All posts by jcloose

Elizabeth Haynes — Into the Darkest Corner

(spoilers included)

I almost abandoned this novel after the first few chapters because it bounced around too much in time and POV. First there was part of a trial (2005), then a murder scene (2001), a scene with Cathie, the protagonist, at work (2007), Catherine, an earlier version of Cathie, out drinking with friends (2003), and finally it gets into the rhythm of skipping back and forth between 2007 and 2003. At this point, I started to get hooked.

The personalities of Cathie and Catherine are entirely different. Catherine (2003) loves to party, drinks too much, sleeps around. Cathie (2007) suffers from severe OCD and PTSD. Catherine hooks up with sexy, mysterious Lee, who becomes more and more controlling and abusive. Cathie starts a cautious friendship with her neighbor Stuart, a psychologist who is unbelievably understanding of her weird behavior.

There is no mystery. The trial at the beginning tells us that Lee is the bad guy in the story. It’s obvious that Catherine and Cathie are the same person. It’s also fairly obvious that Lee probably murdered the woman at the beginning of the story (2001). At first, I thought the trial (2005) was for the murder.

But this is a well-written psychological suspense/thriller. It kept me reading throughout to find out what happens next. Haynes follows Catherine/Cathie’s personality changes in detail—Catherine’s downhill slide as her relationship with Lee becomes more controlling and abusive, and Cathie’s climb back to normality as she struggles to overcome her anxiety and OCD.

I would recommend the book to anyone who likes dark stories.

Robert Dugoni — A Steep Price

A good police story. Seattle’s violent crimes unit has a lot going on. A missing East Indian woman may only be avoiding friends and family to dodge arranged marriage, but Tracy thinks it doesn’t feel right. Faz and Del investigate a shooting of a black woman activist in broad daylight, which they believe was ordered by the local drug kingpin. A suspect of the woman’s shooting is shot and killed by Gonzalez, a new detective in the department from LA. The suspect was unarmed.

All of the detectives have pressures on the personal side. Tracy is pregnant but hasn’t told her department. Faz’s wife Vera is diagnosed with breast cancer. Del throws his back out and isn’t always available. New detective Gonzalez acts suspiciously, snooping in other detective’s computers and lying about what happened with Faz when she shot the suspect.

The characters are interesting, and the plot kept me reading.

Ann Cleeves — Wild Fire

This novel is my introduction to a well-known mystery writer. Jumping into the last book of Ann Cleeves’ Shetland Island series with DI Jimmy Perez, I found the story easy to read as a stand-alone and will likely go back and read more of her work.

The author’s depiction of the setting makes me want to visit the small village on a remote island in the far north UK. The characters are equally well defined. A family has moved to the island from London, in part to provide a better life for their two children. Christopher, their autistic son who has a liking for fire, is one of the main characters in the story. He finds the body of a neighbor’s nanny hanging from the rafters of their shed, where the previous owner of their home committed suicide.

The mystery stays unsolved until the end. The suspects are many, beginning with the family and including a bitter town gossip who becomes the next murder victim.

I would recommend this well-written book to anyone who loves a good mystery.

Nell Freudenberger — Lost and Wanted

Helen Clapp (first-person POV) is a physics professor at MIT and a single mother with a seven-year-old son, Jack, by an anonymous donor. Her best friend, Charlotte (Charlie), has died, but Helen is receiving text messages from her phone. I believe this is the plotline, but the author touches on it only occasionally throughout the story.

Billed as a ghost story, it’s more about Helen’s disbelieve in the afterlife or ghosts. I would classify the novel as women’s fiction or literary. It’s mostly about friendship and relationships.

Charlie’s husband and daughter (Terrence and Simmi) come to Boston from California to be closer to Charlie’s parents after her death, and they move into an apartment in Helen’s house. Their children, Jack and Simmi, become friends. Neel, an old flame and research partner of Helen’s returns to MIT. Much of the book is Helen remembering times spent with Charlie or Neel.

Freudenberger covers a lot of science, which I found interesting but much too detailed, even though I enjoy physics. As a successful woman in the male-dominated world of science, Helen spends too much time worrying about what others think of her.

I enjoyed the book, although it didn’t have much of a plot. The characters were interesting, if not always likable.

