Month: January 2013

A Great Family Tale Disguised as an “Awful” Book

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Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller

4 star

4 Stars

I’m a big fan of Alexandra Fuller’s writing. I fell in love with her work when I lived in Zambia and stumbled upon her earlier non-fiction masterpieces about life, love, and tragedy growing up in southern Africa. A native of Zimbabwe who grew up in Zambia and now lives in the United States, this very talented writer weaves cheeky and amusing family narratives into her stories like none I’ve read.

While entertaining and emotionally fulfilling, the unflattering portrayal of her mother in her earlier book “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight” — or as her mother calls, it, an “Awful” book — left Fuller and her parents with strained relations. The resulting tension comes to a head in this book. Fuller’s brutal honesty, and likely some embellishment of her family’s — especially her mom’s — quirky and erratic behavior in her earlier book left her with the unenviable task of writing a sequel that portrayed her parents in a more positive light in order to improve relations with “mum and dad.” This book is an obvious “mea culpa” that atones for her earlier “Awful” book.

“Cocktail” tells the tale of Fuller’s mother and father from childhood to the present. The realistic, almost staid manner in which she rolls out the story — such as instances that were once unchecked but are now vetted by her mother — leaves the reader less satisfied than her earlier work. I wondered which depiction of her parents, the earlier one or this one, was more accurate, although I suspect the latter. Fuller’s attempt to redeem herself by emulating her folks in this book is noble but leaves them less interesting.

The narrative broken up into discreet stories meanders in the author’s unique stream-of-consciousness. The book doesn’t hold together as well as it did in her earlier work. While the order seems to be chronological, it’s not clear why she choose to include certain stories except that they paint her mother and father in a positive light. I finished the book longing for more juicy stories about her family’s madcap escapades, but it was not to be. Sensationalism was not Fuller’s intention this time. The truth seems a bit bland compared to her fanciful tales.

I still adore Fuller’s work. I give this book 4 stars. I recommend first reading the prequel, “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight” to set the stage for this book, but don’t expect “Cocktail” to have the same pizzazz.

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is now available at:




Forgiveness with a Vengeance

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I Forgive You by Nathan Pennington

5 star

5 Stars

iforgiveyouPennington’s suspenseful short story is a quick read that packs a vengeful wallop. Emotions run the gamut in a story that can be read in one sitting. It grips you from the first sentence, drawing you before you know it into the story of the second-person protagonist who laments over the fate of someone you never meet but plays a central role in the story. Without giving too much away, it’s about the protagonist’s encounter with a man whose checkered past leaves him torn over how deal with an unseemly revelation. The two characters engage in an interplay that leaves the reader sympathetic to both individuals and eager to reach the last page in order to discover how the encounter plays out. Pennington ends it with a satisfying twist in a killer flourish that befits a writer in the crime fiction genre.

While short, the story is a worthwhile read. You will get more for your money from it than some full-length books I’ve read. I give it 5 stars and highly recommend it.

I Forgive You is now available at:


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A Twisted Tale that Fulfills Your Anticipation

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In Her Shadow by August McLaughlin

5 star

5 Stars

shadowAugust McLaughlin’s psychological thriller “In Her Shadow” is a page-turner that leaves the reader guessing what will happen and fulfills the anticipation with a surprising, unexpected twist at the end. The novel tells the tale of Claire, a Harvard-trained psychologist whose insecurities stemming from her parents’ premature deaths exacerbate a series of actual or perceived events that trigger a relapse of an eating disorder and acute anxieties. The plot is a series of vignettes about Claire and a mysterious woman held captive by a sadistic man. It’s woven into a tale that begins broadly but narrows to an exciting – and startling – conclusion. Although the reader is initially left wondering how two very different stories are interconnected, as the plot progresses, McLaughlin links the subplots in a stunning finale.

I really enjoyed this novel. McLaughlin put her heart and soul into this book and laced it with her own expertise in health, nutrition, and relationships, among others. She uses her insights to tell a believable if disturbing story. Even as it conjures questions of “Why would someone do such a thing?” it reminds one of true stories from around the world that are even more bizarre and tragic than what her thriller portrays. The plot pace is fine, and the story moves along. McLaughlin wrapped up the story’s loose ends in a crisp conclusion that addressed unanswered questions to this reader’s satisfaction. The story begs for a sequel to unravel the aftermath of the tragedy that unfolded.

I found myself second guessing the characters’ choices at times, wondering why they did this or didn’t do that and whether their choices were believable. McLaughlin addressed some potential plot holes, such as explaining the police’s delayed response to a missing person’s report. She leaned heavily on her deep understanding of health and nutrition. While Claire’s eating disorder was a central aspect of the novel, I thought a bit overdone to focus so much on food and drink when some references didn’t seem to add to the plot.

I highly recommend August McLaughlin’s book and give it 5 stars. I look forward to reading more books – and hopefully a sequel – from this talented novelist.

In Her Shadow is now available at:



About August McLaughlin

August McLaughlin is a Los Angeles-based health writer and journalist with articles featured regularly by, DAME Magazine, Healthy Aging Magazine and more. Before completing her first novel, In Her Shadow, she worked in the fashion, film and wellness industries, wearing hats ranging from Parisian runway model to culinary coach. Considering her longstanding passion for thrillers, she wasn’t surprised when her attempt at a memoir turned quickly into a fictional tale of suspense. She is represented by John Rudolph of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management and is in the midst of completing her second thriller and a nutritional guide to preventing Alzheimer’s disease.