S.J. Bolton is rocking it for me

sjb_polaroids_8bitMy husband discovered a new author at the library in S.J. Bolton, who writes the Detective Lacey Flint series.  His description of the main character was really ringing a bell… and yep, I had Now You See Me, the first book in the series, on my Kindle.  I re-read it.  Thumbs up.  Complicated female character, tense (and bloody) plot featuring a serial killer – in fact, maybe LACEY’s the serial killer.  Plus there’s a dishy fellow cop who may or may not be romantically involved with their mutual female boss, so there’s that little box of fun checked.  Ooh.

Second book in the series is Dead Scared.  This one’s got Lacey undercover at university, where there is an unusually high number of suicides among the prettier coeds.  (Sorry for the spoiler, obviously Lacey was not actually the serial killer, after all.)  Very tense.  Who’s driving them over the edge?  And why is the dishy colleague shouting to Lacey that he loves her, right at the end of the book?

Third book is Lost.  This one is enlivened by an additional character’s POV – 10 year old Barney Roberts.  You’ll get to know Barney, grow fond of Barney, want to smack Barney’s dad upside the head… all while 10-0ld-boys in the area are being abducted and horrifically murdered.  But by whom?  Could it be Barney’s dad?  Barney himself?  Barney’s missing mother?  Very tense ending, but a little “what the heck?”   Lost is scary and worth reading, but not quite as pulled-together as the first two.

And then there is #4 in the series, A Dark and Twisted Tide.  It’s brand new and not yet read by me, but I’ve got high hopes, so I’ll check back in later.  There are also several standalone books (yay!).

As an author, Bolton reminds me of Mo Hayder… and if you know how much I love Mo, you know that is high praise indeed.   To learn more about Mo, click here.  And for more about S.J. Bolton, try her author website!  Well worth clicking around.

Harry Hole.

JonesboI’ve been on a Jo Nesbo kick lately, initiated by a visit to a Milwaukee used bookstore where a grimy stack of Harry Hole thrillers at unbelievably low prices called my name.   Hole, for the uninitiated, is an icon in crime fiction – the quintessential outsider, alcoholic and drug addict, somehow always in control even when out of control, inspiring loyalty and scorn in equal measure, taking an amazing amount of physical abuse while suffering most from emotional blows.  Sounds like a drag, right?  But readers are sucked in to the Harry vortex, happily turning pages well into the night, and starting the next book within hours (or even moments) of finishing the previous one.  You can find a list of all ten books on Nesbo’s website.  My strong recommendation, if you’re new to Harry, is to read them in order.  They stand up well if you don’t – each is fully realized on its own – but you’ll be creating spoilers galore.

They’re all good, compulsively readable, densely plotted with interesting characters (particularly the villains).  Roger Ebert said that you can always figure out the bad guy in movies because he’s the one that has no real reason for being in the film.  (He calls it The Law of Economy of Characters.) The neighbor who takes in the protagonist’s cat.  The main character’s best friend from high school.  The doorman that is in a few too many scenes, when there’s no real reason for the building to even HAVE a doorman.  And so on.  Also true in poorly written crime fiction or mysteries.

This never happens in a Harry Hole book… there are always plenty of potential bad guys and even when it turns out to be someone very close to Harry, it’s still a complete shock.  Read The Snowman, my current fave, if you want to experience this yourself.


Paul Bettany

Rachel Weisz

Rachel Weisz

And Hollywood’s come knocking for Harry… interestingly, with The Snowman.  Scorsese was expected to direct, but I see now that has changed.  No cast announcements have been made, although fans are suggesting Paul Bettany or Alexander Skarsgard, and I totally see Rachel Weisz as Rakel.




Recently Read Mini-Reviews

I don’t always have the time to do a full review of all the books I read!   Still, I would like to comment on many, if only to give a whole-hearted recommendation for some, a word of caution on others, or perhaps a “don’t waste your time.”   All three featured today are “go for it.”

PersonalLeeChildPersonal is the new Jack Reacher novel from a long-time fave.  I’ve read every Lee Child book since the first one (The Killing Floor), and have reviewed a few (here, here, and sorta here).  Am I fan?  Yep.  I bought it in hardback at my local indie bookstore.  (To be fair, I know my husband will probably want to read it, too, so it cuts the price by 50%.  Or so I tell myself.)  The 19th book in the series stacks up pretty well, although Child doesn’t quite deliver on the foreboding promises made by the title (very little interaction with the bad guy, it’s not that personal, and it’s over pretty quickly) or on the backstory reference to Dominique Kohl (potentially pretty chilling, and I kept waiting for it).  It does have the usual strong writing, well-paced plotting, and of course, the Jack Reacher character.  Jack himself is enough to make any Reacher novel worth reading.

