Category Archives: setting

Alex Kava — Hidden Creed

Kava gives us the three H’s—head, heart, and even a little humor. This is only my second read of an Alex Kava story and the first with dog handler Ryder Creed. She also includes FBI Agent Maggie O’Dell from another series. Kava gives us a picture of Florida’s Blackwater River State Forest for setting, a well-paced plot, and likable (and despicable) characters. My favorite characters are the dogs.

Ryder, his sister Brodie, and dog Alice uncover a body dump in the forest behind Ryder’s dog kennel. Some of the bodies aren’t even buried.

Even though the sixth book in the Creed series, I had no problem reading it as a stand-alone. I recommend for all murder mystery lovers.

Alyssa Cole — When No One is Watching

*Spoiler Alert*
I rate this five stars for the first half or more and three stars for the last part. The first part feels almost like a romance novel with girl meets boy, conflict between girl and boy, etc. The last part is more like a thriller, with the two main characters chasing down the enemies who are trying to take over the neighborhood—lots of violence.

For me, the strongest part of the novel is the social theme of breaking up neighborhoods for profit. This story carries it to an extreme, with really evil people doing terrible things. I learned a lot of history about the ups and downs of Brooklyn.

The characters at the beginning of the story are so well written they pull me into their frustrations, especially Sidney. Divorced, she returns to Brooklyn, trying to hold onto her mother’s home in a neighborhood undergoing gentrification. Trendy upscale shops buy out familiar stores, new condo buildings crop up, a pharmaceutical company is moving into an old hospital, and Sydney’s friends are disappearing. She’s not only trying to save her mother’s home, she’s trying to save the neighborhood.

In contrast to black, angry, frustrated Sydney, her new neighbor Theo is clueless, white, out of work, and riding the coattails of his rich girlfriend, who has relegated him into the hot attic of their house while she redecorates. Theo is a puzzle to me. He admits to doing things, even in the present, that don’t seem to fit his likable, curious, helpful personality.

The end of the story left me hanging. It solved the neighborhood’s immediate problem but left the overall issue alive and well.

I enjoyed the read; it kept my interest from beginning to end.

J.S. James — River Run

Oregon’s Willamette River is such a strong presence in this novel that it almost becomes the main character. Sheriff’s Deputy Delia Chavez is obsessed with fear of the river, which took her baby brother away from her when she was five years old. But murders are happening on the river, and she has to deal with it to solve them.

As a character, Delia is messed up and angry, but I liked her. The author does a good job of giving insights into both good and bad actors in the story. A good plot kept my attention through to the end.

Candice Fox – Gone by Midnight

In addition to her great characterization, Fox gives us a crocodile-filled picture of the setting in Queensland, Australia, a complex and twisty plot (a locked room mystery), emotions (head, heart, and humor), plus coverage of some themes such as wrongful crime accusations, bad police behavior, parenting, truthfulness (or not), and more.

When I read several books in a series, sometimes the main characters begin to lose their attraction for me. Not so with Candice Fox’s Crystal Lake series. PI partners Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell, both with dark pasts and quirky personalities (especially Amanda), continue to fascinate. Fox’s coverage of all her characters—villains, suspects, police, extras, etc.—is thorough and entertaining.

Gone by Midnight is my favorite in the series. Looking for #4.

William Kent Krueger — This Tender Land

Krueger transports us to a different time and place in this saga of four orphan children traveling the rivers of the Midwest in 1932, the middle of the Great Depression. They have escaped a cruel Native American training school where Odie and his brother Albert were the only white children. Their river “family” includes Emmy, a young girl whose mother was killed in a tornado, and Mose, a Sioux who speaks only sign language. They meet helpful and dangerous people as they travel the river, trying to stay ahead of the owners of the school and the law.

Excellent writing with interesting characters, good story, and settings that make you feel you are there. Written from the point of view of an old man telling the story of his adventures as a twelve-year-old, young, naïve boy, Odie sometimes seems too wise for his age.

Don Winslow — Broken

Six novellas in one book. Some better than others.

Broken (2**): Way too dark for my taste. A story about a cop family and a gang, each seeking revenge on the other. The only saving grace was the ending.

