Monday, February 29, 2016

Quantum Night

Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer
Penguin Publishing Group: 3/1/16
eBook review copy; 368 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780425256831

Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer is a highly recommended science fiction novel set in the near future - with psychopaths, and philosophical zombies.

Jim Marchuk is a Canadian professor and experimental psychologist at the University of Manitoba who has developed a conclusive procedure to diagnose people as psychopaths. He lends his expertise to testify in a trial and during the trial he learns a disturbing fact about his life. As a result of this information, he discovers that he has lost his memories from six months of his life twenty years ago.

In his search to discover what happened to him during this time period he consults the professor who was his mentor, Menno  Warkentin. He was a subject in an experiment when he was a student that dealt with the nature of consciousness. He also reconnects with Kayla Huron. She was his girlfriend during his lost time. Now she is a quantum physicist who has made startling discoveries about the nature of human consciousness.

Jim and Kayla make some startling discoveries and Jim uncovers what happened in his past. What they are discovering about human consciousness is that there are many more psychopaths and philosophical zombies (humans who lack consciousness but have learned to mimic normal human behaviors, so, basically, they are on autopilot) than previously thought. There are only a few people who are fully aware with a consciousness.

As Jim learns more about what happened to him in the past and current events spiral out of control, Kayla and Jim face some difficult decisions regarding how or if they should use their new knowledge.

Sawyer is an accomplished writer who knows how to give his readers the science they need while keeping the plot flowing. He uses Jim's lectures to his class in-between chapters to help impart information about psychology and ethics that will be used in the novel. The science and research in the novel is based on fact and Sawyer includes a sizable section of further nonfiction reading that influence his plot and the research within the narrative. There are a few things that jump out of reality and are strictly imaginative ways to keep the action moving swiftly along.  

While there is plenty of thought provoking information in Quantum Night, you'll find humor in this novel too as well as plenty of geeky quotes and Star Trek references. There are more than a few shots taken at the USA, but sometimes, I'd have to admit, we have citizens whose actions and words bring that on ourselves. 

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the Penguin Publishing Group for review purposes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Passenger

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
Simon & Schuster: 3/1/16
eBook review copy. 320 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781451686630

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz is a very highly recommended fast-paced thriller about a woman on the run.

Tanya Dubois is her current identity, but one she's going to have to lose soon since her husband died after falling down the stairs. Tanya can't afford to have too many questions asked about her identity or too much scrutiny focused on her. She packs a bag, grabs what cash she can, hits the road and makes a few more withdrawals along the way until she reaches a dive motel where she can dye her hair and make a call on a pre-paid phone to someone from her past who apparently owes her a big favor. She asks him to send her more cash and a new identity so she can ditch her current name. Now she's on the run looking for a new start as Amelia.

The opening of Lutz's novel sets off at a break-neck paced and keeps it up until the end. Tanya, whose original name may have been "Jo," becomes "Amelia," "Debra," "Emma," "Sonia," and "Paige" while on the run. When she meets Blue, a bartender who recognizes the look of someone who is a fugitive, she gains a confidant - and eventually someone with whom she can swap identities to help them both out. Now she's Debra.

You never quite know if Tanya/Amelia/Debra, etc. is innocent or not. The ease in which she can slip into a new name and identity is disquieting, to say the least. Not many people could do that or have a clue how to do this, let alone actually know someone to call for cash and a new identity. What exactly went on in her past that she has this connection? Is she as innocent as she claims? It becomes more and more difficult to believe in her innocence, even as you are supporting her escape from one incident to another. Surely she must be a good person who has just been through some bad things, right? But when the man who sent a new identity also sends a couple of thugs to kill her, you will begin to ask "Exactly what was her original identity and what happened to make her run the first time?"

Adding to the intrigue are the emails she, as Jo, has been exchanging with Ryan, someone from her past, her hometown, and someone who is privy to the original reason she sought out a new identity. These were exchanged over years and are inserted in-between her current-on-the-lam activities.

Lutz does a brilliant job making you care about her protagonist. The writing is masterful, sharp and smart. The scenes are well-crafted and carefully plotted while keeping the quick pace, which encourages a sense of urgency while reading. The ending is very satisfying and worth the nail-biting that happened along the way. This is a perfect stuck-overnight-at-the-airport book. You'll be hugging your handbag closely and trying to keep tabs on your fellow travelers while racing to the end of this worthy thriller.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Simon & Schuster for review purposes.

