Review ♦ Assisted Loving

About The Book

What would you do if your eighty-year-old father
dragged you into his hell-bent hunt for new love?

A few months after the death of his wife, Joe Morris, an affable, eccentric octogenarian, needs a replacement. If he can get a new hip, why not a new wife? At first, his skeptical son Bob (whose own love life is a disaster) is appalled. But suspicion quickly turns to enthusiasm as he finds himself trolling the personals, screening prospects, chaperoning, and offering etiquette tips to his needy father. Assisted Loving is a warm, witty, and wacky chronicle of a father, a son, and their year of dating dangerously.

Book Title: Assisted Loving Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir
Author: Bob Morris Type: Trade Paperback 320 Pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial Publication Date: June 2009

My Thoughts  
This month is turning out to be “Memoir July” for me. After reading Moose: A Memoir Of Fat Camp, I kept with the theme and read Bob Morris’ new book Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating With My Dad. This is another quirky non-fiction about a certain time from a person’s life, specifically the period shortly after his mother’s death when his father decides to begin dating, and searching for that perfect someone. Never, ever, ever would I want to help one of parents find a new relationship – this is way to far into the ick factor for me. I prefer to go on with the delusion that my parents are completely asexual beings that just happen to sleep in the same bed. But hearing about somebody else helping their own dad hook-up – yeah I can deal with that, and laugh (a lot!) at what happens along the way.

Assisted Loving is the story of Bob, a middle-aged man, who reluctantly agrees to help his eighty-year-old dad Joe, re-enter the dating scene. Recently widowed after fifty years of marriage, Joe knows what he wants in a woman but isn’t quite clear on how to go about finding her. Bob isn’t married, or in a steady relationship, and he’s gay, so his assistance in helping his dad could seem a little strange, a bit unusual and downright hilarious. But if it means his dad will be happy, and less likely to be complain every chance he gets, than Bob is ready to be his father’s wingman on a quest for love (and maybe, possibly, sex!)

At first, I wasn’t sure how much I’d like this book, it sounded interesting and unique – but would I honestly want to read about an eighty year old man whose on the prowl, with his son giving tips? So yeah, I was a little hesitant at first, but once the story got going, I was happy to see that this was only part of the main story. This experience in the lives of a son and father was the main theme, but the focus was really about their relationship. It was definitely interesting to see how they changed, as individuals and as relations, during this time. There were glimpses of how they got along in the past and how that impacted their current relationship. I really liked seeing how the two men began to see one another as people, as though by embarking on this adventure together they could strip away the expected behaviors that come with being a “son” and “father.”

Overall, Assisted Loving was an enjoyable read. Both humorous and serious. I especially liked seeing how a child, no matter how old, can reconnect with a parent on so many different levels, and that sometimes it’s important to look behind the parent label and see the person they are.

About The Author
A frequent contributor to the New York Times Sunday Styles section, Bob Morris has been a commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered and a contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and Travel + Leisure. He also collaborated with Diahann Carroll on her award-winning memoir, The Legs Are The Last To Go.

Photo by Rebekah Andersen

Other Reviews
Have you reviewed this book too?
Let me know and I’ll add your link.

© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.

Review ♦ Moose: A Memoir Of Fat Camp


About The Book

Stephanie Klein was an eighth grader with a weight problem. It was a problem at school, where the boys called her “Moose,” and it was a problem at home, where her father reminded her, “No one likes fat girls.” After many frustrating sessions with a nutritionist known as the fat doctor of Roslyn Heights, Long Island, Klein’s parents enrolled her for a summer at fat camp. Determined to return to school thin and popular, without her “lard arms” and “puckered ham,” Stephanie embarked on a memorable journey that would shape more than just her body. It would shape her life.

Book Title: Moose: A Memoir Of Fat Camp Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir
Author: Stephanie Klein Type: Trade Paperback 320 Pages
Publisher: Harper Collins Publication Date: June 2009

My Thoughts  
Reading memoirs are sometimes hard for me, not because I don’t enjoy them, mainly because I want to know for sure that what I’m reading is really true. In my mind certain writers start out with the basic truth but they inflate, or exaggerate things to a point where I personally think it should be classified as fiction. Now onto Moose: A Memoir Of Fat Camp, it opens with an author’s note, which is always a plus for me, it lets you get a feel for the person before jumping into the middle of their life. But in this case it helped clear up some of my fact versus fiction worries. Stephanie Klein clearly states in this note that she has combined five years worth of fat camp experiences into one for this book, she explains why and how, and ends off by saying that even though the timeline has been altered, all the events described really did happen to her. This is awesome! Just those two small pages at the beginning made my reading experience all the more enjoyable – honesty, straight up front in a memoir is a great thing. (This has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the book, but it’s an important element to me, so maybe it’s important to other readers out there too.)

Moose is the story of Stephanie Klein’s battle against her weight and her body issues throughout her adolescence, and the reader is first introduced to her during a prenatal check-up during her pregnancy. This was a good time to meet her, as she has just been told by her doctor that she needs to gain fifty pounds. This must have been such a blow to her mentally, I mean after years of watching to make sure the numbers on the scale stay low, she’s now being told she needs to weigh more, a lot more. Fifty pounds is quite a lot even to a perfectly healthy body. This news takes her back to her childhood, when her mother tells her that she’s made an appointment for her to see a fat doctor, which will eventually lead to her first summer at a fat camp.

Retold from memory and diary excerpts the reader follows Stephanie as she becomes a new member of the summer fat camp society. And it is indeed it’s own society, complete with ranks, cliques and popularity contests. Even though Stephanie is overweight, and ridiculed at her regular school, once at the summer camp she sees that she will be higher on the social ladder. Why? Well because she may be fat, but the majority of the kids there are larger than her. This was really interesting and made me think a lot about how people are judged and where they fit in with their peers – it’s not so much the person, but the people who surround them that decide where a person falls in the social order.

