Category Archives: Random House

#Mx3 Review: Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen

  • Age Range: 9 – 12 years
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (August 26, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780385371032
  • Source: Publisher

Twelve year-old Gabriel Finley has lived with his Aunt Jasmine in her old Brooklyn brownstone since his father disappeared three years ago. As he gets older, he has increasingly more questions about his father’s disappearance.  As he approaches his thirteenth birthday, his aunt presents Gabriel with his father’s journal in hopes of answering some of these questions.

Called the Book of Ravens, the journal tells of a time when humans and ravens spoke to each other as equals. Partnered for life, humans and their raven partners, known as an amicus, rarely parted ways.   This relationship ended after  group of ravens, enticed by immortality, did the unthinkable and killed their human partners. Now, these evil ravens, known as valravens, were punished with an endless life of darkness and despair.  The only way to tell the evil ravens from the good was to ask them a riddle. Valravens, unable to laugh, would not be able to answer the riddle.

Unbeknownst to Gabriel, he has the ability to communicate with ravens.  Gabriel would never be confused for a super hero. Quiet, with just a few friends, Gabriel suddenly realizes that he holds the power to save his father. Always quite skilled at solving riddles, Gabriel and an unlikely group of allies begin their quest  to a secret world beneath the city in hopes of saving his father.  His nemesis in this journey is his uncle Corax, shunned from his family at the age of twelve. Also skilled with the ability to speak with ravens, Corax’s life took a darker route than Gabriel and his father.

Rich with unusual characters and a fantastical world full of imagination, Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle is a genuinely captivating middle-grade novel perfect for younger fans of Harry Potter or The Hobbit.  The themes of friendship, family, and loyalty combined with the fantastical journey form a well-rounded and enriching read.  That said, there are some darker aspects of this novel that might lend itself to be read with a parent.  I read it with my nine year-old and we found ourselves eagerly looking forward to reading time each night.

Readers will quickly pick up on the novel’s similarities with Harry Potter and its homage to Norse mythology. Beyond this, the author excels at making this book stand out on its own merit.  Hints at sequels have my son & I clamoring for more. Highly, highly recommended.



Guest Review: The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (August 5, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780385744027
  • Source: Publisher

Sixteen-year-old Leilani and her father travel from their small island town to the Big Island of Hawaii to Oahu to seek medical treatment for her epilepsy.  When the President of the United States goes missing for several hours, they think nothing of it, assuming the media is rushing to assumptions.  Once they arrive on the Big Island, however, a series of meteor strikes causes all electronics to fail, preventing them from communicating with their family back home. The meteor storms also bring on the appearance of a celestial being, dubbed the Green Orchid due to its flower-like appearance.

Unable to complete her medical tests, Leilani and her father are desperate to return home. Commercial flights are cancelled and a return by sea is far too dangerous.  The added stress causes an increase in Leilani’s seizures, during which she experiences otherworldly connections to the past. As a food shortage becomes eminent, citizens begin to loot, forcing the military to become involved. Leilani and her father, attempting to find their own means of returning home, become just two of the many citizens forced into military camps.  As their hopes of returning home dwindle, Leilani begins to wonder if somehow she is connected to the entity that looms over them.  A terrifying and devastating future is before them.  Will they be able to return home before it’s too late?

I was thrilled to accept this book for review because I felt it was a book that my teen son and I could read and discuss together.  He’s currently quite fond of dystopian fiction and it seemed to be the kind of book he’d adore.  Initially, it was. Unfortunately it took an unexpected turn…and not necessarily for the good. Here are his thoughts.  Warning: there are some spoilers below. Typically, we don’t include spoilers in our review but they were necessary in order for John to fully explain his feelings about the book.

