In this memoir, a battered wife endures years of beatings in silence.
There were signs from the very beginning that Hafner’s (Where Do I Go from Here, 2001, etc.) husband had anger issues. Jack Brennan was quick to blame others for tiny irritations, ranting compulsively about perceived injustices at work, and the first time he punched her in the arm was two days before their wedding. But he was exciting and attentive, a bit of a rebel with his longish hair, and a delightfully energetic lover. The year was 1969; Hafner was turning 25 and looking for love. She was in her fourth year as a French teacher at a Long Island high school; he was the new young science teacher. The chemistry between them was intoxicating. One year later, they were married. In her harrowing tale, Hafner recounts years of shame, fear, and beatings that followed the hopeful nuptials. Violent episodes are interspersed with glorious days at the beach and the joy of refurbishing a small house the couple bought on a South Shore canal. Then there was the tenderness with which Brennan treated the two cats he adopted from a shelter. This was just enough for Hafner to deny to herself what was happening, to continue making excuses for him: “I decided that his anger was just an expression of passion for life, and I had to accept him as he was…I wasn’t even beginning to guess where it might go.” In this brutally honest account, played out against the music of the ’70s, Hafner graphically depicts Brennan’s eyes turning cold and his rants gaining manic momentum, finally resulting in a punch to her face or a chair thrown at her head—all of it happening rapidly, unpredictably, without more than a minute or two of warning. The author found herself living two lives—one at work where she was happy and successful, and one at home where she disappeared into a shell, frozen in terror. After one violent episode, Hafner recounts: “I unwound myself, stood up on shaky legs, and opened the freezer and smoothed an ice cube along my face. I didn’t cry though. Tears were nowhere near. I felt no sadness, no anger. Fear trumped them both.”
Prose that vividly and courageously articulates a cautionary tale of abuse, with more than a nod to pathological codependence.
Two Portland, Oregon, teens investigate their loved ones’ inexplicably strange behavior and soon find themselves in danger in Field’s (Nocturnal, 2015, etc.)thriller.
When Karl Morgan’s older sister, Stacey,shows up late for work the morning after her date with ophthalmologist Adam Reynolds, she doesn’t seem to be herself. She ignores her beloved cat, too, and also candidly tells Karl about her sexual escapades. As the days go on, Stacey only gets worse, becoming more erratic and even violent with their mother on Christmas Day. Convinced that his sister is repressing some kind of trauma (possibly a date rape), Karl looks for answers, starting with Adam, whom Stacey had met on an online dating site. Seventeen-year-old Dawn Flint, meanwhile, is in a similar predicament; her mother, Isobel, connects with a woman named Maxine via the internet and, post-date, is acting very different. Specifically, she unnerves Dawn with her shifting facial expressions, which show apparent terror one second and a complete lack of emotion the next. As the teen tracks down Maxine’s previous hookups, Karl enlists the aid of a private investigator. Later, he spots a mysterious, gray-haired man whom Stacey had mentioned during hypnotherapy. Karl and Dawn eventually team up but soon confront something that’s much bigger and more horrifying than they anticipated. Field’s somber tale thrives on keeping readers largely in the dark, especially regarding exactly what happened to Stacey and Isobel. There are, however, enough hints and speculations to provide readers with a thoroughly unnerving experience. Adam, for example, sports a perpetual grin that won’t go away—even as Karl punches him in the face. A haunting dread surrounds the story and its main characters, who don’t know who all the bad guys are or even how many there are. The pace is relentless, with very few moments of humor or relief. Although the bloody and unforgettable final act offers resolution, Field shrewdly keeps some ambiguity alive, and the closing line of dialogue will surely give readers jitters.
An impressive, creepy tale that may make some online daters cautious.
A psychiatrist details the nightmarish but ultimately rewarding experiences with her autistic family.