Moose is not only about an overweight girl spending a summer at fat camp, it’s also a book about growing up, being a kid, and struggling with all the other crap that comes with adolescence. Boys, sex, discovering your own body, troubles with parents and friends - all these things come into play along the way, in an open and un-self-conscious way. The way that Stephanie Klein writes is blunt and to the point, but it’s also funny, sad and confusing, just the way life really is.

This memoir was one that I enjoyed reading quite a bit, I really like Klein’s style. This story deals with a lot of serious issues, but it never gets too deep or overly analytical. Her story is told in such a way that the reader can either take it or leave it. She tells it like it is. I had quite a discussion over this memoir with a friend of mine. I liked it, she didn’t. We agreed that it was well-written and engaging, but ended up debating the message behind it and the lack of a miraculous psychological recovery. It’s true that the author doesn’t find a magic cure to fix her negative body image issues, she still has problems seeing herself as healthy and fit, and still worries about her weight. But to me personally, I didn’t have a problem with this, I think that a weight problem would be extremely hard to get over and the fact that Stephanie Klein admits these things makes her story all the more fascinating to me.

It’s a sad fact, but the society we live in is so obsessed with looks, and that makes a weight struggle all the more difficult. Whether a girl/woman is underweight or overweight or average, there will always be someone, or something telling her that she isn’t ‘right’ – so not only must you change your own perceived body image, you also have to ignore what’s all around you everyday.

About The Author
tephanie Klein is an acclaimed writer and photographer with a cult-like following. Her work has been published in the UK, Europe, India, Australia, Japan, China, and elsewhere. Her blog, Greek Tragedy, is visited by more than 400,000 readers a month. Klein's photography is on permanent exhibit in New York's Hotel Gansevoort. Her first memoir, Straight Up and Dirty, is currently in development as a half-hour comedy series. While she enjoys living in Austin, Texas with her husband and twin son and daughter, she'll always be a New Yorker.

Other Reviews
Have you reviewed this book too?
Let me know and I’ll add your link.

© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.

Review ♦ Tunneling To The Center Of The Earth

About the Book

Kevin Wilson's characters inhabit a world that moves seamlessly between the real and the imagined, the mundane and the fantastic. "Grand Stand-In" is narrated by an employee of a Nuclear Family Supplemental Provider—a company that supplies "stand-ins" for families with deceased, ill, or just plain mean grandparents. And in "Blowing Up On the Spot," a young woman works sorting tiles at a Scrabble factory after her parents have spontaneously combusted.

Southern gothic at its best, laced with humor and pathos, these wonderfully inventive stories explore the relationship between loss and death and the many ways we try to cope with both.

Book Title: Tunneling To The Center Of The Earth Genre: Fiction / Short Stories
Author: Kevin Wilson Type: Trade Paperback 240 Pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial Publication Date: March 2009

My Thoughts on The Stories

Grand Stand-In

An older woman works for a company that provides people with ready-made grandparents. She must join in on family affairs and pretend to be the grandmother figure. This could be because the real grandmother has died, is no longer a part of the family or not a suitable role model. But the reasons don’t matter, all that matters is that she does her job, and she does it well because she has a talent.

“I am the queen of disconnect” “And I am the best. I get the highest approval ratings from my families, lots of monthly report cards that read, ‘I wish she really were my mother’ or ‘Can we adopt her?’, but I don’t miss them when they are gone. I love them, but I know what kind of love it is. Disconnecting may seem cold, but it is what is required. And I am, as I have been told many times, so damn good at it.”

However, her most recent family hires her for a switch-job, one that requires her to take the place of a living and already known grandmother, and she begins to question what she believed in all along.

Blowing Up On The Spot

Both parents dead from spontaneous human combustion, a younger brother who has attempted suicide more than once and the responsibility that comes with being the guardian and supporter of this young brother, is more stress than one young man can handle. This young man works in a scrabble tile factory, every day he must spend hours searching through piles and piles of little wooden tiles searching only for Q’s – which are easily mistaken with O’s. He’s worried about combusting and blowing up himself someday, and he’s always watching his little brother for signs that he may try to end his life again. He’s also a counter, he counts he footsteps wherever he goes, as though he can find comfort in the control he has over how many steps he takes – he can take bigger steps for less, or smaller steps for more. The numbers will not save him, and the little power they give him cannot decide his fate. But maybe the girl from the sweet-smelling candy shop by his apartment can help this young man and his brother to survive.

The Dead Sister Handbook: A Guide For Sensitive Boys

This story is actually written in the style of a handbook/dictionary to help boys with dead sisters. It’s not the full handbook, only an excerpt, specifically Volume 5 (Laconic Methods to Near Misses) and while it may seem disjointed this small piece will come together to tell a complete story of loss.

Sensitive boys will encounter between four and eleven women who resemble the dead sister. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to talk to these women, follow them down crowded city streets, or pay them money in exchange for sexual favors. Nothing good can come from this.

Even with the untraditional format I thought this one was really intense. I think it shows how connected a set of siblings can be. And how hard it is to make the journey from ‘being a brother’ to ‘was a brother’ – as though with the loss of a sister the brother also loses a part of his own identity.

Birds In The House

A young boy accompanies his father and uncles to the reading of his grandmothers will. She has left instructions with the attending lawyer that her estate be left to one of her sons, but she did not name who. Instead they must compete to win. And they will fight viciously against one another, as there is no brotherly love between the men. The competition involves each man first folding 250 paper cranes, then placing them on a table with fans. The last paper crane left on the table and it’s owner will inherit the entire estate. The others get nothing.

It is what my grandmother wanted. It was her desire, her one last hope, for the brothers to gather here in the house they once shared, to make birds out of paper and maybe find something decent in one another that would sustain them.

The boys grandmother was from Japan, and with her American husband she moved back to his home in the southern United States to build their family. The paper cranes were an important thing to her, but her sons always thought of them as useless, time-wasting things. Now with her last wish, her sons are forced together again, but they come not because of the cranes. It is greed and hatred that has them folding cranes for her. Through her young grandson’s eyes we experience this hatred, but maybe his youth is enough to see through the anger and glimpse the magic his grandmother found in the paper cranes.

