Category Archives: setting

Lisa Gardner — Before She Disappeared

I’m a fan of Lisa Gardner, and Before She Disappeared is another well-written, character-driven mystery. I wouldn’t call it a thriller as advertised. Also, it’s called a “stand alone” novel, but my instincts tell me we will see more of protagonist Frankie Elkin.

Frankie is a white, middle-aged, recovering alcoholic, skinny wisp of a woman, who inserts herself into a Haitian neighborhood in Boston to find a missing teen girl. She stands out like a spot of bleach on dark cloth. She travels around working as a bartender, but her purpose in life is finding missing persons. She has found fourteen people but all after they died. Her passion is to bring one home alive.

Gardner defines her characters in detail and gives us insights to even minor players. I found Frankie courageous, tenacious, sometimes very likeable, sometimes totally irritating. Others in the story—Frankie’s boss, her Boston police connection, her AA friend, the missing girl’s family, the villains, and more—were all interesting personalities. Even the feral cat, Frankie’s roommate, has a personality and brings a touch of humor to a dark story.

The plot held my interest with twists and turns, but was somewhat slow in the beginning. Having lived in and around Boston most of my adult life, I loved the setting even though I’m not that familiar with Mattapan. Even though the neighborhood in the book is poor and sometimes violent, Gardner builds a feeling of community togetherness.

A very good story. Only my irritation with Frankie’s reckless actions and her obsessions with her past kept me from giving it five stars.

V.E. Schwab — The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

“Ideas are wilder than memories.”

Ideas—art, creativity, invention—can breed and grow and outlast memories and lives. Addie Larue makes a deal with Luc (short for Lucifer) and trades her soul for freedom. In 1714 she fights against forced marriage, against a life spent in her village as wife and mother tied to the will of others. She wants to see and experience the world. But in exchange for freedom she not only promises Luc her soul when she becomes tired of life, she’s cursed with not being able to leave a mark or to be remembered. She can’t speak her name. If she takes pen to paper, the mark disappears; if she builds a pile of stones, the stones move back from where she took them; when people leave a room and return, they don’t remember her. She is immortal, does not injure or become ill, remains forever young. But through the years she learns to implant ideas, and the idea of her lives on through music and art.

The story timeline jumps between NYC in 2014 and Addie’s past. She is a bright light experiencing joy and pain, discovery and loss, beauty and horror. The only consistent individual in her life is Luc, until 2014, when she meets Henry who remembers her and her name.

I’m not usually a fan of fantasy. Monsters and magic don’t intrigue me. But this is a book about the meaning of life. There are interesting characters, history, romance, mystery… I found it fascinating. I recommend it to all, fantasy lovers or not.

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.

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.