Saturday, February 10, 2018


On a remote Northwest island, far from the mainland, Kyra Winthrop recovers from a diving accident which has severely damaged her memory.  As the days go by, she begins to think that her caretaker husband could be hiding something from her.  What could it be?  Read and find out! 

I was very impressed with this book because it was incredibly atmospheric in terms of how Ms. Banner recreated the Island where the drama unfolds. Her descriptions are immensely tactile and visual so that you can plunge right into the scenes as your read them.  I will admit that I was very pulled along by the story and there were sufficient red herrings that I was unable to figure out where the narrative was going. Ultimately, it became so suspenseful I couldn't wait any longer so around two thirds of the way through I cheated and jumped to the conclusion to find out what happened in the end.  Then I reverse read back to where I was.  

Overall, the experience was very satisfying and engaging and I got a whole lot more than I anticipated when I slapped down my money on a bargain book.  A.J. Banner is truly an author of note and the next time I need another good read, I will be purchasing her other book "The Good Neighbor" 

I came across "The Twilight Wife" by A.J. Banner when I was doing one of my many tours of the Barnes and Noble store where I do my work.  I am one of these people who can't stand exercise and who doesn't like the vicissitudes of the local New England weather.  As a compromise, since I know I really need exercise to stay healthy, I make a few tours around the bookstore while I'm there.  This involves going up and down every aisle and around every table in the store.  

At the end of one of the discount aisles near stationary, there was "The Twilight Wife" on a display rack with some books on naval history, the front pages of "The New York Times" from 1851-2017 and boxed sets of Gregory McGuire's four book "Wicked" series, a revision of the history of Oz.  I am not sure why they were placed together like that, other than maybe some thoughts about color coordination being more marketable.  I've included a picture here so you could see and draw your own conclusions.  That was a nice bit of marketing I'd say.

Further, in regard to additional good marketing ploys, "The Twilight Wife" in its look and title is quite reminiscent of the novel "The Silent Wife" by A.S.A. Harrison.  I am assuming the similar title and book cover was deliberate.  The author initials were also a pull, since Harrison did the same, only using initials.  Since I loved "The Silent Wife", I was ready to be wowed by any other book that promised to be similar, so I purchased it.  Plus, as a somewhat older book--published in 2016--there was a bargain book price to sweeten the deal.  

"The Silent Wife" is about a woman who is married to a mean, selfish man who is unfaithful to her, and it is about how she ultimately exacts revenge from him in a darkly satisfying manner.  "The Twilight Wife" is on the same level, all about a woman who is married to a deeply suspicious man who appears cloyingly solicitous, but somehow fundamentally untrustworthy.  Add to that, the woman in "Twilight Wife" had a serious diving accident which has wiped out her memory of the last four years of her life.  Although she has occasional flashbacks and fragments of the past swim up to her consciousness, she is unable to make any sense out of them.  

Thus, "Twilight Wife" is a book that, along with "The Silent Wife", calls to mind a very thrilling book entitled "Before I Go to Sleep" by S.J. Watson, another initialed author.  The Watson book is about a woman who is unable to retain her memories from one day to the next who is also married to a solicitous man who, like the husband in "The Twilight Wife" comes across as greatly untrustworthy, if not dangerous.  Here, I don't want to get into spoilers, but this is what is going on!  

I'm beginning to wonder whether there should be some kind of mutual coordination going on between the publishers and writers of these three books.  Each of these books--"The Silent Wife", "Before I Go to Sleep" and "The Twilight Wife" stand together as a series of three whose themes and content complement and overlap one another under the banner of woman marries deceptive and fraudulent man and seeks to free herself.  

"The Silent Wife' and "The Twilight Wife" particularly stand together because of their similar titles and book covers--the black tones combined with the white print.  I would definitely read all three together because each book provides a different perspective on the very similar these of the married woman with the unreliable husband.  

 "The Twilight Wife" has some additional goodies at the end, i.e. a list of book club questions for discussion, and an advanced list of questions for those who wish to explore the book even further. It also includes an interview with the author which gives you the opportunity to learn more about her background and writing process.  

