Category Archives: head

Amy Gentry — Good as Gone

Thirteen-year-old Julie is abducted from her home in the middle of the night as her ten-year-old sister Jane looks on in fear from the closet. Eight years later, Julie shows up at her family’s door. That’s the beginning and the end of two stories. The current story moves forward through mother Anna’s eyes as she begins to doubt that the girl who appeared on her doorstep is her daughter. And the story of Julie moves backward through the eight years as Julie takes on one persona then another to the time when she left her home.

This thriller is about the two women and how they deal with tragedy. A mother who drinks and hides from life, ignoring the daughter and husband who are still with her, cannot except that the returning daughter is lying and might not be who she says. The daughter who does whatever it takes to survive—changing names and life stories as she moves from one situation to another— is always running, always lying to herself as well as others.

As a writer, I found the point of view (POV) in this novel interesting, The Prologue is the only place the author uses sister Jane’s POV—third person past. In Chapter 1 we jump to the mother Anna’s POV—first person present. When the story shifts to Julie and her various role’s POV it’s third person past, until the last part of the book where it’s Julie’s POV—first person past. It sounds confusing but it works.

The book grabbed my attention and held it to the end.

Alexander McCall Smith — Precious and Grace

I’m not sure The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of novels fits in any genre—maybe cozy mystery. If you are tired of reading fast-paced thrillers, this book will slow you down. It’s a relaxing pleasant read.

The protagonist, Mma Precious Ramotswe, owner and founder of the detective agency in Gaborone, Botswana, has a unique personality unlike any I’ve encountered in other novels or in real life. She sees the positive in life and in the people around her, overlooking others faults and misbehaviors, especially those of her “partner,” Mma Grace Makutsi. Even though Mma Ramotswe owns the agency and hired Mma Makutsi as a secretary, Grace self-promoted herself to assistant detective and now co-director, even insinuating to a client that she started the business. Unlike Precious, Grace is not tolerant of others real or perceived faults. But Precious doesn’t like to argue; she would rather relax with a cup of tea.

The plot revolves around a Canadian woman who was born in Botswana and left when she was eight years old. She wants to reconnect with her past and is looking for the house she lived in and the woman who cared for her as a child. This is difficult because the Canadian only has a very old fuzzy photo and Gaborone has grown and changed much in thirty years. No crime involved there, but there are subplots.

A part-time assistant of Mma Ramotswe, Mr. Polopetsi, becomes involved in a pyramid scheme. Precious takes it upon herself to unwind Mr. Polopetsi from the tangle into which he’s naively fallen. And there is also a stray dog who keeps showing up that Precious feels needs a home.

As I said in the beginning, this is not a fast-paced thriller. This is a gentle, people oriented, relaxing novel.

Ridley Pearson — White Bone

What a delight! I was transported back to East Africa—the sights, smells, sounds, the dry air, some of the same plants and animals. In my mind, I was there. Even though my two years were in Asmara, Ethiopia (now Eritrea) and surrounding area, and this novel takes place in Kenya, it all felt very familiar. Granted, the atmosphere and politics of Ethiopia in the early 1960s was much different than those of current Kenya. Asmara at the time of my two-year stay was fairly clean, peaceful, and civilized. The present day Nairobi, as described in Pearson’s book, is dirty, poor, corrupt, and violent. I could still feel the similarities.

Getting to the story, Grace Chu is sent to Kenya to find out what happened at a client’s clinic where a vaccine is making people sick, even killing children. She discovers connections between poachers of elephants and rhinos, the illegal ivory trade to China and elsewhere, the theft of a vaccine for cattle, and missing ivory from the Kenyan treasury. She hasn’t been heard from for two days, and her partner John Knox goes to find her.

The characters in the book are varied. Pearson takes you into the heads and hearts two main characters, Grace and John. Both have unique, strong personalities. I was especially fascinated by Grace and her ability to survive the bush of Kenya. The author also gives us insight into others’ motivations, including the leader of a band of poachers and a man who hunts poachers and kills them to protect the animals he loves.

White Bone is the latest in a series about Knox and Chu. I will definitely read some of the earlier novels. If you’ve ever wanted to visit the area, read this international thriller and let your imagination run wild.

