Tuesday, February 20, 2024

After Annie

After Annie by Anna Quindlen
2/27/24; 304 pages
Random House

After Annie by Anna Quindlen is an outstanding breathtaking and heartbreaking depiction of a family dealing with the untimely death of a wife and mother over the span of a year. It is a very highly recommended, exceptional literary family drama and not to be missed. One of the best. I loved this book.

When Annie Brown, 37, dies suddenly, she leaves behind her husband Bill, who is a plumber, and four children Ali (Alexandra)13, Ant (Anthony) 11,  Benjy (Benjamin) 8, and James 6. She also leaves behind her best friend since childhood, Annemarie. No one knows how they can move forward without Annie. Bill is overwhelmed and forfeits much of his parental responsibility to Ali, who tries to step up and care for everyone as best she can. Ali carries the weight and tries to keep her family going. Ant is angry and acting out, Benjy begins wetting the bed, and James thinks his mom will still be coming home. Annemarie, a recovering addict due to Annie's help, is struggling with staying clean and sober.

Quindlen is an extraordinary writer who can deftly handle the subject matter accurately and with compassion. Anyone who has had an untimely death in their family will understand the emotional struggles this family is going through while trying to keep living their day to day lives. It is a deeply moving, emotionally charged story. Even when it seems not a lot of action is going on in the plot, those who have experienced this will know moving on after a death is like climbing a mountain every day. It is exhausting and overwhelming.

The narrative is broken up into seasons, winter, spring, summer, and autumn, and explores the inner life and practicalities of how each character is handling the loss of a person who held them all together. The characters are portrayed as fully-realized, complex, and realistic individuals who are trying to continue living. Annie is present in their thoughts and her backstory is told through them. The story is primarily told through Bill, Annmarie, and Ali. They are all faced with imagining life without Annie when she was a central part of their lives.

Be prepared to cry as the characters learn to live life without someone they loved. Yes, it is very sad, but there is hope in their memories as well as their struggles. This is a very emotionally satisfying story. It is okay and good to grieve those you love. Thanks to Random House for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Three-Inch Teeth

Three-Inch Teeth by C. J. Box
2/27/24; 384 pages
Penguin, G.P. Putnam's Sons
Joe Pickett Series #24

"Mature grizzlies tend to have two- to four-inch claws and up to three-inch teeth."

Three-Inch Teeth by C. J. Box has Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett facing a rampaging bear and enraged human. It is a very highly recommended  procedural/mystery and 24th addition to the popular, long running series.

When a grizzly kills Clay Hutmacher Jr., Sheridan Pickett's boyfriend, while he was out fly-fishing, Clay Sr. finds his son's body and immediately calls game warden Joe Pickett. It is clear what happened to Clay Jr. so Joe summons the Predator Attack Team. Normally they are successful in tracking and eliminating large predators who have attacked a human, but this time one of the team is attacked. As attacks begin to happen across the area, Joe is concerned that this bear is eluding everyone looking for it.

What Joe doesn't know is that Dallas Cates, a man he helped lock up years ago, has been released from prison. Cates has a list of six people that he plans to eliminate. Both Joe and Nate Romanowski are on the list of people he blames for the death of his family and he wants revenge.

The writing is excellent, as expected, and the pages just flew by in this tension packed installment of the series. I was actually surprised at the page count because it went by so fast. Fans of the series will know all the characters and their backstories but those new to the series will still be able to appreciate the finely tuned, fast-paced plot while meeting the characters. Once you read this you will want to read more books in the series.

The narrative alternates between Joe and Cates, which helps build suspense and a sense of urgency. Readers will begin to put clues together long before Joe, and Marybeth, his wife, begin to have an inkling of what may be happening. Sheridan also makes a surprising discovery when out on a job. Three-Inch Teeth is un-put-downable and will keep you engrossed right to the surprising and shocking ending. I can't wait for the next Joe Pickett novel! Thanks to G.P. Putnam's Sons for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace: A National Parks Thriller by A. J. Landau
2/27/24; 352 pages
Minotaur Books

Leave No Trace: A National Parks Thriller by A. J. Landau follows a series of terrorist attacks at National Parks. It is a recommended thriller by Jon Land and Jeff Ayers, writing as A. J. Landau.

