• Bay State RA Home

  • Badge for A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour
  • RoofBeam Reader graphic
  • Posts I Like

Nightlife in the Afterlife: Hereafter by Terri Bruce (Blog Tour)

Hereafter Blog Tour buttonIn Hereafter, an entertaining novel by first-time author Terri Bruce, 36-year-old Irene crashes her car driving home drunk after a night out with girlfriends and literally wakes up dead. It takes a little while for Irene to realize that she’s a ghost because she can still drive her car; her house in Salem, Mass., looks the same; her widowed mother still leaves annoying messages on Irene’s answering machine; and Irene has woken up wearing the same short, clingy, red dress from what seems like the night before.

But why can’t she remember anything after the big, harvest moon that looked like it was dead ahead on the road before her? Why did she wake up standing next to the car, not sitting behind the wheel? Why do vague memories of swirling water outside her car windows keep surfacing? Why didn’t anyone call the police to report a car parked on the side of the road by the river? And the biggest question of all – how could she have died before she’d done all the things she’d been meaning (vaguely) to do someday? Like grow up and stop acting like a teenager, for example.

As a ghost, Irene feels so much like herself that she finds it hard to accept that the afterlife can’t be the same as her old life (i.e. lots of hanging out in bars with friends) without all the downsides (e.g.  jobs, chores, family obligations, and hangovers.) Although Irene is someone who has to learn everything the hard way, as her father told her once, she luckily finds early on a good (though underage) friend in Jonah, a teenager from Irene’s neighborhood who has investigated theories of the afterlife and experimented enough with out-of-body experiences that he can see dead people like Irene. Mature and sensible, Jonah is like a 36-year-old in a 14-year-old’s body, while with Irene it’s more like the other way around.

Hereafter is a contemporary, paranormal fantasy that uses dark humor (also sarcasm, innovative insults, and ironic observations) to reflect on the serious topic of how best to live, and includes numerous factoids (mostly from Jonah) on beliefs about an afterlife in different cultures and at different times. There’s a bit of sexual tension but the author doesn’t go overboard with sex scenes, keeping readers interested instead with tight dialogue and nuggets gleaned from her extensive research. Readers looking for a lighthearted book that still touches on some serious themes or for a novel with fantasy elements that doesn’t feature a sexy vampire huntress or a paranormal detective agency might try Hereafter. Set in the fall in Salem and Boston, it would be an especially good one to read in September or October.

Author Terri Bruce has generously offered an international giveaway, with your choice of either a print copy or a e-book (in any format) of Hereafter. Giveaway runs through Sept. 10. Comments on this review are welcome but not necessary to enter the giveaway.

Click here to enter giveaway contest (Open internationally)

This is stop #6 on the Hereafter blog tour. The next stop is author Kristi Petersen Schoonover‘s blog, where Terri Bruce will be writing a guest post.

Check out Stops 1-5 for contests, other giveaways, and more info on Hereafter and author Terri Bruce:

8/13/12 Verbose Veracity HEREAFTER Excerpt Reading

8/14/12 Little Read Riding Hood Guest Post (Favorite Books w/Red Dresses) on the Cover) and Giveaway (copy of HEREAFTER)

8/15/12 Sonnet O’Dell Interview

8/16/12 I’m a Book Shark Guest Post (Top Ten Books w/Ghosts)  and Giveaway

8/17/12 Kelly A. Harmon Guest Post (Chinese Ghost Month) and The Writers’ Lens Blog Tour Writing Contest Start

For a list of all stops on the Hereafter blog tour, click here.

Eternal Press
August 1, 2012
eBook ISBN: 9781615727247
Print ISBN: 9781615727254

Disclosure: I received a free e-galley of Hereafter from the author when I volunteered to participate in the Hereafter blog tour, but have also paid for a paperback copy from Barnes and Noble either for myself or to donate to the library so others can read it. (I haven’t decided which.)