Elizabeth Nunez — Even in Paradise

The Even in Paradise plot is loosely based on Shakespeare’s King Lear.  Duckworth, a rich man from Trinidad, moves to his “castle” in Barbados, which to him is Paradise. He decides to give his land to his three daughters before he dies to save strife upon his death. Like Lear, he is fooled by the praise of the two oldest daughters and disappointed that his youngest, his favorite, won’t give him lavish praise. She also won’t obey him in all that he asks.

I enjoyed the settings in the Caribbean—Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica. Not the laid-back island time atmosphere I’ve mentioned in a previous review, Nunez writes of politics, racism, greed, family turmoil, and the problems with the conflict between tourism and locals on the islands.

The characters are alive and real, from differing social and cultural backgrounds. The person telling the story sometimes appears to be a background character, watching the drama unfold.

This may be a spoiler, but the story doesn’t end with all the violence and death of King Lear, even though most of the characters manage to get what they deserve—good and bad.

I enjoyed a good read of a well-written novel.

J. D. Robb — Apprentice in Death

This review is more about the author (J. D. Robb, aka Nora Roberts) and her writing style than the story. First, let me say I am in awe of a woman who can publish over 200 novels in 36 years. That’s an average of almost six a year. And she writes well!

I haven’t read a book from the “in Death” series for many years. Long enough that I wasn’t at all familiar with the series protagonist, Lieutenant Eve Dallas. I imagine she’s changed over the years. In this story, she is a driven, very smart cop. She was in control of the investigation from beginning to end. She kept everyone moving in the right direction. She is also in a loving relationship with her husband, Roarke. He is rich, brilliant, and of course handsome. He treats her unbelievably well, and he even helps with the case with his money, ideas, and inventions. But Robb pulls this off without making it feel “over the top.”

This is a crime novel or a police procedural, and you know who the villains are very early.  But tracking them and preventing more killings keep the pace hard and fast. The author doesn’t let you pause for breath except for a few short breaks with Dallas and Roarke at home.

Two things about the writing were strange to me. First is the point of view. Robb uses omniscient POV. She knows what everyone is thinking…more or less. At times she seems to be using third person for long passages, especially with Dallas. Other times she switches back and forth rapidly between characters. This would normally drive me crazy. But Robb does it almost seamlessly.

The second strange idea in the novel is the time frame, 2061. True there are some tools, weapons, etc. that don’t exist today. But the story could be written in today’s world losing nothing. If I were to pick a time without knowing the date, I would guess ten years from now. Many of the special tools are available now or will be in a few years. Transportation was strange. Even in 2061, they weren’t using self-driving vehicles. The one thing we probably won’t have soon is off-planet prisons.

I enjoyed Apprentice in Death. It kept my attention, I liked all the characters, and the setting brought me back to New York City. Mainly, it was a good story. I’ll probably go back and read some of the previous books in the series.

Ethan Canin — A Doubter’s Almanac

If you are looking for a happy or loving novel, this is not the one. Milo Andret, the central character of this book, is an egocentric, offensive, mathematical genius and also an addict. But the writing is excellent, the story is gripping, and even the unlikable protagonist is intriguing.

The book skips backward and forward between times and places, yet somehow that’s not confusing. Part one is from Milo’s point of view (third person), and part two is his son Hans (first person). The fractured relationship between father and son (also a brilliant mathematician) weaves through the fabric of the tale.

The story is filled with fascinating characters and locations, but mostly it’s an account of the workings of the mind. It’s somewhat esoteric and at times philosophical, leaving the reader (at least this one) with unanswered questions. Are mental illness and genius related? Addiction and genius? Is the addiction genetic? How much of intelligence is inherited and how much is learned? And more…

But I do understand the mathematical mind better than when I began reading. At some point while reading, I had an epiphany—insight into the mind of my brother who was a mathematical genius and an addict. That could be the reason I found the book so interesting. I also have a few friends who are brilliant in their fields. Most are a bit whacko (or a lot). But aren’t we all somewhat weird from another’s point of view? Maybe the whole idea of mental illness is skewed. Could it be that we just don’t understand minds that are so different from our own?

