Review: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

dear committee members by julie schumacherFormat read: eARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: 181 pages
Publisher: Doubleday
Date Released: August 19, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Finally, a novel that puts the “pissed” back into “epistolary.”

Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can’t catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work Accountant in a Bordello, based on Melville’s Bartleby.

In short, his life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that Fitger is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies. We recommend Dear Committee Members to you in the strongest possible terms.

My Review:

It’s the incredibly funny snark of Dear Committee Members that is being called out in reviews and summaries. And the book is an absolute screaming hoot for anyone who has ever had to navigate the “hallowed halls of academe” or any arcane, entrenched bureaucracy.

Each of the individual letters in Professor Jason Fitger’s voluminous collection of Letters of Recommendation (LORs) is bitingly funny and sarcastically skewering, sometimes both at the same time.

Fitger is honest to a fault about the qualities of the various candidates, as well as painfully and painstakingly clear about the situation in which he finds himself and his reasons for being willing to write the letters.

Because while Fitger is recommending (or sometimes damning with very faint praise) his current and former students for positions for which they may or may not be either qualified for or happy with, he also manages to couch his lack of enthusiasm in language of honesty and eloquence.

Especially the skewers.

At the same time, the situation at his college is dire, dangerous and emblematic of the problems facing the humanities in colleges today. The English Department doesn’t make money and doesn’t produce graduates who can donate large sums of money to the alumni fund.

And they are part of the national trend in replacing tenure-track positions with hordes of underpaid adjunct faculty who have no benefits and receive paltry stipends. All the money is going to marquee faculty in science and technology fields.

Fitger and his colleagues are being squeezed out, not just in a war of attrition, but also by being forced to work in a hazardous waste site. (The fax machine dies when a block of concrete crashes down from the ceiling above).

Through it all, Fitger writes letters. Each individual letter is funny as hell, but the overall picture he paints of the future of the college and of his own past carries an element of tragedy to it.

Underneath the snark, there is a cry for help and a sense of regret for things both done and not done. Underneath the paint, the clown is crying.

Escape Rating B+/A-: This is a hard book to rate. I read through it in a couple of hours, as I couldn’t wait to see Fitger’s trenchant take on his student’s capabilities. I was also mining each letter for clues about Fitger’s life and view of the world.

He’s looking both back and forward, and he’s not happy with either view. But he still keeps trying to save what can be saved, and to rage against the loss of what cannot. In the end, his reward (or perhaps punishment) for all his letters and voluminous attempts to save his department is totally fitting.

Read the letters for the laughs. You’ll be left with both a smile and a tear.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino + Giveaway

2 am at the cat's pajamas by marie helene bertinoFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: women’s fiction
Length: 274 pages
Publisher: Crown
Date Released: August 5, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken father, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia’s legendary jazz club The Cat’s Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat’s Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.

As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud.

My Review:

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas contains an interesting trio of contemporary stories that feels like there’s a touch of magical realism or fantasy mixed in with some very gritty problems. It’s also possible that it contains just a bit of Christmas magic, taking place as it does just a day before Christmas Eve.

In this story, Christmas Eve Eve becomes a special day with a magic all of its own.

Three stories, all centered around a jazz club that used to be absolutely legendary. But The Cat’s Pajamas has fallen on hard times, as has its owner. While it used to be the best club in Philly, now its just hours away from being closed due to multiple violations of the city code.

Not the health code, but much more damning things. The house band is living in the club, and it definitely isn’t zoned that way. One guy has made his bedroom in the old walk-in freezer. That gave me the shivers on a hot August day.

All the band members, and the owner, are just one drink, or fix, or code violation, from living on the streets. There’s been way too much bad luck to go around.

The club’s other problems are that they can’t manage to shut themselves down at 2 am, and they can’t seem to keep underage musicians from trying out with the band. Including Tony Lorca, the owner’s son.

Lorca Sr. wants a better life for his kid than chasing music and bars to play in. But Tony is already on the slippery slope to addiction, and only music has a chance of saving him.

Sarina Greene finds herself at the Cat’s Pajamas with the one man she never got over, on a magical night that is almost, but not quite, a date. Because he’s still married to someone else.

Last and most important, Madeleine Altimari doesn’t merely want, she actually needs to become a jazz singer. A great jazz singer. It is her only real escape from her mother’s death, her father’s all-encompassing depression, and her need to follow the box of instructions for life that her mother left her.

And she knows that she can make her debut at The Cat’s Pajamas.

There’s one little problem. Madeleine and her very big and marvelous voice, is only 9 years old. She needs a little magic, and a whole lot of sneaking around to make her splash. And help The Cat’s Pajamas’ go out with a really big jazz bang.

