let’s talk about Joe Ide and Righteous, the second in his glorious IQ series.

PCN: Can we first talk about the pronunciation of his name?

L: Great idea. Why don’t you set our adoring masses straight on the correct pronunciation?

PCN: It’s Jo—

L: And don’t say “Joe.”

PCN: Nuts. So I have to set the record straight because I’m Asian?

L: Yes. It comes in handy on plenty of occasions, of which this is just one. Also, pho ordering.

PCN: His last name is pronounced Eeday. I’ve heard it said like the singular form of ides of March, or rhymes with Heidi, or like ID or Edie. At least they don’t call him Shirley.

L: I had a case with a plaintiff named Ide and she pronounced it “eyedee.” Autocorrect changed that to “eyesore,” which is now Joe’s new and unfortunate nickname.

PCN: That’s his rap name. Now that we have that straightened out, let’s talk about Righteous.

L: As I read Joe’s work, I have a word that hit me over the head repeatedly, so we’ll play word association. When I say “Joe Ide” to you, what word springs to mind?

PCN: Astute observer of human nature, funny AF. I know, #onewordfail.

L: You have a problem with singular and plural, but you’re also correct so you get points. For me, it’s smart. He’s just so damn smart. Smart in his observations and humor and how he gets them across without seeming like a smart ass. Plus, in plotting and character. He’s just smart about everything.

PCN: Definitely smart without being a show-off.

L: Since you’re more succinct than I am, want to do your stellar $.02 plot summary?

PCN: Isaiah Quintabe, aka IQ, and his friend Dodson are looking for a missing woman, but in an earlier timeline, Isaiah is searching for the killer of his beloved older brother, Marcus. In both situations, he encounters people who could kill him as easily as they make readers laugh.

L: One of the things I really enjoy about this series is the different layers of investigation. You’ve got the main case, Marcus’s case, then the cool things IQ does to help those in his community. Each layer informs the characters beautifully.

PCN: I love how fully Joe paints these characters. None of them is perfect or one thing. You could both like and fear a character. Someone could be a stone-cold killer and forgiving, wise and misguided.

L: Yep. That’s where I was going next. Joe details fantastic backstories for many/most of the characters, including villains and henchmen. Not only are they funny, they are full of humanity. It’s never in question who we’re rooting for, but it still serves to make you think about the concepts of what makes someone “good” and/or “bad.” Everyone is shades of both, even IQ.

PCN: And Joe’s able to do all that without bogging down the prose with exposition. He’s precise and selective about which details he includes.

L: Multiple storylines, multiple arcs within the main case, numerous characters, and I never felt like I lost a thread. I will admit he got me on a timeline once. I missed a transition somewhere. But he’s remarkably adept at keeping things woven yet so clean. It’s maddening, really.

PCN: It’s quite a feat, and he makes it look easy, though I’d bet $94 it wasn’t. He probably came up with 37 different descriptions for everything and kept whittling/revising until he had just the right line, the kind that makes you think, “Those 12 words told me all I need to know about this person.” Specificity in details is one of the reasons this book is so winning. Cherise, Dodson’s lover, has a vice principal’s voice, not a principal’s.

L: Yes! One of the notes I took was this one about IQ: “You’d choose him third for pickup basketball.”

PCN: I can only dream of being chosen third for any sport.

L: It’s obvious, and I say this with love, that Joe is, like you, a total pop culture nerd. Sports, music, television, movies, all the references are there, all relevant and fun. And now that you’ve mentioned Cherise, I’ll segue into the fact that the female characters ROCK.

PCN: All the characters are fantastic. What about the science nerds? They’re like Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street Irregulars.

L: And they become operatives! I hope they show up in later installments. What a goldmine he’s set up there and in the neighborhood in general. I want to jump into their world. If you could meet one of them in real life, who would it be?

PCN: The science nerds, Phaedra and Gilberto. Nerds are my people, obvs. Once again, I don’t know what one means. You?

L: It’s tough, but I think I have to go with IQ’s friend and Dodson’s business partner, Deronda. She is nails. And funny and smart. There’s one scene between Deronda and Janine (the woman IQ and Dodson are trying to find and help) that is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. Deronda has attitude I admire.

