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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Tag: review. Kyle Wendy Skultety

Tracking Game by Margaret Mizushima (Timber Creek K-9 #5)

Two brutal murders, a menacing band of poachers, and a fearsome creature on the loose in the mountains plunge Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo into a sinister vortex.
An explosion outside a community dance sends Mattie Cobb and Cole Walker reeling into the night, where they discover a burning van and beside it the body of outfitter Nate Fletcher. But the explosion didn’t kill Nate–it was two gunshots to the heart.
The investigation leads them to the home of rancher Doyle Redman, whose daughter is Nate’s widow, and the object of one of their suspect’s affection. But before they can make an arrest, they receive an emergency call from a man who’s been shot in the mountains. Mattie and Robo rush to the scene, only to be confronted by the ominous growl of a wild predator.

As new players emerge on the scene, Mattie begins to understand the true danger that’s enveloping Timber Creek. They journey into the cold, misty mountains to track the animal–but discover something even more deadly in Tracking Game, the fifth installment in Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 mysteries.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This is another winner for the author! I’m a big fan of the series about troubled cop Mattie Cobb and her K9 partner, Robo. The love and respect Cobb has for her dog shines through in each book and this one was no exception.

A twisty murder mystery is the setting for this latest installment, with the backdrop of the Colorado mountains looming large as usual. Unique to this story was a subplot of big game hunting and a ferocious big cat on the loose. Mattie must depend on Robo to keep her safe from both human and animal as they track a killer.

We learn a bit more about Mattie’s past – the author loves to peel back the layers bit by bit in each book, which helps develop the character, as well as adding to the reader’s kinship with Mattie. She is a troubled soul, fiercely independent and devoted to her canine companion Robo. The ways in which Mizushima describes their interactions is both heartwarming and jaw-dropping – this German Shepherd is such a smart dog!

I was also happy to see Mattie’s romance with veterinarian Cole Walker developing some more – there is a lot of chemistry between them and he is so good for Mattie’s wounded soul. In fact, there are a few ways that Mattie overcomes some of her fears in TRACKING GAME – I was proud of her for getting out of her comfort zone.

If you love backcountry mysteries, you will love the Timber Creek series. There is just enough fast-paced intrigue plus a little romance to keep nearly every reader interested. This book could be read as a stand-alone, but some of the references will go over the heads of readers. This will not detract from the plot or outcome, but it is always recommended to start with the first book and go from there. I am anxiously awaiting the next mystery from Mizushima; she is one of my favorite authors and I’m always ready to dive into her next work. Grab your copy here!

Man of the Year by Caroline Louise Walker

Beware the Man of the Year. You may praise him, resent him, even want to be him: but beneath the elegant trappings that define him, danger looms. Caroline Louise Walker’s stunning debut novel, for fans of Herman Koch’s The Dinner and Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door, delves into the increasingly paranoid mind of a man whose life as the most upstanding of citizens hides a relentlessly dark heart.

Dr. Robert Hart, Sag Harbor’s just-named Man of the Year, is the envy of his friends and neighbors. His medical practice is thriving. He has a beautiful old house and a beautiful new wife and a beautiful boat docked in the village marina. Even his wayward son, Jonah, is back on track, doing well at school, finally worthy of his father’s attentions. So when Jonah’s troubled college roommate, Nick, needs a place to stay for the summer, Hart and his wife generously offer him their guest house. A win-win: Jonah will have someone to hang with, and his father can bask in the warm glow of his own generosity.

But when he begins to notice his new houseguest getting a little too close to his wife, the good doctor’s veneer begins to crack. All the little lies Robert tells—harmless falsehoods meant to protect everything he holds dear—begin to mount. Before long, he’s embroiled in a desperate downward spiral, destroying the lives that stand in his way. It’s only the women in his life—his devoted office manager, his friends, his wife—who can clearly see the truth.

Biting and timely, Man of the Year races along at an electric pace, with a wicked twist that you won’t see coming.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Fans of unreliable narrators – get ready to love this book. Each character looks out for himself (some more than others), tells lies, and behaves oddly, and they all desperately want to avoid punishment for the tragedy that happens in the latter half of the book. The author is generous with tropes (narcissism, infidelity, money, desperation) and it mostly works to create this sometimes fast-paced story. I was not sure if I hated or felt sorry for the main character, the eponymous Man of the Year.

The author is skilled at creating circumstances that change with perception. Each chapter is told in the point of view from each character, so the disconnect between perception is magnified. Some characters get to speak only once, which is jarring. I had to think for a moment or two when a minor character took over the narration. Some of these narrators are never heard from again; they tell their story just for the reader to see things from yet another angle.

Dr. Hart is a tragic figure, cuckolded by his son’s friend, who is staying with the family over the summer. The stereotypical “guest staying in the pool house” provides a convenient location for some activities that muddy the plot and/or provide tension. His wife Elizabeth seems self-centered and vacuous – I am not sure if that was what the author intended, or if she was written that way on purpose. I disliked her almost from the start and did not change my feelings when the book was finished.  However, I did end up disliking the rest of the characters towards the end, regardless of how the plot twisted. At that point, I was heartily sick of everyone’s machinations and drama and self-servitude.

I would give the book four and a half stars, for while the plot was engaging there were a few draggy spots and as mentioned above, some characters faded in and out. This fading caused me to disengage a bit when they reappeared since I thought they were on the fringe, not actually moving the story along.

You can get your own copy here.

Abused: Surviving Sexual Assault and a Toxic Gymnastics Culture by Rachel Haines

Two-year-old Rachel Haines didn’t know that she would be committing to twenty-one years of hard work, dedication, and perseverance as she jumped into the foam pit during her first “mommy and me” gymnastics class. She had no idea that one day she would become a two-time National Team Member, two-time National Champion, and a Division I college gymnast at the University of Minnesota. Nor could she have known that she had just signed herself up for serious injury, emotional distress, and continuous sexual assault by world-renowned trainer turned serial molester, Larry Nassar.

In Abused: Surviving Sexual Assault and a Toxic Gymnastics Culture, Rachel details her experiences as a competitive gymnast and the painful realities of being one of Nassar’s many victims. With honesty and candidness, Rachel shares how the sport she loved that gave her so much—friendships, accomplishments, a college education—is also tangled in a dangerously toxic culture that needs to be fixed. In a world that was setting her up for a lifetime of recovery, she tells how faith, family, and an army of survivors made healing possible.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This story will grab you and not let you go until you reach the last word. It may even stay with you, with the atrocities and pressure that author Rachel Haines sustained buried deep in the back of your mind.

It is easy to think of gymnasts the same way we consider ballerinas: ethereal, feminine, able to perform superhuman feats of leaping and twisting that doesn’t seem possible. However, the two fields possess a few more similarities that are not so desirable. Both contain instances of eating disorders, perfectionism, toxic cultures….and abuse. In 2018 the prestigious New York City Ballet fired two male dancers after harassment charges had been brought against them. The history of abuse, both physical and sexual, is storied in the ballet world. Men (whether dancers or choreographers) hold all the power, and women are treated as second class citizens.

It seems that men hold all the power in gymnastics as well. Last year the horrific story about Larry Nassar’s hundreds of victims surfaced, which empowered other victims to come forward and share their story of the abusive culture they experienced. Coaches such as John Geddert and Bela Karolyi used their temper to mentally and physically abuse gymnasts under the guise of “encouragement” or to “toughen them up for competition”. The athletes were surrounded by a cloak of silence, looking inward and wondering if they were misreading Nassar’s “treatments”, which included taking pills and/or enduring digital manipulation (internal and external). As time went on, the gymnasts became inured to what was happening to them and accepted it as part of their lot in life. After all, they had chosen to be gymnasts, and to deny or expose this part would result in them being shunned or removed from the environment they knew and loved. As Haines notes, being a gymnast was her reason for living. No matter how painful or stressful it was, she was first and foremost, an elite athlete who performed gymnastics for a living. She knew of no other world, nor did she want to.