The Good Liar

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle
HarperCollins: 2/2/16
eBook review copy; 352 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780062407498

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle is a highly recommended novel of suspense, secrets, and betrayals.

Roy Courtnay has met his latest target through a dating website and is having lunch with Betty McLeish, a wealthy widow. As the novel unfolds it becomes unmistakable that Roy, a lifelong confidence man now in his eighties, has chosen Betty as his latest and last target and plans to try and swindle or deceive her in some way. Quickly he inserts himself into Betty's life and moves in with her.

Roy's intentions are not good. This is distinctly evident because most of the novel deals with Roy's life. Searle alternates chapters from the present day with Roy and Betty to Roy's past, starting with the more recent past and going back in time. Roy's character, or lack thereof, is clearly portrayed over time. He is a con artist, but he is also a sociopath. The lies he has told are enumerated, his manipulation of others is revealed, his ill-intentions over the years are uncovered, and the scams he has pulled over the years are disclosed.

But Betty, when talking to Stephen, her grandson, makes remarks that leave subtle hints of an agenda of her own. It is not until Roy's story goes back far enough that Betty's hidden agenda is disclosed.

There is suspense in the present day story with Roy and Betty, but most of the novel is a character study of Roy while it divulges his past sins and schemes. The structure of The Good Liar, telling Roy's life story while moving back in time, is clever and interesting, but it started to drag-out too long for me and made the pace feel too slow. For me, the chapters dealing with Roy's past schemes could have been abbreviated and I would still have the information I needed about his character.

I found the current day situation between Roy and Betty much more intriguing than the numerous cons in Roy's past. However, the ending is well worth the wait and the final revelations are unexpected. Betty is the far more interesting character, but we learn so little about her until the end.

The writing is quite good in this debut novel. Fans of historical fiction may also enjoy this novel of suspense because of the flashbacks in time in Roy's life. 

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Work Like Any Other

Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves
Scribner: 3/1/16
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501112492
Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves is a highly recommended story of pride, bitterness, resentment, and guilt set in the 1920s.

Roscoe T Martin is at heart an electrician, a line man. He was working for the Alabama Power Company when he met and married Marie, who was a teacher. When Marie inherits her father's farm, Roscoe has to give up the job he loves to do a job he detests - farming. We know from the opening sentence that all will not go well, that a man will die. We also know that resentment is already deeply rooted in both Roscoe and Marie. 

Roscoe sees the power lines running near the farm and decides that, with the help of Wilson, a black man whose family manages the farm, he can set up his own lines and siphon off a little electricity to the farm. Roscoe knows that this will help with the farming and ultimately help the farm prosper. And his scheme works for a time. The farm does prosper and the tension in his relationship with Marie and their son, Gerald, eases.

But then the sheriff comes to their door one night and Roscoe is arrested for the death of a man who was electrocuted when checking out Roscoe's illegal lines and for the theft of the power. Wilson is also arrested. At this point Marie completely abandons her husband, blaming him for anything and everything that pops into her mind, past and present. She supports Wilson. Both men are convicted in separate trials and Roscoe is sent to Kilby prison to serve a twenty year sentence.

The narrative alternates between Roscoe's experiences in prison and those of life with Marie in the past and on the farm. Roscoe is clinging to the idea that Marie still loves him. He writes to her, even though she does not write now and did not attend or support him during his trial. His life in prison is brutal and violent, but he has his work in the dairy, at the prison library, and as a "dog boy." There are times when he dreams he is talking to a younger Marie while in prison.

Just as Roscoe was bitter about moving to the farm, Marie has a load of resentment and bitterness that she has been nurturing and building for years. Her bitterness overtakes her and she spreads it to her son. Roscoe did not intend to harm anyone - and the electricity did help the farm prosper - but once Roscoe is imprisoned, Marie is back to struggling and is unable to see beyond her pain. There is a world of pain in these people and much of the suffering is almost self-inflicted, although much is also brought to bear on Roscoe by others.

The writing is incredible in this novel. Reeves has a beautiful way with some of her descriptions which are almost too elegant for some of the harsh realities in her novel. Work Like Any Other sits firmly on the literary historical fiction shelf. (There is also quite a bit about electricity contained in Roscoe's musings.) The redemption in the description is found at the end, but perhaps not what you'd be expecting. It was a satisfying end for me, but this is still a deeply sad story that leaves a feeling of melancholy after you've read it. 

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Scribner for review purposes.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Under the Influence

Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard
HarperCollins: 2/23/16
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062257642 

Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard is a very highly recommended novel about a woman desperate for family. 

Helen is a photographer who works as a school portrait photographer. She lives for her son, Ollie and the weekends she gets to see him - if it all works out with her ex. Helen lost custody of Ollie three years ago after she was arrested for a DUI. She can tell Ollie is drifting away from her and yet she feels powerless to do anything about it. Since the DUI, she's been sober, but her ex won't believe it.

When Helen is working as a server for a catered gallery event one night, she meets Ava and Swift Havilland. Ava immediately takes Helen under her wing and befriends her. Ava and Swift are incredibly wealthy. Currently they have started a charity devoted to rescuing dogs. Ava is wheelchair bound, but she still seems bigger than life. Once Helen starts seeing Ava regularly and helping her, she becomes more and more enmeshed with their lives and their inner circle of friends.

When Ollie, 7 years old, actually gets to spend a weekend with Helen, she takes him over to their house and introduces him to Ava and Swift. Ollie is immediately entranced by Swift, who teaches him to swim in their pool and becomes a larger-than-life male role model in his young life. It seems that their life has done nothing but improve with Ava and Swift.

Helen muses in the opening "There had been a time when a day didn’t go by that I didn’t hear her voice. Nearly everything I did was directly inspired by what Ava told me, or didn’t even have to tell me, because I knew already what Ava would think, and whatever that was, that’s what I believed, too. (Then came a long, dark time after she cut me out of her world, and the hard reality of that betrayal became—second only to losing custody of my son—the defining fact of my life.) Losing Ava’s friendship had left me unable to remember who I might be anymore without her. As strong a force as her presence had created, her absence was stronger yet."

So, we know right from the start that something is going to go terribly wrong with this friendship, but it takes the whole book to reveal what happened. I was totally engrossed in this story from start to finish, speculating what was going to happen to cause the total loss of this friendship. Helen is exceptionally needy; she desperately wants the closeness of a family and Ava and Swift are fulfilling that role for her. But the question at the back of my mind while reading Under the Influence was: "What are Ava and Swift getting from this friendship and all their generosity? Can anyone be this altruistic?"

Yes, they are both very egocentric, but Helen seems to just to see their good point. Even when she meets a great guy, they discourage her relationship with him because he's best described as just nice and boring. Helen really likes him, but they discourage her relationship with anyone but them. I found this novel captivating as it explored what lengths people will go to to control others and demand exclusivity in friendships as their due while they protect their self-interests. 

Maynard is an incredibly talented writer. The slow unfolding of the complete story is well-paced. You know right from the start that something is going to happen and that alone will keep you reading as more and more is revealed. You will be guessing and second guessing what is going to happen. The character of Helen is wonderfully developed and written as if she is a real person, with flaws and shortcomings. Helen is not perfect, but you will know that she loves Ollie more than anything else.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.

We've Already Gone This Far

We've Already Gone This Far by Patrick Dacey
Henry Holt & Company: 2/16/16
eBook review copy; 224 pages
ISBN-13: 9781627794657

We've Already Gone This Far by Patrick Dacey is a highly recommended, impressive debut collection of 13 interconnected short stories. 

Most of the stories are set in the small town of Wequaquet, Massachusetts, or the characters are from Wequaquet. Several of the characters appear in more than one story, which enhances the effect of the individual stories and makes the emotional impact of the collection stronger when considering the whole collection in totality. There is a wistful poignancy in several of the stories - parts are funny and yet heartbreaking These stories deal with small town life, the reality and the tough times, the struggles and minor victories, the petty grievances and accomplishments but Dacey has compassion for his characters

The writing is superb is this collection.  I fully enjoyed the majority of the stories. There were only a couple stories that were a miss for me. 


Patriots: A neighbor closely watches and passes judgement on her neighbor across the street who has flags out to support the troops and her son. "[S]he’s a hairstylist—actually a haircutter. She works at Uppercuts, and what they did to my hair once was not styling."

To Feel Again the Kind of Love That Hurts Something Terrible: An alcoholic father drives his son, Kenny, to a date. His son seems to be on the autism spectrum. "He started over, from the beginning. Because it had to be right, or else everything would go wrong. Casanova! He stood up and walked over to the dying maple near the edge of the lawn. Leaves fell in the slight breeze. He plucked a few from the ground, crumpled them in his hand, and shoved the bits into his mouth. The orange ones tasted best. There weren’t many orange ones left."

Downhill: "Jasper was born blind. He’s four years old now and very curious. I make up a lot of things."A father tries to make the world exciting for his blind son.