Mortal Kombat

Although short, simple and straight to the point, this story really blew me away. Scotty and Wynn are two adolescent boys, outcasts from the society of their peers, but brought together by their shared passion for knowledge. They spend their lunch hours hidden in a dark A/V room testing one another on facts, going over page after page of encyclopedias and books. The are Quiz Bowl champions. Away from school they share an obsession for violent video games, spending hours fighting one another on screen, with controllers in hand. Bloody battles that end up with one or the other killing the weaker of the two. One day however, in the A/V room, something happens to change their friendship.

It is simple and awkward at the same time, the way they proceed. There is only the quickness of movement, the instinctive responses of the body. It feels like fighting; that is what runs through both of their minds. It lasts all of two minutes, maybe less. When it is over they are sweating and shirtless, skin burned read in the shape of handprints, backing away from each other in small, careful steps.

Everything changes after that, and the boys do not know how to approach this new aspect of their relationship. Their passion when playing video games has always been a mental exertion, but now they find that passion has taken them over physically. But in the game someone always has to be the loser, the beaten, the dead. Wynn has trouble accepting that this new game doesn’t follow the rules and Scotty wants Wynn to see that what they’ve discovered is different yet okay. Rules are meant to be broken. The boys both must understand that sometimes the most dangerous things are the emotional battles rather than the physical.

Tunneling To The Center Of The Earth

Of all the stories in this collection, I found this one was the most terrifying, probably because I could relate to it so well. It’s summer and a group of recent college graduates are sitting around the narrators’ house doing nothing. Suddenly they grab some tools and begin digging in the backyard.

None of us came up with the idea on our own that morning. It just sort of hit us all simultaneously. You spend enough time with someone, you start to think in sync with them, and at this moment we all just thought the same thing: We should dig, get underground. So we did.

It began as a simple hole, getting deeper and deeper, until as a group they stopped going downwards, and began going sideways. Weeks pass and they’ve tunneled all across town, weaving labyrinth-like passageways, and dead-ends, and sometimes going back up in unexpected places. They’ve gathered supplies and live in their underground tunnels now. The narrators’ parents deliver food to them, and it’s at these times that the group realize what direction is up now. Being in their underground home has given them the freedom to lose all perspective, as though they are floating in a safe, dirt-encrusted womb. They’ve found peace, until the group begins breaking up and crawling back into the world. I thought this story described perfectly the feelings a person may have when they’re at that point in life when they are pushed in a new direction. From birth we are shown the steps to take – go to grade school, make friends, graduate high school, go on to college, get a degree so you can get a good job – but then what? You’re an adult now and no one can tell you where to go, what to do, how to live. And if you make a mistake, you cannot blame anyone else, because it’s your life now. Hiding and avoiding life would be so much easier. And the digging, it implies a purpose. But once you’ve dug so far, and the end is still not clear, you have to make a decision – die in the grave you’ve dug or pull yourself out and live.

The Shooting Man

After reading this one, I had to go back and read it again. It was haunting, and I was confused and I still haven’t quite figured out what was going on. The actual plot is clear, no confusing stuff there. It was the narrators’ mind I wanted more insight into. I was looking for concrete meaning behind the tale, but I think it would be different for everyone who reads it.

It took me damn near a week to convince Sue-Bee to come watch this guy shoot himself in the face. “Why would I wanna do something like that, Guster?” she asked me, which seemed like a dumb question because why does anyone want to do anything? It just seemed like fun, that’s all.

That’s the first sentence (well first two actually) and it sets the mood of the story well. Guster’s thoughts about the shooting man are voiced so naturally, but the subject is so strange. It’s a great mixture. I’m not giving a description of this one, because I think it’s best to read it fresh with no opinion beforehand. Like I said, I believe every person takes something different from a story, and I’m sure this one would spark quite a few differing thoughts.

The Choir Director Affair (the baby’s teeth)

Sometimes a normal thing can be so twisted and become so astounding just by changing or adding one single thing. Something you would never expect to see. Again the first couple sentences of this story managed to completely entrance me:

This is the baby, and yes, those are teeth. They’re not important. Don’t think about them. Nothing special, this baby with teeth. Usually it is only a snaggletooth, a single, perfectly formed tooth in the tiny mouth, unlike the full set on this baby. Still, it has happened before, is happening now, will happen again, Jesus Christ, get over it. It is nothing to get excited about. They are only teeth. So forget we even mentioned it because it doesn’t matter: the baby, the teeth, the pacifiers gnawed until they are unrecognizable.

Can’t you just feel the intensity of the narrator? He’s trying so hard to ignore the teeth, but he’s captivated, disgusted, completely obsessed. This was such an amazing read, not because of plot or characters. It was that the writing had such a furiousness about it. The idea was also fascinating. People have teeth and it’s never something to be astonished about, but give the context a little nudge, as the author did by giving a baby a full set of chompers, and it can change a person’s entire world.

Go, Fight, Win

My favorite story of the collection, and I really wanted to share a passage from it. I read and re-read and finally came to see that it would be impossible to choose one that would properly show just how beautiful and heart-breaking and moving this story was. It’s like every phrase and word was chosen with such care to make the whole story come alive. I’m gushing, I know. This is another story about adolescence and the struggle for freedom. In this one we are introduced to a young girl who just wants to be allowed to be herself, to find her own identity and to share her thoughts with someone who understands her. She wants someone to see her instead of trying to make her into what they think she should be. With the strange boy across the road she finally finds someone who accepts her as an individual, who is as unique as she is. Together the two find comfort from the outside world, but they will also have to deal with many obstacles and strong opponents if they are to be friends. Their relationship is probably going to end badly and is quite likely not good for them in the long run – but for now, they are content, happy and stronger because they have one another.

The Museum Of Whatnot

This wasn’t one of my favorites of the stories, although it wasn’t bad, I just didn’t feel it had as much of an impact as the others. It follows a woman who is curator of the Museum of Whatnot. It’s basically a place to show off strange collections of junk that people have accumulated throughout their lives. My grandfather washes, folds and saves every piece of tin foil he’s ever used – but when he needs a piece he always uses brand new foil! So my grandfathers’ gazillion folded squares of tin foil would be a perfect example of what you’d see at the Museum of Whatnot. Oh right, back to the story. So the woman who is the curator (and only employee) at this museum of useless junk, she actually lives her life the exact opposite way. She wants no useless material things in her life.