As Haines became more competitive, she sustained a horrific injury to her back (it was broken in multiple places) and had to work through pain on a daily basis. Nassar made sure to give her many “treatments” while telling her that while her back was injured, she was still cleared to perform her routines. As time went on, her legs grew numb. Her pre-competition ritual consisted of slathering immense amounts of Icy Hot on her legs, then punching them or cutting them so she would be able to detect a modicum of sensation. As I read further into the book, I was speechless at how she was able to keep performing (check out her videos on YouTube). Once, her legs betrayed her during competition. She bravely took a moment, then got back on the beam to complete her routine. If that is not courage, strength, pluck, bravery, and badassery, then I don’t know what is. Yet, through all of this, she was filled with self-doubt and impostor syndrome. Haines felt like she could never be equal to others and would often compare herself to other gymnasts. This left her wanting to be better, to be worthy, to be deserving.

Women are usually their own worst critics. The pressure Haines put on herself was unbelievable, as her fierce spirit held her in good stead throughout multiple years of practice, excruciating pain, and sexual abuse. Despite all her achievements, Haines still believed she was not good enough. This book will take you through her entire gymnastics journey, the highs and lows, the pain and the victories. It will also give you new respect for Haines and the other gymnasts who had to suffer through Nassar’s years of abuse. Haines bares her soul, her doubts, and her faith in this book, and I am sure it was not an easy task. Looking inward, then speaking out is one of the most intimidating things a woman can do; and Haines showed us her strength and wisdom, even as she confronted Nassar at his trial.

If this story does not move you or fill you with pride at how these women were able to overcome adversity, you had better check your pulse. Pick up your copy here.

 

Game of Fear by Gledé Browne Kabongo

game of fear

A desperate act, an explosive secret, and a diabolical enemy—all part of a treacherous game, with no limits.

Overachieving good girl Abbie Cooper has her future all planned out. As senior year at her elite private school kicks off, she has one simple goal: get into the Ivy League. But at St. Matthews Academy, nothing is ever simple. The pressure is overwhelming, the secrets are dirty, and the games are wicked. Abbie has a dirty secret—one that could destroy her chances of getting admitted into Princeton, and the lives of those closest to her.
One morning, she discovers a note in her locker with the warning, “I know what you did”. Then a photo arrives in the mail. It captures her most shameful deed—the shocking blunder she can never erase, in glorious detail. Someone is out to ruin her, but who and why? The answer lies with the sender of the photo, a mysterious girl known only as The Avenger. For a price, she assures Abbie her secret will remain safe. There’s only one problem: The Avenger may not exist at all. If Abbie doesn’t uncover her true identity before acceptance decisions are made, it’s game over…

 

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book in exchange for a review. I reviewed her previous work SWAN DECEPTION and thought it was wonderful. In GAME OF FEAR we see Abbie Cooper (the daughter from SWAN) growing up and wishing secrets from her past would remain hidden.

Stress is a common theme among high school students; after all, the stakes are high when you are trying to get into the college of your dreams. When you are faced with the possibility that a stupid thing you did years ago may ruin your entire future, it’s time to enact some serious damage control.

Control is a good word to describe Abbie Cooper – she takes no crap from the Mean Girls of her school, and stays true to herself throughout the book. She is fiercely loyal to her friends and is known to shoot from the lip when it comes to expressing her opinion. Abbie is the girl I wish I was in my younger days: confident, brash, intelligent, yet she has her feet firmly on the ground, and doesn’t let her position in an elite high school go to her head.   Her emotions are so tightly under wraps that she doesn’t realize animosity is really attraction:  Christian, a well known Bad Boy has been flirting shamelessly with her since junior year and all Abbie can do is deliver cutting barbs and sneer.

The requisite mean girl clique is truly bitchy, ready to spread rumors and gossip at the slightest provocation. When Abbie starts receiving threatening notes in her locker she is sure that her arch enemy, Sidney, is at the bottom of it. Some of the dialogue and interactions between these two are the best part of the book. In this scene, Abbie and Christian are having a snack after school when the mean girls show up.

“Well, well, if it isn’t sad, pitiful Abbie. Enjoy it while it lasts. You know Christian is just slumming, right?”

Sidney just showed up with her minions stuck to her side like dried cement, wearing identical smirks. Why, oh why can’t she just disappear into a black hole, and never return?  “Welcome to slumming it, Christian,” I say, looking directly at him. “You’re in for an unforgettable ride.” 

Sidney’s jaw drops. Jessica and Brooke just stand there looking like the insipid creatures they are. I look Sidney up and down with contempt, wave my hand at her in a dismissive gesture, and return to eating my pizza. 

