Category Archives: character

Cara Hoffman — Be Safe I Love You

Cara Hoffman tells a fascinating story of a soldier returning home from Iraq. The protagonist, Lauren Clay, has been caring for her young brother since she was 10 years old when their mother left and their father became deeply depressed and quit functioning. She joined the army after high school to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Lauren is a disturbed young woman dealing with guilt and more, from incidents in Iraq. She has difficulty understanding why people don’t listen to what she says. As a sergeant in the army she is accustomed to people following her orders. Although she has an exceptional voice and the promise of a career in music, she no longer feels worthy of singing.

Telling her father she and her brother Danny are going on a vacation to see their mother, instead she takes him to a frozen wilderness in Canada. She believes she is teaching him survival skills in case she is no longer able to care for him.

This is a character driven book. Lauren’s interaction with her friends and family, her feeling of displacement, her driving need to take care of her brother, paint a disquieting portrait of a returning warrior. The author also captures reactions from her friends and family to her strange behavior. Some ignore the signs or don’t see them, while others recognize that she has problems but do little to help her adjust.

The book is well written, captivating, delving into the mind of a troubled young woman. It has a good plot and there is mystery, but mainly it is about character. Excellent writing.

Laline Paull — The Bees

A delightful story. So much imagination. The author obviously did extensive research about bees, but the story is humanized. There are many underlying themes—worship of royalty, class division, environmental issues, and more. Flora is an unusual bee, working her way up the hierarchy of hive society.

Who would have thought that a novel about bees would have a good plot, action and suspense, complex characters, family connections, love…and a very realistic setting. Thumbs up for an excellent first novel from Laline Paull.

Carol Cassella – Gemini

I am impressed. Cassella is an amazing writer! Gemini is a captivating story switching between two main characters with very different stories and lives.

A doctor becomes involved, against her better judgment, with discovering the identity of a “Jane Doe” in her care. “Jane” lies in a coma in the hospital after she is found alongside the road almost dead from a hit-and-run.

The author also follows a young artist growing up with her grandfather in a backwoods small town. We see her first love, marriage, motherhood, her frustrations, struggles to survive, her spirit, her connection to grandfather, son, husband, to the land.

The genre is medical mystery, but I think it could also be classified as women’s fiction or literary. There is so much to grab you and keep you reading—hopes and fears, love and loss, heartbreak and joy, family, communication, morality, medicine, genetics…

I’m going to find Cassella’s two earlier novels, Oxygen and Healer, and spend more sleepless nights reading her work.

Peter Heller — The Painter

What a great writer! I loved this book. First person, in-his-head, emotional — sad, happy, angry, love, sorrow, hate, frustration,  rage, confusion, delight, disappearing into the moment. It’s all there.

The story is written from the point of view of an artist-slash-fisherman. The setting is Colorado and New Mexico. Heller captures the setting, atmosphere, weather, wildlife, surroundings, whatever, like no one I’ve read. I saw it and felt it, even smelled it, while reading. I grew up in Colorado and it was easy for me to put myself there. But I believe you would be able to picture it even if you’d never visited the region. The painter protagonist was in tune with the environment around him, loving it and getting lost into it as he fished and painted.

But I make it sound like a gentle story and it wasn’t. It was full of roiling emotions, passion, stalking, and murder. I almost didn’t read it because of the way it began. A two-page prolog had the painter drinking in a bar and shooting the man on the stool next to him for making a comment about his daughter. (I guess it was a prolog. It wasn’t labeled that way.) I continued reading because I read Heller’s The Dog Stars and liked it. So I gave the book a chance. It only took a few more pages to capture me.

I’m not going to give away any more of the plot. Try it. You’ll like it.

James Sheehan – The Lawyer’s Lawyer

I was up until 3AM finishing this one. I need to quit doing that. But I’m too busy to read during the day. As you might guess from the title, the book genre is legal/crime thriller with cops and lawyers. I have become bored with that genre in recent years, but this one is the exception.

The book has interesting characters, a good plot with lots of twists and turns, a Florida setting that I enjoyed, some romance, and surprises at the end. There was murder and mayhem – even a serial killer. It kept me wanting to find out what happens next.