Escape Rating B: This is a story that takes a while for its disparate threads to come together. Madeleine grabs the reader’s heart from the very beginning, she is loud, brash, foul-mouthed and very smart in some ways, while completely naive in others. The more her father sinks into despair, the further out Madeleine gets in bravado. She’s covering up just how bad things are, because she knows they can always get worse. A hard lesson for a nine-year old. Her aggressiveness is all defense, and everyone knows it but Madeleine herself.

Her voice is very real magic. Not just because it’s big and utterly fantastic, but because magical things happen when she sings. Her ambition is quite real, even though the effects tip into fantasy.

Sabrina Greene’s story is easy to sympathise with. The man she has loved since high school really does love her back. But he keeps following bad instincts or terrible advice and never manages to tell her how he feels. They’ve been dancing towards each other for years, but never quite get there. It’s sad but so, so real.

Lorca’s story is the one that doesn’t quite gel. The situation with The Cat’s Pajamas has been steadily trending downhill for years, but we don’t get quite enough of Lorca’s perspective, or the sad decline of the “boys in the band” to really understand how he got into the fix he’s in.

But Madeleine’s story carries the book. She schemes, she connives, she stalks people in order to make her dream come true. And when it does, she gives everyone just a bit of magic.


Marie-Helene is generously giving away a hardcover copy of 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas to one lucky winner.

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Stacking the Shelves (92)

Stacking the Shelves

Yesterday I discovered that I had completely missed the concept that not all publishers on Edelweiss send a message when they approve your review request. I didn’t miss much, but a couple of books I would like to have had. C’est la vie. And there’s always the library.

I am so glad that Diana Gabaldon’s latest doorstop is finally coming out this week. I preordered an ebook. The library got their copies a few days early, and OMG that thing is huge. I know it will be awesome, but I’m happy not to have to carry the thing around. Especially on the bus.

For Review:
The Changeling Soldier (Court of Annwyn #2.5) by Shona Husk
The Forever Man by Pierre Ouellette
The Homecoming (Thunder Point #6) by Robyn Carr
The House of the Four Winds (One Dozen Daughters #1) by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer
Identity (Fina Ludlow #2) by Ingrid Thoft
Lay it Down (Desert Dogs #1) by Cara McKenna
The Maharani’s Pearls (Bess Crawford #5.5) by Charles Todd
Stormbird (Wars of the Roses #1) by Conn Iggulden
When the World was Young by Elizabeth Gaffney

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (Outlander #8) by Diana Gabaldon

Interview with Author Laurie Frankel + Giveaway

Let’s welcome Laurie Frankel to Reading Reality! Her latest book, Goodbye for Now, just came out on August 7, and is a fascinating blend of technology, social networking, science fiction and near-future possibilities. It’s a love story. And it’s also about the eternal realities of the human condition. A lot gets packed into one story! (See review for more details)

You’ll have a chance below to win a copy of Goodbye for Now for your very own, but in the meantime, here’s Laurie to answer a few questions.

Marlene: Tell us a little about yourself. What does Laurie Frankel do when she’s not writing?

Laurie: Well, I have a little boy, so mostly what I do when I’m not writing is parent. I used to also teach college — writing, literature, gender studies — but that left me not nearly enough time to parent and write. I do yoga. I listen to baseball on the radio and cook. I go to the theater as often as I can. I love to travel though, on account of the small child, I do that less these days than I’d like. And I read. A lot.

Marlene: Some advice here, please. How did you convince you mother to think of your books as her “grandbooks”? That sounds awesome.

Laurie: I didn’t have to convince her. It’s her term, all her idea. It is awesome. Both of my parents are just really, really great — supportive, loving, generous, and absolutely over-the-moon stoked about my writing. I am very lucky. So I guess that’s my advice: be lucky enough to have great parents. (Not especially helpful advice, huh?)

Marlene: What inspired you to write Goodbye for Now?

Laurie: At the beginning, honestly, it was frustration with Facebook and all the time we all spend online these days. I kept having the sense that the time and energy I was spending keeping in virtual touch with old classmates and ex-work-colleagues was time and energy I was taking away from keeping in actual touch with my close friends and family. That’s not what Goodbye For Now is about, but that is where the inspiration came from.

It also came from an idea I had when my grandmother died. She and I emailed each other a lot, and when she died, I had this idea that a good programmer could write software that could fake emails from her. I sat with that idea for years, convinced it was a great idea for a product, before I realized that I’m not a software engineer nor an inventor nor a developer, and that this was a good idea, not in real life, but for a novel. And luckily, I am a novelist.

Marlene: Reviewers are making comparisons between Goodbye for Now and David Nicholls’ One Day. Do you think the themes are similar? (I keep thinking of Steven Spielberg’s film A.I.)

Laurie: Goodbye For Now and One Day are both high-concept love stories, but thematically, indeed, I think A.I. is probably closer. People also keep saying Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I think that’s a pretty good comparison too.

Marlene: And when you describe the story to people, what genre do you think it falls into?

Laurie: Great question and hard to answer. When I started it (and this wasn’t that long ago), I was calling it Speculative Fiction, even Sci-Fi, but by the time it’s coming out, it’s just not that farfetched anymore. There are lots of people working on technology remarkably similar to the tech I imagine. There are lots of people suddenly concerned about what happens to our online, virtual selves — all our archived emails and chats and Facebook activity and blogs and social media presence — after we pass on.

Marlene: It looks like Goodbye for Now might BE turned into a movie. Wow! Who would you like to see playing Sam and Meredith?

Laurie: Yup, film rights have been optioned. Very exciting. The folks working on the movie are just amazing. It’s great talking to them. The best part of the movie is it has almost nothing to do with me. Watching someone else take this project on — including the casting — is just incredible. I, for instance, have no idea who should play Sam and Meredith, so I’m delighted to leave that in the capable hands of the filmmakers. I have, however, been casting my fantasy version of the film with dead actors — since Goodbye For Now is all about virtually recreating the dead — and I think Jimmy Stewart as Sam and Natalie Wood as Meredith would be just about perfect!

Marlene: A lot of people are going to focus on the technology in Goodbye for Now. Do you think something like RePose might ever be possible?

Laurie: Very possible. There’s a TED Talk about this very thing called, “After Your Final Status Update.” There’s a Facebook app called “If I Die.” There’s a service called Dead that sends messages — on your behalf, as you — after you pass on.  A decade-and-a-half dead Tupac came back to perform at Coachella. So yeah, very possible I think. Likely even.

Marlene: Do you believe in soul mates?

Laurie: I do. Because I’m certain I am married to mine. I cannot explain though why some people seem to find theirs and some people don’t. This doesn’t seem fair to me. Maybe some people don’t have or don’t need or don’t want a soulmate. I don’t know. But I do believe I found mine. Lucky, huh?

Marlene: Do you plan everything or just let the story flow?

Laurie: A little bit of both. This book came to me whole — a miracle — but as a play and then it changed a lot in the writing of it anyway. My favorite part of the whole book-writing process is when it surprises me, when characters cross their arms and say, “No Laurie, sorry, but that’s not what’s going to happen next,” or even better, when they say, “Hello?! Are you a moron? That’s not what’s about to happen. This is what’s about to happen. Duh!” And they’re so right. I love those moments. So I have a sort-of plan, but then I let it — even encourage it to — rewrite itself.

Marlene: Who first introduced you to the love of reading?

Laurie: I remember learning to read — not the process, the actual moment. I was three. My dad and I were stopped at a light, and there was a sign that said, “Stop here on red.” I turned to my dad and said, “That says stop!” and he knew I was actually reading it because it wasn’t a stop sign — I was reading the word not just the shape. He made a huge deal of that which, of course, is why I remember it. My mom is a reading teacher, so I had help as soon as I was ready for it. My grandmother started reading me Shakespeare when I was about five. I come from a family of readers for which I have always been grateful.

Marlene: Who influenced your decision to become a writer?

Laurie: Same people. Reading and writing are two sides of a coin for me. They have always been one drive. Reading good books has always inspired me to put them down and write between chapters. And when I get stuck or need inspiration writing, I take a break to read something good — usually just a few pages does the trick. So while my family was nurturing me as a reader, they were also nurturing my writing. They have always been very supportive. As I say, my parents are more excited about my becoming a published author than I am. They are very, very proud.

Marlene: What book do you recommend everyone should read, and why?

Laurie: Hamlet. You gotta read Hamlet. Reading tastes differ and times change and everyone has different literary needs, but Hamlet is in everything and everything is in Hamlet. Sometimes that play annoys me, and often that character annoys me, and parts of it just draaaaaaagggggg, BUT it also includes passages which are simply the best use of language to date. You know how they say Mozart makes your brain smarter without your conscious mind having to do anything? I think reading Hamlet does that too.

Marlene: What projects do you have planned for the future? What comes next after Goodbye for Now?

Laurie: Soon, soon, I will take a break from promoting Goodbye For Now and start another novel. I can’t wait! I’m dying to get back to writing. I’m not talking about the next project yet, but I am very excited to get back to it. I’ll keep you posted.