burial-ritesBurial Rites by debut novelist Hannah Kent is a based-on-real-life, moody crime novel set in Iceland in 1828.  Agnes Magnusdottir was convicted of murdering two men and is exiled to a farm in the north to await execution.  The book tells her story, but also how Agnes affects those around her, including the family who house her during her final months and the young clergyman who serves as her spiritual guide.   This bleak tragedy is warmed throughout by the characters.  Well-written and affecting, but painful- keep the hankies handy.

rosieThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion just begs to be made into a movie.  Please, somebody, make it into a movie!  Cute genetics professor with Asperger’s (not that he knows it ) can’t seem to keep a girlfriend, undertakes “wife project” to accomplish goal, meets wildly unsuitable woman (Rosie) who becomes his coach.  Of course she’s perfect for him, but there are many obstacles to overcome, all pretty self-generated.  It has all the factors that make up a hit rom-com!  Of course I adored it.  Best read in bubble bath with Dove candy bar broken into small pieces and a glass of red wine.  (Ooh, Google search says there’s both a movie AND a second book in the works.  Yay.)


The New Inspector Gamache is here!

long way homeFriends and readers know that I’m a big Louise Penny fan!  Her chief inspector Gamache series features great, well-drawn characters who grow and change over time; intricate but not convoluted plots; and tons of suspense.  In fact, it’s a toss-up whether I would have picked her most recent novel, How the Light Gets In, or William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace for the Best Novel Edgar.  (Krueger won.)

Now Penny’s new one, The Long Way Home, is out.  (Plug here for my local independent bookstore:  Schuler Books in Okemos had the hardback at 50% off cover price on the day of release.  I assume for hardcore fans like me who got in the car and drove over there yesterday because I had to have it.)  The question in my mind:  how can she follow the blow-it-all-out awesomeness of the previous book?  She had me up all night reading, and while I don’t want to spoil it for any who have not read it yet, the climax where one major character ACTUALLY SHOT ANOTHER MAJOR CHARACTER IN THE BACK was going to be hard to top.

Her smart next step:  Don’t try to top it.  Where How the Light Gets In felt like a thriller, The Long Way Home is more of a classic mystery.  Now retired in his beloved Three Pines, Gamache has settled into peaceful domesticity with his adored and adoring wife, his daughter happily married, friends all around him.  Then one of his friends – the famous artist Carol Morrow – confides that she is worried.  Her husband Peter, also an artist, and she separated over a year ago, but made a pact that they would reunite on the anniversary of their separation.  They had not spoken or seen each other in the interim, but she was sure he would return that day.  Gamache enlists Jean-Guy Beauvoir to solve the puzzle:  where is Peter Morrow?

The story unfolds in a leisurely manner, as with the help of wife and former librarian Reine-Marie, retired psychologist and bookstore owner Myrna Landers, Gamache, Jean-Guy and Carol collaborate to retrace Peter’s steps the last year.  The writing is rich and lovely, the pace is assured, but hidden below the surface is a darker story that is only revealed to the reader in retrospect.  In fact, about 3/4 of the way in, I wondered how Penny was going to manage an effective ending. Either we’d find Peter alive and well or we wouldn’t… hmmm.

Presto change-o.  Let us just say that people are not always what they seem, that the good and bad are not so clear-cut, and that somebody ends up with a knife to the throat – and more – in the final chapters.  And most satisfyingly, we learn that in his year apart, Peter Morrow had grown past his bitter jealousy of his wife’s genius into a bigger person, with a deeper and more adventurous talent.   Penny thereby proving, once again, that where there’s life, there’s hope.

Sue Miller’s back with The Arsonist

arsonistI have a few female authors that I have a fondness for – they write literary novels, but they’re a little “chick-lit-y.”  I’m slow to type the phrase, because I know what kind of a firestorm this kind of categorization can cause.  Who exactly?  Anita Shreve.   Sue Monk Kidd.  Lately, Liane Moriarity.  And, of course, Sue Miller, who tore me up with The Good Mother.

Miller’s new novel, The Arsonist, is a perfectly satisfying book of its kind.  The protagonist – Frankie Rowley – is a smart, attractive woman who is young enough to have a lot of life ahead of her, but old enough to have lived an interesting life so far.   She comes home to the small New England town where her family used to summer, and where her parents have retired, to regroup after working in East Africa for 15 years.  Her big life, full of adventure, suddenly seemed purposeless.

War and famine are replaced by small town conflict between year-rounders and the summer people, Frankie’s father’s descent into Alzheimer’s, and a series of empty-home arsons.   And Frankie’s dead-end affair with a married colleague in Africa is eclipsed by a new relationship with the editor of the local paper.  (My only negative about the book:  Bud Jacobs is just too perfect.)

In another author’s hands, The Arsonist could have been a plot-driven romantic suspense novel.  In other words, formulaic.  But with Miller as the author, the reader gets much more:  a story driven by character, human failing and ambiguity.  

Examples?  Frankie’s mom confesses that she finds caring for her demented husband particularly difficult, because she has no store of love for him built up over the years; she doesn’t love him and never did.  Frankie is hurt, when after years away from her parents, she arrives home and is ready to go into rescue mode… but her mom’s not particularly interested in being rescued.