Underneath it all is friendship, loyalty, love, a trust in the truth, and a belief that good people will do the right thing. To me this sets it apart from most books in this genre – in fact, most books.

Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby, and Kevin Moffett — The Silent History

I stayed up ‘til 4AM a couple of nights ago reading a SF book – The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby, and Kevin Moffett. This is soft or social SF. I found the book fascinating for several reasons. One is the fact that it is a collaboration between three authors. Something that caught my attention was that the story was originally written as an iPhone app. Another reason is that they wrote in first person, but each chapter is from a different character’s point of view. You don’t see many books written multiple first person.

An interesting point is that these characters may show up in only one or two chapters or they may continue to appear throughout the book. This made the story a bit difficult to follow when I started reading. I kept thinking, “Did I see this person before?” But that didn’t last when I got into the story.

The plot: Children are born without language capability. It turns out to be a virus and more and more children are born with this condition.

I could get into the story and the characters’ reactions. I could tell you how it relates to the way people today respond to anyone who is “different.” I could tell you how the story progresses. Instead, I’ll let you read this very absorbing story.

Jordi Puntí – Lost Luggage

Four brothers (Christof of Frankfurt, Christophe of Paris, Christopher of London, and Cristòfol of Barcelona) never knew the others existed until their shared father disappears. The authorities in Barcelona notify Cristòfol that his father, Gabriel Delacruz, is missing and his apartment is abandoned. When Cristòfol visits the apartment he discovers the other three brothers and contacts them. The four brothers set about tracing their father’s history, sharing stories about how he met their separate mothers and his adventures on the road as an international mover/truck driver. None of the brothers or their mothers have seen Gabriel in many years.

The book is full of stories and sidetracks which all relate to the central plot or theme. It is filled with fascinating characters and wonderful settings. The writing contains humor and trickery, pain and sadness, connections and disconnects. It took me much longer to read than I normally take with a novel, partly because at times I would lose track of long ramblings. But I kept picking it up to continue because it is imaginative, fanciful, humorous, and very well written. Even though it’s likely classified as a literary novel (which I don’t usually read), it has a definite plot and the mystery of, “What happened to Gabriel?”

This book was translated from Catalan.

Janet Evanovich – Takedown Twenty

Humor is difficult to write – at least for most of us. I think Evanovich has humor etched into her personality. Even though I sometimes feel her Stephanie Plum series has probably gone on too long, I still laugh at the antics. Where else would you find a giraffe running loose in a neighborhood in Trenton, New Jersey, or any other city? It doesn’t show up on the news, there are no police reports…people are ignoring a giraffe.

I think the best scene in this book (notice I say scene because these books are very visual) is when Stephanie is getting a lesson about how to cook a steak and she manages to burn down the house. But you have to read it to appreciate it.

Donna Leon – By Its Cover

Donna Leon is an ex-pat from New Jersey who has lived in Venice, Italy for the past 30 years. In her Commissario Guido Brunetti series, while leading us through the waterways of the old city, she plunges us into the slow-paced atmosphere of Venice’s culture – its beauty, food, people, and problems. By Its Cover has Brunetti looking into the theft of rare antique books and pages (illustrations and maps) cut from books in a library. An ex-priest who was a possible witness to some of the thefts turns up murdered.

I find the pace of this story interesting as Brunetti starts his investigation apparently relaxed and not too concerned and increases his tempo and concern to the point where is barely taking time out to eat or sleep before he solves the crime.

Leon’s settings are fascinating and her plot keeps you reading, but for me the best part of her writing is the characters.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh – The Language of Flowers

The Language of Flowers. Isn’t that an intriguing name for a book? Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s first novel is superb. She tells the story of a young women coming out into the world from foster care with no family, no home, no education, no job… She has a love and knowledge of flowers, which finds her a job and connects her to people. The story swings between her current life and a past life with a foster mother who wanted to adopt her.

The novel is probably classified as literary or women’s fiction. Not my first choice for reading, but this book is exceptional. Diffenbaugh grabs your attention (and your heart) and holds it from beginning to end.