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. 

Friday, September 15, 2017


Imagine a nice family occasion--a dinner at home with the family, a birthday celebration--and you get that phone call, or a knock at the door. The news is devastating: "Your son is dead." Perhaps you are a twin sister, as it Kit's situation. All of a sudden there is this immense silence, as you are suddenly thrust into a world you had no idea of before--the world of grieving and loss. This is where 15 year old Kit finds herself, along with her increasingly estranged parents, the summer before her sophomore year. Her Mom is hell bent on suing the driver of the vehicle that hit Tyler as he was riding his bicycle in the dark.  Her Dad says, no way.  All he wants to do is sit in the garage at all hours of the day and brood upon his loss, with or without liquid sustenance.

Monday, September 4, 2017


When I was growing up, my parents used to tell me the story of how at College they were voted in as having the marriage least likely to succeed. This was because they married immediately after the war. My Dad was a German Jew and my mother, a British citizen, was a kind of wishy washy Church of England. They then immigrated to Canada to avoid the awkwardness. The years went by and, ironically, my parents watched all their friends divorce while they remained married and ended up celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary together.  

Carrie Firestone's new book, "The Unlikelies" is full of these kinds of expectations, ones that are formulated and broken within a moment's notice.