Ben H. Winters — Golden State

In this dark, dystopian novel set in Golden State, a future California, lying is the worst of all crimes. Laszlo Ratesic, an officer in the Speculative Service, is trying to solve anomalies in a case where a roofer fell from the top of a house and died. He can sense lies. His partner, a recruit to the service, is even better at this skill than Laszlo. In following the details of the incident, they uncover a plot to undermine “the truth.”

The story is set in a world of complete surveillance where everyone is required to record all of their actions and add them to the official “Record” each day. The only books allowed are books of fact. Any history before the founding of the Golden State and anything outside its boundaries are “unknown and unknowable.”

Although brainwashed, the main character was interesting. The plot was good, and there were surprises at the end.

Not a bad read.

Carly Buckley — The Liar’s Child

Sara is running from a Hurricane headed for the Outer Banks of North Carolina and also trying to escape witness protection. She rescues two children, Cassie and Boon, who are home alone in the apartment next door. She’s torn between finding someplace to drop the children and staying off the radar, so the agents don’t track her.

All the characters are intense and twisted but interesting. I’m not sure who the title character is supposed to be, since everyone is lying and/or a liar’s child. Hank, a retired sheriff, is almost unnecessary to the plot. He’s haunted by a missing son who disappeared years earlier at age ten. Whit, Cassie and Boon’s father, is dealing with the disappearance of his wife while holding down a demanding job and taking care of the two children. Cassie, age twelve, tries to fit in with the older kids in the neighborhood by dressing Goth. Five-year-old Boon sleeps in his closet.

The story feels repetitive at times, but each time we see the “facts” from a different point of view, we learn a little more of the “truth.” It kept my interest to the end, and I liked the ending.

Chris Hammer — The River

I decided to read this nonfiction book after reading the author’s novel, Scrublands. I wanted to learn more about Australia and the area where the story took place. I’ve never visited Australia, but I can picture the drought-ridden area of Queensland and New South Wales now that I’ve read The River. Chris Hammer is an excellent writer.

Hammer spent weeks and months traveling the Murray-Darling river basin. He introduces us to the residents of this harsh land, tells their real stories, their memories, and their yarns. He covers the heartbreak of failing towns and farms, the determination and humor of the people who live there.

There are lessons in this book about water and how we use and abuse it. Hammer doesn’t preach, he gives us the differing opinions of the people living with the lack of water. Some of those lessons are relevant to the US as well as Australia.

Erica Ferencik — Into the Jungle

I just returned from an awesome trip into the Amazon rainforest without leaving my home. All my senses are on overload. Erica Ferencik not only excites sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, she introduces you to a variety of alien cultures and characters, pulls at your emotions, plucks your heart strings, and teaches you about the unique environment of the jungle. She is an extraordinary storyteller.

Into the Jungle is my favorite read this year.

Dan Brown — Origin

I haven’t read a Dan Brown novel in years. I gave up after The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. As you can read in many of the reviews, he’s not the best writer. But a friend gave me a copy of Origin recently, so I read it.

Where do we come from? Where are we going?
These are the two questions to be answered by the “big reveal” that is the central plot of the novel. There is lots of philosophical discussion about the questions and the differences between religion and science—some interesting, some repetitive. But in my opinion (and maybe the author’s), the big reveal doesn’t truly answer either question. And I guessed the villain of the story early on, so the ending fell flat for me.

I enjoyed Spain. Brown’s description of the art, architecture, landscape, and culture made me want to visit. But even some of this was repetitive.

Overall, it was an interesting read, but it could have been much shorter.

Chris Hammer — Scrublands

Excellent writing.

The author takes us into Riversend, a small dying settlement in Australia’s interior, in the middle of a summer drought. The river running through the town has dried into cracked earth. You can feel the heat and see it rising off the baked land.

A priest shot five men in front of the church and was killed by the local policeman. Martin Scarsden’s editor at the newspaper sends him to visit Riversend a year after the shooting to write a piece about how the locals are coping with the tragedy. At first, Martin is a typical newsman interviewing residents—outside looking in. The town is full of secrets and rumors, which cause Martin to write articles for his paper with incorrect facts, gaining enemies. As he gets to know them, people ask why a priest that many admired and loved did such a terrible act. Martin’s curiosity and desire to find the truth have him looking for the answer. This is the central question in the story.

Hammer’s characters are varied and complicated, not always who or what they appear to be at first meeting. He even gives us insight into the dead priest.

The plot is complicated, with many twists and turns. It kept my interest from beginning to end.