When an explosion takes place on Liberty Island and topples the Statue of Liberty, Special Agent Michael Walker of the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch is called by his boss and sent to New York. In spite of his lack of a security clearance, Walker ends up working with FBI Special Agent Gina Delgado. Delgado has been placed in charge of the investigation as the lead of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Walker does find a boy, Danny, who has crucial information about the attack and must be protected. It quickly becomes clear that more attacks are planned against other national cultural symbols by some radical domestic terrorist group.

The riveting start of this domestic terrorism thriller takes off at a breathless pace and will quickly grab your complete attention. The first part of the novel had all the qualities of a very highly recommended thriller. As the action continues, however, some of the initial momentum is lost when the investigation leave New York and expands to other national parks. The short chapters jumping between characters and action probably don't help as they add additional secondary characters and action. As I continued reading there would be chapters that grabbed my attention again, but they were followed by some that lessened the intensity of my interest. It was also a bit of a let down when the antagonists were identified too early in the narrative as well as the excessive personal commentary being inserted in the story. 

One plus is that the opening of all the 98 chapters have an interesting fact about one of the various national parks across the country. These were all engaging diversions and represented one of the better parts of the whole novel. This is the first of a new series and I would definitely read the second book in the series based on the pluses in Leave No Trace. Thanks to Minotaur Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion. 3.5 rounded down

Studies at the School by the Sea

Studies at the School by the Sea by Jenny Colgan
3/26/24; 288 pages
HarperCollins
School by the Sea #4

Studies at the School by the Sea by Jenny Colgan is highly recommended. As a Whole, the whole series of four School by the Sea books are very highly recommended.

Maggie Adair loves teaching at the prestigious Downey House boarding school in Cornwall and she is sure she loves David, a teacher at the inner city Philip Dean school. After she had to cancel a summer vacation with him and returned home to Scotland due to an emergency, Maggie is hoping to continue her relationship with David, however, she is also misses the idea of a different life back in Scotland. Maggie's favorite students are back,  Fliss, Alice, Simone, and Isme, and bring with them their individual struggles as they finally finish their studies at the school by the sea.

Fans of the series will applaud another addition to the series. Studies at the School by the Sea is an entertaining, quirky story, but not my favorite book in the series. New readers need to know that this series is best read in order and the individual books won't work well as stand-alone novels. The first book in the series, Welcome to the School by the Sea, was my favorite in the series. The second and third books are Rules at the School by the Sea, and Lessons at the School by the Sea. a good final novel to end the series with, even though there are a few cliff hangers. Now, apparently, there is news that there will be a fifth book in the series.  This novel was reviewed in partnership with my mother who is a big fan of the author. Thanks to HarperCollins for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses our honest opinion.

The Rumor Game

The Rumor Game by Thomas Mullen
2/27/24; 368 pages
Minotaur Books

The Rumor Game by Thomas Mullen is a highly recommended historical mystery set in Boston during WWII. It is 1943 and reporter Anne Lemire is investigating disinformation while FBI agent Devon Muvey is preventing industrial sabotage.

Annie Lemire writes the newspaper column The Rumor Clinic. In it she debunks various seditious rumors, gossip, and disinformation running rampant around town. Although her editor isn't interested in the story, Anne is also investigating antisemitic assaults on teens by Irish gangs and printed propaganda being spread around the city. Special FBI Agent Devon Mulvey is investigating national security concerns including the fatal stabbing of an employee of Northeast Munitions, Abraham Wolff. Their investigations lead them to meet each other. It turns out they knew each other as children. More importantly, their investigations actually converge and careen toward dangerous connections to organized crime, espionage, and domestic subversion.

Mullen's does an excellent job capturing the historical details and atmosphere in the setting, which is essential to the plot. All the actions the characters undertake and all the areas of Boston they encounter reflect the city and the times in which they live. This is a mystery that also explores the use of disinformation and power to control the people enmeshed in the struggle for domination. Although the action does move at a slower pace through much of the beginning of the novel, the last quarter mark a gripping turn and a heart-stopping pace.

The narrative is consistently interesting throughout the novel. There are several mysteries and questions that need to be answered and it is the search for all the answers through the investigations undertaken by Anne and Devon that will hold your attention even when the pace feels slow. The interest is in seeing the intersection of the two complicated investigations and anticipating the merging of them. The romance between Anne and Devon is secondary to the action and intrigue they are embroiled in investigating. Thanks to Minotaur Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Other Valley

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard
2/27/24; 304 pages
Atria Books

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard is a literary speculative fiction novel which puts a new spin on time travel. It is highly recommended.

Sixteen-year-old Odile Ozanne knows her current reality is life in the town in the valley where she lives. She also knows that beyond the mountains to the west is the same town 20 years in the past, while to the east is the same town 20 years in the future and as far as she knows this pattern repeats ad infinitum. The border between the towns are well-fenced, carefully patrolled, and heavily guarded.  In each town, the governing body called the Conseil are the only ones who can approve a visit to the past or the future.

When Odile recognizes two visitors from the future that she wasn't to see, she realizes the implications for her friend Edme. After Odile is accepted to compete for a apprentice position for a coveted seat on the Conseil, she is also talked to about her observations of the visitors and it is made clear that she must preserve the timeline and not intervene. 

The Other Valley is a literary novel in a unique setting. It is a beautifully written examination of the substance of fate versus free will, grief and love, within a coming-of-age story that turns into a larger exploration of ethics and power. It does feel slow moving, however, and the lack of quotation marks is likely is the culprit for the lack of smooth reading progression as readers have to sort out the conversations for themselves.

The novel is divided into two sections, Odile at sixteen and at thirty-six, and Odile is the narrator. She is a sympathetic character who is always introspective. The tone of the first part of the story is more promising while the second part is rather morose. This could be an excellent choice for thoughtful book clubs.

Science fiction aficionados may find some time travel continuity problems in The Other Valley. Concentrating on Odile's story and simply going along with the plot will allow you to overcome any questions. The final denouement is very satisfying. Thanks to Aria Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Under the Storm

Under the Storm by Christoffer Carlsson
2/27/24; 416 pages

Random House

Under the Storm by Christoffer Carlsson is a highly recommended Nordic noir procedural with excellent character development. It is translated from the original Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles.

In the rural community of Marbäck, Sweden on November, 1994, a farmhouse burns down with a young woman, Lovisa, inside. The autopsy reveals she was murdered before the fire was purposefully set. The investigation focuses on her boyfriend, Edvard Christensson, after officer Vidar Jörgensson finds evidence and Edvard passed out nearby. The overwhelming opinion is that Edvard is a Christensson and violent just like his father. Edvard's nephew, seven-year-old Isak Nyqvist, who loves his uncle, cannot believe he did it, but Edvard is found guilty and sent to prison, so it must be true. This fact leaves Isak feeling like he is cursed by the same bloodlines and doomed to be violent.

Police officer Vidar is initially proud of his role in the case, but later begins to have doubts over Edvard's guilt and secretly begins to investigate the crime again. Meanwhile, Isak feels his life is preordained and that Vidar is always watching him, looking for Isak's guilt in one thing or another.

The novel is broken into three parts. The first part opens in November 1994 into 1995, and follows the original investigation and the beginning of Isak's doubts about himself. The second is 9 years later, in 2004 and follows Vidar's questioning the original investigating as he quietly reexamines the case. This time period leads up to when Hurricane Gudrun slams into Sweden. Isak is just turning eighteen and still believe genetics have doomed him to be violent, like his uncle, like his grandfather.  The third is set in 2017, twelve years later, when the truth is finally revealed.

The novel shines in the character development and psychological insight into the characters of Isak and Vidar. Both characters are fully realized. They struggle with relationships and doubts. The case impacts and has consequences in both of their lives. Isak's story is especially heartbreaking.

Under the Storm does take a very measured pace in both the plot and the action. This makes it a slow-moving novel, however this deliberate pace leaves room for the atmospheric descriptions, psychological insights, and the development of the characters to take the forefront as the whole story progresses thoughtfully to a satisfying conclusion. Thanks to Random House for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.