Frankie upends chick-lit expectations:  when she finds happiness and contentment with her new love, she’s not satisfied.  She’s got an itch that only a certain kind of job can fill.  Even when she comes to her senses,  Frankie doesn’t settle down.  She treats her new love and their life together like a nest – she returns to its comfort, only to fly away again.

Of course, Miller’s most ambiguous character is the arsonist.  When all is said and done, no one – including the reader – knows for sure who set Pomeroy’s fires.  Almost everything about the case against Tink Snell can be interpreted to indicate his guilt or his innocence.  And long after the trial’s not-guilty verdict, people wonder.  Never knowing, yet going on.  Such is the nature of life.

Harry Quebert says what?

Cover.Harry Quebert Affair.JPG657 pages.  That’s how long the The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is.  And on the Kindle – when you can’t see the page numbers but only see the progress towards 100% – those pages are interminable.  The book’s the story of Marcus Goldman, a young, highly acclaimed debut author who can’t summon the creative juices for book #2, but is suddenly offered the opportunity to deliver a roman a clef – or perhaps a juicy true crime book, it’s hard to tell – about his mentor, the famous Harry Quebert.  Harry is ALSO an amazingly successful writer, who penned a novel based on his doomed romance with 15-year-old Nola Kellergan.  Said romance occurring when Harry was 34.  Nola disappeared back in the day, and her body was just unearthed, 33 years later… in Harry’s back yard.  Who killed her?  And what the heck will protege Marcus do?  $3 million is a lot of dough.

Phteven 2Here’s what the book has:  over the top, breathless prose.  Characters who all sound exactly alike, except for the guy who got beaten to within an inch of his life, so he sounds like Phteven.  Labyrinthine jumps in time from today to the mid-70s and back.  And so many “whodunnit” twists that make The Killing look reasonable.  (My husband gave up on that show half-way through because it was like whack-a-mole: every character was under serious suspicion at one point or another.)  And a groan-out-loud ending.  On the good side, it does have a strong voice and kept me turning the pages (metaphorically speaking) just to get to the end.

But here’s the question:  Why the heck is this book getting so much hype and so many reviews?   The column inches devoted to book reviews in the press is low.  Very low.  Not many books get reviewed.

And yet, the New York Times gives Harry a lot of space and is generally positive, depending on how seriously you interpret the adjectives. The Independent (UK) says it’s seductive.   NPR calls it chilling, but cautions that the writing is not so good.   Both Entertainment Weekly and the Washington Post basically say what I’m saying – some good stuff there but nothing to write home about.   And on Amazon, readers average out at 3 stars – as of today, 94 give it just 1 star and 123 are giving it 5 stars.

My recommendation: Unless you’re a speed reader, read something else.

Never Let Me Go – the book, the movie!

goI recently picked up Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Goat my favorite Chicagoland independent bookstore, The Book Table in Oak Park.  Ishiguro wrote The Remains of the Day, which I enjoyed, and the blurb on the front quoted Time magazine with “A page-turner and a heartbreaker, a tour de force of knotted tension and buried anguish.”  Sold!

The story opens in the first person, with 31-year-old Kathy H. talking about her career.  She’s some kind of healthcare worker, supporting donors of some kind, and reflecting on her experiences, her life, and her upbringing in Hailsham.  As a child, she lived in Hailsham – a boarding school in the English countryside – where the rules were strict, but there was fun to be had and friends to be made.  And as Kath recalls and recounts her life, it becomes apparent that something has happened in that world that never happened in this one:  a mid-century scientific discovery has led society to clone human beings and raise these children to be donors, stripping them of their organs much as a junker car is kept around for spare parts.

Against this matter-of-fact macabre background, there is a love triangle, for Kathy loves Tommy, who is stolen by Kathy’s beautiful best friend, Ruth.  And so for these three, what little happiness they could have had is taken from them by humility, entitlement, compassion and fear  – all too human traits, considering that society seems them as subhuman.

As they transition into the world, Kath becomes a “carer,” who comforts and helps the donors after they recover from each donation.   (Donors will typically manage three or perhaps four donations before they “complete.”)  And of course the story plays out as Kathy cares for Ruth and then for Tommy, enjoying at last a brief period of love and even hope – which is, of course, doomed.

Let us just say that there were sniffles.  Plenty of them.  Several hankies worth.

Then I discovered that the book had been made into a movie in 2010, starring Carey Mulligan as Kath, Keira Knightley as Ruth and Andrew Garfield as Tommy.   The film is well-cast (although Tommy is not quite as strapping in the movie as he was in the book – I would have like a more robust actor) and faithful to the story, for the most part.   It was awesome.  More sniffles on my part.  On the other hand, my husband (who hadn’t read the book) said it dragged.  He fidgeted.  Open mocking of wifely sniffling.

My conclusion:  Husband, mean.  Book, good.  Movie, good.  Both, double good.  Go for it.