Category Archives: setting

Nora Roberts — Shelter in Place

This month my library “books-by-mail” service sent two books by romance writers—Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts and Shattered Mirror by Iris Johansen. I’m not a fan of romance novels and had both authors categorized in my brain as a romance writers. But I read both, and neither were romance novels. I wasn’t thrilled with Johansen’s book. The characters felt flat to me. But Robert’s book was a different story.

I haven’t read anything by Nora Roberts in many years. Shelter in Place was a very pleasant surprise. The plot was intriguing, the characters pulled me in, and I enjoyed the visit to the Maine coast.

The story starts with a mass shooting at a Mall in Portland. We see this horrible event from several characters points of view. Robert’s follows some of the survivors through the next few years, all dealing with the shock to their lives in different ways. Then a serial killer starts murdering survivors.

In the last third of the book there is a romance blossoming. But that’s forgivable. Many good thrillers and mysteries serve up a side dish of romance.

I thoroughly enjoyed Shelter in Place.

Lee Child — The Midnight Line: A Jack Reacher Novel

A few days ago I watched a video of Stephen King interviewing Lee Child. Two of my favorite authors talking about writing—I loved it. In the interview, Lee Child talked about his lack of plotting. He said he asks a question at the beginning of the book and answers it by the end.

A friend had dropped off a copy of Child’s The Midnight Line and it was at the bottom of my “to read” pile next to my bed. I moved it to the top of the pile and quickly consumed it. I found that not only is there an unanswered question at the beginning, but there are more questions cropping up throughout the book. Each question needs to be answered, not necessarily in the order they appear in the story. The original question is answered long before the end of the book, but there are so many more that need answers, which kept me reading to the end.

In The Midnight Line Reacher finds a woman’s West Point class ring in a pawn shop in Wisconsin. His curiosity about why someone would pawn a ring that is so difficult to earn leads him to track her down and find out why. Reacher smells trouble and in his usual vigilante style sets out to solve the mystery and save the damsel in distress. His trek takes him through South Dakota into a sparsely populated corner of Wyoming.

Pronghorn in Wyoming

I read some reviews on Amazon and found a number who were not happy with this book. (Many more gave it high ratings.) The low raters all seemed to think it didn’t have enough action and violence. To me, there is much more to a Reacher novel than violence, and this one had plenty of action even though he wasn’t killing a lot of people.

I find Child’s unique writing style fascinating. I’m not sure I can describe it. Rhythmic, quick, and precise are words that come to mind. This book has an underlying theme about the current opiate addiction crisis and the government’s poor treatment of veterans. He gives in-depth pictures of characters and lets us follow Reacher’s calculation and planning. We even get a look at the possible thoughts and behaviors of addicts. Child took me on a journey through the back-country of Southern Wyoming.

The book has all of my three H’s—head, heart, and humor. I feel he’s an excellent writer and storyteller. He doesn’t follow the rules, but that makes the reading more interesting. You never know what to expect.

Christopher Reich — The Take

A group of thieves stops a Saudi prince’s entourage on a back street in Paris and takes the car carrying the prince’s considerable amount of cash. The CIA agent who revealed the Saudi’s route to the airport to the thieves only asked for a briefcase the prince was carrying.

Simon Riske accepts the task of finding Tino Caluzzi, the man who planned the heist but didn’t turn over the briefcase. He knows Caluzzi from a previous life when they worked together as thieves in Marseilles.

It was difficult to decide who were the good guys and the bad guys. All the characters were some of each—Riske, Caluzzi, CIA agent, Russian oligarch, Russian assassin, Paris policewoman, and others. Reich gives depth to his entertaining cast of characters. Everyone was chasing everyone while trying to lay hands on a letter hidden in the briefcase.

The twists and turns of this international thriller kept me reading into the night.

C.J. Tudor — The Chalk Man

This thriller/murder mystery jumps between 2016 and 1986. In 2016, Ed Adams is a small town school teacher haunted by events from 30 years past. In 1986, Eddie and his group of 12-year-old friends’ lives were interrupted by a terrible accident at the fair, two unsolved murders, a suicide, and a beating that left a man in an almost vegetative state.

Eddie’s father always told him “Never assume, Eddie. Question everything. Always look beyond the obvious.” But the whole town has made assumptions about what happened in 1986. When bad things start happening again in 2016, people once more make assumptions.

The Chalk Man, Tudor’s first novel, has an intriguing plot, great characters (young, middle-aged, and old), a setting that makes you feel you are there, and twists and turns that keep you hooked.

Excellent writing!