I’ve always wanted to visit Hawaii. My parents went when I was two and since then I’ve been begging my parents to take me. So when my Mom gave this book to me, I was really excited. It blended together survival fiction (I’m a big fan!) and a beautiful setting. Sure to be a success, right? Unfortunately no. It’s actually very difficult for me to write this review because I’m still rather upset at the shift the book made. It started out like any other dystopian fiction. Something happens to cause the world as we know it to go haywire. Yep, I’m sold. Initially, they claimed it was due to this meteor storm. Ok, that’s plausible. Then, in a complete shift, this thing in the sky is an alien being and Leilani is connected to it somehow. Ok, where the heck did that come from?  This dramatic shift really irritated me. I felt tricked, somehow. I was really enjoying the book, I was going to recommend it to all my friends. And then this.  Making things worse is the “to be continued….” at the end. So this is going to be a series now?  I’m all about cliffhanger endings but this one left me mad.  My mom says I should not rush to judgement and wait until the next book comes out, but I don’t know if I have the patience to do so.

I’m trying to be a responsible and respectful reader and finding the benefits to this book. I do agree that it is an excellent survival story.  I like how Leilani and her father were brought together due to the challenges they were faced, rather than giving up and fighting all the time. But that shift in the storyline. I don’t know if I can get over it.

So, I’ll do what my Mom suggests and I’ll read the next book. I’ll be more guarded about my feelings and trust, however.

I guess I can recommend this novel to fans of survivalist fiction and if you read this review you know about the thing that changed my feelings about this book. Looking at other reviews, people seemed to love it. Perhaps I am alone in my feelings, perhaps I’m the only one who chose to state them. So, I’m not going to tell you not to read this book. I’ll just warn you in advance. That’s the best I can do!

There you have it.  Now that John and I have discussed the book, he somewhat understands the author’s motives and is a little more forgiving of what transpired. I understand his feelings; this is probably the first time he’s felt so strongly about a book in a not so positive way.  Take John’s experiences as you may; I’ll be interested to read others reviews of this title!

Review: Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (May 13, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1400062128
  • Source: Publisher

Four years ago Justin Campbell disappeared from his home in the small town of Southport, Texas.   The Campbells struggle to find answers, not knowing if he ran away or was abducted.  Their lives continue, but a mere shell of the life they led before.  When they receive a call from the police saying Justin has been found, alive, in the neighboring town, they can’t believe the news. Elated that their family is together again, they believe that their lives will return to normal.
Unfortunately, the very things that separated them before continue, wounds that may never heal.

Unlike many novels with similar premises, Johnston doesn’t focus on the “before,” with little mention of the Campbell family before Justin disappeared. All the focus is on the “after” and how pronounced the family was changed because of his abduction. All four members of the family are vastly different than they were before, with adultery and lies bearing down on them like invisible weights. The after is almost more difficult to deal with than the abduction itself. So many more unknowns come into play, from what will happen to the abductor to how the family will persevere, almost strangers to one another.

Although it reads like a thriller, the pacing of Remember Me Like This is slow, drawn out and deliberate.  Wholly intentional, in my opinion, this allows the reader to feel the weight of the pressure and uncertainty felt by the Campbell family.

While the majority of the active characters are well-established and developed, it is Justin’s character that is the least developed. Again, likely an intended move by the author, for in order for the reader to feel and comprehend what the family is experiencing, an intimate glimpse of their situation, they must be lacking the same connection and knowledge as the family itself.

This book drew me in from the beginning. I have two sons myself (one named Justin) and I couldn’t even fathom what Justin’s family was experiencing. Could anyone in this situation deal with it differently? It is unlikely.

Remember Me Like This is a brilliant, deeply personal and achingly emotional journey of one family as they attempt to heal and recover from a life-altering event. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House UK (April 1, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1846557283
  • Source: Publisher

Six friends, students at Oxford University, create a game. The game is made up of a series of actions, a truth or dare of sorts.  The consequences of failing to complete the actions start off quiet simple and gradually become more arduous. Buy-in to participate in the Game are quite high, so as the stakes are raised higher, friendships that were once strong are shattered.  Now, fourteen years later, the reader knows something went horribly wrong. Just what it was is unknown, the reader must follow a very unreliable narrator to discover the terrible outcome of this seemingly innocent game. Years later, the remaining players are coming back together to play the final round.