See what I mean about Abbie having control? She tries her best to stay cool even when the going gets tough; and it gets really tough when her secret looms large over her budding relationship with Christian. So many lies have been told already; what path will Abbie choose?

Glede Brown Kabongo’s writing is completely on point – she captures teenage angst, jealousy and the world of the privileged in rich, glorious detail. The suspense keeps on building and the tension escalates with each new demand from the Avenger. The character development makes it easy to become emotionally invested in Abbie’s life, and her internal monologue will resonate with the reader. The story is a winner because of the first person narration; it’s a seamless transition for the reader to go from looking in at  St Matthews Academy to becoming part of the student body. I felt as if I were walking the hallways with Abbie and Christian, experiencing the same confusion and worry as if it were my locker holding those notes.

I loved, loved, LOVED this book – the plot was taut and kept me up all night reading it. GAME OF FEAR is the type of read you shouldn’t plan on putting down before it’s finished, because you will spend your entire day thinking about the characters and counting the minutes until you can be with them again.

I’ll be reviewing the sequel in a future post – but in the meanwhile you can pick up your own copy of GAME OF FEAR [easyazon_link identifier=”B01A7HDIDQ” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Exposure: A sociologist explores sex, society, and adult entertainment by Chauntelle Tibbals

 

exposure

In Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment, Chauntelle Tibbals exposes readers to one of the most mysterious businesses and significant subcultures shaping our modern world porn. Adult entertainment is a part of us – it’s a hugely influential component of our culture. Like it or not, it partially shapes who we are as a society. And we as a society help shape it right back. Porn takes on our sexual desires and dreams, often in ways that we’re uncomfortable with.

Tibbals takes us through her own process from precocious Southern California girl to marginalized sociology Ph.D. student to renowned adult industry expert. She shares her adventures and observations often hilarious, occasionally heartbreaking, and always enlightening in order to give us a nuanced look at a community that’s simultaneously influential and reviled, powerful and stigmatized. From the altered reality of pornographic film sets to wildly inappropriate fans at trade shows, Tibbals has seen it all. And she will be the first person to tell you: the adult industry is nothing like you’d expect. It’s a world that deals in sex and is shrouded in mystery but is ultimately no different from any other.

 

Thanks to author Chauntelle Tibbals and NetGalley for offering this advance review copy!  EXPOSURE will be published July 7, 2015.

If you are looking for a salacious, tell-all expose on the world of porn–this isn’t it. What it IS: an intelligent and thought provoking view into the business of sexy movies. Tibbals supports this world yet doesn’t agree with it fully, a concept I found refreshing. It’s difficult to walk that fine line between “not my kind of stuff” and revulsion, and the author maintains her position as IN the world, not OF it. This position helps to create credibility and honesty.

Censoring attitudes almost prevented Tibbals from obtaining her degree; her advisor was hostile and passive aggressive, her peers wondered what was wrong with her. Why is a nice girl like you getting involved with such filth is the undertone of the first part, as Tibbals details her struggle to defend her choices. I found it repugnant in this enlightened day and age, that an advisor could hold such power over a student’s choice, a choice that was not hurting anyone.

Good thing that Tibbals marched to the beat of her own drum. Eventually she found her way and began her thesis in earnest. Substitute any other subject for porn, and what you have is how she went about gathering information. As the industry accepted her, not as a gawker, but as a true supporter seeking understanding through knowledge, Tibbals befriended the megastars and watched literally hundreds of films. (Did you know they have their own version of the Oscars for porn films? I didn’t either.)

As she gained respect by showing respect, Tibbals found herself in many situations: watching films shot from behind the scenes, hanging out with some of the actors, and sitting as a judge for the aforementioned films awards. She explains her “walking the line” mentality with an anecdote about a movie that was esthetically sound, but directed by an unsavory character. She struggled with  trying to separate the fact that she loathed the director while appreciating the film for what it was: shot beautifully, with a plot that made sense and was actually engaging to watch.  I was quite impressed by her self awareness and willingness to share the truth, even if she didn’t personally approve/like it.

You must go into this book with an open mind, similar to the author watching those movies. As the blurb notes, porn is “just another business” and this is an insider’s view. Sex is such a hot button topic in America, and it shouldn’t be. I applaud the author’s temerity and her vociferous support for this area of our society; the part of our culture everyone has an opinion about, yet hesitates to defend.

