Category Archives: heart

Stephen King — Duma Key

Duma Key is the first Stephen King novel I’ve read in many years. Even though he is an excellent writer, I’m not a fan of horror. You usually find his books classified as horror, but they could also fall into thriller, suspense, fantasy, psychological, supernatural, paranormal, ghost story, and mystery genres. Duma Key is all of these.

I’m not sure why I decided to read this book; maybe because the setting is in Southwest Florida where I live. I found the story intriguing from the beginning. Edgar Freemantle, builder and contractor, is almost killed in an accident that damages his right hip and leg, crushes his skull, and he loses his right arm. Due to his unpredictable behavior while recovering, his wife leaves him.

His shrink suggests Edgar should take up a hobby and go on sabbatical. He leases “Big Pink,” a house hanging over the water at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico on Duma Key. Here he begins to draw and then paint, learning at a furious pace. His ghost arm drives him.

Walking the beach, Edgar meets Wireman, and they become friends. Wireman is caretaker for an old woman, Elizabeth Eastlake, who floats in and out of dementia. Elizabeth owns the habitable part of Duma Key, including Big Pink, and she is an integral part of the story.

The story begins as psychological and/or supernatural thriller, moving on to become a ghost story. It doesn’t become a “horror story/monster movie” until about three-quarters of the way through. By that time it had me hooked, and I had to keep reading to see what would happen. Edgar, Wireman, and Jack (who was hired to help Edgar and became his friend) join forces to battle the monsters.

As I said at the beginning, Stephen King is an excellent writer.

William Kent Kruger — Manitou Canyon

The story takes place in the Boundary Waters on the border of Minnesota and Canada in cold, raw, November. A man disappears from the middle of a lake, leaving behind an empty canoe and no sign of what happened to him or where he could have gone.

When the official search is called off, ex-Sheriff Cork O’Connor is asked by the man’s niece and nephew to keep looking. Even though Cork’s daughter’s wedding is approaching and the weather is threatening, Cork takes the job. When he doesn’t return and doesn’t call in for several days, his family and the current sheriff go looking for him in a float plane.

The story is full of gloom—the season, the weather, and Cork’s mood. He despises November; all bad things in his life have happened in November. He doesn’t understand why his daughter has planned a wedding in this gloomy month. But there is much warmth in the story, too—the connections between family and friends working together and even between the good guys and the bad guys. The author looks closely at the motivations of all the characters. Much of the mystery of this book is the “why” of what’s happening.

Interwoven throughout the novel is Native American lore and spirituality. It adds depth to an already interesting read.

Kim Stanley Robinson — New York 2140

Have you ever read a book that you didn’t want to end (even after 613 pages)? New York 2140 is that book for me. Many bestselling authors seem to lose their edge with later books, but not Robinson. In my opinion, this novel is his best yet.

The Atlantic labeled Robinson’s work as “the gold-standard of realistic, and highly literary, science-fiction writing.” This novel takes social, economic, political, and most of all climate-change problems into the next century in New York City. Imagine the streets of Lower Manhattan as canals, buildings collapsing from the constant tidal wash, and a hurricane to make things worse.

The book is not a fast-paced thriller, not a SF space adventure, not a murder mystery to solve but serious look at environmental and economic problems to resolve. It is about a community of very different individuals who combine ideas and work toward solving some of the world’s and humanity’s major problems. Many of those problems are with us today: the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, the problems with the housing market, the out-of-control financial market, etc.

Robinson does it all. His settings, real and imagined future, let you feel you are living in a drowned NYC. His characters with their distinct personalities absorb your interest. The way these people, all living in the same building, get to know each other, rely on each other, collaborate to solve the city’s problems, makes an intriguing story. Overlying all of this is Robinson’s optimistic view of human character and our ability to make things work.

New York 2140 is my favorite read of the year (and more).

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.

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.

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.

Jessica Chiarella — And Again

What would you do with a new perfect body? Four terminally ill people are part of a trial program for FDA approval. They are given new genetically perfect clones of themselves—no disease, baby smooth skin, perfect vision, no wrinkles or even freckles.

This sounds like science fiction, but I wouldn’t classify it as such. It’s the story of four people and how they adapt (or don’t adapt) to their new chance at life. How much of your identity lies in your physical body?

Talented artist Hannah’s new body lacks the ability to paint. Politician David fights bad habits from his old life. Beautiful actor Connie tries to reenter the business after five years away. Connie, completely paralyzed for ten years, tries to find her role in a family unit that doesn’t include her.

An excellent first novel.