Marlene: Coffee or Tea?

Laurie: Both. For sure. Hot in winter. Iced in summer. Four or so times a day. At least.

That sounds to me like a case of “instant writer, just add caffeine”. Works for me.


Speaking of things that work, Laurie’s publisher, Doubleday, is giving away a copy of Goodbye for Now to one lucky entrant here at Reading Reality. The winner will receive a print copy of the book, so this giveaway is open to US entries only.
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Review: Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

What happens to us after we die is the province of religion and philosophy. The ones we leave behind go through an entirely different process, we grieve the loss. We mourn the hole that person has left in our lives; we heal the broken places, we eventually move past it.

But what happens when, out of a different kind of love, someone uses technology to short-circuit that grieving process? If you can stay in denial indefinitely, are you healed, or are you just broken differently?

In Laurie Frankel’s latest novel, Goodbye for Now, she asks one of the biggest questions of all. What if love, with a little help from technology, meant that you really never did have to say goodbye? Would that be wonderful? Or terrible? Or both?

Sam Elling is definitely a genius programmer. It’s both the good news and the bad news. Like so many very geeky people, he’s great at the technical stuff, but not necessarily so good at the social stuff. Considering that Sam works for an internet dating company, it’s almost ironic. So Sam creates an algorithm that matches people with their soul mate, and it works perfectly. He knows it works perfectly because he uses it for himself first, and it brings him the love of his life, Meredith.

It also gets him fired. Internet dating companies thrive on repeat business. People who find their soul mates on the first try, well, they don’t come back.

Sam still figures he’s ahead. He not only got a terrific severance package, he got Meredith. He can always find another job, but another soul mate? Not a chance.

But Meredith’s love for Sam has come with a profound loss. At the same time that Sam walked into her life, her beloved grandmother Livvie stepped out of it. Livvie died. In the fullness of her years, but still, Livvie was Meredith’s rock, and now, Livvie is gone.

Sam has time on his hands, and Meredith wants Livvie back. Just a bit of her. Meredith wants to be able to email her and get a response, just like she used to do when Livvie was in Florida for the winter. There’s lots of email to work with, and well, it’s just another algorithm. And a little artificial intelligence. Sort of like the old computer program ELIZA, only more complicated.

And more addictive. Once Meredith gets that first email from Livvie, she’s hooked. She has her grandmother back. Livvie’s just in Florida. Merde (Sam really does call her Merde) knows it’s not really Livvie, but it sounds just like her. It does.

And Merde is happy again. And she wants to share the gift with other people who are grieving. From Sam’s need to help the woman he loves, suddenly they have a business ameliorating, (or is it extending?) the grief of hundreds.

Until it all crashes down.

Escape Rating B: Goodbye for Now sticks with you because of the questions it asks. As a love story, it is heartbreaking, but I’m not sure that was the point. I keep going back to what it says about those we leave behind, and how people deal with getting over the loss of a loved one.

You probably will have the same reaction I did when I finished, which was to go hug everyone you love (including petting any animals you have). Goodbye for Now definitely gets at that sense of how grief mows you down.

Then I started thinking, not so much about the tech as about the human side. The fascinating and scary thing about the tech side is that it will probably become possible sooner than we think. And would people become addicted to “emailing” the dead? Even knowing it wasn’t real? Heck yes, some people will get addicted to anything. Looking toward the past would be more comfortable than forging a new and scary future.

As a story, I think I was expecting more tech gadgetry and less contemplation. But the questions that Goodbye for Now asks about grief and the human response are profound and well worth contemplating.

Format read: print ARC
Genre: contemporary fiction, science fiction
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Number of pages: 304 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Publishing
Formats available: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Purchasing Info: GoodreadsAuthor’s WebsiteAmazon, Doubleday Publishing, Book Depository

Dancing Naked in Dixie

Dancing Naked in Dixie by Lauren Clark lives up to its teasing, tantalizing title. Every single bit of it. And it’s marvelous, in more and surprising ways than you might expect from the breezy picture on the cover.

Globe-trotting travel writer Julia Sullivan sputters that she’d rather dance naked for her next assignment than go to Alabama. However, she’s going to Alabama, and there is no way she’s getting out of it.

Julia’s been in kind of a slump recently. Like two years recently, ever since her mother died. She’s used her jet-setting, travel-writing job as a way of avoiding, well, pretty much everything. Especially her own problems.

What she hasn’t been doing is actually connecting with any of those fantastic places that she’s visited. Which means that her travel writing hasn’t been what it used to be. And the new editor of Getaways magazine is just the person to make sure she gets back on track. Or make sure she goes out the door. The new editor is her very much estranged father.