Perhaps because I recently read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but I couldn’t help but drawn comparisons between the two.  They both involved a group of students at an illustrious university performing actions that test an individual, both involving the need to fit in and be part of the group. That said, Black Chalk does stand on its own, with a unique storyline and twists and turns in the plot.

The reader goes in quite blind; the narrator isn’t revealed until well into the novel. Many other details are revealed in parts and pieces, the novel itself an elaborate mind game that the reader must discover in their own.  To do so, the reader must have patience. Perhaps too much.

Honestly, it took me over 100 pages to become invested in this novel. The narrator was just too unreliable for me.  Not knowing the identity, or the heavy consequences of the game from the beginning, I felt that this information should have been relayed in a more timely manner. Instead, I felt as though my time and patience were strung out, waiting so desperately for a pay off at the end. While there were a few big twists and turns revealed throughout the novel, I didn’t feel the pay off was great enough to warrant the patience it demanded.

I read other reviews of this title before writing mine, a practice I usually avoid. I was stunned to see that my feelings about this book are so different than the experience of others. I don’t regret or feel bad about my feelings; reading a book is a deeply personal experience, each reader getting something else out of the book.  In these other reviews,  I see that others adored the very aspects of the novel that I found lacking. Could it be the timing of my read of the book? Or perhaps this just isn’t the title for me.

All this said, I will leave it up to you to decide whether or not you will pick up this title. It is full of twists and turns, games played on the characters as well as a reader. Give it a chance, perhaps you will have a wholly different experience than I did.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please check out the other stops in this tour to see other opinions/reviews of this title.

Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

  • Age Range: 12 and up/Grade 7 and up
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press; First Edition edition (September 24, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0385743564
  • Source: Publisher

A decade ago Calamity came, a meteor that gave people extraordinary powers. Soon these individuals began to be referred to as Epics. Rather than using their power for good, they demanded more power and domination. No one dared to stand up to the Epics other than a rogue group of individuals known as the Reckoners. These individuals lacked any special powers but devoted all their time to studying the Epics so they can be eliminated.

David is an eighteen-year-old young man who is desperate to join the Reckoners. His young life has been spent studying the Epics, specifically Steelheart, the Epic that killed his father.  He has more knowledge of the Epics than any other individual, a knowledge that borders on obsession.  His desire to bring them down is personal; he’s willing to risk everything to bring down the Epic. With the Reckoners, David can finally execute the plan he’s been developing for the past ten years.

First reaction after reading this book? Wow! I read the synopsis and was immediately intrigued.  Sanderson has developed a post-apocalyptic world in Chicago (referred to as Newcago) that is dripping with intensity, never a dull moment.  What makes this novel stand out to me are the Epic’s super powers. They aren’t your typical, run-of-the mill powers.  With these powers come weaknesses that be used to the Reckoner’s advantage. Like Superman and his kryptonite, there is some flaw in their power that can bring them down.  David, through his diligent study of  the Epics, is the unlikely hero that will stop their ten-year reign.

The world Sanderson builds is unique and all together terrifying. He isn’t one of those authors that creates something without any explanation as to its cause; there is a reason and explanation for everything. Additionally, he pays homage to the super heroes/villains in comic books, a novelization of my favorite things about comic books!

While it is labeled as a young adult, don’t let that sway you from reading this novel. It had my attention from the beginning. Honestly, they only thing “young adult” about this book is that the main character is in his teens. There is a bit of violence so perhaps the age range of 12 and up is a bit low; My son is fourteen and I plan on allowing him to read this but do your due diligence and read a sample yourself before passing it on to your child to read.