Friend of Mine: Coach Linnehan shoots the bunnies playing in his yard while a young man watches. The two end up bonding during an odd day.

Never So Sweet: A young boy's uncle is killed and his girlfriend, Tutti, stays at their house.

Ballad:  A song writer talking to his baby. "it’s her birthday she doesn’t want a slit-your-wrists song and she doesn’t want some loopy gumball sing- along a ballad of course ballad in D too light ballad in E minor too dark ballad in C C to F to D C to F to G something’s missing C to F to A minor to G that’s it that makes sense there’s a balance there okay C to F to A minor to G for a while and squawking squawking why are you upset buddy why are you hiccuping now and that cute- as-hell... "

The Place You Are Going To: "Wallace Prager left Wequaquet early Sunday morning and drove three days straight, making good time to Buffalo Gap and Rapid City before heading south toward Casper, Wyoming." A man promises to send postcards to his daughter.

Mutatis Mutandis: A woman goes on a reality TV show for a complete cosmetic surgery makeover. "The reason why I went on The Dr. Jack Show in the first place? I wanted happiness. I thought maybe happiness had something to do with how I felt on the inside and how I felt on the inside had something to do with how I looked on the outside."

Acts of Love: Two men whose marriages are ending meet in a run-down apartment building.

Incoming Mail: A collection of letters a mother writes to her son who is fighting in Iraq.

Okay See You Soon Thanks for Coming: "Dad pulls up in his Lincoln Navigator with his new girlfriend, Roxy. She has spiky black and blond hair and makeup to match her hair and a loose blouse, so loose that when she breaks her heel in the pothole in the driveway, one of her big fake boobs pops out. Makes me laugh so hard I can barely breathe."

Frieda, Years Later: Leonard Putter is having trouble in his marriage and decides to take a secret vacation to see his high school girlfriend.

Lost Dog: This is the story of what happened to the woman's son in Iraq. "There are times when absolutely nothing is happening. That’s when you know something’s about to happen. You hear F-17s flying overhead, the sound like tearing paper."

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Henry Holt & Company for review purposes.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Profiteers

The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World by Sally Denton 
Simon & Schuster: 3/1/16
eBook review copy; 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476706467

The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World by Sally Denton is a highly recommended corporate/social/political account of the start and the growth of the global megacompany the Bechtel Corporation.

This is a biography of the privately owned Bechtel Company and the family who founded it. Originally founded in 1898 "Bechtel grew from a scrappy Nevada road-grading operation at the dawn of the twentieth century to the world's largest construction company." Bechtel prides itself as the company that can "build anything, any place, any time." Their ability to tackle seemingly impossible projects in inhospitable locations and forbidding landscapes began when they constructed the Hoover Dam. Through five generations they have shown both incredible technological ingenuity and major industry innovations. 

From the Hoover Dam to projects in the Mojave Desert to the Persian Gulf, Bechtel has tackled the big, impossible projects for years. They have handled the Channel Tunnel, and the Big Dig. They have to constructed airports, power plants, and entire cities. Bechtel carted away the wreckage of the World Trade Center and rebuilt Iraq. They have harnessed the planet's natural resources, including hydroelectric, oil, coal, water, nuclear power, natural gas, and geothermal power.

Denton lays down a foundation for the combination of influence peddling combined with a base corporate craving for power by Bechtel. Rather than a completely impartial fact-based account very occasionally Denton's arguments for Bechtel's control over Washington become a bit too much of a stretch and aren't backed by absolute tenable connections. In a few cases the narrative veers into verbal machinations that seem to indicate a personal loyalty to political party connections and the motive of individuals has been assumed to be unpropitious.

However, clearly there are enough connections, and certain arguments are based by enough facts to raise concerns. It is alarming to read the account of the number of individuals in government who have ties to the Bechtel Company and have worked for them while still in government over the years. Denton explores the strong connections of the company to the government and how they have been "inextricably enmeshed" in U.S. foreign policy for seven decades.  Much of their work involves government contracts. Denton outlines their influence peddling through their government connections. While no one at Bechtel cooperated with Denton, they did deny any influence peddling.

The narrative also includes information about the Jonathan Pollard espionage case. Pollard passed classified information to Israel about neighboring Middle Eastern countries and received what many people think was an overly harsh sentence. Several Bechtel executives/Washington insiders may have been involved in his punitive sentence. (Or it could be simple the sentence was harsh because Pollard was passing intelligence information to another country.)