Let me tell you a little bit about the author.  She was born in India, but grew up in the United States.  She received her education and the University of California, Berkeley.  Plus, she lives in the Northwest with her husband and five rescue cats.  The book was published by Touchstone, which is an imprint of Simon and Schuster.  

The interior design of the book was done by Jill Putorti.  What I like about what she did is that she inserted a blank page in between many of the chapters.  This enhances the subtle feel of the book as if it were a movie where each scene is distinctively independent of the other, separated by a moment of silence. That adds to the sense of the fracturing of the narrator's mind, as if it is jumping from one experience to the other, perhaps failing to discuss those scenes or experiences her mind is unable to retain in her memory. So the physical structure of book's interior expands upon and comments upon the story itself in a very subtle and complex way.  

Lucy Kim did the cover design for the book.  I do think the imitation of the cover design for "The Silent Wife" was a very smart move on her part.  I also like the splintered look of the print and the sea shell on the cover which appears to reflect the fractured condition of the protagonist's mind and is a subtle comment on her profession as a Marine Biologist.  

For those who are interested, A.J. Banner is represented by Paige Wheeler who is the founder of the New York based Creative Media Agency, Inc., and who has had 20 years in the business. In 2006, she was a founding partner of Folio Literary Management, LLC.  For the better part, Paige Wheeler appears to work on cosy type mysteries and light romance, and many of her authors have won awards.  I am not particularly familiar with any of the authors she represents which, I guess, says a great deal about my reading habits!  I have a feeling that my tastes tend to lay with the deep, down and dirty.  A.J. Banner has two books which will be forthcoming fairly soon, and when they are published I will definitely make sure I read them.

Monday, January 1, 2018




"I raise the ax handle for the third time and my arm disobeys me.  It stiffens above my head, my hand tangled in knots of shouldn'ts and shoulds and all those second thoughts that I swore wouldn't stop me.  My chest burns to take in oxygen.  My body trembles with a crystalline rage, and my mind screams orders to my mutinous hand.  For Christ's sake, get it over with.  This is what you came here for.  Kill him!  But the ax handle doesn't move."  

So begins the novel "The Deep Dark Descending" by Allen Eskens.  Homicide Detective Max Rupert finally has his wife's murderer in his power and can kill him without getting caught. But in the last moment, he finds he can't do it. The remaining novel is all about Detective Rupert's final decision--will he, or will he not--kill his wife's murderer--and not only his wife's murderer, but also the murderer of his unborn child.

Will Rupert remain within the ethical boundaries he has lived in for all his professional life in law enforcement, or will he venture out beyond his boundaries into an ethical gray zone he has never experienced before.  It really is up to him.  

Meanwhile, inconveniently enough, his target begins to regain consciousness and insists, absolutely insists, that he is not guilty and that he had nothing to do with Detective Rupert's wife's death or with any illegal activities whatsoever.  

What is the truth?  What is a lie?  

As we bounce back and forth from the days leading up to Detective Max Rupert's confrontation with the person who appears to be his wife's killer, and the confrontation itself, the truth works its way through the surface. But will it emerge before Detective Rupert and his target freeze to death in the snow and ice in the subzero temperatures on a frozen lake somewhere on the U.S.-Canadian border in Minnesota?  

Your guess is as good as mine in this carefully wrought, suspenseful thriller!  

And at this point, I will admit that in the final pages of the book I had to peek at the end otherwise I would have died from not knowing who lived and who died. Furthermore, I might as well just say right now it was one hell of a good read! 

I got a copy of this book at Book Expo 2017--it is an "uncorrected advance reading copy--not for sale" and fell apart as I read through it. I enjoyed the free read as well, although I do hope the publishing company corrects the final spelling mistakes because they are annoying. Plus, the binding of the book really has to be much stronger than the copy I had! 