Overall, I found this to be a incredibly well crafted novel guaranteed to thrill readers of all ages. I’m thrilled that this is the beginning of a three book series. I cannot wait for more! Highly recommended.

Review: Cartwheel by Jennifer Dubois

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (September 24, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0812995864
  • Source: Publisher

Lily Hayes opts to spend a semester abroad in Buenos Aires and is instantly enamored by the culture around her. She rooms with another young woman from the United States, Katy, but Lily is more interested in becoming immersed in the culture and people around her than her dull roommate. One of the first people Lily meets is the elusive neighbor next door, Sebastien, and the two begin an affair.

Yet five weeks later when Katy is found brutally murdered, Lily’s idyllic life in Buenos Aires becomes a living nightmare. All evidence points toward Lily as the guilty party.  Incriminating her is the cartwheel she performed after her initial interrogation.  If she were guilty, why would she perform such an act?

During the investigation, the prosecutor tears apart Lily’s life in Buenos Aires, desperate to find a motive for the crime. The media has convicted her before a trial, statements and emails from Lily piling on the evidence piling up against her.  Watching all this transpire are Lily’s divorced parents and her younger sister, Anna. They can’t help but notice that something is off about Lily.  They can’t possibly  believe she is guilty of the crime but what else can be behind her strange, carefree behavior.

Dubois paints a cast of character that is difficult to sympathize with.  Lily appears selfish, only considerate of her own feelings and desires.  What Dubois does is unique; she allows the characters to provide readers with information about the other pieces of the cast, both through flashbacks and dialogue. With all this, it is nearly impossible for the reader to determine what transpired that fateful evening when Katy was murdered.

While I wasn’t particularly taken in by the premise of the novel, what won me over was how reading the novel made me feel, personally.  It is impossible to read a novel like this without reflecting upon one’s own ideals and morals. I was shocked at how frequently my feelings toward Lily would change, alternating between guilt and innocence. I feel that this has real-life impact, for how often are we swayed in our own thinking thanks to the media.

The similarities to the Amanda Knox case are quite evident.  While the opening of this novel points out there are no correlations, I found it nearly impossible to not make comparisons between the two.

While I wouldn’t recommend this novel to someone hoping to experience a heart-pounding thriller,  it would be best suited for someone interested in a character-driven novel that forces one to look inward, examining one’s own life as they read.  Dubois is a truly talented writer. The fact that her writing alone could evoke such introspection is clear evidence of this talent.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this tour. Please be certain to check out the other stops along the way.


Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (August 20, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 140006788X
  • Source: Publisher

“I love to put my characters in the dark. It’s only then that I can see exactly who they are.”

Scott McGrath is an investigative journalist who knows his fair share about Stanislas Cordova, an infamous director of horror films so horrifying that studios refused to produce them. Despite being sued by the Cordova family for a libelous story, resulting in the end of his career as well as his marriage, Scott continues to find the mysterious man intriguing. Cordova hasn’t been seen in over three decades but his fame continues.  When his daughter, Ashley, is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan, Cordova’s mysterious life is once again brought to center stage.


Scott is unable to accept the coroner’s ruling that Ashley’s death is a suicide and immediately begins digging up information about what Cordova has been doing for the last thirty years. His films were horrific, so shocking and intense that the actors refuse to speak of word of what transpired. It’s obvious that Cordova has always had an disturbing attraction to death and it is Scott’s opinion that this somehow has something to do with Ashley’s death. The family has a history of death, perhaps Ashley’s is yet another example of the family’s supposed curse catching up with them.

With the help of two complete strangers who both have an uncanny connection to the Cordova family, following random bits of information about Ashley’s life that take them all over the state of New York. Scott once again steps into the dark and evil world of Stanislas Cordova, this time delving far deeper than he ever had before.

Please bear with me while I try to put into words the pure brilliance contained within the pages of this novel.  Is it the tremendously elaborate multimedia aspects, including screen shots of web sites, case files, handwritten notes, and more?  Readers follow Scott through his investigation, viewing and discovering evidence as he does, gaining access to visuals and getting a perspective not many novels afford.