This is very well written and researched and should be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys contemporary U.S. history, and political science. Denton includes extensive notes, bibliography, and an index.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Simon & Schuster for review purposes.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Widow

The Widow by Fiona Barton
Berkley Publishing Group: 2/16/16
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101990261

The Widow by Fiona Barton is a highly recommended debut novel of suspense that begs the question: "How well do you really know your spouse?

Jean Taylor is a widow. Her husband Glen was recently killed when he stumbled and fell in front of a bus. Really, the accident was for the best because their lives have been a living hell lately. Glen was a suspect in the 2006 abduction of a two year old girl, Bella, the daughter of a single mother, Dawn. Jean has resolutely stood by Glen and supported him for years, through it all, even as the police are questioning both of them and watching their every move. She is there for him through the trial. And she has listened to Glen's advice and has endured the press hounding them, the public hating them.

Now that Glen has died, Jean should feel free to speak her mind. When reporter Kate Waters wrangles her into agreeing to an exclusive story and whisks her away to a nice hotel so they have the privacy to talk, Jean seemingly has been conned into disclosing her secrets. But Jean may have her own agenda, one that no one really understands or suspects.

DI Bob Sparks had been working on the case of missing Bella for months until he gets a tip that leads him to Glen Taylor. He is pursuing the case with a no-holds-barred focus. Could his resolute determination to make a case against Glen be too intense and single-minded?

The majority of the story in Barton's novel is told through these three characters in alternating characters:  the widow, Jean Taylor; the journalist,  Kate Waters; the detective, Bob Sparks. The story unfolds slowly. Jean stands steadfast by Glen, trying to ignore what she calls his "nonsense."

You are going to suspect that there is more to the story, and the details are slow to be revealed but the promise that you know they are coming will keep you reading. Barton does a great job with character and plot development. This is no huge surprise here (No Gone Girl as the cover suggested), but as the novel progresses more and more information is revealed and the suspicions begin to slowly add up, the questions will begin to multiply too. Everything culminated in a very satisfactory ending.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Berkley Publishing Group for review purposes.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Northwoods by Bill Schweigart
Random House: 2/16/16
eBook review copy; 277 pages
ISBN-13: 9780804181372

Northwoods by Bill Schweigart is a highly recommended monster novel with an X-Files vibe set in Northern Minnesota. This is another great novel to read under a blanket with a warm beverage nearby. Northwoods is the second novel in a series that started with The Beast of Barcroft, but you can read it as a stand-alone novel. I predict that you will want to get The Beast of Barcroft. I know I immediately bought the first book for my Kindle.

It's October and as winter approaches Davis Holland, ex-Delta Force who now works for the Customs and Border Protection, is investigating an illegal border crossing with his friend Gil Ramsey, the local sheriff of Barnabus, Minnesota. Located by the western edge of the Superior National Forest and south of Crane Lake and the Canadian Border, Barnabus is a very small town surrounded by rugged wilderness.  What Davis and Gil discover in the woods is beyond belief. There is a strange chest surrounded by the bloody bodies of seven men that have been torn apart. But there is also strange laughter coming from the woods. As Davis and Gil head back to their vehicle with the chest, they are nearly attacked by something... but what remains unclear.

When wealthy cryptozoologist Richard Severance learns about the incident, he sends Ben McKelvie (who is still looking for the New Jersey Devil with his Maine Coon cat, Gus), Lindsay Clark (a National Zoologist and Ben's best friend), and Alex Standingcloud (George Mason University’s professor of Native American Indigenous Studies and Ojibwe) to Minnesota to investigate. Ben, Lindsay, and Alex have a history together. They were in on another investigation and almost killed by a shapeshifter, a mythical creature from Native American folklore (The Beast of Barcroft). That experience wounded and changed all of them, but also opened them up to believe that cryptids are out there.

Severance sends his team to the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin to investigate the Monster of Madeline Island. The Natives call it Mishipeshu, which means underwater panther. There also appears to be another problem - a wendigo problem. A windigo is another manitou, a spiritual being like the Mishipeshu, but unlike Mishipeshu, which is neither good nor evil, a wendigo is decidedly malevolent.

The action eventually joins the two locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin together to tackle the problem that is much bigger, widespread, and bloody than they could have imagined. Be forewarned that there are some gruesome, graphic descriptions of violent attacks, as one would expect in an encounter with mythical monsters.