PCN: Deronda is a hoot. She’s so vivid. Speaking of Janine, I’m glad she was a DJ and a screw-up. Refreshing not to have an Asian character who’s not an overachiever or a pharmacist. Balthazar, who’s part office building, part orangutan, is another great supporting character. And Ramona. And Gahigi. And Gerald the gangster who looks like an accountant. List goes on and on.

L: I loved Zar’s backstory. There is so much change and growth in this book, historical and otherwise. It gives it so much heart.

PCN: Can we talk about Grace, the woman Isaiah meets in the junkyard? That was one of the sparkiest scenes I’d read in some time, and they barely talked or acknowledged each other!

L: That scene was fantastic, and her silences and lack of reaction made her all the more intriguing. Another strong woman presented in just a few short scenes. She got under our skin, just as she got under Isaiah’s.

PCN: Let’s discuss the dialogue. I didn’t just read the book, I heard it.

L: Which is saying something, since there are characters with such disparate backgrounds. Each voice is unique. It goes back to how well he paints the details. The better you know a character on paper, the better you get them in your head.

I have to mention how Joe handled the Tutsi/Hutu-massacre background of one of the characters. One of the best books I read this year was Scholastique Mukasonga’s Cockroaches, a nonfiction piece about that horror. In so few sentences, Joe gave such import to the gradations of good and bad in one person, and that was just stupendous.

PCN: Absolutely. He also handles the different dialects well. Characters of different ethnicities hurl racist comments at one another but it works because it’s believable they would say stuff like that. Made me think of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.

L: Totally works. As it does in the Deronda/Janine scene I talked about earlier. The subject matter of that conversation was totally racist—who are more worthless, Chinese or African Americans?—but you can’t help but laugh because of the tone. So wrong! Yet, life.

PCN: We laugh because the conversations show how ridiculous those stereotypes are.

L: It also just struck me that those conversations had different overtones. Deronda and Janine are women on something of a level playing field, play-sniping at each other. Another was with a man in a position of power. No one is going to say anything to the man in power about his racist comments, but if Deronda or Janine took a wrong step toward each other, it played out differently. Ha, I’m getting deep.

PCN: Glad one of us is.

L: I’ll take it back up to surface-level summary: Joe Ide has become a must-read author for me.

PCN: Same. As in, I don’t need to know what the book’s about just give it to me.

L: OK, it feels like two weeks since we started this chat, so I’m going to go mainline some sugar.

PCN: I’ll send paramedics if I don’t hear from you in 10 days.


Want to win signed copies of both IQ and Righteous? Send a message to Joe Ide on Facebook with proof of a donation to hurricane relief and he’ll enter your name in a drawing. The giveaway ends October 17 so act fast!

CrimeSpree Magazine and Friday Reads are also giving away (unsigned) copies of IQ. Entries are accepted here until October 20. Good luck!


Nerdy Special List October 2017

October is one of my favorite months. The leaves change colors—well, not in L.A. but back east in pictures from family. The weather is cooler so I don’t have to sweat my back off every day, and we have Halloween, when I can laugh at people’s costumes and eat all the leftover candy.

And then there are fall books. October has such strong releases that even after three of us fought over the same book (Joe Ide’s Righteous; Erin won the wrestling match), we had no shortage of other titles to recommend.

Read on for this month’s picks.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash (William Morrow, October 3)

Wiley Cash’s third novel is based on the story of Ella May Wiggins, a white woman working in an integrated North Carolina textile mill. Wiggins works nights six days a week—approximately 70 hours—and earns nine dollars. Abandoned by her husband with four small children, Wiggins has very few options if she wants her family to survive.

When she learns about a union rally in a nearby town, she risks everything and attends on her only day off. Her personal story and singing talent grab the attention of the union organizers, and she soon finds herself the poster child for the movement.

Cash’s rich sense of place, enthralling narrative, and compassion make The Last Ballad a wonderful reading experience. The illustrations of early union efforts remind us of the sacrifices that were made to build the United States into the country it is today. Relating it to current events only makes the themes all the stronger. Another winner for Cash.