Finding Family, New & Old: So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore

Cover image of So Far AwayFor Meg Mitchell Moore‘s second novel, So Far Away, she has created historical diary entries from an Irish immigrant maid’s found notebook, as well as believable contemporary characters ranging in age from 57-year-old archivist Kathleen, to Kathleen’s 30-something friend and coworker Neil, down to 13-year-old Natalie, who travels by bus from her suburban Newburyport home to Boston to visit the Massachusetts Archives in Boston on her own. She brings a crumbling notebook filled with handwriting too spidery for Natalie to read that she found hidden away in her basement – which turns out to be a gripping personal account from a Bridget O’Connell Callaghan (writing in 1975 as an elderly woman) about her position as a young maid just over from Ireland in a Boston doctor’s household.
Natalie (whose parents have separated and haven’t been showing much interest in her life) is investigating her family history for a school project and as a way of escaping bullying classmates who are tormenting her with malicious text messages. Kathleen, living alone with her dog Lucy after losing her teenage daughter years ago, becomes concerned about Natalie, but isn’t sure whether or how to intervene.
The author skillfully brings together several different story lines – historical and contemporary. Readers who liked The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards, A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve, or novels by Laura Moriarty or Joanna Trollope, will also like this moving novel about how easily families can break apart and how hard it can be to create new ones.

So Far Away
Moore, Meg Mitchell
Reagan Arthur (Little, Brown)
May 29, 2012

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of So Far Away from Little, Brown through NetGalley, but plan to purchase my own hardcover copy at an author signing at the Mattapoisett Free Public Library this month. Additional disclosure: I’m friends with the author’s mother-in-law, but I don’t think that influenced the review!

Other opinions of So Far Away (mostly good):
Amused by Books
Coffee and a Book Chick
Devourer of Books
Everyday I Write the Book
Jenn’s Bookshelves

Business as Usual on the Streets of Boston: Hard Knocks by Howie Carr

From conservative Boston Herald columnist and radio personality Howie Carr, this novel of intrigue and corruption in the cramped underworld of Boston crime, politics, and law enforcement – where the three groups frequently bump up against each other or even overlap – isn’t going to win any awards from the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, but it should appeal to fans of the author’s recent nonfiction books, The Brothers Bulger and Hitman, and to readers looking for local color that has nothing to do with foliage or baseball.
Appropriately enough, the book starts off with a local, low-level gangster getting bumped off, right after involving Jack Reilly in his problem – which then becomes Jack’s problem. Jack Reilly is a disgraced ex-Boston cop and former political bag man (But don’t call him that; he prefers the term “fixer.”) turned shady private investigator, who, though down on his luck, hasn’t yet lost all his connections or used up all of his political capital (i.e. “dirt,”), but with this little problem he’s had dumped in his lap, he’ll be lucky to be alive to worry about being able to pay next month’s rent, alimony, and cable bill.
I kept thinking Howie Carr had to be writing tongue in cheek when he created the character of Jack – the corrupt ex-cop with a warped, but still present code of honor – and the many other characters who continually mourn the passing of the formerly all-white neighborhoods of Boston and spout other bigoted, provincial, and self-serving cliches about the “good old days” that you might hear on Howie Carr’s talk radio show. By the end of the book, though, I decided he probably wasn’t writing tongue in cheek, so that made the book a little less enjoyable and a lot more offensive, given that I’m not a Herald subscriber for a reason.
There is plenty of humor in the other wry asides from Jack Reilly to make any reader or listener chuckle, however, especially jaded readers who think politics and ethics don’t have much in common except their last four letters. Being a Herald columnist, the author gets in quite a few jabs at the competition, The Boston Globe, and also gives Jack an attractive female crime reporter from the Herald to spar with and trade favors with. The book is loaded with references to local landmarks, mostly of the non-tourist variety, and even has a long drive through the South Shore and down Route 18 to Brockton, my current home city!
The audiobook narration is really well done; Peter Berkrot seemed to relish the variety of Boston accents and the mob-inflected growling dialogue, and even throws in an authentic-sounding Irish brogue for Jack’s rosy-cheeked, red-nosed, and faithful politician friend, Slip. I would recommend this book/audiobook to readers/listeners with a tolerance for intolerant characters  looking for a contemporary take on The Friends of Eddie Coyle (by Brockton-born George V. Higgins) or for more crime fiction with Boston settings, like Dennis Lehane‘s Kenzie and Gennaro books. Another recent entry in this field, The Charlestown Connection, by Massachusetts author Tom MacDonald (nominated for a Massachusetts Book Award) has a nicer main character, Dermot Sparhawk, who works in a parish’s food pantry, which I don’t think you would catch Jack Reilly doing!

Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

“Reilly Associates,” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.
“Is this Jack Reilly?”
“This is Bucky Bennett.” It didn’t ring a bell. “I know your brother.” The bell was ringing now. It was an alarm. “I knew him down in Otisville.” Another federal pen, in upstate New York, inhabited by a lot of Northeast organized-crime types, among them, at one point, my brother.
Marty’s friend spoke softly, but he might have been trying to lull me. “He told me to give you a call sometime.” That was mighty white of good old Martin T. Reilly. “I got a big, big problem, Jack.” Ex-cons often do. “Hello? Are you there?”
“Yes,” I said with a sigh. “I’m here.”
“Jack, you don’t know me, but I heard a lot about you. I heard you used to handle a lot of work for the mayor, the old one, and I know you were a cop, and now you’re on your own.”
That certainly was the CliffsNotes version of the life of Jack Reilly, a man teetering on that fine line between has-been and never-was. I sensed a pitch was imminent.
“I gotta talk to you. They’re looking for me. I gotta screw before they find me.”
“Who’s they?”
A hollow chuckle. “Can I meet you somewhere?”
Some people claim they can smell money. Me, I can smell no money, and I can smell it a mile away. “Pro bono” is just Latin for “deadbeat.” I decided to try to lose the guy.
I asked him, “Have you thought about calling the police?”
Another nervous laugh. “Marty told me you were a funny guy.”
“Look,” I said, staring at the two piles of unpaid bills in front of me. “I’m kinda busy right now.”
“Please, man, I’m desperate. I know what I must sound like, but I got some stuff, I gotta make sure it gets into the hands of the right people or I’m dead. You’re on Shawmut Ave., right? How far are you from Foley’s?”
Oh great. Not only was I not going to get paid, now I was going to have to buy him a drink, in my own place on top of everything else. James Michael Curley used to say that it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. That’s excellent advice, I suppose, if you’re running for office, but who exactly was I trying to impress? Still, Bucky wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

Hard Knocks (Audiobook)
Carr, Howie
Berkrot, Peter (Narrator)
AudioGo, 2012
9 hrs., 56 min.
8 CDs

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this audiobook from AudioGO. Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook here.

Getting in Shape to Live: The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass (Audio)

Audiobook Review  The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass – like her first novel, Three Junes – takes characters from different generations of an extended family and explores their interactions with each other and with the wider social circles they belong to. What characteristics are handed down through the generations? How do the family members respond in times of personal or public crisis? How strong are their family bonds?
The Random House Audio edition of The Widower’s Tale is excellent. Although narrator Mark Bramhall’s accent for Percy Darling, the 70-year-old widower of the title who tells a good part of the story in the first-person, made me think of Maine, the setting for the book is actually “Matlock”, a fictional rural-turned-upscale western suburb to the west of Boston. (Maybe similar to the author’s hometown of Lincoln, Mass.?)
Percy Darling owns an historical house with a converted barn on a pond  – a property that is now worth a fortune. But Percy is a bookish man, an unapologetic intellectual, and a retired Harvard University librarian. He thinks of it only as the property on which he raised his two daughters (now married with children): a house that needed a lot of TLC when he and his dead wife bought it so long ago, the barn where she had her beloved dance studio, and the pond in which she drowned. All of which – until the start of the book – Percy has kept exactly as it was when his wife died.
At the start of The Widower’s Tale, Percy is heading firmly into curmudgeonhood – set in his ways, rebuffing all attempts to jolly him into flexibility, and bemoaning the slothfulness of today’s youth. He has taken up jogging to get in shape for the “hard work” of dying. But he has agreed to allow the barn on his property to be used as a preschool named “Elves & Fairies”, and thus has opened the floodgates of change, endangering the established order and threatening his carefully hoarded memories of his wife.
The author tackles a lot of current issues in The Widower’s Tale (including gay rights, environmental activism, undocumented immigration, universal health care, and breast cancer) that almost overwhelm the main characters’ stories at times, but the characters of Percy himself, his college-student grandson Robert, and Ira, a teacher at the new preschool, have remained strong in my memory for weeks after listening to the audiobook, along with the stories of many of the wide supporting cast of characters.
The story of the fourth main character, Celestino, a Guatemalan who has been working illegally in the U.S. for years, was the only one that seemed contrived to home the author’s point that there are smart, decent immigrants in this country working for low wages who differ from Americans only in lack of money and opportunity. Celestino is smart and pleasant; he becomes friendly with Robert, despite their differences in age and social status; eventually, like Percy, he has to let go of his romantic idea of the past.
The Widower’s Tale, with its themes of social justice and economic injustices, would make a good choice for a book discussion group with liberal leanings or with members who would enjoy discussing the author’s clearly liberal stance on these issues.

Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook here.
Read more about The Widower’s Tale in this Bookslut author interview.

Other Opinions (All Good):
Book Club Classics
Literally Booked
Sommer Reading

Roots and Root Causes: Faith by Jennifer Haigh (Audio)

Jennifer Haigh writes the kind of thought-provoking, character-driven novel (see Mrs. Kimble, Baker Towers, and The Condition) that I love to settle down with and read…imperfect families, societal roles, the conflicting pulls of love and duty, passion and personal responsibility, etc. But I’m also always looking for great audiobook recommendations, so when I saw this rave at You’ve Gotta Read This, I decided to listen to the audio version of Jennifer Haigh’s latest novel Faith (HarperCollins, 2011). A good choice!
Narrated by Therese Plummer, Faith is a novel in the form of a memoir of sorts. In it, Sheila McGann has pieced together stories of people involved in her brother Art Breen’s life, past and present — some remembered, some imagined, some told to her. As in all of Jennifer Haigh’s novels, every character has depth and emotional complexity. A lot of painful feelings (shame, anger, sorrow) and, occasionally, joy or contentment run underneath these characters’ stories; Therese Plummer conveys this very well in her narration.
Sheila’s brother Art (12 years older than Sheila, her mother’s son from a early, annulled marriage) had been a parish priest in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston for many years when the clergy sex abuse scandal broke over the Boston area in 2002 like a storm across Grantham (a fictional working-class, South Shore, harbor town modeled on Hull, Massachusetts), where the Irish-Catholic McGann family lived. When Art himself is accused of molesting a child, the small McGann family (never close) is devastated and divided.
Much about Art’s faith and life in the priesthood remains a mystery to Sheila, a non-practicing Catholic, even after she works out the truth about events leading to his suspension and public disgrace. Sheila McGann loves and respects her brother, although she doesn’t share his faith, but how well does she really know him.
Faith is more about a family in crisis than it is about religion or the Catholic Church. (Although the leaders of the Boston archdiocese and St. John’s Seminary are the closest thing to a villain you will find in this book, they are presented as flawed individuals within an institution, not as evil pedophiles.) Faith and religion certainly play a role in the novel, but they are presented almost neutrally; no one’s religious faith is belittled or praised. Author Jennifer Haigh conveys sympathy for victims of abuse without demonizing all Catholic priests.
My only quibbles with the audiobook narration are that a couple of local place names were mispronounced and the broad Boston accents on a few of the characters (especially Sheila’s mother) sounded a bit overdone to me. (We don’t really sound like that around heah, do we?) But they are really just quibbles, because, over all, the narration — even of the male voices, which can be difficult for a woman to pull off — was excellent.
Faith is one of the best books I’ve read in 2011, hands down. It’s true, You’ve Gotta Read This!

Preview the audiobook at HarperCollins.
Therese Plummer talks about Faith as the best book she’s ever narrated on the Audible Web site.

Other opinions about Faith (all good):
Age 30+: A Lifetime of Books
Bibliophile by the Sea
Devourer of Books
My Books. My Life

8 in the Box by Raffi Yessayan


Author Raffi Yessayan’s name isn’t as easy to remember as “Robert B. Parker”, but he was named in a Boston Globe article as one of the up-and-coming authors likely to win a place in the hearts of readers who miss Parker’s mystery series starring Spenser, Boston’s favorite private investigator. (Robert B. Parker died on January 18, 2010.)
8 in the Box introduces homicide detective Angel Alves, a family man. He is newly promoted and confronting the case of the Blood Bath Killer, a serial murderer who leaves his female victims’ bathtubs full of their own blood. If you enjoy reading John Sandford’s Prey series or Harlan Coben’s thrillers, this fast-paced story should be a good match for you.
A Massachusetts author, Raffi Yessayan spent 11 years as an assistant district attorney in Boston, and has set 8 in the Box — his first mystery novel — in a fictional South Bay district courthouse where the DAs work closely with police in cracking down on crime on the streets of Boston. (For the sake of the story, Mr. Yessayan has some of the lawyers ignore proper legal procedures. Let’s hope those parts aren’t drawn from his own experience.)
The second book in the series, 2 in the Hat, is already out, and the author will have a chance to develop the character of Angel. Be careful! Don’t read them out of order.
Keep up with local bestsellers and author visits on The Boston Globe‘s book blog, Off the Shelf.
%d bloggers like this: