Category Archives: Literary Fiction

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (September 9, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780385353304
  • Source: Publisher

 

A famous stage actor, Arthur Leander, dies of a heart attack on stage. A former paparazzi, now EMT, leaps to the stage in an attempt to save him. From the sidelines, young Kirsten Raymonde watches as the life drains from the body of a man she admires. Outside, a terrible flu is spreading. Hospitals are overwhelmed with patients and soon the doctors succumb to the illness.  Jeevan rushes to the home of his wheelchair bound brother. As the days pass, they watch as life as they knew it quickly fades to nothingness. Within days, the majority of the population is gone.

No more internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in doing so, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.

Fast a few decades. Kirsten is now an actress with a small troupe known as the Traveling Symphony. This motley group of survivors travels by caravan to communities of survivors, sharing a culture of Shakespeare and music to embark a bit of hope into the lives of the living.  On their journey, they cross paths with a prophet who carries a dark and dangerous message about the demise of civilization.

With alternating stories and timelines, it is quickly evident that the lives of each of these characters are bound together by time. While the synopsis of Station Eleven might seem like a dystopian or science fiction novel, it far more profound than that.  A message tattooed on Kirsten’s arm, quoted from an episode of Star Trek: Voyager says it all: survival is insufficient.  It’s not enough that there are still survivors that roam the vast lands of our country. What these individuals have become, what happens to us when faced with such travesty, is what is important.

Another message  Mandel imparts is the enduring magic of the arts and storytelling.  Through Beethoven and Shakespeare and a random (yet powerful) comic book, the survivors embrace the hope of what used to be,  a world that many of them never experienced on their own. Savoring and sharing the beauty of mankind before the flu struck is the only salvation for the survivors.  The message that lingers throughout is the importance to savor the beauty, never taking granted what is before you. A line that will linger in my mind, Hell is the absence of people you long for,” captures it all so perfectly.

I devoured the egalley of this book within hours of downloading it on my iPad. Weeks later, I was still in a stunned silence brought on by its sheer beauty and brilliance.  Weeks passed, and I was unable to put my experience and feelings into words. So I read it again, staying up all hours of the night to finish it. This second experience, no longer shadowed by the awe of my first reading, allowed me to appreciate this novel so much more.

Now, days after my second reading, I still weep when I think of the beauty that Mandel has imparted to her readers. Reading this book is an experience like none other. With no exaggeration, it is a life-altering experience. I see something on an ordinary day, something as simple as the changing colors of leaves, and I tear up. Because I see the beauty. I appreciate it. I savor it.  That is what you should do with this book. Open it. Savor it. Live it.

Review: The Death of Lucy Kyte by Nicola Upson

  • Series: Josephine Tey Mysteries
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bourbon Street Books (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062195456
  • Source: Publisher

Josephine Tey, a well known British mystery author, learns she has inherited a cottage from a godmother she knew very little about. Her godmother, Hester Larkspur, was an actress and good friend to Josephine’s mother. Hester’s message to her goddaughter request that Josephine review her personal papers and decide herself “what stories should be told.”

Josephine’s inheritance doesn’t come without stipulations. First, she must travel to the Suffolk countryside to claim Red Barn Cottage herself. Additionally, another unknown woman, Lucy Kyte, has claim to anything within the cottage she desires. Josephine travels to Suffolk, her mind riddled with endless questions.  Upon her arrival, she learns the cottage has a dark and deadly past.  It was the site of the murder Maria Marten. Her killer was her lover, William Corder.  The murder was so notorious that it was frequently reenacted on the stage, her own godmother in the role of Maria Marten.

The inhabitants of the tighly-knit village offer very little answers, many denying they know anything about the mysterious Lucy Kyte.  It is only by reading Hester’s diary, a fictionalized account of Maria’s life, that Josephine finds out any information about her godmother and her close friend.

As she attempts to restore the cottage to a livable residence for herself and her lover, Josephine can’t help but feel a pervading and dark presence in the home. Instead of discounting it as being haunted as her lover is drawn to do, Josephine instead focuses on finding out answers as to how the living are responsible for the cottage’s dark past.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, The Death of Lucy Kyte is actually the fifth book in a series focusing on Josephine Tey, a true to life mystery writer. As I learned more about Tey herself, I found this novel to be more and more fascinating. I’m one that is drawn to fictionalized retellings of actual events and people, so I was quite intrigued about the character that Upson has created in Josephine.  The author has commented that she grew up in Suffolk, witness to the home that was the scene of this famous murder, her knowledge further adding to the lush and expansive detail that she uses to describe the setting to readers.

This isn’t one of those fast-paced and intense historical mysteries that readers can devour in a matter of hours.  Instead, it is one that is slowly revealed and eloquently detailed. Pages upon pages pass to describe the interior of the cottage, making it possible for the reader to visualize the setting with great detail. The reader’s patience to the slow pacing is wholeheartedly rewarded with a stunning and surprising conclusion.

While I wouldn’t readily recommend this book to someone new to the series (I actually did a tremendous amount of reading and sampling of the prior books in the series), I do believe readers interested in detailed, character driven literary fiction would be greatly rewarded. Recommended…with stipulations.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title.  Be sure to check out the other stops in this tour:

Tuesday, June 10th: 5 Minutes For Books

Friday, June 13th: Mystery Playground

Thursday, June 19th: BoundbyWords

Monday, June 23rd: The Written World

Tuesday, June 24th: Wordsmithonia

Thursday, June 26th: Dwell in Possibility

Monday, June 30th: Excellent Library

Tuesday, July 1st: My Bookshelf

Nicola Upson is the author of five Josephine Tey mysteries, including An Expert in Murder, Angel with Two Faces, Two for Sorrow, Fear in the Sunlight, and The Death of Lucy Kyte, as well as two works of nonfiction. She has worked in theater and as a freelance journalist. A recipient of an Escalator Award from the Arts Council England, she splits her time between Cambridge and Cornwall. Visit Nicola at her website, www.nicolaupson.com, and on Facebook.

Review: A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (June 3, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0062287877
  • Source: Publisher

Slava Gelman is a lapsed Jew working for Century, an esteemed magazine in Manhattan. He’s exiled himself from his family in an attempt to shed the history and past that may tarnish the aristocratic-style writing demanded of him by Century.

Yet when he receives a phone call from his mother stating his grandmother has passed away, he throws all that behind him, crossing the East River to visit his grandfather. His grandmother meant the world to him. She was more like a mother than his own and was one of his few family members who understood Slava. When he learns that his grandmother was eligible for Holocaust reparations from the German government,   Slava  does the unbelievable: rewriting his grandmother’s Holocaust experience into his father’s. So desperate to write something of substance, he finds himself forging other restitution claims. While these individuals may not have suffered directly from the concentration camps, they represent those thousands of Jews that did.

Slava’s story himself in an interesting one. His family moved to the states in the 1970s from the Soviet republic and Slava has a huge gap in his knowledge of his family’s Jewish culture. He struggles to understand their need and determination for reparations, but struggles. His grandmother is his tie to his heritage and, with her death, he now lacks that connection. Despite the danger that comes in writing the fraudulent claims, it’s obvious that Slava is doing it to make up for what he was unable to do for his grandmother before she died.

I admit, initially I found it quite difficult to become invested in this novel. Slava is a unique character that I found difficult to connect with. He doesn’t easily or willingly expose his softer side, instead putting up a facade of a selfish and self-absorbed man. Yet, through his “conversations” and reflections on his grandmother, a more sympathetic side comes forth.  It was then that I was finally able to embrace Slava for efforts and attempts to attain justice for so many.

At its very core, A Replacement Life is not only about finding oneself and embracing one’s destiny, but balancing on the fine line between what is right for one’s family  and what is right in the greater sense of the word.  It is a novel about achieving justice when justice is due, despite the consequences. Full of dark humor and witty banter, A Replacement Life isn’t your typical exploration of family love and justice. That said, its unique style is destined to make this a book meant to be discussed. Highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title. Please be sure to check out the other stops in this tour.

Review: The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (February 25, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1250038944
  • Source: Publisher

Being a headmaster is in Arthur Winthrop’s genes. Like his father before him, he serves as the headmaster of Lancaster School, an elite private school in Vermont.  Lancaster School is his life; he grew up there, went to school there, and now serves as the setting for where his life will spiral out of control.  Arthur’s story, to the reader, begins after he is taken into custody for walking around naked in Central Park.

As he retells his story to the police, Arthur’s confusion and mental anguish are apparent. He tells of the weight being a headmaster places on him, the toll it has taken on him emotionally, his obsession with a young student, and how all of this has taken a toll on his marriage.  Arthur’s madness and obvious struggle to maintain some semblance of his life is quite apparent.  The intensity of this mental anguish is made clearly apparent in the second half of the book, in a segment certain to shock and induce jaw-dropping in the most astute of readers.

At it’s very core, however, The Headmaster’s Wife is a novel full of surprises, a novel completely unlike what this reader expected. In the beginning, it reads like a thriller, a mystery of sorts. Ultimately, however, it is a beautifully written exploration of love, of family, and how the loss of someone so dear to you can send your entire world, your very being, into a downward, out of control, spiral.

This is a novel that will capture your attention from the beginning. As I read, I was a bit wary of the path this author was taking. “Oh, it’s going to be one of THOSE books.” And then…when IT was revealed….I was in a stunned silence. Typically, I can predict when something big, a sudden revelation is about to take place. Certainly not in this case!  Instead, this shift in plot had me obsessed with reading more, devouring this book to the very end. I read it in a matter of hours, a challenging feat as of late.  Without giving much away, I will warn readers to be wary, all is not as it seems!

For the reasons listed above, this novel will, without a doubt, top my list of favorites of 2014. It will leave you speechless, stunned by how expertly this author has captured tragedy and the loss.  Greene knows loss, it serves as his inspiration for writing this novel. To learn more, please check out the video embedded below.

 

Bottom line, The Headmaster’s Wife  is an absolutely brilliant and touching piece of writing. I am now and forever in awe of this author’s talent, my heart aching for the pain he endured. Rather than becoming a victim to his pain, he used it to produce a truly remarkable, unforgettable novel. Highly, highly recommended.

 

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (February 11, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0804139024
  • Source: Publisher

Mark Watney is one of several astronauts making up the crew of the Ares 3 mission to Mars. Just days into their mission, the Acidalia region is hit by a dust storm. Believed to be killed during the storm, Mark is left…alone…on Mars.  He has the food rations that would have lasted the crew two months but it’s going to take much longer for NASA to realize he is still alive…and to come up with a means of rescuing him.  Watney uses his ingenuity to come up with means to survive until help arrives (including growing quite the impressive harvest of potatoes). Will all this ingenuity be enough for Watney to survive the harsh and unforgiving Mars terrain, repeatedly hammered with obstacles to test his survival (and his sanity)?

The Martian is a truly tremendous novel, one of the best I have read in some time. It reads like a nonfiction narrative of a survival story, for Weir’s knowledge of the subject matter is quite vast and impressive. While there is a great deal of technical and scientific jargon, rather than bogging the reader down I think it added a level of believability that will allow readers to grasp the severity and intensity of Watney’s survival.  Personally, I found myself devouring the novel, hungry to learn what next great feat Watney overcame.

The character Weir builds in Watney is outstanding. Though it’s obvious he is terrified about his fate, he keeps a level head on him, using quite a bit of sarcastic humor that lightened up an already dark and devastating storyline.  Watney’s human spirit was tremendous. One can’t help but root for him and pray for his safe return to Earth. I found myself forgetting that he is a fictional character, assuming that I can look up his name online or turn on the news to hear about his death-defying saga. At the end, I did find myself missing him quite a bit. I plan on checking out the audio book soon, desperate to reunite with this character.

You don’t have to be a fan of science fiction to appreciate this novel.  It’s a truly intense analysis of human character and survival, dozens of unknowns on such an unknown planet. This is a novel people will be raving about, I guarantee. Months after reading it, I countinue to rave about it (including it as  my monthly recommendation for Bloggers Recommend).  Highly, highly recommended.

Review: What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell

9780062237842

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (January 7, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0062237845
  • Source: Publisher

Olivia Reed didn’t have the most stable of childhoods. Her older sisters, twins, were stillborns who died a year before Olivia was born and are forever memorialized by her mother, Myla, a bipolar psychic. One of Olivia’s many tasks around their home is to clean the nursery, a morbid constant reminder of loss Myla cannot forget. Myla refuses to admit the girls are gone, going as far as preparing bowls of food to feed them. And then there is Olivia, a girl of fifteen just coming to terms with her own identity, forgotten by her own mother. Myla would have manic sessions and then disappear for weeks, forcing Olivia to fend for herself.  This abandonment led to rebellion and at fifteen, the summer of 1987, Olivia left her home of Ocean Vista.