M.C. Beaton — Death of an Honest Man

Scottish Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth is an offbeat character, and so are all the others in this murder mystery. Even a wildcat is a character in the story. A newcomer insults all the people he comes into contact with, so when his body turns up in the heath bog, Hamish’s list of suspects includes most everyone in the area.

This is a fun read full of unbelievable happenings and Hamish breaking the rules again and again. He also manages to lose every assistant his superiors send him—some to become chefs and sheep herders, one to marriage.

I will look for more of Beaton’s books.

Robert K. Tanenbaum — Fatal Conceit

In Chechnya, Americans are meeting at a remote outpost with a rebel leader. In the US, the president’s top security advisor and campaign manager watch live via NSA drone as the compound is attacked by Al-Qaeda terrorist overrun the compound, doing nothing to stop the attack. When the fight is over and the two men in the US see that two Americans are taken as hostages, the men order the drone to wipe out the compound before the hostages are safe.

Of course, there is a big cover-up, plus blackmail and murder. This where the protagonist, New York DA Karp, gets involved.

This was a good read. The only problem I had with the book was long narratives explaining connections between characters from past times, apparently from previous novels in the series. I don’t think you need that much explaining if people have read the other stories, or even for those like me who haven’t.

I did enjoy the novel, staying up into the wee hours to finish it.

Peter Cawdron —Retrograde

The scientific settlement on Mars receives word that nuclear war has broken out on Earth, then communications are cut. The community on Mars consists of four modules — U.S., Chinese, Russian, and Eurasians (from various countries). They start pointing fingers and blaming each other’s countries for starting the war. It appears that the module leaders are lying to each other. Then things begin to go wrong in the settlement. But Liz is determined to get everyone working together.

Cawdron paints a fantastic picture of Mars, both topside and in the tunnels where the scientists have built their settlement. His characters are believable, and their reactions to the disaster at home and the hardships imposed by the red planet are realistic.

For those who like hard science fiction, this is a good one. As stated by SpaceX engineer Dr. Andrew Rader in the Afterword of the novel, “…there are no scientific breakthroughs required for the human exploration of or settlement on Mars — only engineering effort and widespread dedication to the goal.” With a few exceptions, all of the technology and science in Retrograde is possible, if not now, in the near future.

Mars

Daniel Suarez — Change Agent

Singapore
Singapore

Kenneth Durand is an Interpol Agent chasing genetic crime in 2045. He is shutting down labs that create designer children for a price. Marcus Wyckes heads the cartel at the top of the black lab food chain. Otto, the “mirror man,” created to survive human disasters and repopulate the earth if humanity is wiped out, hates humans, and is Wyckes right-hand man. He injects Durand with Wyckes’ DNA, expecting Durand to die and be identified as Wyckes. But Durand lives through the DNA change.

We meet all sorts of characters, good and bad, as Durand travels through the underworld of genetics trying to find a way to return to his original self. The setting for the book is fascinating, starting in Singapore, traveling through Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar. Suarez takes us through cities, farm lands, and jungles. He extends today’s technology into the future with interesting devices and transportation. The author also covers many possibilities, promising and terrible, from the results of “editing” DNA in plants, animals, and humans.

Suarez is a NYT bestselling author, but this is the first of his books I’ve read. I could be tempted to read more.

Samuel Bjork — The Owl Always Hunts at Night

Police investigator Mia Krüger and her boss Holger Munch head a team looking into the strange death of a young girl found posed in the woods on a bed of feathers. They discover a film of the girl in a cage, running in a wheel like an animal in order to get food. What sort of sick person would do this?

Maybe it’s the cold and the long dark nights or maybe it’s the books I choose to read, but it seems that whenever I read a novel by a Scandinavian author, they are filled with gloom. Norwegian Bjork fills the story with characters (good and bad) who are depressed or psychologically damaged. It’s set in the beginning of a long, cold, dark, Norway winter.

Even so, I enjoyed the plot’s twists and turns, the unraveling of a very strange murder, and even those bleak characters involved in solving the crime.

David Baldacci — End Game

End Game takes place in a small town in Colorado, but it’s nothing like the quiet, safe, small town in Colorado where I grew up. This is one very bad town, with skin heads, religious cults, biker gangs…you name it.

Will Robie and Jessica Reel are partners—agents and assassins.  They were a couple, but in this novel they’ve split up, for reasons Robie can’t figure out. Their boss has been kidnapped while vacationing in his hometown. Robie and Reel are trying to find out who, where, and why and of course rescue him.

End Game is action-packed and full of twists and turns. A good read.

Although I enjoyed this story, my favorite Baldacci novel is still his first, Absolute Power. If you haven’t read it or seen the movie you should.