We say authors write novels. In this case, however, the word “write” is not enough to describe the act that Pessl has performed.  Instead, she constructed a product that is much more than a simple novel, an absolutely stunning piece of art. The level of skill and research she dedicated to this novel is tremendous, each character and each plot point expertly crafted.  The underground world she creates surrounding Cordova’s character is elaborate, dark, and tremendously terrifying.  I was both horrified and intrigued by Cordova’s character and the aspects of his life that were revealed. His character truly came to life to me, I fully expected to be able to Google his name and find web sites upon web sites of information about him.

Be prepared to dispel disbelief, just give yourself up to the author and allow her to transport you into the dark world of Stanislas Cordova. The rewards will be innumerable, the lasting effects of this novel will remain with you months upon months after you turned the last few pages. You will overlook the daunting length of this novel, instantly transfixed and transported into another world. I guarantee Night Film is like no novel you have ever read, or ever will read. Believe all the buzz you’ve heard about this novel. It really is that good. I read this book not once, but twice, unable to cut the ties that bind me to its brilliance. Highly, highly recommended.

Note: as if the existing multimedia contained within this novel wasn’t enough…there is an app that allows you to scan certain images within the nvoel to unlock even more multimedia content. This Night Film Decoder app will be available tomorrow, August 20th, the release date for this novel. Brilliant!

Review: Son of a Gun by Justin St. Germain

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (August 13, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1400068622
  • Source: Publisher

In September of 2001, when the mother of twenty-year-old Justin St. Germain is murdered at the hands of her fifth husband in Tombstone, AZ, it is written off as “A real-life old West murder mystery.”  Despite its famous history, Tombstone is still a small-town, and rumors about Debbie St. Germain’s lifestyle begin to escalate.  Justin, now living in California, returns to Tombstone after his mother’s death, his life now forever segmented into “before” and “after” his mother’s murder.

Justin rushed to escape his former life in Tombstone as soon as he was able, creating a new life in San Francisco. Yet this tragedy forces his previous life to come flooding back to him.  His mother, a former army paratrooper, was an incredibly strong and independent, working hard and sacrificing a great deal to give Justin and his brother a better life. Her murder forces Justin to re-examine what he thought of his mother and the life they had together.  Desperate to find answers to the cause of her death, Justin re-unites with his mother’s former husbands, men who had a fleeting involvement in his life. In his search he discovers and realizes the true meaning of family. all the while hoping that he has become the man his mother would have wanted him to be.

On the surface, one may be lead to believe that this is true crime novel, but instead it is far more than that. As Justin uncovers information about his mother’s life and a myriad of men who passed through their lives, it’s hard to avoid the realization that his mother’s life was far different than what he perceived.  What caused her to go from one man to another, forcing Justin and his brother to move from home to home? In the end, her marriage to her fifth husband was so different than the others, the two never leaving each other in the last few days of her life. The more he examines his mother’s life, and his own, the more questions go unanswered.

Giving the setting, it’s hard not to compare his mother’s death to the infamous shoot-out that transpired in Tombstone ages ago, not necessarily due to the specifics but because of the aftermath. In both cases, people seem far more mesmerized by the killers than the victims themselves. Justin’s mission, in this emotional and enlightening memoir, is to bring to light his mother’s life for fear that it may lie buried like so much of Tombstone’s past.  A town riddled with a past full of gun violence, Justin can’t ignore the fact that his mother is just another one of Tombstone’s victims.

I cannot begin to summarize how mesmerized I was by Justin’s memoir.  From page one, when his mother’s death is relayed, I was transfixed and almost hypnotized by the emotion relayed in Justin’s words as he learned of, and dealt with, his mother’s death.  He was never really a “Mama’s boy,” always seeking independence and escape from his life in Tombstone, yet his mother’s death lassos him back into this life he once despised.  He now feels guilt for being the son that escaped, “forcing” his mom to give up so much in order to grant him the life he felt he deserved.  Discovering so much about his mother and her many husbands, he has a reawakening of sorts, finally seeing through the tinted glasses he’d worn all his life, for the first time truly understanding the woman his mother was, and grew to be. At the same time he is transformed from a confused and floundering victim to a self-realized young man.

An incredibly remarkable memoir that melds past with present, Son of a Gun will force readers to reflect upon their own life and family and the choices and the sacrifices they make all in the name of family. Highly, highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Be sure to check out the other stops along the way!

Frightful Friday: World War Z: The Complete Edition: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.This week’s featured title is the audiobook production of World War Z by Max Brooks:


  • Audio CD
  • Length: 12 hrs and 8 mins
  • Publisher: Random House Audio
  • ISBN-10: 0804165734
  • Source: Personal copy

The Zombie War came frighteningly close to decimating mankind. In this documentary-style oral history, survivors (including men, women, and children) look back on the tumultuous time immediately following the outbreak. While sharing their experiences, it isn’t hard to grasp the social and political commentary that follows, how our nation responded to the “attack” and the aftermath. The interviewed include soldiers forced to fight a losing battle, individuals who were just children at the time, now adults reflecting on a horrific past.

While obviously a fictional piece of writing, one could easily take the Zombie War and replace it with any major military insurgence the United States has participated in. The results, the impact, are virtually the same. Lessons learned, inadvisable and rash decisions, are easily transferable.

The interviews are what make this novel truly impactful.  Granted, since there are so many victim statements it is hard to get connected to any character. It wasn’t Brooks’ intent for his readers to relate to any of the characters, but instead focus on the story they are sharing. The story, the memories, the testimony: that should be, and is, the focus of this truly outstanding audio book production. Unlike many other zombie novels, Brooks doesn’t try to explain how or why the zombies came to be, instead focusing on how their existence forever altered society as we know it.

This particular audiobook is an “update” to the original previously released five years ago.  The release of the World War Z motion picture inspired this update, including over five hours of additional content. The previous audio book was abridged, honestly a disappointment. While this update is technically an abridged version as well, to me, the parts removed are not noticeable. Honestly, I was incredibly impressed with the additional content, specifically the additional narrators.  These include New narrators include Martin Scorsese, Alfred Molina (Spiderman), Frank Darabont (the creator ofThe Walking Dead), Nathan Fillion many, many more.

While I haven’t seen the movie yet, I cannot even begin to contemplate how a novel (and audiobook) so brilliant could be transferred to the big screen.  Perhaps a mini-series, but definitely not a full-length film. Instead, I chose to stick to the original, the true brilliance of World War Z. This production definitely tops my list of best of the year. While there are still a few months in the year, it’s going to be hard to top this one. So, in my opinion, skip the movie and stick to the audiobook. Highly, highly recommended.

Audio Book Review: Elsewhere by Richard Russo

  • Listening Length: 7 hours and 32 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Publisher: Random House Audio
  • Release Date: October 30, 2012
  • Source: Library

Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo follows eight tremendous works of fiction with a truly rewarding memoir of his life in Elsewhere. Fans of his novels will recognize his hometown of Gloversville, NY, a town once known for producing quality leather products. By the time Russo was a young child, the town was reduced to poverty, many of the residents sick with illnesses caused by working in the glovery.

During Russo’s childhood, Gloversville was a close-knit community, the residents bonding together in poverty. That said, Russo waited decades to write about his hometown, only inspired after he was invited to participate in Granta’s “going home” issue.

…this isn’t a story I tried to remember; it’s one I’d have given a good deal to forget. But despite my impressive amnesiac gifts, it refused to be forgotten, and I hope that that’s because it’s true in the ways that matter most.