Schweigart does an excellent job moving the action along quickly while providing the reader with the important information and background needed to follow the action. There are some great descriptions, numerous nail-biting scenes, and plenty of suspense and horror. Clearly Schweigart is establishing a new series here and it looks like it's going to be a winner.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House/Hydra for review purposes.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Girl in the Dark

Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw
HarperCollins: 2/16/16
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062424792

Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw is a very highly recommended thriller/mystery told through the distinct voices of two different characters. This is Pauw's American debut novel.

The first character we meet is Ray Boelens. Ray was convicted and imprisoned for killing his neighbor Rosita Angeli and her four-year-old daughter, Anna. He's now being moved to a forensic psychiatric institute. It is clear that Ray is on the Autism spectrum and has a difficult time with emotions and reading the motives of others.

Iris Kaselstein struggles with her job as a lawyer and being a single mother to three-year-old Aaron. Aaron has some behavioral issues and Iris is doing the best she can to care for him while still working. Luckily her law firm allows her to work part time. It is challenging when a call from Aaron's daycare necessitates halting an interview with a client. The client's family has long-time ties with the firm, so even though he is a sleaze-bag facing charges for using an underage teenager in a porn film Iris still has to represent him. She tries to call her mother to pick up Aaron, but Iris's mother is a cold and distant self-centered woman who will rarely disrupt her plans for others.

When Iris inadvertently uncovers information that leads to her discovery that Ray is her brother, she sets out to gather information on him and meet with him. Ray is insistent that he is innocent and did not kill anyone. Iris decides to investigate his case, hoping it will lead to an appeal.

In the meantime her mother, who never said a thing to Iris about an older brother, is now trying to discourage Iris's involvement with Ray. She insists that Iris does not know Ray and what he is capable of doing. Unable to handle his outbursts, she put him in a home for troubled boys at age nine. Although she apparently used to sneak off and visit Ray for years, she stopped years previously. She resolutely refuses to discuss anything about Ray with Iris.

None of this deters Iris who doggedly continues her investigation into Ray's crime, as well as why her mother would hide his existence from her and apparently from her deceased father.

Ray is having his own struggles as her tries to cope being in the criminal psychiatric unit. He didn't know he had a sister, but Iris continues to visit him and work on his case.

I really enjoyed the alternating points of view as each character shared their stories and their thoughts. I thought Pauw did an excellent job pulling this off while keeping the voices true to the characters. The characters are well developed and believable.

Girl in the Dark is fast-paced and compulsively readable. It kept my rapt attention from beginning to end. I was a girl in the dark about what had really happened until almost the end. I had an "Ah-ha!" moment very close to the end and raced to finish the novel ASAP to see if I was right. Hopefully we'll be reading more of Pauw's work in the future. Wonderful stuck-over-night-at-the-airport book!

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
HarperCollins for review purposes.

Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbø
Knopf Doubleday: 2/16/16
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385354202

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbø is a very highly recommended novel about a man on the run in this second book in the new series that started with Blood on Snow.

Jon Hansen is on the run from the Fisherman, a powerful crime boss in Oslo. When Jon takes a bus and gets off at Kåsund, located on Norway’s far northeastern border in the Arctic Circle, he tells everyone his name is Ulf and he's there for hunting. After spending the first night in the village church, he learns about a hunter's cottage from Lea, the woman who came to clean the church. She loans him her husband's rifle and with the help of her son Knut, a talkative nine-year-old, he finds it and sets up camp.

The locals clearly know he's on the run from someone and is not there for the hunting. The area is isolated and dominated by the Laestadians, a strict Christian sect that Lea and Knut follow, and the Sami culture.

After falling into working for The Fisherman as a fixer, Jon's true nature is revealed when he fails to kill the man he was told to fix and accepts from him the money the man owed the Fisherman. Jon is an anti-hero. He needs money to help pay for the cancer treatment for his daughter. He's a small-time drug dealer who has never killed anyone, although the Fisherman believes he has.  Now he has Johnny Moe, a ruthless fixer for the Fisherman who has no compunctions about killing anyone, after him.

Jon finds himself becoming increasingly concerned about what might happen to the people who are helping him and befriending him in this new, environment - the land of the midnight sun. He wants redemption, but isn't sure if it is at all possible for him to atone for his actions. He knows that with the Fisherman there is no way to disassociate himself and withdraw from any involvement except through his death.