Fast forward twenty years and Olivia has returned to Ocean Visita, this time with her two children, her teen daughter Carrie  and a nine-year-old son, Daniel, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Olivia is running from the life she had in Texas, desperate for some solace after her divorce. However, instead of a quiet and calm reunion, she is forced into panic and terror when Daniel son goes missing.

Alternating between past and present, What I Had Before I Had You is a hauntingly poignant examination of bipolar disorder and how it affects not only the individual diagnosed with it, but how it is passed on and forever alters those around them. Myla believed the disorder granted her the gift of her psychic visions and never received treatment for the disease. Olivia learned to handle her symptoms, desperately trying to balance this “gift” passed down to her by her mother with the demands of being a mother.

What moved me the most about this novel is its impact. Not only is Oliva on a desperate search for her missing son, she is also seeking some answers to her own identity, aching to come to terms with who she really is. A powerfully moving novel, What I Had Before I Had You is a heart-wrenching, intensely thought-provoking experience. Days after finishing this novel, I’m still processing the intensity of its message.  Highly, highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please be sure to check out the other stops in this tour!

Review: Adé: A Love Story by Rebecca Walker

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Little A / New Harvest (October 29, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 054414922X
  • Source: Publisher

A nineteen-year-old college student and her friend, Miriam,  embark on a trip to Africa. The unnamed narrator’s life is forever altered upon arriving in Egypt, feeling as though she is finally home. With almond-shaped eyes and dark skin, she’s never really felt as though she’s belonged.  Then, upon arrival at an island off the coast of Kenya, she meets Adé.  An attractive Swahili Muslim, the life Adé leads is completely unlike anything the narrator has ever known. It is Adé who gives her the Arabic name, Farida.

Farida and Adé fall in love and Farida encourages her free-spirited friend, Miriam to continue her travels.  When Farida and Adé decide to marry, Farida is thrust into a life rigid with Swahili wedding customs.  It is required that Adé travel home with her to request her parents’ permission to marry. It is then that the young couple are forced to face the political war and a difficult life raging around them. Devoid of worldly possessions and even the most basic medical care, Farida contracts cerebral malaria and meningitis, demanding that she make a choice between her love of Adé and her own health and safety.

The cultures Farida is introduced to in her journeys alter her tremendously. A privileged Yale student, this is the first glimpse of a world unlike her own.  The adversity that she and Adé were forced to face was heartbreaking.  They overcame the cultural challenges only to be forced to surrender to a condition that only modern medicine can occur. The romantic in me wants to believe that love can conquer everything but alas, that is not always the case.

That’s not to say this is a dark and depressing read. Instead, it was incredibly rewarding and uplifting, watching Farida experience her rebirth and growth that would have never happened without Adé. He gave her a new life, a new outlook on her future and place in this world.  The love that Farida shares with Adé is far beyond what we think of traditional and, perhaps due to this, is on a completely different parallel than the love that many of us face. They share a once in a lifetime sort of love, a beauty set in an area riddled with war and destruction. While this novel is short, it packs a punch that will linger, living readers breathless. It is a novel unlike any I have ever witnessed, a true gift. Highly, highly recommended.

Rebecca Walker is the author of the best-selling memoirs Black, White and Jewish and Baby Love, and editor of the anthology Black Cool. She is also the editor of the anthologies To Be Real, What Makes a Man, and One Big Happy Family. Her writing has appeared in Bookforum,  Newsweek, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Washington Post, Vibe, and Interview, among many other publications, and she blogs regularly for The Root. For more information, please visit www.rebeccawalker.com and follow her on Twitter: @rebeccawalker.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title. Be sure to check out the other stops in this tour.

Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (August 27, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0778315339
  • Source: Publisher

In 1966, Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s son died at his eighth birthday party. Now in their seventies, their lives have resumed without him, filled with loss and regret.  Then the dead begin to return, not as zombie-like version of their previous selves but exactly as they were when their lives were brought to an end. Harold and Lucille discussed what would happen if Jacob returned, both convinced that it was impossible for them to accept him as their son if he did return.  And then it happened: a knock at the door changing their lives forever. A government man standing alongside their son, just as he was when he died.