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi (Razorbill, October 31)

Debut author Tochi Onyebuchi has created a profoundly gripping fantasy world, using influence from Nigerian folklore and the age-old, universal idea of haves and have-nots.

In this world, there are the powerful mages who can extract sin from people in the form of beasts, and aki who are needed to kill and eat the sin once it’s been withdrawn. The aki then bear the burden of the sin, in their hearts, minds, and on their skin in the form of tattoos.

Taj is a cocky young aki who gets tangled in a sinister plot to destroy his homeland. He must team up with a young mage to defeat the evil forces and protect his loved ones. Beasts Made of Night is brilliant and intense. It touches on powerful themes like justice, inequality, and family. And it unhooked this fantasy skeptic from her stronghold on reality and delivered her into an amazing realm of magic and wonder.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Righteous by Joe Ide (Mulholland Books, October 17)

What do ruthless Chinese gangsters, a loan shark with a horrific past, a beautiful lawyer, and a DJ have in common? They’re all part of the case Isaiah Quintabe investigates in Joe Ide’s impressive sophomore novel.

IQ heads to Las Vegas on a case that is close to his heart, while also investigating his brother’s death ten years earlier. Ide balances mystery, action, humor, and danger perfectly, and has a singular ability to create a cast of characters as engaging and fascinating as any you’ll meet, and the cases IQ investigates are worthy of his skills.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

The Dirty Book Club by Lisi Harrison (Gallery Books, October 10)

In 1962, Gloria Golden and three twentysomething girlfriends live by Prim: A Modern Woman’s Guide to Manners. Then, at a monthly potluck, over martinis and Neil Sedaka on the hi-fi, they explore a copy of The Housewife’s Handbook to Selective Promiscuity.

For the next 54 years, the group meets to secretly discuss evocative books, pushing the boundaries of their truths and repressions. Their fabulous history is the background for a new generation when Gloria’s gang passes the club on to four young women who hardly know each other and sometimes don’t even like each other.

Though filled with ribald humor and infused with a fantastic Golden Girls/Maude vibe, there is plenty of substance as well. Funny and warm, smart and sassy, it’s an all-around satisfying read.

Where the Sun Shines Out by Kevin Catalano (Skyhorse Publishing, October 17)

My tagline when I recommend this debut, and I’ve been doing that quite a bit lately, is “Gird your loins.” It’s not for the faint of heart, but man, is it worth the pain if you’re a fan of grit-lit.

Two young brothers are abducted in a gut-clenching opening and only one returns alive to their small hometown in New York. The impact on the surviving brother, his family, other members of the town, and the town at large are explored in depth over ten interrelated stories that strip life to its core and then probe it with a red-hot poker. This is never done for the sake of shock value, but always in furtherance of the characters and story.

If, like me, you’re a lover of great writing that pushes your comfort zone, look no further. As an added bonus, the cover is glorious.

From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

Breach of Containment: A Central Corps Novel by Elizabeth Bonesteel (Harper Voyager, October 17)

This is the third in a science-fiction series, and I am loving them!

After Elena Shaw has left Central Corps, she’s working as an engineer for a commercial shipping vessel. She meets up with her former ship and shipmates after a disastrous delivery on a planet that added more problems.

There are space rescues, tense communications, and Elena’s reunion with her ship, but with a corporation trying to rule the galaxy, will reunions save it?

While this is part of a series, this strong and page-turning story stands alone.

PCN’s recommendation:

We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union (Dey Street, October 17)

Whether or not you’re already a fan of Union’s screen work, you’ll likely want to be friends—or at least have drinks—with the actress after reading this collection of personal essays. She is funny, whip smart, and unafraid to make herself look ridiculous, like in detailing the home remedy she tried for her yeast infection to avoid being seen buying Monistat.

But as I was still laughing, she ripped me to shreds with the account of her rape at 19. And about her wearing mittens in her mostly white Chicago neighborhood because “thugs don’t wear mittens.” Union has faced obstacles but she’s a survivor, and readers will find her strength and sense of humor inspiring.

Which October releases are you excited about?