The book was published by Seventh Street Books which is located in Amherst, NY and I believe published Allen Eskens other books with equally interesting titles i.e. "The Heavens May Fall", "The Guise of Another" and "The Life We Bury".  Apparently, I came along at the right time because Seventh Street Books, which is an imprint of Prometheus Books, was celebrating its fifth year of operation at Book Expo 2017 so I was the beneficiary of their celebratory largesse which is how I received a free copy. There is a very interesting article on this point in Publisher's Weekly at the following link:

In his minimalist acknowledgements, Allen Eskens thanks Mr. Dan Mayer, among others, for all of his help. Dan Mayer is the editorial director of Seventh Street Books, as well as their acquisitions person.  Mr. Mayer originally worked for twenty five years as a buyer for Walden Books, Borders Books, and also Barnes and Noble prior to joining the team at Seventh Street Books where he fortuitously made a connection with Allen Eskens.  

Allen Eskens himself originally came from Missouri, and once he graduated from High School he made Minnesota his home. He went to the University of Minnesota and obtained a B.A. in journalism and then obtained a J.D. from Hamline University School of Law. He took writing classes at the M.F.A. program at Minnesota State University, the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.  

He is the recipient of many awards. His work has been translated into 20 languages, and he is currently hard at work on another novel. At this time, he lives with his wife, Joely, in the greater Minnesota area. He was a criminal defense attorney for twenty five years, but now he has given that all up in order to write full time. 

Allen Eskens is represented by Amy Cloughley of Kimberly Cameron and Associates Literary Agency located in Tiburon, California.  This is the first time I've written about a California literary agency!  

According to Ms. Cloughley's self description, "She seeks authors with unique, clear voices who put forth smart, tightly-written prose. She is actively building her client list with both debut and veteran writers. She enjoys literary and upmarket fiction of all types in addition to commercial—including well-researched historical and well-told women's fiction. She also loves a page-turning mystery or suspense with sharp wit and unexpected twists and turns. She has a soft spot for distinctive, strong, contemporary characters set in small towns. Amy always looks for an unexpected story arc, a suitable pace, and a compelling protagonist." 

She doesn't have that many clients listed, but maybe she doesn't need any granted how successful Eskens is! The other writers she has listed are Emily Carpenter and Kimi Cunningham Grant.  Her website is at the following link:

The book I mentioned earlier, which Allen Eskens is currently working on, is his fifth novel and is entitled "The Life We Find".  It will be published in the summer 2018 by Mulholland Books, which strikes me as a step up. I look forward to hearing a lot more about Allen Eskens in the future.

Friday, December 29, 2017



I purchased the book "Miller's Valley" by Anna Quinlen from the "Buy 2, Get the 3rd free" table, but failed to include the required two which would have gotten me the deal.  I mean seriously--I asked myself: did I really need to drag along two extra books just to make me feel less guilty about not getting a sale price?  The big attraction for me was the top line in the blurb on the back, "In a small town on the verge of a big change, a young woman unearths deep secrets about her family and unexpected truths about herself." and, "hers is the story of every woman who has had to leave home to find herself." I just love books about "deep secrets", "unexpected truths" and the search for identity--they always intrigue me and draw me in.  I just love unknowns.  

However, despite the fact the book is touted as "Mesmerizing" by the The New York Times Book Review, and "Breathtakingly moving" by USA Today, I did not find it so.  It was definitely interesting and fairly engaging, but it was not a page turner.  In fact, for a better part of the first third of the book I will admit to doing one of my quick reads which essentially involved scanning the top and bottom lines of paragraphs to get the gist of the story and then moving on.  If I hadn't done that, I very much doubt that I would ever have gotten through the book.  This is regretable.  

The fact is that I am a big fan of Anna Quindlen and this most recent publication of hers left me rather disappointed.  I have always enjoyed the simple, dynamic, abosrbing style that Anna Quindlen has used in her previous books, notably "One True Thing", "Black and Blue", and "Every Last One."  So I was hoping for a lot better, and got worse.  That said, I certainly felt that this book was worth reading, particularly if you do a bit of a hop, skip, and jump when you have to.  You gotta do, what you gotta do, I always say when it comes to my reading life.  

The story of Miller's Valley is told from the perspective of the main character -- Mary Margaret Miller or "Memes"--as she looks back on her life of 20 years ago.  She talks eloquently about her parents, Miriam a nurse, and Buddy, a repairman, her upstanding brother Eddie who becomes an engineer, and another more rebellious brother, Tommy, who ends up fighting in Vietnam and having his life destroyed.  It is also the story of her Aunt Ruth who lives in a small home behind the family farm house and, for some mysterious reason, refuses to ever leave the house.  

In addition, this book is the story of the family farm that Memes grew up on, one that has been in her family for generations, and it is also about the town  of Miller's Valley that shaped her life experiences and which faces the threat of being flooded to make way for a dam.  

The book describes Memes's struggle throughout her childhood and teenage years to disengage the roots of friendship, family, and community, which are deeply engrained in her psyche, so that she can find her way to success as a medical doctor. Along the way we meet unforgettable characters such as Meme's best friend LaShonda, her brother Tommy, her smarmy, salesman lover Steve, and her warped and damaged Aunt Ruth. Then as the past recedes into memory, we are left intrigued with the question: what is it from the detritus of of Meme's early life that remains and enriches her life in the present, and what parts of it are lost forever.  

As a person who has also known what it is like to grow up in a town with an extraordinary history and personality, I can relate to the push and pull of Meme's relationship with Miller's Valley.  When you grow up in a place like that, the experience digs into your bones, and no matter where you go, it follows you and informs your choices for the rest of your life.  

This book was published by Random House which generally produces very intelligent and intriguing books.  If I were ever published myself, I've always said I'd want to be published by Random House.  

In terms of the physical look of the book, I think Caroline Cunningham did a great job on the book design of "Miller's Valley." I am also impressed by the illustrator, Gustavo Garcia. The figure of the young girl on the cover strongly reminds me of Andrew Wyeth's painting "Christina's World" and adds to that feeling of wistfulness and yearning that permeates the book. In addition, each of the chapters begins with a stylized picture of waves echoing the constant threat the impending dam construction holds to the town.  All of this leads to a book that hits you both verbally, emotionally, and visually--it is a complete package.  

At the end of the book, the publisher includes a series of questions for folks who choose the book for their book clubs. There are no acknowledgements, perhaps because Anna Quindlan has gotten to the point in her life where she no longer needs to thank anybody or explain anything. I did check other books Quindlan has written and they also do not have acknowledgments.  To be honest, I've never seen that situation before.  It is an interesting quirk unique to Ms. Quindlen, and what it says about her, I leave it to my readers to consider.

For those who are interested, Anna Quindlen was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 8, 1952.  She graduated from South Brunswick High School in New Jersey in 1970, and then she went to Barnard College, an all woman's college affiliated with Columbia University, and graduated in 1974. She is married to prominent New Jersey attorney Gerald Krovatin whom she met while in college and has 3 children. She worked as a columnist for The New York Times for many years earning a Pulitzer Prize.  

Eventually, she resigned from her position in 1995 to become a full-time novelist. I have always considered Quindlan's move to fiction writing pretty brave and courageous--to just step down from her success as a journalist, switch gears, and risk all to try out her novel writing chops--that is amazing.  So just good for her giving it a try, and then being successful at it.   

Anna Quindlen is represented by Amanda Urban of ICM who is also the literary agent for such notable and diverse writers as E.B. White, Toni Morrison, E.L. Doctorow, Tobias Wolff, Nadia Murad, Alice Hoffman, and Peter Benchley.  

According to Wiki, "Amanda Urban joined ICM as a literary agent in 1980, serving as Co-Director of the Literary Department in New York for nineteen years, and Managing Director of ICM Books in London for six years. Prior to joining ICM, she was General Manager of New York Magazine and The Village Voice, and Editorial Manager of Esquire Magazine.  Amanda represents both fiction and non-fiction titles for many world-renowned authors and prize-winning journalists, ranging from literary novels to memoirs, biographies, and books on current affairs."  

Bottom line, though, out of all of this, if you are a Anna Quindlen afficionado, you'll want to read "Miller's Valley" just so you are on top of her entire oeuvre, but if you are not, I'd give this book a pass.