Despite what she stated previously, Lucille welcomed him back with open arms. Harold was more reserved, unsure how to treat this little boy who, on the surface, looked just like his little boy whose body he recovered from the river. Harold isn’t the only one unsure of how to deal with “the Returned.” An entire government agency, the International Bureau of the Returned, was charged with dealing with this unusual phenomenon, including reuniting the Returned with their loved ones and asking the fateful question: “Do you want to keep them?”  So many people were returning that the Bureau soon faced funding issues, spending it faster than they could accumulate it.

The social reaction to the Returned made the decision for them: concentration like camp facilities were created to house these individuals.  One such camp is created in the Hargrave’s small town of Arcadia, causing an influx of Returned.  The town shifts from a quite respite to a military-like front filled with armed soldiers. In addition to dealing with the rapid influx of residents it is difficult to ignore the questions left dangling: how and why did these individuals return? Has the world come to an end? Why are only some individuals returning, but not all?

The setting, our nation’s “Bible Belt” adds an interesting spin to this novel. A region that so passionately embraces and celebrates religion is forced to deal with a situation like no other. Their reaction seemed to be quite polarized: either they embraced the Returned, welcoming them back into their lives or shunned them like some sort of beast sent by the Devil. Their religion is tested at a time in which they are at their most vulnerable.  The worst aspects of human nature come to the surface as the world as  a whole is forced to come to terms with this miraculous event.

This debut novel was one of many books I mentioned during the Fall Preview event hosted by my favorite independent bookstore, One More Page Books & More.  I mentioned it not only because it is a stunning debut, but of the reaction it evokes from readers. You’ll be left questioning your own response if you were in the Hargrave’s shoes. Would you be able to accept your loved one back?

My only issue with this novel is that we never learned how or why these individuals have returned.  It is my fear that so many people will tear through the pages, hoping to receive some glorious revelation as to the cause of the return and in doing so miss out on some pretty outstanding writing.  Mott himself explains that the inspiration from this book came from a dream he had a few years ago in which his mother, who passed away in the summer of 2001, returned from the dead and was waiting for him when he returned home from work.  They had the opportunity to catch up on all things that she missed in the time she’d been gone.  Upon waking from his dream Mott was left wondering what his reaction would be if that really happened.  Understanding that the impetus for this novel came from somewhere so close to the author’s heart moved me, wanting me to contemplate these very questions myself.

So, while the cause of the return is never revealed, I think this was an intentional move on the part of the author. He doesn’t want readers to get caught up in the mechanics of what happened, instead focusing on the characters and their reactions, questioning our own responses should we ever find ourselves in this situation.  So, I implore readers not to get so wrapped up in the how and why it happened but focus on the characters and their response to this life-altering experience. Highly, highly recommended.

It’s no surprise to me that ABC has picked up the pilot of a television series based on The Returned, renamed Resurrection for its television review. Check out the trailer:

The book trailer is pretty outstanding as well:

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

Also, if you are a fan of audiobooks, I do encourage you to check out these free prequels to The Returned.

Review: The Exiles by Allison Lynn

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Little A / New Harvest (July 2, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 054410210X
  • Source: Publisher

After realizing their Manhattan lifestyle was far more than they could afford, Nate Bedecker, Emily Latham, and their ten-month-old son Trevor, leave the city and head to Newport, Rhode Island.  Nate was “the only pauper on Wall Street” and Emily worked in advertising. The quiet, relaxed, and more affordable way of life in Newport was just what they needed.

Unfortunately, within hours of their arrival, their Jeep containing all of their valuables was stolen. Forced to cancel all their credit cards, the only money they had was the small amount of cash in their wallets. Despite having the keys to an empty house they now owned, the couple opts to retreat to a hotel and treat their first few days living as tourists.  The recent lost of their vehicle and all their prized possessions is just one of the many things tormenting this young, unmarried couple.

Nate never had what one would refer to as a healthy relationship with his father. The two hadn’t spoken in years, yet the one thing that connects the two is a genetic condition that plagued Nate’s grandfather, one that was likely passed on to his father and Nate himself as well. The disease, which Nate recalls his mother calling “hunting sons” (Huntington’s). Nate almost obsessively monitors his own health and fitness, certain that any changes are an indication of the disease. Still, he shares none of this with Emily.

Emily is host to her own secrets. An act of theft before they left Manhattan torments her; repercussions for her actions may shatter whatever dreams she and Nate had for building a new life in Newport. Like Nate, she keeps her fears and anxiety hidden, the secrets the two keep from one another adding additional stress to an already tumultuous new beginning.