A man himself is junk and all his life he clutters the earth with it … he lives in it. He loves it. He worships it. He collects it and stands guard over it.
- William Saroyan, 1952

That’s the epigraph found at the beginning of the story and the female curator believes that this type of worship is what dooms a person. You cannot own stuff, the stuff owns you. So it’s very strange to see how she feels about being the caretaker of hundreds of other people’s junk, and how she reacts to a man who visits the museum religiously.

Worst-Case Scenario

What a triumphant way to end off this collection. This one is another of the stories that packs a punch. The narrator of this story is a twenty-something man who works as a field agent for Worst-Case Scenario Inc. His job takes him to homes and companies where he does an inspection and then calculates the possible disasters that could occur upon the premises. In the average family home there are literally millions of horrible things that could happen, resulting in injury or death. But he can only predict what can happen, he does not know the necessary calculations to prevent the disasters from happening. The positives of knowing what could happen, do they make life better or worse? This is something that he will need to decide. Is a life lived in constant fear really a worthwhile life? Maybe it would be better to just not know and let life run it’s course.

Final Thoughts 

Tunneling To The Center Of The Earth was an unbelievable collection of stories, full of thought-provoking situations, and emotionally sincere characters. Each story made me feel like a voyeur peeking into the private lives and thoughts of strangers. The feelings the author explored were natural, wonderful, disturbing and touching. Kevin Wilson is a new to me author that I will be looking forward to reading more from. This collection of short stories will go onto the shelf with my other beloved collections by Mary Gaitskill, A.M. Homes and Amy Hempel, where I think it will feel perfectly at home.

About The Author

Kevin Wilson's writing has appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, and elsewhere, and has twice been included in the anthology New Stories from the South: The Year's Best. He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the KHN Center for the Arts, and teaches fiction writing at the University of the South, where he also helps run the Sewanee Writers' Con­ference. Wilson was born and raised in Tennessee, and he lives there with his wife, Leigh Ann Couch, and their son, Griff.

Other Reviews

Have you reviewed this book too?
Let me know and I’ll add your link.
Devourer Of Books

© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.

Review ♦ The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha

About the Book

Irene and Nate Stanley are living a quiet and contented life with their two children, Bliss and Shep, on their family farm in southern Illinois when Nate suddenly announces he’s been offered a job as a deputy sheriff in Oregon. Irene fights her husband. She does not want to uproot her family and has deep misgivings about the move. Nevertheless, the family leaves, and they are just settling into their life in Oregon’s high desert when the unthinkable happens. Fifteen-year-old Shep is shot and killed during an apparent robbery in their home. The murderer, a young mechanic with a history of assault, robbery, and drug-related offenses, is caught and sentenced to death.
Shep’s murder sends the Stanley family into a tailspin, with each member attempting to cope with the tragedy in his or her own way. Irene’s approach is to live, week after week, waiting for Daniel Robbin’s execution and the justice she feels she and her family deserve. Those weeks turn into months and then years. Ultimately, faced with a growing sense that Robbin’s death will not stop her pain, Irene takes the extraordinary and clandestine step of reaching out to her son’s killer. The two forge an unlikely connection that remains a secret from her family and friends.
Years later, Irene receives the notice that she had craved for so long—Daniel Robbin has stopped his appeals and will be executed within a month. This announcement shakes the very core of the Stanley family. Irene, it turns out, isn’t the only one with a shocking secret to hide. As the execution date nears, the Stanleys must face difficult truths and find a way to come to terms with the past.

Book Title: The Crying Tree Genre: Fiction
Author: Naseem Rakha Type: Hardcover 368 Pages
Publisher: Broadway Books Publication Date: July 2009

My Thoughts

MOTIVATION FOR READING:     I really enjoy this type of family drama that deals with real-life issues. It’s always interesting to see what can happen within a group of relatives when tragedy strikes. Finding out how they manage to go on with life in the aftermath.

WHAT IT’s ABOUT:     The full synopsis is up above. Basic idea of the plot: A man decides to move his family away from their hometown, although wife and children are not so happy with the decision. Once they become settled in, the son is killed during a home burglary, husband/father cannot revive son once he arrives on scene. A young man is charged with murder and sentenced to death, but many years pass before his actual execution date is appointed. The story narrative follows the family, the murderer and the executioner.

WHAT’s GOOD:     The entire story encompasses three decades, from the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s but instead of being told in a linear fashion, every few chapters it flips back and forth to bring the entire story into focus. This was done really well, and helped to break up the plot and the different characters points of view. But what I enjoyed the most was the perspectives this book focused on, there is the guilt of a father who couldn’t save his son, the anger and loss of a mother, the sister who feels less visible than her dead brother, and the executioner who isn’t sure how he feels about what he does, but knows he must do it with respect and kindness. There is of course the killer as well, but the reader learns more about him from the others than straight from him, which I thought was a really great way to present him.

WHAT’s NOT so GOOD:    The story moves along really well, and I was pulled right into it, even though there is a hint of what will happen, it was still interesting to make my way to that point. Then towards the end there’s a twist thrown in. The problem I had with the twist was that it completely took away from the main issues of the story up to that point. The twist is something that would have been controversial during that particular time and place, but rather than adding another insight into the story it seemed like a money shot – a cheap shock for shock value only. Up until that point I was really enjoying the novel and all the possible opinions that characters deal with about death, murder, state executions. However, with that one twist my interest fell, because the serious tone was lost behind the supposed sensationalism of the surprise revelation.

FINAL THOUGHTs:    Excellent plot, really great writing and an interesting mixture of characters. The Crying Tree was a quick and easy read, that I loved about 75% of the way. The twist was the 25% I thought the story would have been more powerful without. It seemed like an unnecessary controversy when the basic ideas were already thought-provoking enough.

About The Author

Naseem is an award-winning journalist whose stories have been heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace Radio, Christian Science Monitor, and Living on Earth. She lives in Oregon with her husband, son, and many animals. When Naseem isn’t writing, she’s reading, knitting, hiking, gardening, or just watching the seasons roll in and out.


Other Reviews
Have you reviewed this book too?
Let me know and I’ll add your link.

© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.

Blog Tour ♦ Review & Giveaway ♦ Toxin ♦ Paul Martin Midden

About the Book

Jake Telemark, a junior senator from Wisconsin, enjoys his position as a moderate, common-sense legislator in Washington, D.C.—until the phone call that changes his life forever. Isadore Hathaway, daughter of the late Frank Hathaway, a renowned senatorial powerhouse, demands to see Jake immediately. During a mysterious meeting with Isadore, Jake learns an uncomfortable truth:  a group of fanatical right-wing evangelicals, who call themselves The Bookkeepers, are planning to destroy the US democracy. 

Shocked by Isadore’s revelation, but initially unwilling to get involved in something he can scarcely believe, Jake soon learns why Isadore Hathaway singled him out for this clandestine meeting: she’d  uncovered a part of Jake’s past that he’d fought to keep hidden, not just by law, but by of the demands of his sanity.  Isadore’s plea is both startling and matter-of-fact:  she wants Jake to kill the men involved in this sinister plot—because if Jake doesn’t kill them, they will kill him.

When parts of Isadore’s scenario begin to come true, Jake becomes ensnared in a dangerous and deadly plot. With the country at risk and freedom hanging in the balance, Jake is thrust into excruciating circumstances. Forced to confront the demons of his past, and the demons that threaten the future of the country he serves, Jake inconveniently falls in love with Isadore.  As this burgeoning relationship plays out against the backdrop of the most tumultuous time in US history, Jake Telemark must wage an intense tug-of-war between his promise to never harm another human being, and his duty to the country, and woman, he loves.

A gripping first person novel that reads like non-fiction, Toxin is briskly-paced and filled with urgency. Part provocative political thriller, part powerful psychological narrative, Toxin delivers a terrifyingly-real storyline that deftly blurs the lines between fiction and reality. Novelist Paul Martin Midden displays remarkable dexterity in  his extraordinary character development, exquisite understanding of the texture and complexity of human relationships, and ability to keep the pages turning in this powerful thriller.

Book Title: Toxin Genre: Suspense / Mystery Fiction
Author: Paul Martin Midden Type: Trade Paperback 338 Pages
Publisher: Millennial Mind Publishing Publication Date: July 2009

Many thanks to everyone at Omnimystery for the opportunity to participate in this blog tour.

My Thoughts  

Toxin is a suspense-thriller that deals with government, politics, secret organizations, conspiracies and terrorism. This is not the type of book I read very often, as I am not familiar with the genre. After reading the synopsis I became very interested in it, because of the narrative and a main character who seemed much more complex than most I’ve encountered before. I was extremely glad that I ventured into this unfamiliar territory. From the moment I began turning the first few pages, I knew that I had found a solid, enjoyable story.

This is a story that could be perfectly translated into a film, because Jake Telemark is a character that would pack the seats in any theatre. Told from the first person perspective, Jake’s narration really brings his persona to life. Along with telling a story, Toxin also makes Jake seem like a real person. The reader experiences the action, mystery and secrets he encounters, but added to that is his doubts, feelings, worries and skepticism. Jake Telemark may be a US Senator now, but his past participation in a classified organization has scarred him psychologically, which brings with it the doubts and paranoia about what may be happening to the world. When Jake is contacted by Dora and asked to basically help save the world, not only does he have to consider what’s possible or improbable, he also has to figure out if his mind is strong enough to take on this task. Throw in his attraction to Dora into the equation and Jake needs to seriously consider whether it is only his male response to her that is driving him to believe her and her wild accusations.

I wondered if I would really commit myself to Dora’s plan even though I had been so clear on the phone about it. My statement to her was contingent but unequivocal. I had essentially committed myself to something I had vowed I would never do again. It was too outrageous to even contemplate deliberately, but I had to keep my mind focused on the fact that she was talking about killing. I am banking on her sordid explanation of events turning out to be hyped nonsense, no matter how compelling the immediate evidence. But the truth is in my guts I was torn. My esteemed surface life or a life of danger, intrigue, and possibility prison or death. It felt like lunacy to even contemplate it, but that is precisely what I was doing.

I also have to allow for the possibility that I was susceptible to getting caught up in a web of coincidence and paranoid thinking about things that might not be so serious at all. I reminded myself that my interest in Dora had more to do with her being a woman than her spearheading seditious activity to save the country. I did not really think I would surrender my objectivity so easily to my baser desires, but I had to allow for that possibility.

The above quote is taken from a chapter fairly early in the story and I think it presents very clearly how well the narrative style works for this novel. It’s also a good example of how Jake’s personality comes across so strongly, with a natural ease. His character is such a realistic one, he doesn’t pretend to be the all-out, action hero, instead the reader is witness to his very human thoughts as he tries to figure out exactly what he may be capable of.

Jake Telemark was basically enough of a positive that even a bad story-line would have been enjoyable, but Toxin comes through plot wise as well. This is a story with a lot going on, and again this book benefits from the first person narrative here also. Hearing the story told this way the reader gets to follow along as Jake uncovers the mystery. What may seem from the synopsis to be a crazy dream from a conspiracy theorists, becomes more and more believable as Jake gains new information. Until at the end the reader begins to question whether something like this could really happen in our own world.

Toxin was a completely enjoyable, suspense-filled read that I would highly recommend to any fans of political intrigue. I’d definitely suggest it to readers who enjoy W.E.B. Griffins’ Presidential Agent series, or the Mitch Rapp novels by Vince Flynn.

About The Author

Paul Martin Midden is a psychologist who currently serves as Clinical Director of a nationally-recognized treatment center. Midden’s debut novel, Absolution, was released to great critical acclaim in 2007. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

Enter To Win A Copy Of Toxin

Paul Martin Midden is giving away a signed copy of his book, Toxin, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to his book tour page,, enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 3601, for your chance to win. Entries from The Book Zombie will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on their book tour page next week.

One entry per person or e-mail address per referral site. Respective referral site PINs are valid for 36 hours beginning at 12:01 AM ET on each date of the tour. No purchase is required to enter or to win. This giveaway is only open to residents of the United States, excluding Puerto Rico, who are 18 years of age or older.

Other Tour Stops

July 21 Wendy's Minding Spot: Author Interview The Book Zombie: Book Review
July 22 Mystery Reader Discussion: Author Guest Post Wendi's Book Corner: Book Review
July 23 Bookish Ruth: Author Guest Post Allie's Musings: Author Interview
July 24 Jen's Book Thoughts: Author Guest Post Cafe of Dreams: Book Review
July 25 Petit Fours and Hot Tamales: Book Review Chick with Books: Author Interview

© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.

TSS ♦ Reading & BB11

Sometimes the funniest things happen from reading other peoples’ thoughts of books. There are a ton of books I’ve enjoyed because of reading reviews and blogs. Another good thing is that I read a lot less bad or “not my thing” books. With so many bloggers talking about books it’s so much easier to make an informed decision on what you’ll enjoy, or what will be a waste of time – and with a TBR pile/list like mine I really don’t wanna waste any precious reading time.

But every once in awhile a book comes along that you’re sure you will dislike. Kailana blogged about Marked just a little while ago. It’s book 1 of the House of Night series, there are already 5 books out with a 6th in the making. It’s a set of young adult fantasy novels set in a boarding school for soon-to-be vampyres. It sounds like so many other books out there, but of course months ago when I saw that the first 4 books were on sale for half-price I grabbed them. But then I read Kailana’s review and thought to myself “oh god what have I gotten myself into?” She mentioned them being pretty predictable and the characters as being stereo-typical. Figuring I could take a read of book 1 and knock the rest off my pile, on Friday I jumped in. And Kailana was absolutely right! Marked was so not what I expected, the lead character was annoying, she actually used words like poopie, and it was easy to guess where the story was going. But … it is now Sunday evening and I have read the first 4 books in the series – Marked, Betrayed, Chosen, Untamed – what is wrong with me?! Seriously I cannot stop reading! I’m snarking, nit-picking and “as iffing” the entire time I’m reading, but I am unable to put the damn books down (o.O)

The only reason I am not right at this moment reading book 5 Hunted is because Big Brother 11 just came on and I am a complete junkie for this show. Normally I dislike any reality TV, but I’ve been hooked on this since the very first season. This year is pretty interesting since the 13 houseguests were put into cliques, exactly like high school – Popular, Brains, Athletes, Offbeats. So far I’m not favoring any particular group, but I do have my favorite players. I’d love to see either Jeff or Casey take the money this year, but with only one eviction so far it’s way too early to be sure just what will happen. All I know is that I really dislike the majority of the people in the house this summer.

Big Brother 11 Houseguests






Now I’m off to relax, read a little before bed, Hunted is watching and calling to me, but I shall be strong and pick up something else – I’m thinking maybe Stacy Jays’ You Are So Undead To Me could be a possibility, or maybe Tithe by Holly Black – I’m in such a YA mood right now!

So my question for everyone is have you ever been in the same situation as me, where you aren’t really into a series or book but you just can’t stop reading? And to any BB fans (I can’t be the only one!) what do you think of the show so far? Any favorite players? Any players you’d like to see evicted asap?

Happy Sunday everyone … and have a great week!

© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.

Review ♦ Slights by Kaaron Warren

About the Book

Stephanie Is A Killer.

After an accident in which her mother dies, she has a near-death experience, and finds herself in a room full of people – everyone she’s ever pissed off. They clutch at her, scratch and tear at her. But she finds herself drawn back to this place, again and again, determined to unlock its secrets. Which means she has to die, again and again.

And she starts to wonder whether other people see the same room … when they die.

Book Title: Slights Genre: Literary Horror
Author: Kaaron Warren Type: Trade Paperback 512 pages
Publisher: Angry Robot Books Publication Date: 2009

My Thoughts   
First things first, the copy of Slights that I read did not have that totally creepy cover you see above, mine was a simple black and red, with the title, author and these two statements:

On the front: “The Buddhists have many different types of heaven. I wanted to explore what it was like to have many different types of Hell.” On the back: “A Wasp Factory for the misery memoir generation.”

Sounds fascinating, but it doesn’t come close to revealing just what you may find inside. Upon finishing the book and seeing the final cover I was actually quite glad to not have seen it beforehand. The main reason is because of how the book progresses in the creepy factor. It builds as you read, until you realize the horror was there all along.

Slights is narrated by Stephanie, with the first chapter titled ‘at eighteen’ and from there each chapter is told from a certain age up to her late-thirties. This format worked wonderfully, not only does the reader get to follow her life as she ages, but also gets to see how her memories and past change as she matures and thinks back on things.

The entire novel is focused on Stephanie, and her family history, including parts she wasn’t present for but are of much importance to her own life. Her father dying at a young age, and her mother dying from an accident which she may have caused could have been the key events that lead Stephanie to develop an unappealing fascination for death. Or maybe it’s just in her blood. Either way she is determined to find out what happens when you die.

Attempting suicide has helped Stephanie, in the past, to cross into the place where life and death merge, and she has come to believe that what waits for you is all those people you slight in your life. It can be someone who holds a grudge for a slight you purposely intended or even a stranger who thinks you’ve done them wrong. All that matters is that these people remember you as having taking advantage, or harmed them in some way.

What was especially fascinating about this premise is that Stephanie also believes that people holding grudges end up in the Hells of the people they feel slighted by. So it only stands to reason that after death there are a million tiny Hells waiting for you. Another aspect that was completely baffling is that Stephanie has to be one of the most unattractive characters ever. Not in personal appearance, but in behavior, attitude, and the way she carries herself. And regardless of her what she believes may happen to people who insult others, she seems to go out of her way to be disrespectful and ignorant. However, that didn’t stop me from feeling for this character – not sympathy exactly, and not really pity. I think it was more of a desire that she find what she was looking for, even if it meant her own destruction, it would have been a relief to see her find even a scrap of peace. 