In Slaff’s debut book, a psychiatric chronicle that straddles the genres of memoir, case study, and position paper, readers learn the story of one woman’s struggle to care for family members with autism. They also discover what that effort has taught her about medicine, politics, education, risk, and the necessity “to seek my own answers and not blindly follow others.” Born in a time and place that understood autism even less than this era in America does now, Slaff’s twin brothers suffered from both the condition and some of its therapies. Antipsychotics, anticholinergics, benzodiazepines, and beta blockers were loaded into them, stunting their growth and zoning them out. But it wasn’t until Matthew was provided with aversive shocks that he grew better able to avoid injury to himself and others and to be led toward a more pleasant life. The author’s other brother, Stuart, denied admission to the controversial Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Massachusetts by misguided policies in New York state, fared less well. Slaff became a psychiatrist, and her dealings with her two autistic brothers—and a father on the spectrum—later served as helpful case studies when her daughter Talia was diagnosed as severely autistic and “life became a series of doctors’ appointments, therapies, hopes for progress, disappointments.” After this affecting opening, in which the doctor and sister whom readers have come to admire sees her “nightmares of having a child with autism” come true, the book becomes a detailed support manual for people undergoing the same trials and a thoroughly researched testimonial to the effectiveness of aversive therapy. The lucid work also delivers a short, useful history of the ways that therapy has been misused (as a treatment for homosexuality) and mischaracterized (in reports by Geraldo Rivera and Connie Chung). “People do not choose to have autism or any other disability, but we can choose to love and take care of them,” the author reminds readers. She proves herself a fine exemplar of this care and love in this engrossing and persuasive work.
A highly informed and convincing personal defense of aversive therapy.
Meyer’s debut collection of poetry depicts youthful days in rural Western Oklahoma.
These quiet, humble poems about rodeos, cattle ranching, and high school life tell compelling stories while looking for meaning in their events and scenes. For the speaker and his group—his girlfriend, his best friend, and his best friend’s girlfriend—these are halcyon days, though he’d likely use the word “fair” to describe them, as the book’s title does (a reference, in part, to the Oklahoma State Fair). The foursome spends time together in the frigid cold of winter and the exquisite lightness of springtime, often on horseback. The poems are mostly 14 lines long—four tercets plus a final, two-line stanza—though sometimes the pieces are strung together. The speaker seems at once ready for the future and content with what’s at hand; he’s respectful of the gravity of hard work and also enamored with Regina, his 16-year-old sweetheart. She’s likewise satisfied and sure of herself in a way that sometimes surpasses understanding. Even the speaker deliberates on how she defies description: “Talkin’ about Regina is like talkin’ about the color red / or the scent of an orange. / You ain’t ever goin’ to get there.” A long tour de force titled “A New George” movingly narrates a nightlong effort to help a cow give birth and highlights the bonds that people form during a shared experience. Throughout, the characters’ responsibilities setting fences or inoculating cattle overtake the limited demands of their math classes or the dramas of hallway gossip. The poems sometimes overuse dialect phrases, such as “I reckon,” or revert to ambiguous statements, such as “We’re ridin’ and it ain’t half bad.” However, Meyer’s accounts of ranch and teenage life from the summer of 2005 to the spring of 2006 never get dull. Instead, they lyricize the real.
Oklahoma finds a new champion in this original, smart compilation of verse.
In Bond’s (Killing Maine, 2015, etc.) latest thriller, an intelligence operative spends decades immersed in America’s struggle with Islamic terrorists.
Jack is on a CIA mission in Afghanistan in 1982 to aid the Afghan opposition to Soviet invaders. But he has a personal investment, too: under his previous cover as a Peace Corps volunteer, he’d taught kids at a local village and became a blood brother to teacher Ahmad. The Americans supply the Afghans with missiles to take down Soviet helicopters, but later, after alliances shift, the CIA works to prevent a truce between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. When the Islamic Jihad terrorist group bombs the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, the agency sends Jack to Lebanon to gather intel. What he learns is staggering: the bombing was reputedly in retaliation for the American bombardment of Beirut villages—which was itself retribution for the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon earlier that year. As the years pass, Jack gets involved with Sophie Dassault, who’d saved his life while she was working for Doctors without Borders. But he can’t escape the cycle of violence; in 1986, he travels to Paris to stop an Algerian terrorist that he’d once trained. The American government, meanwhile, may be helping certain terrorist groups by allowing them to thrive unchecked. Bond’s epic novel is packed with historical references, including a mention of Osama bin Laden long before the events of 9/11; an opening prologue set in 2015 ensures that the narrative spans more than 30 years. Overall, the story maintains a provocative, intelligent tone rather than indulging in garish conspiracies—despite its allusions to nefarious deeds by various presidential administrations. Jack himself is the true focus of the narrative, and Bond shows how he blames himself for the violence as much as he does the higher-ups; he sums it up best by saying, “We’re just boys playing war.” Other characters, from a Soviet officer to an Afghan warlord (who’s also Ahmad’s brother), provide perspective and steer the plot clear of easy definitions of good and evil. There’s also profundity at times, especially regarding the futility of vengeance; at one point, Jack even suggests that truly avenging someone is an impossible feat.