Nesbø excels at character development and this continues to provide the dark Scandinavian noir that you would expect from him. Although it is still grim, this novel is less dark and violent than previous novels. The novel is set in the 1970's, which simplifies the plot when you subtract our hyper-connected society with computers and cell phones. Nesbø keeps the tension high with this short (for him) novel. As you are reading you will keep expecting something bad to happen on the next page, because, naturally, you know something will happen.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Find Her

Find Her by Lisa Gardner
Penguin Publishing Group: 2/9/16
eBook review copy; 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525954576
Detective D. D. Warren Series #8
Find Her by Lisa Gardner is a very highly recommended thriller/mystery that should keep you biting your nails while on the edge of your seat.
Seven years ago college student Flora (Florence) Dane was kidnapped while on spring break in Florida. For 472 days she was held captive by Jacob Ness, a sadistic rapist and sexual predator. Many of those days were spent locked up in a wooden coffin-like box. While many thought she was dead, her mother never gave up hope, although, in reality, the old Flora did die. The woman who returned after the FBI rescued her was not the same woman who was kidnapped.

The returned Flora has taken self-defense classes and is obsessed with survival techniques so she will never become a victim again. When she engages in some risky behavior and is kidnapped by a new predator, Devon Goulding, he has no idea who he is dealing with. The police are called in when Devon ends up dead. Flora is found at the scene, naked, her hands tied, and not talking except when she demands to call FBI victim specialist, Dr. Samuel Keynes. He helped her after her first abduction and he comes to her aid again as he attempts to explain her situation to the police.

The investigation is led by Boston detective D. D. Warren, who is on restricted duty. Warren can't help but visit the scene and take an active role in the investigation. Once she learns of Flora's past, question arise about Flora's current situation. Is she looking for trouble or is she looking for something else? And why is Keynes still so involved with Flora?

Then Flora ends up missing and Warren fears her disappearance may be tied into another missing girl. Stacey Summers disappeared three months earlier and Flora has taken a keen interest in the case. Warren works with Keynes and Flora's mother to try and understand what happened to Flora and if it is related to the other missing girl.

Keep the subject matter in mind when considering this gritty novel. This is a dark, frightening novel due to the subject matter and the insights into the psychology of sadistic sexual predators and capture-bonding or the Stockholm Syndrome. Gardner also explores the psychology of victims and survivors of violent crime. Flora is both a victim and a survivor. She is also may be irreparably damaged from her 472 days of captivity and what she endured during that time.

The novel alternates between the present day investigation, Flora's current situation, and the events that occurred earlier when Flora was held by Jacob Ness. Flora is a great protagonist and you will be hoping she can survive and perhaps find a modicum of peace and reach a resolution to help her live in the present after everything she has endured.

Great writing, increasing tension, and a fast pace make this a perfect stuck-over-night-at-the-airport book. This is a stand-alone novel so it won't matter if you haven't read a D.D. Warren book in Gardner's series.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Penguin Publishing Group for review purposes.

The Bigness of the World

The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund
Scribner reissue: 2/16/16
eBook review copy: 232 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501117879
originally published in 2009

The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund is a highly recommended award winning collection of eleven short stories originally published in 2009. This review copy is for the eBook and the paperback release. As a debut collection, The Bigness of the World, received the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the California Book Award for First Fiction, and the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award. It was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, was a Lambda finalist, and was named a Notable Book by The Short Story Prize.

Contents include: The Bigness of the World; Bed Death; Talking Fowl with My Father; The Day You Were Born; Nobody Walks to the Mennonites; Upon Completion of Baldness; And Down We Went; Idyllic Little Bali; Dr. Daneau’s Punishment; The Children Beneath the Seat; All Boy; an Excerpt from 'After the Parade.'

Common themes presented are emotional isolation and reserve, separation, complex and deteriorating relationships, disappointments, the loss of love, and the pain of loss. Many of the damaged relationships depicted are either between two women or children and parents. In many stories the women involved are teaching in foreign countries. There is a similarity in the characters and the circumstances in several of the stories which can feel repetitive.

All of the stories are exquisitely well written but, honestly, all of the stories are also profoundly sad, or at least they left me feeling sad and reflecting on the loss and isolation that is present in these fragile lives. It might behoove the reader to take these little gems one at a time, and take a break between reading them. An excellent collection, but the emotional heaviness it leaves you with begs considering refraining from reading them all at once. This would also help with the feeling that several stories are very similar to each other and simply repeating the same theme in a slightly different way.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Scribner for review purposes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Breaking Wild

Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets
Penguin Publishing Group: 2/9/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780425283783

Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets is a highly recommended novel of survival and suspense featuring two different women. 