This is by far one of the most difficult books to review, because I enjoyed it so much, and there were so many layers to the story. Not only a character piece, it’s also a family history, with a mystery to bring the two together. Slights is classified as a horror novel, but don’t go in expecting blood, guts, and monsters. The horror of this book is the human kind, that silently creeping sickness of the psyche that can be hiding inside of any of us.


About The Author

Slights is Kaaron’s first novel, and the first of three jaw-dropping books to be published by Angry Robot. Her award-winning short fiction has appeared in Year’s Best Horror & Fantasy, Poe and Haunted Legends anthologies, Fantasy magazine, Paper Cities, and many other venues in the US, Europe and Australia. Her short story “A Positive” has been made into a short film called Patience, and her first ever published short story “White Bed” was dramatized for the stage in Australia.

She is currently working on a novella about the goddess Ishtar and a novel about the washerwoman in history. Kaaron Warren is an Australian, currently based in Fiji.


Other Reviews
Have you reviewed this book too?
Let me know and I’ll add your link.

© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.

Too Hot This Summer? Take A Swim … Or Not!?



From Quirk Books—publisher of the New York Times Best Seller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies—comes a new tale of romance, heartbreak, and tentacled mayhem!

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters expands the original text of the beloved Jane Austen novel with all-new scenes of giant lobsters, rampaging octopi, two-headed sea serpents, and other biological monstrosities. As our story opens, the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. While sensible Elinor falls in love with Edward Ferrars, her romantic sister Marianne is courted by both the handsome Willoughby and the hideous man-monster Colonel Brandon. Can the Dashwood sisters triumph over meddlesome matriarchs and unscrupulous rogues to find true love? Or will they fall prey to the tentacles that are forever snapping at their heels?  This masterful portrait of Regency England blends Jane Austen’s biting social commentary with ultraviolent depictions of sea monsters biting. It’s survival of the fittest-and only the swiftest swimmers will find true love!

Pre-order at Amazon

View the book on

© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.

Review ♦ The Unit

One day in early spring, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. She is promised a nicely furnished apartment inside the Unit, where she will make new friends, enjoy state-of-the-art recreation facilities, and live the remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her. Here, women over the age of fifty and men over the age of sixty – single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries – are sequestered for their final years; they are considered outsiders. In the Unit they are expected to contribute themselves for drug and psychological testing, and ultimately donate their organs, little by little, until the final donation.

Despite the ruthless nature of this practice, the ethos of this near-future society and the Unit is to take care of others, and Dorrit finds herself living under very pleasant conditions: well-housed, well-fed, and well-attended. She is resigned to her fate and discovers her days there to be rather consoling and peaceful. But when she meets a man inside the Unit and falls in love, the extraordinary becomes a reality and life suddenly turns unbearable. Dorrit is faced with compliance or escape, and…well, then what?

Book Title: The Unit Genre: Fiction - Literary
Author: Ninni Holmqvist Type: Trade Paperback 272 pages
Publisher: Other Press  Publication Date: June 2009

Translated by Marlaine Delargy from the original Swedish version.

My Thoughts   
Going into my reading of The Unit I was prepared for a novel based upon the typical Dystopian world, but it seemed that the world that Dorrit lived in was much more comparable to a Utopia. There is no back-story given to let the reader know how this society has developed, it just is. Citizens are aware during their early lives that if they do not meet certain goals – marriage, children, careers that contribute – they will then spend their later years giving back to the contributors of society by donating their bodies and minds to experimentation and finally giving their bodies over as useful biological material. Now the reason why I mention it being Utopian is that the people who end up in Reserve Back Units seem fairly agreeable to their situation. They enter the Unit peacefully, live in luxury with few complaints, seem resigned to their fates, some seem happy that they will be serving the greater good. Also unlike most Dystopian fiction, the mention of underground resistance groups is absent. Perhaps that is what makes The Unit so frightening, the acceptance of such things only highlights how dark paradise can be.

There are many issues that come up in this novel about what’s ethical or moral to do within a society, but what struck me the most was the idea of humans contributing to the greater good by being needed. To be needed a person must be part of a traditional, loving relationship, have children or have a positive impact on the economy. However to me, there are so many other ways that a person can be needed. Not only by child or spouse. When Dorrit’s relationship with a man ends she is able to accept it, however upon turning fifty and preparing to enter the Unit she is torn apart by the fact that she must separate from Jock, her loving, beloved canine companion.

Loving and leaving don’t go together. They are two irreconcilable concepts, and when they are forced together by outside circumstances, they require an explanation. But I was unable to give Jock that explanation. Because how do you explain something like that – or anything at all – to a dog? Nils could at least explain to me why he couldn’t be with me properly and make me a needed person, and I could understand that. But how will Jock, if he’s still alive, ever be able to understand why I drove away without him that day? How will he ever be able to understand why I never came back?

Of course, my being a dog person, this aspect of the story did have an impact on me emotionally. But it was what made me really consider the other relationships that also make a person needed, but would not be enough for this particular world to deem you a contributing member of society. Sisters, brothers, relatives, friends, pets – there are hundreds of combinations of relationships where people are loved, wanted and needed. Relationships that may not give back to the world in general, but are a world of happiness to the people involved. To live in a society that is successful, where every person does their bit to help does sound perfect, however without happiness what would be the point?

“Good boy, Jock,” I said. “Good dog.” And I bent and picked up the stick and threw it again. And Jock shot after it, the sand whirling up around his paws, his ears flapping in the wind, he picked it up, came back and dropped it at my feet, and I patted and praised him again. And we did it again, and again, the same thing over and over again, hour after hour, while the sea roared, the clouds sailed by, and the sun, slowly sinking toward the horizon in the southwest, stained the clouds pink and the sky orange. That’s all it was, the dream was just Jock and me and the stick and the beach and the sea and the sky and time passing by, and that was all, there was nothing else. And that was happiness.

