Category Archives: heart

Erin Morgetstern — The Starless Sea

The Starless Sea is a story about the love of stories.

The main plot lies mostly underground in a world filled with stories—in books and paintings and sculptures and even in people. Zachary Ezra Rawlings finds an uncatalogued book with no listed author in the library. The book contains a story about him when as a young boy he missed the opportunity of opening a door painted on a wall. But the book is older than Zachary. How could the author know his story? His search for the source of the book leads him to the labyrinth of stories lying under his feet.

Morgenstern’s novel is filled with unrelated stories, fables, fairytales, and myths that intertwine and finally connect at the end of the book. These individual stories contain romance, loss, time and fate, humor…

I’m not usually a fan of fantasy, but I was absorbed in this book and Morgenstern’s excellent writing. She has a fantastic imagination.

Dave Eggers — The Parade

The Parade is a psychological, political, literary novella about two anonymous contractors hired to pave a road in an unknown civil-war-torn country. Two opposite personalities travel from the poor south to the city in the north. The author tells the story from “Four’s” point of view. His goal is to follow the rules, don’t interact with the locals, get the job done on time for the parade, and go home. We only see “Nine” through “Four’s” perspective, as a happy-go-lucky rule-breaker who pays little attention to the job and spends his time mixing with the locals, partying, drinking, sleeping with the women, and giving away company property. “Nine” is interested in what’s happening to the country, its people, and what the road will mean to them.

I would give the book four stars, except that I guessed the twist at the end from the very beginning. Maybe I have a twisted mind.

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.

Elizabeth Haynes — Into the Darkest Corner

(spoilers included)

I almost abandoned this novel after the first few chapters because it bounced around too much in time and POV. First there was part of a trial (2005), then a murder scene (2001), a scene with Cathie, the protagonist, at work (2007), Catherine, an earlier version of Cathie, out drinking with friends (2003), and finally it gets into the rhythm of skipping back and forth between 2007 and 2003. At this point, I started to get hooked.

The personalities of Cathie and Catherine are entirely different. Catherine (2003) loves to party, drinks too much, sleeps around. Cathie (2007) suffers from severe OCD and PTSD. Catherine hooks up with sexy, mysterious Lee, who becomes more and more controlling and abusive. Cathie starts a cautious friendship with her neighbor Stuart, a psychologist who is unbelievably understanding of her weird behavior.

There is no mystery. The trial at the beginning tells us that Lee is the bad guy in the story. It’s obvious that Catherine and Cathie are the same person. It’s also fairly obvious that Lee probably murdered the woman at the beginning of the story (2001). At first, I thought the trial (2005) was for the murder.

But this is a well-written psychological suspense/thriller. It kept me reading throughout to find out what happens next. Haynes follows Catherine/Cathie’s personality changes in detail—Catherine’s downhill slide as her relationship with Lee becomes more controlling and abusive, and Cathie’s climb back to normality as she struggles to overcome her anxiety and OCD.

I would recommend the book to anyone who likes dark stories.

Robert Dugoni — A Steep Price

A good police story. Seattle’s violent crimes unit has a lot going on. A missing East Indian woman may only be avoiding friends and family to dodge arranged marriage, but Tracy thinks it doesn’t feel right. Faz and Del investigate a shooting of a black woman activist in broad daylight, which they believe was ordered by the local drug kingpin. A suspect of the woman’s shooting is shot and killed by Gonzalez, a new detective in the department from LA. The suspect was unarmed.

All of the detectives have pressures on the personal side. Tracy is pregnant but hasn’t told her department. Faz’s wife Vera is diagnosed with breast cancer. Del throws his back out and isn’t always available. New detective Gonzalez acts suspiciously, snooping in other detective’s computers and lying about what happened with Faz when she shot the suspect.

The characters are interesting, and the plot kept me reading.

Ann Cleeves — Wild Fire

This novel is my introduction to a well-known mystery writer. Jumping into the last book of Ann Cleeves’ Shetland Island series with DI Jimmy Perez, I found the story easy to read as a stand-alone and will likely go back and read more of her work.

The author’s depiction of the setting makes me want to visit the small village on a remote island in the far north UK. The characters are equally well defined. A family has moved to the island from London, in part to provide a better life for their two children. Christopher, their autistic son who has a liking for fire, is one of the main characters in the story. He finds the body of a neighbor’s nanny hanging from the rafters of their shed, where the previous owner of their home committed suicide.

The mystery stays unsolved until the end. The suspects are many, beginning with the family and including a bitter town gossip who becomes the next murder victim.

I would recommend this well-written book to anyone who loves a good mystery.

Nell Freudenberger — Lost and Wanted

Helen Clapp (first-person POV) is a physics professor at MIT and a single mother with a seven-year-old son, Jack, by an anonymous donor. Her best friend, Charlotte (Charlie), has died, but Helen is receiving text messages from her phone. I believe this is the plotline, but the author touches on it only occasionally throughout the story.

Billed as a ghost story, it’s more about Helen’s disbelieve in the afterlife or ghosts. I would classify the novel as women’s fiction or literary. It’s mostly about friendship and relationships.

Charlie’s husband and daughter (Terrence and Simmi) come to Boston from California to be closer to Charlie’s parents after her death, and they move into an apartment in Helen’s house. Their children, Jack and Simmi, become friends. Neel, an old flame and research partner of Helen’s returns to MIT. Much of the book is Helen remembering times spent with Charlie or Neel.

Freudenberger covers a lot of science, which I found interesting but much too detailed, even though I enjoy physics. As a successful woman in the male-dominated world of science, Helen spends too much time worrying about what others think of her.

I enjoyed the book, although it didn’t have much of a plot. The characters were interesting, if not always likable.

Carly Buckley — The Liar’s Child

Sara is running from a Hurricane headed for the Outer Banks of North Carolina and also trying to escape witness protection. She rescues two children, Cassie and Boon, who are home alone in the apartment next door. She’s torn between finding someplace to drop the children and staying off the radar, so the agents don’t track her.

All the characters are intense and twisted but interesting. I’m not sure who the title character is supposed to be, since everyone is lying and/or a liar’s child. Hank, a retired sheriff, is almost unnecessary to the plot. He’s haunted by a missing son who disappeared years earlier at age ten. Whit, Cassie and Boon’s father, is dealing with the disappearance of his wife while holding down a demanding job and taking care of the two children. Cassie, age twelve, tries to fit in with the older kids in the neighborhood by dressing Goth. Five-year-old Boon sleeps in his closet.

The story feels repetitive at times, but each time we see the “facts” from a different point of view, we learn a little more of the “truth.” It kept my interest to the end, and I liked the ending.

Chris Hammer — The River

I decided to read this nonfiction book after reading the author’s novel, Scrublands. I wanted to learn more about Australia and the area where the story took place. I’ve never visited Australia, but I can picture the drought-ridden area of Queensland and New South Wales now that I’ve read The River. Chris Hammer is an excellent writer.

Hammer spent weeks and months traveling the Murray-Darling river basin. He introduces us to the residents of this harsh land, tells their real stories, their memories, and their yarns. He covers the heartbreak of failing towns and farms, the determination and humor of the people who live there.

There are lessons in this book about water and how we use and abuse it. Hammer doesn’t preach, he gives us the differing opinions of the people living with the lack of water. Some of those lessons are relevant to the US as well as Australia.