An exhilarating spy novel that offers equal amounts of ingenuity and intrigue.
A technology executive offers a creative take on business leadership.
Hassenstab’s debut business book doesn’t have a lot of new ideas in it. In fact, they’re intentionally “old,” because they’re based on “old school” beliefs about leadership, such as “Be Honest, Upfront, and Candid” and “No Second Chance to Make a First Impression.” The novel twist, of course, is that the author points out that these tenets are timeless, and he does a masterful job of making them relevant to today’s workplace. He writes that he learned 10 wisdoms more than 30 years ago while he was at Texas-based technology company Electronic Data Systems, where he first had to lead a team of engineers. The book devotes one chapter to each, followed by a lucid discussion and a closing “Reflection,” designed to “help you internalize the wisdom and actually put the wisdom into practice in your approach to leading your teams.” The author admits that the concepts he describes have been delivered by others in many forms before, but this isn’t a weakness; rather, it demonstrates that the best leadership counsel does indeed stand the test of time. Hassenstab quite appropriately enhances each topic with his own experience, which personalizes the work and transforms the wisdoms from simple platitudes to action items. For example, in “Wisdom #2: Leaders are in Charge,” he admits that leaders must sometimes provide motivation, if not pressure, to get important tasks accomplished, but he also cautions that “wise leaders are ‘fire-preventers’ first, and ‘fire-fighters’ second.” In this chapter’s “Reflection,” he asks some pointed questions, including “Are you missing an opportunity to elevate the leadership skills of others?” Other wisdoms unfold in much the same way, with healthy doses of informed counsel, accompanied by commentary and questions that will undoubtedly incite introspection. In the closing chapter, Hassenstab acknowledges that a modern leader must often be an “organizational change manager,” and then he relates that reality to a reiteration of all 10 wisdoms, tidily reinforcing their relevance.
A concise, tightly constructed work that effectively highlights past leadership principles while updating them to meet contemporary standards.
In this debut YA thriller, the leftovers of an unexplained apocalypse struggle to survive and find meaning in the wreckage.
After a drunken camping trip with his friends, teenage Zephyr Rockwell awakes to find that everyone he knows—indeed, the entire population of his hometown—has vanished into thin air aside from piles of clothes littering Firefly Valley. He soon excludes mundane reasons for the disappearances, such as a mass exodus or a horrible misunderstanding, but the implications of the seemingly supernatural event are still hard for him to grasp. The lights are still on and food is still easy to find, but Zeph’s plans to scavenge local businesses are soon interrupted when he encounters another survivor, Ross Williams, while breaking into a gun shop. They join forces to explore the town’s new landscape, which is scarred by the ruins of cars and trucks that were speeding down Firefly Valley’s streets at the time of their drivers’ disappearances. Zeph’s initial enthusiasm for a new ally soon begins to dwindle when he notices clues that Ross’ benevolent, cheery manners hide a darker, less stable interior. Soon, the pair’s temporary alliance is broken and Zephyr flees Firefly Valley with another survivor he’s found, a young girl named Jordan. They make other scattered friends along the way as they try to make a new home in a newly abandoned America. The great vanishing, while an ever present mystery, isn’t really Zephyr’s main concern as the story goes on, which can make it difficult for readers to see where it’s all leading. However, this also means that Casamassina’s novel avoids getting bogged down by a standard, predictable plot arc. It’s also nice to see such a cynical protagonist in a YA novel rather than one that’s overwhelmed with shock after a calamity; Zephyr often gives sharp warnings that are regularly ignored by adult travelers, often with disastrous consequences. The resulting tone allows the book to delve into darker territory than many other YA tales.
Solid apocalyptic fiction that focuses more on its character relationships than its sci-fi elements.