I seldom reread a book. But this one will probably end up by my bedside to be read again.

Benjamin Wood — The Ecliptic

The setting for most of this novel is an artist’s colony on a remote island off the coast of Turkey where artists who have lost their muse have come to recapture their creative brilliance. No one knows the other residents actual names or backgrounds. There is no contact with the outside world. There are no clocks to keep track of time.

The protagonist, Knell, is a painter who has been living on the island for years. Her friends, other longtime residents, are a playwright, an architect, and a novelist. The story begins when a young disturbed man arrives at the colony and upsets the routine.

The novel explores the twisted mental state of Knell’s mind and her creativity. The second section of the book takes us back to her previous life in the London art world of the 1960s and what brought her to the island.

This is a well written literary novel. The characters are captivating, the settings are beautifully painted, and the twisted plot keeps you reading. But a warning—you may be disappointed with the ending. I’m not sure if I was or not.

e·clip·tic

/əˈkliptik/
noun     ASTRONOMY
  1. 1.
    a great circle on the celestial sphere representing the sun’s apparent path during the year, so called because lunar and solar eclipses can occur only when the moon crosses it.

Lisa Gardner — Find Her

Gardner writes excellent psychological mystery/thrillers. This one gets into the head of a kidnap survivor, Flora Dane. She is not the same person as she was before her abduction five years earlier. She deals with her trauma by chasing down villains who have abused or murdered other women.  She puts herself in harm’s way.

At the beginning of the story, she is attacked and left in a garage where she rummages through the abuser’s trash to find the tools to kill him when he returns.

Other interesting characters in the story are Boston Police Detective D.D. Warren, Flora’s victim advocate, and her mother who never stops loving her. D.D. is supposed to be on restricted duty due to an injury, but she needs to be in control of the situation and keeps going off on her own without informing her team. She doesn’t know whether Flora is a victim or a vigilante. Flora’s victim advocate is always there for her and joins forces with D.D. when Flora is kidnapped again.

A complex plot and the interesting characters kept me reading late into the night.

Barry Eisler — Livia Lone

Barry Eisler writes assassins as protagonists. I’ve read several of his John Rain, assassin, novels. Now he has created a new assassin or vigilante, Livia Lone. She is a Seattle police detective dedicated to bringing predators to justice. But at times when the system doesn’t do the job, she executes her own form of justice.

The story tells how Livia became what she is, both detective and killer. She was sold by her parents at age thirteen along with her eleven-year-old sister and was shipped from Thailand to the States with a group of people in a container. The men who controlled them abused Livia and she allowed it to protect her sister. After she attacked one of her captors, they took her sister, who was then returned to the container in a near catatonic state. Livia was separated from her sister in Portland, Oregon, and was “rescued” by a powerful man who adopted her and abused her. Her driving goal throughout her life was to find her sister.

Probably classified as thriller/mystery, this is truly a horror story—not in the horror genre, but the horror of human trafficking, the horror of the abuse that drives Livia to become what she is, and the horror of what she does to the predators. You need a strong stomach to read this, but it kept my attention and I was rooting for Livia.

Iain Pears — Arcadia

A delightful fantasy about time travel, which skips between times as characters accidentally or purposefully pass through to past and future worlds. Angela Meerson, a psycho-mathematician, has created a machine to take people to alternate worlds. She discovers that those worlds are all in her own timeline. Angela escapes her own time some two hundred years in the future to mid-twentieth century in Oxford, England and takes her notes with her in order to prevent the use of her invention. It is far too dangerous to be messing with time.

She creates a gate into imaginary Anter-world based on a fantasy written by her friend Professor Henry Lytten. She leaves the gate in Henry’s basement. One day In the 1960s, Rosie, a young teenage friend of Henry’s finds the gate and steps through.

The story, which takes place mainly in three times, is full of interesting characters. The plot twists and turns, but it all resolves nicely in the end. The settings for the different times are interesting and easily pictured in my mind. There is imagination and humor.

From the front flap text: “If the past can change the future, then might the future also indelibly change the past?”