Category Archives: setting

Anne Corlett — The Space Between the Stars

Humans have expanded throughout the galaxy before a virus wipes out nearly all the population on every planet. Jamie Allenby wakes up alone on a remote planet she escaped to when her marriage was failing and she wanted “some space.” Zero point zero zero zero one percent survival rate, she had heard before her planet fell to the virus. After three days alone she finds two other people. They are rescued by two others in a small spacecraft looking for fuel. Their little band of survivors gathers two more as they bounce from planet to planet toward Earth.

This is not hard science fiction. I would call it “literary” or maybe “psychological” — a study in human behavior. Jamie isn’t sure what she’s searching for, maybe home. The small group includes an ex-priest, a prostitute, an ex-scientist who believes God has caused the apocalypse in order to start over, a young man with autism, the spaceship captain, and his engineer.

Corlette, with her first novel, has written an intriguing story that covers many issues that are relevant today, in the past, or our future.

This one kept me awake until 3AM to finish it. I look forward to more from Anne Corlette.

Dennis Lehane — Since We Fell

I met Dennis Lehane once at a book signing in Boston and I’ve seen him on television a few times. He seems like an easygoing likeable person with a twinkle of humor in his eyes. But Lehane writes dark stories. His characters are twisted. He examines his characters minds good and bad—their delights, doubts, and demons. Great stuff!

The first part of Since We Fell follows Rachel Childs from a childhood with a dominating mother and no father, through a successful career as a journalist in Boston and an unsuccessful marriage, to a breakdown on camera in Haiti while covering the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. Her husband leaves her, she’s fired from her job, and she becomes a virtual shut-in.

Enter second husband, Brian Delacroix, who understands her (unlike first husband), treats her with loving kindness, and helps her overcome her phobias. Perfect husband…or is he?

The story is filled with questions, conspiracies, murder, and surprises. Is it a psychological thriller, a literary novel, crime novel, or something that doesn’t fall into any genre or category? It fits all three of my classifications of head, heart, and even some humor.

Charles River, Boston
Charles River, Boston

The setting is mostly in Boston, my favorite city in the world. It made me feel at home.

In my opinion, Dennis Lehane is one of the today’s best authors.

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).

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.

John Keyse-Walker — Sun, Sand, Murder

John Keyse-Walker was a speaker at the Gulf Coast Writers Association (of which I’m a member) in January. He talked about his route to publishing through winning the 2015 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America contest. Good speaker and contest winner—so I decided to read the book.

Aside from the Prologue, which was probably the suggestion of publisher or editor and almost kept me from continuing, the book was well written. The plot kept me guessing and the characters were delightful.

What captured my imagination was the setting and the people. I lived on a small cay in the Bahamas for a few years and have since visited several Caribbean islands. All have distinct personalities. But if you have ever spent time in the West Indies, you know there is a laid-back attitude—“island time.” It lingers in the air and the sunshine; it seeps into your bones and behavior. The author captured the atmosphere perfectly…I felt right at home in his story.

Teddy Creque is a special constable, a civilian position under the authority of the British Virgin Islands police, on the small, sparsely populated island of Amegada, where no crime has been committed in his twenty-plus years on the job. A research biologist who visited the island every winter is found murdered on the beach, and the BVI police commissioner assigns Teddy the job of notifying the family. But the murdered man was not who he appeared to be and Teddy becomes entangled in finding out who the biologist was and why he was killed.

I enjoyed every minute of this book, the story, the people, and most of all I loved the trip back into “island time.”

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.