These quotes from The Unit display the unfairness of the world Dorrit lives in, the passion she holds inside, the regret and loss she lives with. They also show how beautifully written her story is, although translated from the original Swedish language, the language still perfectly captures the feelings that Dorrit has. This was an amazing read, one that I will likely go back to again in the future, with so many thought-provoking issues it seems likely that there is something new that will grab me every time.


About The Author

Ninni Holmqvist lives in Skane, Sweden. She made her debut in 1995 with the short story collection Kostym [Suit] and has published two further collections of short stories since then. She also works as a translator. The Unit marks Holmqvist’s debut as a novelist.

About The Translator

Marlaine Delargy has translated novels by Asa Larsson and Johan Theorin, among others, and serves on the editorial board of the Swedish Book Review. She lives in Shropshire, England.


Other Reviews
Have you reviewed this book too?
Let me know and I’ll add your link.

© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.

Classic Mystery Spotlight ♦ Georgette Heyer

Recently I had the pleasure of reading three of Georgette Heyers’ murder mysteries. Prior to this I’d only read a Heyers’ Regency novel, so I was unsure just what to expect. However I enjoyed all of these mystery stories quite a bit. Since I’m terribly late in getting the reviews posted, I’ve combined all three together into a single post of mini-reviews.

Meet The Matthews -
Before The Next One Dies…

It’s no ordinary morning at the Poplars – the master is found dead in his bed, and it seems his high blood pressure was not the cause.

When an autopsy reveals a sinister poison, it’s up to the quietly resourceful Inspector Hannasyde to catch the murderer in time to spare the next victim.

But every single member of the quarrelsome Matthews family has a motive and none, of course, has an alibi.

Book Title: Behold, Here’s Poison Genre: British Mystery
Author: Georgette Heyer Type: Trade Paperback 336 Pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Inc. Publication Date: February 2009

My Thoughts   
Behold, Here’s Poison was by far my favorite of the three Georgette Heyer mysteries I read. And it’s not even the mystery aspect that was all that great – it was the characters! It’s got that wonderful sort of cliche feeling to it. Head of the family living in a grand old mansion, while all the assorted relatives (who basically despise, envy, belittle) one another all stand around trying to wiggle in and get whatever they can. By the middle of the book I couldn’t have cared less about who poisoned Greg Matthews, I was enjoying the characters and their conversations too much. They were all naturals at throwing out perfectly timed comebacks, smiling while cutting down others, and basically being asses. Completely entertaining.

Other Reviews
Have you reviewed this book too?
Let me know and I’ll add your link.

A Houseful Of People
He Loathes Is Not Sir Arthurs’
Worst Problem…

It should have been a lovely English country-house weekend. But the unfortunate guest-list is enough to exasperate a saint, and the host, Sir Arthur Billington-Smith, is an abusive wretch hated by everyone from his disinherited son to his wife’s stoic would-be lover.

When Sir Arthur is found stabbed to death, no one is particularly grieved – and no one has an alibi. The unhappy guests find themselves under the scrutiny of Scotland Yards’ cool-headed Inspector Harding, who has solved tough cases before – but this time, the talented young inspector discovers much more than he’s bargained for.

Book Title: The Unfinished Clue Genre: British Mystery
Author: Georgette Heyer Type: Trade Paperback 336 Pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Inc. Publication Date: March 2009

My Thoughts   
The Unfinished Clue was slightly different from the other two mysteries as the reader gets to know a bit about the victim before he meets his end. And in that time I decided that he very well deserved whatever he got. Again there is a large cast of suspects filling the country estate, all of them strange in their own ways. Some relatives, others associates, or acquaintances, but all suspects for different reasons – this made it feel very similar to the cast of Clue. Suspicions and motives are found everywhere in this one. Normally Heyers’ characters are pretty unlikable but I did like the sister-in-law and the inspector from this story. Their interactions were an interesting addition to the story. I also found the mystery in The Unfinished Clue really well-done, with information given at just the right points to keep me guessing and re-guessing until the finale.

Other Reviews
Have you reviewed this book too?
Let me know and I’ll add your link.

Every Family Has Secrets,
But The Fountains’
Are Turning Deadly…

On a dark night, along a lonely country road, barrister Frank Amberley stops to help a young lady in distress and discovers a sports car with a corpse behind the wheel. The girl protests her innocence, and Amberley believes her – at least until he gets drawn into the mystery and the clues incriminating Shirley Brown begin to add up…

In a English country-house murder mystery with a twist, it’s the butler who’s the victim, every clue complicates the puzzle, and the bumbling police are well-meaning but completely baffled. Fortunately, in ferreting out a desperate killer, amateur sleuth Amberley is as brilliant as he is arrogant, but this time he’s not sure he wants to know the truth…

Book Title: Why Shoot A Butler? Genre: British Mystery
Author: Georgette Heyer Type: Trade Paperback 336 Pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Inc. Publication Date: April 2009

My Thoughts   
Why Shoot A Butler? was the second that I read, it sounded like it had a different set-up than the other two, seeing that the murder victim was found outside the home rather than in the midst of a country house get together. Another difference is that this time the person, Amberley, trying to solve the crime is not a true inspector – he’s more of a hobby detective. Along with Amberley there is a large cast of very peculiar characters, which is always something I enjoy in a mystery. There are lots of clues being cast about, although whether they are relevant or only meant to throw you off the trail is up to the reader to decide. The only thing that made this one my lesser enjoyed of the three is that the involvement of the real police officers seemed to be meant only as a farce. They behaved so idiotically that it took away from the story a bit for me. I’ve always liked the sense of hilarity that comes from all the eclectic suspects, but having the officials behave this way was not expected.

Other Reviews
Have you reviewed this book too?
Let me know and I’ll add your link.

About The Author

Georgette Heyer wrote over fifty books, including Regency romances, mysteries, and historical fiction. Her barrister husband, Ronad Rougier, provided many of the plots for her detective novels, which are classic English country-house mysteries reminiscent of Agatha Christie. Heyer was legendary for her research, historical accuracy, inventive plots, and sparkling characterizations.

© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.