Crime 101 (4****): A dedicated cop looks for a thief he’s convinced has committed several robberies, although no one else seems to agree with him. The thief is planning a multi-million dollar heist before he retires. Both are interesting characters in this somewhat humorous story.

The San Diego Zoo (4****): Hilarious story about a young cop who tries to do the right thing, but keeps getting into trouble for stepping over the lines. And there’s a chimp who escapes the zoo with a gun. Picture it!  🙂

Sunset (4****): Great characters—a bail bondsman whose business is tanking, a washed-up surfer/addict who runs out on his bail, a surfer/bounty hunter chasing his friend, and more. Several characters are getting older and dealing with it in different ways. I understand many of them have appeared in previous novels, but this book is my first taste of Winslow’s writing.

Paradise (2**): The drug trade underside of Hawaii combines with a picture of surfing. (Winslow has surfing in all the stories.) In Paradise, his characters are a bit thin. The plot makes me think of a big wave, starting calm and building to a crescendo.

The Last Ride (3***): Some reviewers labeled this story political, but I feel it’s a strong character study of a border patrol agent fighting a broken system. I would give it 4 stars except the ending crushes my heart.

Sara Paretsky — Dead Land

I’ve only read one other Paretsky novel, Shell Game, which I gave three stars—middle of the road. With Dead Land, I connected with the protagonist, V.I. (Vic) Warshawski, and found her determined and focused on solving the mysteries surrounding friends and family. Previously I found her too angry at the world, scattered in her investigation and her life, and making foolish mistakes. With this story, she seems to have reason behind her decisions, even when her moves are reckless and dangerous. She isn’t filled with anger and even has a sense of humor.

A side character, Coop, is interesting. Even though we see little of him, he’s a major character in the story. I love his dog, Bear.

Even though it twists and turns and has some almost unbelievable connections, the plot of Dead Land makes sense, where Shell Game didn’t. Paretsky connects greed and corruption in Chicago politics with greed and corruption in Chili, all revolving around a famous woman musician, first homeless then missing on the streets of Chicago. She’s another major character we see little of, but we learn a lot about her.

The settings in Chicago and Kansas are both well covered, making me feel the heat in the streets and the muddy rain in the flooded fields.

Although a bit too long, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

William Kent Krueger — Sulfur Springs

This novel gives us a look at the mess at our southern border. Cork O’Connor and his new wife, Rainy, go to Arizona to find her son Peter, who is involved with a group trying to help refugees from Central America. Every time they get a lead on where to look for him, the drug lords and/or the lawmen appear. Who is tipping them off?

A well-written story with a good plot and engaging characters. The coverage of the drug wars and the immigrants escaping through the border wall with Mexico keeps tension high.

Only the second Krueger novel I’ve read, both are about Cork’s children or step-children. He has an interesting family.

William Kent Krueger — Desolation Mountain

I would call this a character-driven, political intrigue novel. It’s my first foray into a William Kent Krueger book. I found some of the characters interesting, but not all. Cork O’Connors’ son Stephen, who has visions, is struggling to know who he is. More than a hundred-year-old “healer” Henry is in touch with the world and the spirits. Bo is a very conflicted character. Cork’s young grandchild (toddler?) Waaboo has far too much insight. But Cork worries his way through the story, and there’s no character growth, except possibly that he learns to accept that Henry can take care of himself. Some of the minor characters are interesting, but most are background noise—especially the women.

The plot is a bit over the top. It jumps around a lot, and people keep chasing around trying to find out what’s happening and to save people in trouble. Then toward the end, we get a lengthy explanation from the villain when there’s no reason for him to be telling it.

The story kept me reading to the end, so I give it three stars.

Heather Graham — The Stalking

The story mixes a stew of many genres—mystery, paranormal (ghosts), FBI agents, serial killer, and romance. It also throws in some New Orleans culture and history for a bit of spice. But it could use some editing. The dialog sometimes drags, the characters are a bit flat (almost everyone is beautiful), and I guessed the villains early in the book.

The Stalking is the first novel I’ve read by Heather Graham. I wouldn’t go out of my way to find more. But I did enjoy the quick light read.