This societal dichotomy persists with a section on how these porn stars are alternately worshipped and reviled: when the girls make appearances at trade shows (much like authors or sports figures do) their “fans” will wait in line to see them, fawning over their beauty. Once they get their audience with Tammy Tawdry, however, they will call them “sluts” or ask if their daddy is proud of what they do. This is a perfect example of the double standard and pervasive misogyny that is a staple of our society. Women walk a fine line with their sexuality; the male stars are purported as heroes with staying power, and the girls are just an object to be used. Tibbals is dead on with this chapter.

Her writing style is easy to follow and often humorous. She makes no apology for who she is or how she got there; and I found that refreshing and empowering. Being a maverick is often lonely and frustrating, but usually has its rewards. I sincerely hope Tibbals is recouping hers now.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1626341931″ locale=”US” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Internal Medicine by Terrence Holt

Z

A collection of essays about life as a surgical intern.

Terrence Holt, whose In the Valley of the Kings was hailed as a “work of genius” (New York Times) and made Amazon’s Top Ten Short Story Collections of the year, brings a writer’s eye and a doctor’s touch to this powerful account of residency.

Intense, ironic, heartfelt, and heartbreaking, these nine vivid stories put us at the bedside of a patient dying in a house full of cursing parrots, through a nightmarish struggle to convince a man that he has cancer, at a life-and-death effort to keep an oxygen mask on a claustrophobic patient, and in the lounge of a snowbound hospital where doctors swap yarns through the night.

Out of these “dioramas from the Museum of Human Misery”, Holt draws meaning, beauty, wonder, and truth. Personal, poignant, and meticulously precise, these stories evoke Chekhov, Maugham, and William Carlos Williams, admitting readers to the beating heart of medicine. Internal Medicine is an account of what it means to be a doctor, to be mortal, and to be human.

This book was on my “to-read” list, so I picked it up from the library. Attempts to reach the author for a review/giveaway copy were unsuccessful.

It only took a few pages for INTERNAL MEDICINE to become a great read. Told in the voice of a doctor, explaining how he handled difficult cases during his internship, this book is alternately chilling and poignant. The take away message is this: doctors have self doubt and fatigue just like everyone else, despite the brave front they put on.

Each chapter told the story of one patient, and how Holt learned from their situation. One lesson was patience, one was bravery, one was teamwork, and so on. Brilliant details and situations that everyone can identify with are what makes this such a moving and important read.

As I read about the woman whose oxygen saturation was dipping into the 80’s, yet she kept ripping her O2 mask off due to claustrophobia, I ferverently hoped I would never be ill and lingering in the hospital. The intimate details of how the human body betrays us all is what will stay with you, long after the book is finished. Holt’s writing style is easy to follow, and full of honesty.

Each chapter can be read as a stand alone, and I recommend that–for you will need time to digest the life lessons revealed with each patient’s final outcome. Holt does not hide his fear, his disgust, his anger, and his weariness. He exposes himself –  and the entire medical profession – with stories that cannot help but touch your soul. What makes this book so wonderful is that the stories take place during his internship, where each moment is a learning experience and a doctor’s intuition is “make or break”.  The spin on each chapter would be totally different if it was written under the guise of a man who was completely comfortable with his medical knowledge, with his ability to heal and comfort. Instead, there are questions and internal monologues, which make the doctor not larger than life, but truly human and with foibles.

The book can be graphic at times, so beware. Seasoned readers of the medical genre will enjoy it, as there are some things that I haven’t read about previously. The scenes and maladies are diverse, and there is a chilling story from a mental hospital thrown in for good measure. The only chapter I had a problem with was the last one: a seemingly out of place fable (told  on a regular basis by doctors) about an incident that may or may not have taken place in real life–a rambling and unsatisfying tale told (in this case) by an older doctor in an on call room where others are trying to get some rest.  I’m not sure why the author chose to end with this story, as it took the life out of the other eight chapters that went before.  Other than that, I have nothing but praise for INTERNAL MEDICINE. This should be on the must read shelf for all those about to enter the medical profession.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link asin=”0871408759″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]here[/easyazon_link].

 

 

 

 

 

 

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