Amy Raye Latour has left her husband with the two children at home while she is on a hunting weekend with two male friends in western Colorado. The guys have gotten their elk, but Amy Raye is a bow hunter and she is still going out one last time on her own, hoping to get an elk to come near enough for her to shoot and bag. What she doesn't realize is how tenuous her situation really is and the importance of her choices - now and in her past.

Pru Hathaway is a archaeological law enforcement ranger with the Bureau of Land Management. She has a teenage son she is raising herself. She also has the only certified search and rescue dog in the county, Kona. When Colm, the county sheriff, tells her of a missing hunter, Amy Raye, Pru and Kona join the search. As the days turn into weeks and the official search is over, Pru alone keeps thinking about Amy Raye and continues the search.

The chapters of this mesmerizing book alternate between the lives of Amy Raye and Pru. We learn what is currently going on and what has happened in the past; what has made them the strong women they are today. Both women have had sorrow and loss in their lives, but they chose to handle it differently. Amy Raye was hiding plenty of secrets and is a seriously flawed character. What they have in common is a love for the healing nature of nature, whether it is the land, or animals. 

The writing is incredible and brings to life the characters and establishes the setting. It is nice the see strong, albeit flawed, women living, striving, enduring, and surviving on their own terms in what could be termed a man's world. Amy Raye's situation is life threatening and Pru is a strong, determined, capable woman. 

The ending was... rather anti-climactic after all the drama preceding it. Actually, I would have liked to learn more about Pru's life afterward. I quite liked her character, which is in strong contrast to how I felt about Amy Raye. While she has some qualities that could be appreciated, her back story turned me off and I was growing tired of reading about her poor choices. I really enjoyed Les Becuets' writing and hope to read more from her in the future.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the Penguin Publishing Group for review purposes.

The Flood Girls

The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield
Gallery Books: 2/2/16
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476797380

The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield is a highly recommended novel about strong women and one young gay boy in small town Montana.

Rachel Flood fled Quinn, Montana (population 956), nine years earlier. Now she is sober, and looking to make amends and atone for her drunk, promiscuous, out-of-control behavior that alienated most citizens of this small town. Rachel's father has died and left her his dilapidated trailer, so she is ignoring the advice of her Alcoholic Anonymous sponsor and is moving back to Quinn and into his trailer. The one person who she is really desperate to mend her relationship with is her mother, Laverna Flood, owner of a bar named The Dirty Shame and coach of a women's softball team.

Once Rachel moves in she meets her neighbor and becomes friends with 12 year old Jake. Jake loves wearing the right, perfectly stylish and well-coordinated outfit for every occasion. Jake was also her father's friend. Her father even built a shed to house Jake's wardrobe. It seems natural that Rachel and Jake would understand each other and strike up a friendship. Rachel used to be best friends with Jake's mom, Krystal, but she's taken up with her live-in loser boyfriend Bert, and the new baby.

As fate would have it, Laverna is incapacitated and Rachel ends up taking a day shift at The Dirty Shame to help her mother. Even worse than that, she is recruited to play on the Flood Girls team despite the fact that she doesn't play ball. The Flood Girls is the name of the team coached by Laverna.

The town of Quinn is populated by a quirky group of citizens known by their nicknames (Black Mabel, Red Mabel, Martha Man Hands, Bucky, Jim number 3) or their family's last name. At night roving gangs of drunken, pugnacious lesbian silver miners drink hard and cause trouble at The Dirty Shame. Drinking seems to be the main recreation - that is until soft ball season starts.

This is a funny, well written, entertaining look at an odd small town and its inhabitants. Fifield brings the development of his larger-than-life characters to fruition and as he covers basically a year in this small town.

I'm torn on rating this book. While reading I was actually becoming a bit disturbed by the overt stereotypes used to describe the diverse cast of characters, The lesbian miners are all big, tough  women, wear flannel, drink excessively, and fight. Jake is gay so he loves clothes, ironing, sewing, and fashion. The church people are all described as if they are from some plain-sect. The church women all dress alike in modest home-sown blouses made from the same pattern, wear denim skirts, and no make-up, naturally. The men in short sleeve button down shirts with ties.

Setting the stereotypes aside, I did find The Flood Girls enjoyable. The ending is shocking and memorable. In some ways it feels out of place in this novel that was more wacky-small-town-life rather than the dark side. I'm going with 4 stars because of the blatant stereotypes, but I have a feeling I will be remembering this book for the ending.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Gallery Books for review purposes.