Meanwhile, Nate’s father embarks on his own journey, attempting to return to his family’s old home in Newport to tie up loose ends before the disease takes him as its next victim.

The Exiles is a novel that focuses on many complex issues including honesty, family, trust and more. Emily and Nate aren’t appealing characters because of the lies they keep from one another. Still, readers can’t help feel compassion for these genuine and flawed characters, forced to deal with a reality that fate has dealt them. Lynn’s raw and emotional prose captivates readers, tethering them to this couple as they embark on a journey that is both physical and emotional. While aspects of the story are quite bleak and depressing, a current of positive and hopeful vibes flows beneath the surface, showing that even in the darkest of situations a bit of light shines through.  Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of The Exiles to to give away. To enter, please fill out the form below.  The winner will be notified on Friday, July 26th.  Open to US & Canadian residents only.

Thank to you TLC Book tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title. Be certain to check out the other stops in this tour and increase your chances of winning a copy of the book!

 

 

Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

  • Hardcover: 272 Pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (July 2, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0062280546
  • Source: Publisher

Celeste Price is a middle-school teacher in Tampa, FL.  She chose this career so she could have what she desired most right at her fingertips: young boys in their early teens. Starting in her own teen years, Celeste realized that she had a sexual desire that was more intense than most others. She married a police officer who came from money so she could afford to keep her body looking young by using expensive beauty products and undergoing a number of skin treatments.  She had no attraction to her husband; their sex life was nearly nonexistent. His shift at work prevented them from spending much time together.  When he was home, she drugged him so he would fall asleep, preventing any sort of intimate contact.

As the school year begins, Celeste begins hunting for her prey.  She needs someone that is sort of a loner, too modest to share their indiscretions with anyone, one who has parents that won’t pick up on what is transpiring.  This year, her victim is 14 year-old Jack Patrick, an attractive and modest student in her English class.  It takes some time for her to transform their relationship into more than it is, more than it should be.  When it begins, however, the intensity of their tryst is off the charts. Don’t let Celeste force you to believe she is in this for a romantic relationship for that is far from her intent.  She is in it for the sex, manipulating those around her in a terrifyingly psychopathic manner.  She takes numerous risks, always with an excuse planned in her mind should they ever get caught. Yet what she didn’t take into consideration is how Jack felt about her and what he would do to protect their relationship.

Tampa is by far one of the hardest books I have ever reviewed. The whole premise of this book is vile to me, a mother of a teen boy. The author does not hold back with the explicitness of Jack and Celeste’s sexual exploits. Doing so would diminish Celeste’s obvious sickness. One might ask why I opted to continue to read this book after learning the presence.  Frankly, because the writing is brilliant.  Nutting builds such an elaborate and atypical female protagonist. In most cases, when we read of such sexual behavior the main character is a male.  Not necessarily in the same circumstance as this novel, but when we do read about it, we don’t attribute any feelings of disgust or shock to that character.  What Nutting has done is put a female protagonist in this role, giving readers a unique female perspective on sexual addiction.

It is impossible to review this title without talking about the book’s cover as well. It is dark and simple, covered in a black velvet that at first feels lush, making you want to touch and stroke the book. As you read, however, that soft fabric begins to feel quite vile and disgusting. Much like Celeste’s character (a woman that is incredibly beautiful on the surface, a woman any man would desire), the reader’s opinion quickly shifts as more is revealed.  It is certainly the most interesting (and successful!) bit of book marketing I have ever experienced.

This is not a book that I can recommend to just anyone. It does require a strong stomach and an ability to look beyond the story on the surface to get through to the message the author is trying to relay.  I tend to think I have a pretty strong stomach. I’m a fan of horror movies and books and in most cases, I can stomach anything.  This novel, however, was my true nemesis, one of the biggest challenges I have ever accomplished. It took me several breaks, putting the book completely out of my line of sight for several days, before I was able to pick it up again. Therefore, this (I hesitate to say positive) review comes with a big bright warning label with flashing lights: While this is a book that everyone will be talking about, if you don’t think you can stomach it, do not attempt it. This is a book that lingers with you, you will be unable to unsee (or unread) what transpires within its pages.  However, if you are able to separate the incredibly explicit actions in this book from the true intent of this story, I promise you will see through the dark and the vile and will appreciate this novel for its brilliance.