And he’s sending her to Eufaula, Alabama, to cover the Annual Pilgrimage, and do it right, damn it, or get fired.

Even if Julia would rather dance naked than find herself in the Heart of Dixie.

But once she gets there, after leaving her luggage behind and suffering one mishap after another, Julia discovers a few things.

Being forced to slow down a little gives her a chance to do some real travel reporting again, and not just take pictures. Connecting with the people of Eufaula makes her connect with herself again. And even though it hurts, it’s a good hurt.

And about that reporting…there’s some shady dealing going on under the shady porches of sleepy Eufaula. A real estate developer is doing something underhanded with the city council, and against the historic commission.

But the head of the historic commission, well, there’s just something about Shug Jordan that’s touched Julia’s heart in all the right places. It’s too bad he already has a conniving witch of a fiance.

And Julia’s just in Eufaula to write a story, go back to New York and save her career. If her story does its job, it should save the Annual Pilgrimage, too. She’s not supposed to be an investigative journalist. And she’s not planning on falling in love with a small town in Alabama or with a man named after a Football coach. Not a city girl like her. Not going to happen.

Escape Rating A: This is the story of Julia’s journey. She does happen to get the guy at the end, but really, that’s the icing on the cake. Or maybe even the sprinkles on top. For this reader, the real story was in Julia getting her act together all the way across the board and the HEA is the prize.

Julia starts out pretty messed up for really good reasons. And she’s been running away from her problems through travel, which is not a bad way to do it if someone else is footing the bill.

But going to Eufaula makes her face everything, and she does. She also falls in love with the place and almost all the people. And she solves some really, really big puzzles in her own life. She makes some good friends, heals some old wounds, and gets a fantastic reward in a terrific guy.

But reading her journey is what makes the story so good.

The MineFields

The MineFields by Steven C. Eisner is one of those books that will keep me thinking, long after I’ve finished it. The author blurred the line so often between his own life story and that of his character that I’m not sure whether this story was really fiction, or whether the names were just changed to protect the author from any more lawsuits.

The story itself compels, but in the same way that watching an accident compels. The author’s bio lets the reader know from the beginning that the main character’s business success, and subsequent doom, mirrors his own. You know going in there’s going to be a crash and burn. And you can’t stop yourself from watching for the signs.

The story begins with a death, and then is told as a kind of flashback. Sam Spiegel is waiting at his father’s bedside at the hospital. And this final time, Harry Spiegel isn’t coming home. His father survived the Holocaust, but his bad heart finally does him in.

And with Harry gone, Sam begins to lose the advertising agency that his father created, and that Sam has owned for several years. Sam takes it to the top, and then he falls, all the way down.

So, this is a story about the advertising business, since Spiegel Communications is really a stand-in for Eisner  Communications, the advertising agency that is the scene of the author’s own rise and fall.

It’s been compared to Mad Men, which is also an advertising agency story, but Mad Men is about the 1960’s, and The MineFields is about the 1980s, 1990’s and post 9/11. Spiegel, and his creator Eisner, are both Baby Boomers.

The MineFields is much more about family, and family business, and what happens when it all goes to hell in a handbasket. Sam’s father starts the business when he comes to America after the Holocaust. He keeps everything tightly controlled, which probably doesn’t help his heart any. Harry is proud to be able to hand things over to his son, but the loss of control strains the family.

Family businesses strain family relationships — that theme recurs in the book — and with increasingly disastrous results. That’s part of the big train-wreck the reader knows is coming.

Spiegel’s story pulls the reader in because it has such immediacy. He’s telling you his life story, and it feels one-on-one. But, he’s the star. All the other people in his life feel like bit players. And that may be why things ended up the way they did.

Read it for yourself and see. Sam, or is it Steven, spins a good story. But you’ll have to decide for yourself whether you’re sold on his version.

Escape Rating B-: I couldn’t stop reading. That’s always the first test, and The MineFields definitely passed. I find myself questioning why he did what he did, and then wondering which “he” do I mean, Sam or Steven? I’m still thinking about it.

There was a lot of name-dropping. The author used names of real people and real advertising firms and accounts, except for a choice few. It made me wonder about the ones that were changed. I can guess who they really are, but the changes are probably significant, at least in the legal sense. The line between fact and fiction felt razor-thin in those cases.

And because I keep wondering how much of Steven is in Sam, I can’t help but have a question about the ending of the book. At the end, things are looking up for Sam. Is that just fiction? Is that wish-fulfillment? Or is that part of the “true” story behind the book?

I guess I’ll never know.

To read more of my thoughts on The MineFields, head on over to The Book Lovers.