Books For August!


Summer, do your worst! / Light your tinsel moon, and call on / Your performing stars to fall on / Headlong through your paper sky; — August by Dorothy Parker




From the publisher: In this astonishing book from the author of the bestselling memoir The Good Good Pig, Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus—a surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature—and the remarkable connections it makes with humans.… Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?

Knowing that other creatures have sentience is one thing. Being able to perceive it, interact with it, is another. We do it everyday with our household pets. We communicate in common ways and, if we stop to think about it, animals have mastered something very advanced called “theory of mind.” In a nutshell, it is the ability of one person to imagine that another creature has a similar mind, and even guess what it might be thinking.

Though we are daily learning about the dog-human partnership, it’s long been accepted, at least anecdotally, that we know what each other is thinking. And since monkeys and apes are similar to us in DNA, it makes sense they would exhibit similarities. But what about an octopus? A slimy, alien-headed creature from the bottom of the ocean. It is just a link in the food chain, right? It’s behaviors are survival-based and genetic, surely.

It turns out that these weird cephalopods have some of the most complex minds on the planet — at least that we know of so far. They show incredible memory, varied and layered emotion, a sense of humor and even childish anger.

Montgomery writes about her experiences interacting with these creatures not as a scientist but as a human. She consults the experts and studies the octopuses in her own way, but there is nothing cold or structured about it. She is just one soul connecting to another, however unlikely.

Thank you, Atria, for the e-galley.

Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Atria Books; First Edition edition (May 12, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1451697716
ISBN-13: 978-1451697711
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.8 x 8.4 inches


BLACK CHALK by Christopher J Yates


From the publisher: It was only ever meant to be a game played by six best friends in their first year at Oxford University; a game of consequences, silly forfeits, and childish dares. But then the game changed: The stakes grew higher and the dares more personal and more humiliating, finally evolving into a vicious struggle with unpredictable and tragic results. Now, fourteen years later, the remaining players must meet again for the final round. Who knows better than your best friends what would break you? A gripping psychological thriller partly inspired by the author’s own time at Oxford University, Black Chalk is perfect for fans of the high tension and expert pacing of The Secret History and The Bellwether Revivals. Christopher J. Yates’ background in puzzle writing and setting can clearly be seen in the plotting of this clever, tricky book that will keep you guessing to the very end.

As an ardent fan of The Bellwether Revivals, and of the sort of subgenre that is elite, collegiate thriller, I had high hopes for this one. Though it has glimpses of interesting ideas, it spends too much time explaining itself and patting itself on the back for being clever. This, however, was my complaint about “Inception”, which most people thought was brilliant. Perhaps other readers will find it more enjoyable than I.

Thank you to Picador for the review galley.

August 2015
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9781250075550
ISBN10: 1250075556
5.50 x 8.25 inches, 352 pages

THE NIGHT SISTER by Jennifer McMahon


From the publisher: Once the thriving attraction of rural Vermont, the Tower Motel now stands in disrepair, alive only in the memories of Amy, Piper, and Piper’s kid sister, Margot. The three played there as girls until the day that their games uncovered something dark and twisted in the motel’s past, something that ruined their friendship forever.
Now adult, Piper and Margot have tried to forget what they found that fateful summer, but their lives are upended when Piper receives a panicked midnight call from Margot, with news of a horrific crime for which Amy stands accused. Suddenly, Margot and Piper are forced to relive the time that they found the suitcase that once belonged to Silvie Slater, the aunt that Amy claimed had run away to Hollywood to live out her dream of becoming Hitchcock’s next blonde bombshell leading lady.

The Winter People was one of the scariest and best things I’d read in years. I was thrilled she had another book coming out and was enticed by the description above. Sadly, this book fell far short of my expectations — which I admit were of my own making.

The concept of children (becoming adults) who see or hear things they think they understand or decide to keep secret is a consistent theme for McMahon. Indeed this reads much more like her earlier work than Winter People. Still, I missed the desperation and utter fear of the characters this time around. This lacked the usual strength and polish of McMahon’s writing. Enjoy as a quick beach read, but don’t expect it to haunt you.

[Side note: the cover is just as bad in person. It looks like high school Photoshop. As disappointed as I am with the book, this artwork still does not do the book justice.]

Thank you to Doubleday for the review copy.
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (August 4, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0385538510
ISBN-13: 978-0385538510
Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches