Category Archives: style

Walter Mosley — Blood Grove

Mosley is a descriptive writer—settings, characters, actions—all are vividly detailed. You can see them in your mind’s eye. His characters are never one-dimensional. He digs deep and finds good and bad in heroes and villains alike. He describes LA of 1969 so well that you feel as if you’re living there.

In this story, Easy Rawlins is almost accidentally drawn into uncovering a complex plot of theft and murder when he sets out to find a missing girl for a PTSD veteran. Even after the young vet is murdered, Rawlins can’t let it go. He wants to finish the job, and if he doesn’t untangle the mystery, he could end up dead like his client.

The only thing that kept the novel from being five stars for me was too many characters to follow, even though each one felt distinctive.

Kim Stanley Robinson — The Ministry for the Future

The book is not really a novel.

I’m a huge fan of Kim Stanley Robinson, but I almost quit reading a third of the way through. To me it felt like a mind dump of facts, ideas, speculations, possibilities, etc., with a thin plot woven in between. Maybe the author was trying to get all his thoughts about how to deal with global warming down in one place. It was filled with vignettes about the environment, economy, banking, politics, history, terrorism, immigration refugees, and more. But a chapter from the point-of-view of a carbon atom? Come on!

Something that bothers me as an editor is the switching back and forth in style of writing. An example: the use (or lack thereof) of quotation marks in conversation. It takes me a while to tune into a story where the author chooses not to use quotes. It hit me over the head when KSR threw in some chapters where he used them in a book that was mostly written without. One chapter even switched in the middle.

Needless to say, since I finished the book, KSR captured my attention. I learned a lot and was intrigued by his ideas (real or imagined) about how to deal with the world’s environmental, social, and economic problems.

Karin Slaughter — The Last Widow

Even though this book is the ninth in a series, it’s my first book by the author. It reads well as a stand-alone. From some of the reviews I read, I might get tired of the characters if I read all nine.

I found Slaughter’s unique style of writing fascinating. She covered the exact same events in the same timeframe in separate chapters from different characters’ points of view. Although interesting, it probably could have been done without repeating all the details and action multiple times. The book is looonng!

Good writing, good plotting, interesting characters (both good and evil), lots of themes, lots of action, but very dark, needs some fact-checking, and her political POV is sometimes overbearing.

Lisa Unger — The Stranger Inside

A character-driven psychological thriller, this novel grabs your attention and keeps it to the end.

Three children meet a monster in the woods—a huge, mean man with a huge, mean dog. Rain fights off man and dog, runs, and hides in the roots of a tree. Physically injured and traumatized, she stays hidden for hours, unable to move, call out, or go for help. Her two friends, Hank and Tess are dragged away by the monster. Hank is brutalized but survives. Tess doesn’t make it.

The story follows Rain and Hank as adults. Rain is a journalist who has quit her job to be a stay-at-home wife and mother, and Hank is a psychologist who treats traumatized children. Both lead fairly normal lives but carry scars from their childhood abduction and loss of their friend. Rain has a loving husband and a beautiful daughter that she adores. Hank is a kind and gentle doctor helping his patients. But Rain carries heavy guilt about not going for help to save her friends, and Hank has a second personality, cruel and vindictive. Both Hank and Rain become involved in the investigation of an apparent vigilante serial killer whose first victim may have been their abductor. Enough of the plot. Any more would be a spoiler.

Unger’s character development makes this book outstanding. She covers the two main characters in depth, good and bad. Unlike many books I’ve read recently, their personalities, although warped, are believable and held my interest from beginning to end.

Lee Child — Blue Moon

(spoiler alert) I think Reacher is getting older and meaner, less tolerant of the bad guys. He’s still unbelievably observant, sharp, calculating, and very, very lucky. This book reads like a violent video game, with a lot more mayhem than previous Reacher novels. And the girl who accompanies him through the story is very tolerant of his murderous ways. I found it difficult to believe he and a few friends could take out two whole crime families.

All that said, I still enjoyed this addition to the series. I like Lee Child’s clipped style of writing and strange sense of humor.

Tim Johnston — The Current

The Current is a strange story written in a strange style, and it leaves unanswered questions at the end. It’s closer to real life where everything doesn’t get neatly tied up. There is mystery here, but not your typical “whodunit” mystery, maybe a literary mystery.

I enjoyed the story, but it took a little while to understand the flow. At times Johnston writes stream of consciousness, sometimes he uses second person POV, head-hopping from one character to another, and he skips back and forth between timelines. But he digs deep into the psyches of his characters—love, hate, grief, curiosity, need-to-know, vengeance—and tells all that is going on around them—sights, smells, heat and cold, sounds, skin sensations.

I enjoyed the book but only gave it four stars. It grabbed my attention, my heart, and my mind. But the author could have made it a little easier to follow without losing the grip of the story.

Louise Penny — Kingdom of the Blind

I have not read any of the previous books in this series, which may be a disadvantage in reading Kingdom of the Blind, but it reads well as a stand-alone.

The cozy comfort of the small town of Three Pines stands in stark contrast to the back streets of Montreal. Some of the gatherings of Gamache’s family or friends in the village, discussing the murder or just babbling about life, at times seemed confusing or unnecessary, possibly due to my unfamiliarity with the characters. But these gatherings were comfortable, friendly, and humorous. The story is filled with family connections (both relational and families of friends or coworkers), some full of love and understanding and some underlined with distrust.

One unusual thing about Penny’s writing is her use of omniscient point of view. You might even call it “head-hopping.” She often jumps POV from one character to another and back. I found it distracting at times, but overall, she did a reasonable job of making it feel seamless.

The setting in Canadian winter made me feel the chill and the crunch of the snow underfoot. The plot was interesting. Occasionally I was ahead of the story and guessed what would happen, other times I was surprised.

I may go back in time and read other novels in Ms. Penny’s Gamache series.

Kim Stanley Robinson — Red Moon

Excellent book!
Red Moon is combination of speculative fiction, near-future, environmental, political, hard and soft science fiction, moon colonization, and a little space opera thrown in. Even though it’s called Red Moon, much of the story takes place in China. All the main characters but one are Chinese.

The amount of knowledge and research required for this book is mind-boggling—China’s history, geography, present day culture, technology, and politics; moon geology; quantum mechanics; artificial intelligence; space travel; cryptocurrency; global economics; moon exploration; and more.

Robinson paints images of the moon and China in such detail that you feel you are there, from earthrise on the moon to crowds of millions of protestors in Beijing. He also depicts various contrasting possibilities for communities on the moon.

He extends the unrest in today’s world into a political and economic crisis in China and the United States (and the world) of the near future, with a hopeful outcome.

The characters are varied, interesting, and believable. Fred Frederickson, an American delivering a quantum phone to the moon, is accused of murdering his client. Chan Qi, the daughter of China’s Minister of Finance and a leader in the opposition to the current government, is hiding on the moon and is pregnant. Poet and celebrity travel reporter Ta Shu helps Fred and Qi evade their pursuers. There is even an AI who matures throughout the book. Even the less major characters are interesting.

The story kept me involved from beginning to end.

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.

Laura Lippman — Wilde Lake

I don’t usually review a book I don’t like, but this is an exception. I want to talk about the writing style, which is a big part of the reason the book didn’t grab me. I don’t finish most books unless they hold my attention to the end and don’t feel I should review them without finishing. For some reason, I finished this one. I kept expecting it to get better.

Lu (Louisa Brant, state’s attorney for Howard County Maryland) is the narrator. She is not a likeable protagonist. She is all about winning—beating her boss out of his job, doing better at everything than her brother, winning the murder case she’s trying, etc. She has two children, twins, that we never meet. There is a housekeeper/nanny that Lu doesn’t like. Her brother and father could be interesting characters, but we don’t get to know them.

A big distraction was the author’s use of switching from first person to third person and back with the same narrator. The book even uses a different font when switching from first to third person chapters. I noticed this diversion right away, because I format books for self-published authors. Lippman uses third person present for current happenings and first person to tell us about past events. There is little or no connection between these chapters until close to the end of the book.

This is a murder mystery where we know the killer early but not his motive. It’s more about Lu trying to make her case for court than about the mystery. The story drags and is full of gimmicks. There is even an affair between Lu and one of her brother’s married friends which has nothing to do with the story.

This is a dark novel. Dark stories can keep my interest, but not this one. It lacks a good plot, interesting characters, and a satisfying ending. I read Wilde Lake right after Lippman’s Sunburn, which I enjoyed. You wouldn’t know they are by the same author.