As a young adult, Russo and his mother, Jean,  live in an apartment in the upper level of his grandparents home. Ready to flee the life they were dealt due to Russo’s compulsive-gambling father, Jean joins Russo when he drives across the country to attend school at University of Arizona. He doesn’t know this at the time, but this leap of faith is just the beginning of a host of moves that he and his mother take. Upon arrival, Russo assumes his mother has found employment with General Electric, the company Jean had worked for for years, a job at which she was paid quite the healthy salary. Unfortunately this is not the case and instead Jean must start from scratch with her job search. With each position she finds, rather than celebrating the opportunity she compares each job with her role at GE.  The stress of the move and the hunt for employment and an acceptable apartment unleashes in Jean what Russo and his family refereed to as “nerves.” She relies entirely on Russo (who she affectionately refers to as “Ricko-Mio”) for everything, from running her to the grocery store to a host of a number of errands.

When Russo obtains his Ph.D. in English and opts to move from Phoenix, leaving his mother behind. He marries and has children and the brief stint of independence from his mother ends and she follows him back across the country, ultimately ending in Maine.  It was as if she thought of them as one individual, Russo comments, “one entity, oddly cleaved by time and gender, like fraternal twins somehow born twenty-five years apart, destined in some strange way to share a common destiny.”

Throughout these numerous moves, Jean’s spells of “nerves” continue. Thankfully, Russo marries an incredibly patient and understanding wife, Barbara, who unfortunately comes to realize that every shift in their life must take into account the well-being and status of her mother-in-law. Jean’s condition actually worsens, her doctor ultimately prescribing her a host of medications, including Valium and Phenobarbital. To make matters worse, Jean holds back medications when she thinks she’s doing well, then compensating with multiple doses when her nerves act up. Unfortunately, it isn’t until years later, after she passes, that Russo really understands the depth to her illness. It wasn’t simply a case of nerves, but instead an undiagnosed case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Throughout the novel, one can’t help but get frustrated with Russo’s mother and the trials and tribulations she forces upon her son. That said, a truly profound turning point comes upon and after her death when Russo realizes he may have ignored warning signs that would have allowed her to be treated for her illness.

At the beginning of this memoir, Russo indicates:

What follows in this memoir – I don’t know what else to call it – is a story of intersections: of place and time, of private and public, of linked destinies and flawed devotion. It’s more my mother’s story than mine, but it’s mine, too, because until just a few years ago she was seldom absent from my life.

These two lines perfectly capture the true essence of this memoir. After his mother’s death, Russo still couldn’t comprehend what an impact he had on his mother’s life. Even as an adult he feels he was the root of her pain:

From the time I was a boy I understood that my mother’s health, her well-being, was in my hands. How often over the years did she credit me, or my proximity, with restoring her to health? My rock, as she was so fond of saying, always there when she needed me most. My own experience, however, had yielded a different truth — that I could easily make things worse, but never better.


The moment in which Russo finally realizes how truly integral and valuable to his mother’s life is truly heart-wrenching and beautiful.This side of Russo: completely honest, almost painfully so, gives a whole new depth to my view of him as a writer. Russo doesn’t hold back in admitting how much his mother influenced his future and success as a writer:

Reading was not a duty but a reward….From her I intuited a vital truth: most people are trapped in a solitary existence, a life circumscribed by want and failures of imagination, limitations from which readers are exempt. You can’t make a writer without first making a reader, and that’s what my mother made me.

I’ve been a fan of Russo’s writing for years. Listening to him narrate his own memoir allowed me to see a completely new, almost naive, side to this truly talented writer. His narration is truly amazing, while it’s a given that an author should narrate his/her memoir that is not always the case. That said, I don’t believe this book would have had such a strong impact on me had it been read anyone other than Russo. Listening to this memoir has inspired me to go back an reread his fiction, perhaps viewing his fiction from new eyes, seeing the author in a completely new light. Undoubtedly, this will be one of my favorite memoirs of the year. Highly, highly recommended.